Daily Blessings

poems on Tractate Berakhot

by Hillel Broder

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About this book

“a wind has stirred my harp,
and at once we are not alone in our houses
of study and song”

Hillel Broder reveals the poetry in the discussions in Tractate Berakhot, the first volume of the Talmud, predominantly concerned with the laws for daily blessings and prayers. His delicately distilled and shaped reflections are, in the best sense of the tradition, both prayers and poems; blessings in their own right, lyrical road maps of the meandering rabbinic minds as they explored the connection between time, light, and redemption. And just like the rabbis, Broder creates moments when the sacred and the mundane become inseparable, when our routines become expressions of sanctity: His Daily Blessings bridge the gap between this finite world and eternity.

Advance Praise

Hillel Broder does not just write poetry about the Talmud; he also draws out the Talmud’s poetry, finding lyricism amidst legality and re-setting the Talmud’s rich images like precious gems in end-stopped lines of verse. “Offer a response / for every blessing,” the Talmud teaches in Broder’s rendering. With this volume, he has taken that charge to heart. A worthy companion for students and teachers of Talmud alike.
Ilana Kurshan, author of If All the Seas Were Ink

Hillel Broder’s Daily Blessings draws its waters from the deep wells of the Talmud. But when these waters are filtered through Broder’s limpid, airy, and lovely poetics, something luminous—ancient yet new, wondrous yet familiar, weighty yet buoyant—emerges. This is a wonderful book of poems! The product of a thoughtful and original mind curious about the past and the present.
—Yehoshua November, author of God’s Optimism  (finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry) and Two Worlds Exist (finalist for the National Jewish Book Award and Paterson Poetry Prize).  

In these Talmudic meditations, Dr. Hillel Broder has accomplished the seemingly impossible: the merging of the severity of the law with the serenity of the poem. Reading the ancient Talmudic texts with a deep attention to their hidden rhythm, Dr. Broder uncovers the poetic flow that rests at the heart of the mundane, and the spiritual cadence at the heart of the ordinary.
—Rabbi Joey Rosenfeld 

Embracing the freewheeling, stream-of-consciousness, we-could-wind-up-anywhere musings of luminaries such as Rav & Shmuel, Byron & Shelley, and Frog & Toad, Broder’s meditations on each daf are both a journey and a destination in themselves. Like its source material, these poems embrace the connections between belief and sneezing, the culinary pleasures of this world and the spiritual pleasure of the World to Come, bringing the stories of the Gemara shockingly close, not just to the way we think, but the way we live.
—Matthue Roth, author, Yom Kippur a Go-Go and My First Kafka

Berakhot 2

Berakhot 2

what exactly
was our point of departure
for starting with the evening,
so that we begin with begging
its question.
plenty occurs
when it’s time to recline:
sunsets, in other words,
are inevitable,
and the first day, on the eve of creation,
started with a sunset, but also
purified priests enter the Temple,
poor man’s bread is dipped in salt,
and the Sabbath is sanctified.
ultimately, everything rises
until sunrise, say the Sages,
but we need to start somewhere,
and if we ended
at the end, well, then,
we would, no doubt,
be far too close to sin.

Berakhot 3

Brachot 3

heaven’s roars echo in ruins
muted, like pigeons cooing,
like housewives whispering
to nurslings and husbands:
I am walking in the dark, alone
and with Elijah, I am praying
that the roof not collapse, that I not
be suspect, that the demons avoid me,
and it is already late enough, and
the time has arrived
to read the Sh’ma.
a wind has stirred my harp,
and at once we are not alone in our houses
of study and song, as ruinous
and as ready to collapse
they might be.

Berakhot 4

Berakhot 4

on the tenth of Tevet,
I saw the day’s aging
prayers on the daily
page of study:
sin brought redemption
in natural guises;
humiliation of David
and his nation wrought
greatness; in exile,
I read, it is best to link
redemption to prayer,
so that prayer
becomes redemption,
to order one’s
prayers, in other words,
alphabetically, so that nothing falls
through the indeterminate crack
of midnight, into the haziness
of praying the evening service
at all. it’s messy, yes, as a king
distinguishes various bloods
from afterbirths:
and for that, we are pious
and pray that we won’t
be obliged to give our lives.