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Eleazar Kallir

Eleazar Kallir (Heb. אֶלְעָזָר בִּירְבִּי קְלִיר, and קִילִיר; instead of אֶלְעָזָר, also the Palestinian form לְעָזָר) was the greatest and most prolific of the early paytanim, and one of the most influential liturgical poets. He apparently lived in Ereẓ Israel and resided in Tiberias.


Kallir wrote piyyutim for all the main festivals (sometimes more than one for the same festival), for the special Sabbaths, for weekdays of festive character, and for the fasts. The structures of his yoẓer, kerovah, shivatah, and hoshana poems, of his elegies, prayers for dew, and prayers for rain, which he often took from his predecessors and developed, have remained classic models. Poems written in his style are even called Kalliri after him. Kallir in his poetic writings drew on the didactic aggadah, thus preserving some otherwise forgotten aggadic traditions. Closely following the midrashic original in content, Kallir's poetic originality is expressed in his linguistic inventiveness. Probably the most audacious coiner of neologisms in Hebrew, Kallir was however very selective in his language and despite complicated poetic forms composed of intricate acrostics, interpolated with biblical verses, various types of rhyme, and auditory images, he rarely coined a word which did not fit the text. The new words, the many midrashic allusions, and the numerous errors in the extant texts of Kallir gave an aura of obscurity to Kallir's works, and thus commentaries to Kallir were written as early as the 11th century and perhaps even earlier; one of them is attributed to Rashi (cf. L. Ginzberg, and S. Klein, see bibl.). Kallir's piyyutim were widely known in the Orient, the Balkans, Italy, France, Germany, and Eastern Europe, and more than 200 are extant in various rites. The fact that more of his piyyutim, previously unknown, were found in the Genizah implies an even greater popularity than presumed. Several of these were published. A complete collection of Kallir's work, however, has not yet appeared.


Biographical facts about Kallir are shrouded in mystery. His name, country of birth, and when he lived are still unknown and can only be speculated upon. The assumption that *Natronai b. Hilai, Gaon of Sura in 857, mentions Kallir's poems is doubtful. *Saadiah b. Joseph Gaon quotes Kallir as one of the old paytanim (see bibl., A. Harkavy). According to a late (12th-century) source, Kallir was killed by his teacher *Yannai (see bibl., S.J. Rapoport and I. Davidson) who apparently was jealous of him. There is evidence that as early as the tenth century Kallir had already become a subject for legends.

Derivation of his Name

An old tradition derives the name Kallir (קַלִּיר) from kalura (Gr. κολλύρα), a cake that Jewish boys were given when they started school (Arukh ha-Shalem of *Nathan b. Jehiel, ed. by Kohut, S.V. קלר). Another interpretation holds that the name was derived from the poet's or his father's hometown: Cagliari in Sardinia, Calais, Cologne, Kallirrhoe in Transjordan (A. Jellinek, S. Cassel), or Edessa in Syria, whose Greek name has a phonetic resemblance to Kallir (F. Perles). J. Derenbourg assumes that Kallir may perhaps be a Latin nickname (celer, "the fast one") which would have been attached to the real name of Kallir's father, Jacob (alluding to Hosea 12:13, "And Jacob fled into the field of Aram"); S. Shullam claims to have found the acrostic בְּרַבִּי יַעֲקׁב be-Rabbi Ya'akov. J. Perles holds Kallir to be Cyril (Gr. Κύριλλος), a name popular in the Byzantine Empire. W. Heidenheim assumes that the hometown given in many acrostics as קִרְיַת סֵפֶר (Kiryat Sefer) could be identified with the biblical place in Ereẓ Israel of the same name (Kiriath-Sepher; Jos. 15:15). S.J. Rapoport read סְפָר (sefar) and interpreted it as "coastal town," associating it with Cagliari, Bari, or Ostia. Others, in a similar interpretation, suggested Civitas Portas, the former port of Rome (Derenbourg); Constantinople (S. Krauss); Civita di Penna in the Abruzzi (I.S. Reggio); while Luzzatto first suggested Bocherville in Normandy, Speyer in Germany, and later, cities in Babylonia: first Pumbedita and afterward nearby Sippar; L. Zunz suggested Lettere in southern Italy, later Antioch and Hama in Syria because of ספר; Bruell thought of the Phoenician town Byblos. S. Cassel read in the acrostic in Kallir's prayer for rain קִרְיַת שֶׁפֶר Kiryat Shefer ("fairtown") and identified it with Kallirrhoe in Palestine (from the Greek "fair," "beautiful"). According to S. Eppenstein the town meant is Tiberias, the place of Masoretic biblical studies since the seventh century. R. Solomon b. Abraham Adret believed him to be the tanna *Eleazar b. Arakh (Resp. Rashba no. 449); while the tosafists identified him with the tanna *Eleazar b. Simeon (Ḥag. 13a).


