Hypnotized by the prayers of Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur

At sunset on Wednesday, as Jews around the world begin the traditional Kol Nidre (All Vows) service, we will inaugurate the most solemn day of Yom’s 10 days of repentance, Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). The Kol Nidre Service and Yom Kippur Day Services contain some of the most beautiful musical prayers we experience every year. I am always fascinated by these services.

Although we are not in a synagogue this year, my wife and I will be able to enjoy the often haunting melodies, through the wonders of Jewish television broadcasting services from our favorite central synagogue in Manhattan.

The opening prayer tomorrow night, Kol Nidre, is haunting and is repeated three times at the start of the service. I can never get this prayer out of my head.

According to Britannica.com, “The recitation of Kol Nidre actually comes before the start of Yom Kippur (since it is forbidden to negotiate business on a festival), but the custom is to repeat the Kol Nidre chant three times – to both to fill the time until sunset, and to make sure that any latecomer to the service can hear it at least once.

The rest of the service is filled with several other haunting melodies and three of them, Avienu Malkeinu, Al Chet and Ashamnu, repeat themselves several times over the next 24 hours. Each of these melodies, which can often involve light taps to the chest, can strengthen our commitment to confess and atone for our sins of the past year.


Britannica.com specifies that “The traditional confessional prayer, the Viddui, consists of two parts, the Ashamnu and the Al Chet, which we read aloud on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Ashamnu (translated as “we have transgressed” or “we are guilty”) is an abbreviated confession, an alphabetic acrostic, and written in the first person plural. We recite this confessional in the plural to represent our shared responsibility and guilt in all of our lives and our missteps. We also share this confessional as a reminder that forgiveness is also shared. “

Among some of the phrases in these prayers are those that should capture all of our transgressions. Here are a few, which are part of the song and the tapping of the chest: “We have been callous; We have justified bad decisions; We have killed our impulse to do good; We acted out of fear instead of love; We were silent when we should have spoken.

I never thought about it until I looked closely at prayers, but according to Rabbi Shraga in his article “Exploring the Al Chet Prayer”, “In Judaism we say if you can get to the root of the problem , you can eliminate it. entirely. This is the purpose of the ‘Al Chet’ prayer that we say so many times during Yom Kippur services. Its 44 statements are not a list of errors, but rather identify the roots of errors.

The haunting chorus of Ashamnu and Al Chet prayers is sung at least 10 times during Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur services. In English, the refrain is “For all these, God of pardon, forgive us, forgive us, expiate us”.

The only other persistent and fascinating prayer for me from the Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur services is “Avinu Malkeinu”, Our Father Our King. I always let the services hum at least one version of this prayer, as the melody captures the essence of the holiday for me.

I hear the words and am immediately humbled and contrite as I seek forgiveness during this time of mass confession. In this prayer we beg Our Father, Our King to hear our prayers and forgive us all our sins so that we can be inscribed in the Safer Chaim – Book of Life.

But at the end of services, I always ask myself, “Will I be forgiven?” Am I going to repeat the same list of sins I had to face this year? I can only hope that when the melodies begin next year, I will be a little less sinful and purer of heart.

Steven Gaynes is a writer from Fairfield, and his “In the Suburbs” appears every Friday. He can be contacted at [email protected]


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