The Shirah (Song) in the Liturgy

The Song at the Sea assumed a special place in the Jewish liturgy quite early. In the days of the Second Temple it was customary for a Levitical choir to accompany the priestly tamid offering on Sabbath afternoons with a singing of the Song in two parts, verse 1-10 being intoned one week and the rest on the next Sabbath.[1] After the destruction of the Temple, the Palestinian communities perpetuated the Levitical custom, although without the sacrifice.

The Jews of Rome incorporated the entire Song into the fixed, daily morning service, a practice that gradually became universal among Jews. This daily recitation assumed ever-greater meaning as an affirmation of God's moral governance of the world, itself and assurance of the ultimate and inevitable downfall of tyrants. Such unassailable convictions took on increasing significance for Jews during the long dark night of exile and persecution.[2]

The Sabbath on which the Torah reading is Exodus 13:17 — 17:16, receives the special designation Shabbat Shirah. The Song is also the scriptural reading for the seventh day of Passover, when the original event is believed to have occurred.


[1] Babylonian Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 31a [back]

[2] Mahzor Vitry (medieval prayerbook) [back]
excerpted From: Nahum M. Sarna, The JPS Torah Commentary: Exodus, Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America; 1991. Page 76-77.