The conjectures as to when Kallir lived cover several centuries (from the second to the tenth or eleventh). As early as the 12th century he was thought to have been a tanna (see above). Rapoport tried to place him around 970, but this had to be antedated by a century after M.H. Landauer's discovery of Saadiah's Yeẓirah commentary. According to Zunz the earliest acceptable date is the first half of the ninth century. Some modern scholars believe Kallir to have lived about 750 at the latest, a date deduced from a statement by al-Kirkisāni, a younger contemporary of Saadiah's (see bibl., A. Harkavy), according to whom the paytan Yannai was a source for the founder of Karaism. Yannai, therefore, must have lived at least during the same period, if not earlier, and his pupil, Kallir, a generation later. Other scholars assume him to have lived no later than the sixth or the early seventh century, i.e., before the Arab conquest of Ereẓ Israel in 635, since in his poems he laments the suffering inflicted and the destruction wrought by Edom (i.e., the Christians) only, and does not mention Ishmael (i.e., the Arabs).

From a linguistic point of view it would also seem that Kallir lived in Ereẓ Israel at the end of the sixth century. Kallir's language, considered by later medieval grammarians as ungrammatical, is a product of the poet's conception of the grammatical structure of the Hebrew language. Abraham *Ibn Ezra (commentary to Eccles. 5:1) denounced the style of Kallir, a criticism which centuries later influenced the maskilim in their disparagement of the paytan. Many of Kallir's piyyutim are interlaced with Hebrew folk language. Like the Palestinian piyyut, Kallir's works are an organic continuation of ancient Hebrew while the Hebrew poetry of Spain is a revival of the biblical language.

Published Works

Many of Kallir's liturgical poems were published in different prayer books, maḥzorim, and also by various scholars. Those liturgical poems published until 1933 are listed by I. Davidson, in: Oẓar ha-Shirah ve-ha-Piyyut, pt. 4 (1933), 367. Since then many more have been published: I.M. Elbogen, in Jewish Studies in Memory of G.A. Kohut (1935), 159–77; idem, in Sefer ha-Yovel… S. Krauss (1936), 307, 309–10; idem, in: Sefer Klausner (1937), 235–9; E. Fleischer, in: Tarbiz 36 (1967), 119–28, 139–40, 147f., 350–7; 38 (1969), 264–5, 271–2, 276–9; idem, in: Sinai, 62 (1967/68), 13–40, 142–51, 155–8; 63 (1968), 32–49; 64 (1968/69), 184; 65 (1969), 34–35; 66 (1969/70), 225–6); idem, in: Ha-Sifrut, 2 (1969/70), 202–4, 208–18, 229, 231–6; A.M. Habermann, in: YMḤSI, 5 (1939), 52–56, 76–77, 104); idem, in: Tarbiz, 14 (1943), 53ff. 59–65, 143; 15 (1944), 216; J. Marcus, Ginzei Shirah u-Fiyyut (1933), 11–66; idem, in: Horeb, 1 (1934), 21–31, 151–66; 2 (1935), 6–16; A. Marmorstein, in: JQR (15 (1924/25), 418 (see a note of S. Abramson, in: Tarbiz, 15 (1944), 50); A. Murtonen and G.J. Orman, Materials for a Non-Masoretic Hebrew Grammar, 1 (1958), 52–60 (Heb. part); A. Scheiber, in: Ginzei Kaufmann, 1 (1949), 3–35; idem, in: Alexander Marx Jubilee Volume (1950), 545–6 (Eng. part); idem, in: HUCA, 23, pt. 2 (1950/51), 355–68; S. Spiegel, in: YMḤSI, 5 (1939), 269–91; S. Wieder, in: Ginzei Kaufmann, 1 (1949), 89–92; M. Zulay, in: Lu'aḥ ha-Areẓ (1944/45), 5; idem, in: Sinai, 17 (1945), 289–90; 32 (1952/53), 52–54; idem, Mivḥar ha-Shirim (1948?), 9–11, 13; idem, in: Melilah, 5 (1955), 70–74.


