HALLELUJAH (Heb. הַלְלוּיָהּ), liturgical expression occurring 23 times, exclusively in the Book of Psalms. Apart from 135:3, it invariably appears as either the opening (106, 111–3, 135, 146–50) or closing word of a psalm (104–6, 113, 115–7, 135, 146–50) or in both positions (106, 113, 135, 146–50). In all cases, with the exception of 135:3 and 147:1, the term is not part of the body of the psalm. This fact, together with its total nonappearance in those psalms cited in other biblical books (cf. Ps. 106:48 with I Chron. 16:36) and its restriction to the last divisions of the Psalter (cf. Ber. 9b), suggest a late coinage.
It is generally agreed that Hallelujah means, "praise [ye] the Lord." The plural imperative form of the verb would indicate that the term was a directive to the worshiping congregation in the Temple by the presiding functionary which was meant to evoke a public response. In the course of time it became an independent cultic exclamation so that the Greek-speaking Jews simply transliterated it (70, ʾΑλληούϊα). On the other hand, a consciousness of its composite nature is preserved in amoraic discussions as to whether the Hebrew should be rendered by the scribes as one word or two. (Pes. 117a; Sof. 5:10, TJ, Suk. 3:12, 53d;TJ, Meg. 1:11, 72a). A novel explanation is given by Joshua b. Levi who regards the final syllable as a superlative suffix and who translates the term, "praise Him with many praises" (Pes. 117a).
[Nahum M. Sarna]
The tradition of rendering the word Hallelujah at the beginning and/or end of a psalm, by a special melodic phrase is certainly very old, judging by its survival in the usages of many Jewish communities. In some of them, the word is even added at the end of each verse on some occasions. The Yemenites prefix "Hallelujah" or "Ve-Hallelujah" to certain frestive piyyutim, which are therefore called Halleluyot. Christian tradition attests the practice of "Hallelujah-singing" from the earliest periods, especially in a form which may or may not have been taken over from Jewish practice: songs on the single word, in which the "lu" and "jah" syllables were drawn out as long flourishes, until they became the so-called Jubilus – a wordless ecstatic outpouring. In the Middle Ages these long Hallelujahs began to serve as the basis, in the lower or middle voice, of elaborate compositions in which the upper voices uttered a poetic expression of praise. Sometimes the word itself was split – as in the 13th-century three-voiced "Alle-psallite-cum-luja" (see A.T. Davison and W. Apel (eds.). Historical Anthology of Music, I (19642), 35). During the Renaissance and Baroque periods the Jubilus-like setting of the word Alleluia is found again, of course in the form of elaborate polyphonic compositions. The word also became a favorite vehicle for canons. The tradition continues until today, for example: the "Hallelujah chorus" in Handel's Messiah, Mozart's Alleluja for soprano and orchestra (actually the second part of his motet Exsultate, jubilate, K. 165), and the great Alleluja pieces in William Walton's Belshazzar's Feast (1929–31) and Arthur Honegger's Le Roi David (1921).