The Pennsylvania State University
Cover for the book Avodah


Ancient Poems for Yom Kippur Translated and edited by Michael D. Swartz and Joseph Yahalom
“Michael D. Swartz and Joseph Yahalom, the editors and translators of this collection, do an intelligent and nuanced job introducing the poems, summarizing the scriptural, historical, linguistic, artistic, and hermeneutic traditions that resonate in the Hebrew originals.”
“Swartz and Yahalom have produced a clear, readable version complete with excellent bibliographic aids.”

Avodah: Ancient Poems for Yom Kippur is the first major translation of one of the most important genres of the lost literature of the ancient synagogue. Known as the Avodah piyyutim, this liturgical poetry was composed by the synagogue poets of fifth- to ninth-century Palestine and sung in the synagogues on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Although it was suppressed by generations of rabbis, its ornamental beauty and deep exploration of sacred stories ensured its popularity for centuries.

Piyyut literature can teach us much about how ancient Jews understood sacrifice, sacred space, and sin. The poems are also a rich source for retrieving myths and symbols not found in the conventional Rabbinic sources, such as the Talmuds and Midrash. Moreover, these compositions rise to the level of fine literature. They are the products of great literary effort, continue and extend the tradition of biblical parallelism, and reveal the aesthetic sensibilities of the Mediterranean in Late Antiquity.

Michael D. Swartz is Professor of Hebrew and Religious Studies at the Ohio State University. He is the author of Mystical Prayer in Ancient Judaism: An Analysis of Ma'aseh Merkavah (1992) and Scholastic Magic: Ritual and Revelation in Early Jewish Mysticism (1996).

Joseph Yahalom is Professor of Hebrew Literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is regarded as one of the foremost experts on Hebrew liturgical poetry and has written several books on the subject, including Palestinian Vocalised Piyyut Manuscripts in the Cambridge Genizah Collections (1997).




1. Atah Barata

2. Shivcat Yamim

3. Atah Konanta cOlam Me-Rosh

4. Az be-’En Kol

5. Azkir Gevurot Elohah

6. Atah Konanta cOlam be-Rov çesed

7. Emet Mah Nehedar

8. En Lanu Kohen Gadol




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