S.J. Rapoport, in: Bikkurei ha-Ittim, 10 (1829), 95–123; 11 (1830), 92–102; idem, in: Kerem Ḥemed, 6 (1841), 10–40, passim; L. Zunz, ibid., 4–10; Zunz, Lit. Poesie, 29–64; Landshuth, Ammudei, 27–44; P.F. Franke, in: Jubelschrift… L. Zunz (1884), 160–71 (Ger. part), 201–17 (Heb. part); J. Derenbourg, in: Mélanges Renier (1886), 429–41; A.E. Harkavy, Zikkaron la-Rishonim… 5 (1891), 109–10; M. Sachs, Die religioese Poesie der Juden in Spanien (1901), index; S. Klein, Beitraege zur Geographie und Geschichte Galilaeas (1902), 95, 97–108; Elbogen, Gottesdienst, 310–9, 561; idem, Studien zur Geschichte des juedischen Gottesdienstes (1902), index; idem, in: HUCA, 3 (1926), 215–24; 4 (1922), 405–31; idem, in: Ẓiyyunim, Koveẓ le-Zikhrono shel J.N. Simḥoni (1929), 83–87; S. Eppenstein, Beitraege zur Geschichte und Literatur im geonaeischen Zeitalter (1913), 35–40; B. Halper, Post-Biblical Hebrew Literature, 1 (1921), 21–24; 2 (1921), 45–48; L. Ginzberg, Ginzei Schechter, 1 (1928), 246–97; A.M. Habermann, in: Mizraḥ u-Ma'arav, 4 (1929/30), 250–1; idem, in: Tarbiz, 7 (1935/36), 186–216; A.I. Schechter, Studies in Jewish Liturgy (1930), index; I. Davidson, in: JQR, 21 (1930/31), 252ff.; idem, in: HUCA, 12–13 (1937/38), 3–8; M. Zulay, in: KS, 10 (1934), 480–4; idem, in: Ginzei Kaufmann, 1 (1949), 36–41; H. Brody, in: Kobeẓ al-Jad, 11 (1936), 1–23; A. Mirsky, in: Tarbiz, 17 (1945/46), 168–73; idem, in: KS, 35 (1959/60), 237–9; idem, Reshit ha-Piyyut (1965), 86–99; idem, in: Sinai, 65 (1969), 177–87; J. Schirmann, in: JQR, 44 (1953/54), 145–6; idem, in: Divrei ha-Akademyah ha-Le'ummit ha-Yisre'elit le-Madda'im, 3 (1969/70), 28–36, 45–54; S. Bernstein, in: Sefer Yovel… S. Federbush (1960), 105–16; idem, in: Sura, 4 (1964), 478–516; S. Abramson, in: Sinai, 54 (1963/64), 31–32; E. Fleischer, ibid., 65 (1969), 31–37, 167; idem, in: Tarbiz, 39 (1969/70), 24–27.

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.