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From Tehilim, meaning praise or chants of praise. The first book in Ketuvim (Writings), the third division of the Bible. The Book of Psalms is itself divided into five books, like the Pentateuch. It contains 150 hymns, most of them ascribed to David, some to Asaph the Musician, others to the Sons of Korah. Some of the psalms are odes praising God, called Halleluyahs; others are poems of thanksgiving, pilgrim songs, and mournful elegies. They vary in length, structure, and subject matter. The confidence and joy of the 23rd Psalm (beginning with “The Lord is my shepherd”) have comforted men and women since its creation. Psalm 104 is a nature poem that kindles the imagination with the majesty of all creation. Psalm 24, a stirring ode of praise, has been incorporated, like many other psalms, into the synagogue services. During all morning services, except those that fall on the Sabbath, this Psalm is chanted as the Torah scroll is returned to the Ark.

The psalms were knitted closely into the daily life of the Jewish people. In the synagogue, morning services end each day with a different Psalm. In each community, simple pious people who had been unable to acquire learning joined within a Hevra Magide Tehilim, a “band of Psalm chanters.” They met daily at the synagogue and sought inspiration in reciting the Mizmor Shel Yom the day’s reading from the Book of Psalms until they had completed it on the Sabbath. In folklore there were stories about the “Psalm-Chanter,” a folk hero who was the secret student of mystic lore, a modest saint who concealed his knowledge and joined the Psalm-chanters daily in the house of prayer. He also joined those gathered at the bedside of the dangerously ill and those at houses of mourning in their recital of the psalms, a distillation of piety and a plea of mercy to Heaven. The Book of Psalms has also been read by Christians since the time of the Apostles. It has given comfort and inspiration during religious services and in private devotions.

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