An elegy is defined as a mournful poem or a lament. In Hebrew, an elegy is known as a kinna. On Tisha B’Av, when the Jewish people mourn the destruction of both the First and Second Temples, it is customary for kinnot to be read at both the evening and morning services. Kinnot traditions may vary according to one’s community, specifically as to which kinnot are recited, by whom and using which type of chant or tune.
The majority of the kinnot are lamentations over the loss of the Temple – odes to that which was lost and to the horrors that occurred in Jerusalem at the time of the destruction. Some kinnot are poetic reiterations of chapters from the Book of Lamentations and the Book of Ezekiel, and others express a longing to return from exile to the Promised Land. Although the majority of the kinnot focus on the loss of the Temple, later authors added elegies for other tragic events such as the First Crusade (1096), the burning of the Talmud in Paris (1242) and the expulsion from Spain (1492). More recently, several kinnot lamenting the tragedy of the Holocaust have been included in the Tisha B’Av service.
Of the kinnot whose authorship is known, many were written by Rabbi Elazar Hakalir (c. 600 C.E.), whose poems often include complex patterns of acrostics, rhyme and repetition. Other well-known authors of kinnot are Rabbi Yehuda Halevi (1075-1141), Rabbi Meir ben Baruch (Maharam of Rothenberg 1220-1293) and Rabbi Shlomo Halberstam (Bobover Rebbe 1908-2000).
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