AZHAROT, AZHARAH (Heb. אַזְהָרוֹת sing. אַזְהָרָה; "warning"), category of liturgical poems for the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot) in which are enumerated the 613 *Commandments. The term originates from the opening of the early piyyut, "Azharah reshit le-ammekha nattata" ("Thou gavest thy people a preliminary warning"); and also because the numerical value of the word azharot is 613. At first, the style of the azharot was simple and devoid of psalmodic embellishments, but with time they were infused with the spirit of piyyut. First mentioned by R. *Natronai Gaon, the azharot were already accepted in his day, even though there were some who, then and later, opposed them. One reason for this opposition was that the composers were paytanim and not halakhists.
Occasionally the poems dealt with subjects other than the 613 commandments, e.g., the number of Mishnayot, the 70 names of God, etc. Since no composer's name is found on the early azharot they are known as azharot de-rabbanan (azharot of the rabbis) or azharot de-metivta kaddisha de-rabbanim de-Pumbedita (the azharot of the holy yeshivah of the rabbis of Pumbedita). Azharot are known in the liturgy of Ereẓ Israel, Babylonia, Spain, Italy, Germany, Provence, and Romania (i.e., Byzantium), and have also been included in other liturgies. *Saadiah Gaon, two of whose azharot were printed in his Siddur, wrote in his introduction that he composed his azharot because his contemporaries were accustomed to such poems, in particular "attah hinḥalta" ("Thou hast bequeathed"), and also because the existing azharot did not mention all the 613 commandments and were repetitious and long-winded. Subsequent azharot were composed by the outstanding poets, including Joseph ibn Abitur, Solomon ibn *Gabirol, and Isaac b. Reuben *al-Bargeloni. In later generations, introductions to azharot were also composed; and, since the language of the azharot was often difficult and complicated, scholars wrote commentaries on them. Azharot were usually said at the Shaḥarit or at the Musaf Services, while among northern Sephardim they were also said at the Minḥah Service. Beside the azharot for the Feast of Weeks which include the 613 commandments, there are azharot for other times of the year, e.g., for the Sabbath before Sukkot, the Sabbath before Shavuot, the Great Sabbath (the Sabbath before Passover), and also Rosh Ha-Shanah, Ḥanukkah, Purim, and New Moon. These include sections pertaining to their particular season. In most Ashkenazi rites, azharot are not recited at all, even though they are printed in the festival prayer book. The Sephardim and Yemenites recite the azharot by Solomon ibn Gabirol – on the first day of Shavuot, the positive commandments, and on the second day, the negative commandments. Over 60 azharot are known.
Gaguin, in: Essays… J.H. Hertz (1942), 45–51 (Heb.); Zunz, Lit Poesie, 21, 35, 127; Elbogen, Gottesdienst, 217–9, 558; Benjacob, Oẓar, 32, no. 635; Davidson, Oẓar, 4 (1933), 493, no. 3; Idelsohn, Liturgy, 42, 197.
[Abraham Meir Habermann]
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.