Jewish Calendar - TISHREI - Yom Kippur
intense emotion and spiritual energy that can be generated by
a Yom Kippur eve Kol Nidrei service is demonstrated
by the story of the German Jewish philosopher, Franz Rosenzweig
(1886-1929). Rosenzweig grew up like many European Jews of his
generation: his home was nominally Jewish and his religious education
minimal. As a young man, he decided to convert to Christianity,
as many of his contemporaries had done. He further decided that
he must become a Christian not as "a pagan" but "as
a Jew," i.e., not by rejecting his Jewish origin but by re-enacting
what he saw as the culmination of Judaism in Christianity.
On Yom Kippur in 1913, he attended Kol Nidrei Services at a small
orthodox synagogue in Berlin. Something dramatic happened to Rosenzweig
that evening; while he never discussed the experience, he was clearly
transformed by it. Not long after Yom Kippur, Rosenzweig wrote to a friend,
"After prolonged, and I believe thorough, self-examination, I have
reversed my decision. It no longer seems necessary to me, and therefore
being what I am, no longer possible. I will remain a Jew."
evening service on the Eve of Yom Kippur is preceded by the chanting
of Kol Nidrei ("All vows"), a formal annulment of vows.
The worshipers proclaim that all personal vows and oaths made between
themselves and God during the year that not have not been fulfilled
should be considered null and void. In Jewish tradition, the nullification
of vows can only be performed a religious court, which always consists
of at least three judges and is convened only on weekdays. The recitation
of Kol Nidrei is therefore begun before sunset; two distinguished
congregants, holding Torah scrolls, stand next to the Cantor in order
to constitute a court. [Text
Vows and obligations
involving duties "between man and man" are not encompassed in the
Kol Nidrei ritual. This
is in accordance with the principle stated in the Mishnah: "Of all your
sins you shall be clean before the Lord (Lev. 16:30) for transgressions
as between man and the Omnipresent the Day of Atonement procures atonement;
but for transgressions as between man and his fellow man, the Day of Atonement
does not procure atonement until he has made peace with his fellow."
really a prayer, Kol Nidrei has little thematic relationship
to the rest of the Yom Kippur liturgy. Its purpose is to alleviate the
congregation's anxiety about unfulfilled — and possibly forgotten —
vows before the beginning of the Yom Kippur prayers, and to begin the
Day of Atonement with a clear conscience. The prayer is in Aramaic and
recited three times while standing; the talit (prayer shawl)
do not know when or where the current ritual and text of Kol Nidrei
originated. The first references to Kol Nidrei as a collective
declaration are found in the responsa of the Babylonian geonim
(8-10th century scholars); the geonim vigorously opposed the
practice of chanting the declamation, which they claimed originated
in unspecified "other lands." Although Palestine is an obvious
candidate, none of the surviving ancient Palestinian prayer texts include
Scholarly hesitations aside, popular demand kept Kol Nidrei in
the liturgy and by the time of Hai Gaon (c.1000 C.E.), it was generally
accepted. Geonic texts of Kol Nidrei speak of annulling vows
made "from the previous Day of Atonement until this Day of Atonement."
Authorities in early medieval Europe (12th century) did not accept this
version and amended the text to refer to future vows made "from
this Day of Atonement until the next Day of Atonement." Different
communities adopted different versions and some have incorporated both.
Jewish sources and interpretations of Kol Nidrei agree that the formula
covers only vows between the individual and God, many anti-Semites have taken
Kol Nidrei as evidence that a Jew's oath is worthless. In Germany in
1844, the Reform movement recommended that Kol Nidrei be eliminated from
the liturgy. Intense popular attachment to the prayer to its moving musical
composition and to the solemnity of the ritual had the upper hand, and
Kol Nidrei prevailed. As a compromise, early Reform
prayerbooks offered substitute versions, especially Psalm 130, as in the Berlin
. In the latter half of the
20th century, most Reform congregations reinstated the traditional Aramaic text.
Ashkenazi melody for Kol Nidrei is an example par excellence
of the Jewish musical tradition. It is not a melody in the usual sense, but
rather a collection of motifs in the general musical style of the High Holy
Days. They include both solemn syllabic "proclamations" and virtuoso
vocal runs. Many cantors and communities developed their
particular variations of the basic musical material and many synagogue composers
have made their own arrangements.
It remains an open question whether the solemnity and importance of the text
shaped the musical rendition of Kol Nidrei, or whether the stature of
the text was heightened by the extraordinary effect of the music. The source
of the melody is still a subject of research, and the frequent attempts to relate
it to the Sephardi traditions have not been successful.
Sephardi and Oriental Jewish communities each have their own Kol Nidrei traditions:
PBT Yoma 8:9 [Back]
Musical Tradition of the Jewish Reform Congregation in Berlin (1998),
courtesy of Beth Hatefutsoth,
Museum of the Jewish Diaspora, Jewish Music Dept. Recorded at the Lundstrom
Studio, Berlin, May 8, 1929; music arranged by Lewis Lewandowski; soloist
Hermann Shey, organ Paul Mania.
From: The Koenigsberg Tradition: The High Holydays (1984), courtesy
of Beth Hatefutsoth,
Museum of the Jewish Diaspora, Jewish Music Dept. "Rinat" Israel National
Choir is conducted by Stanley Sperber; Cantor Naftali Hershtik and organ
The Kol Nidrei Prayer in the Traditions of the Communities
of Israel, courtesy of Renanot, The Institute
for Jewish Music (no date).
Sepharadi: Ezra Barnea; Moroccan: Moshe Almakis; Yemenite: Aharon Amram[Back]
Ismar. Jewish Liturgy: A Comprehensive History. translated
by Raymond Scheindlin. Copyright © 1999 by The Jewish Publication
Society of America (Philadelphia, PA) and the Jewish Theological
Seminary of America (New York, NY).
Judaica (Jerusalem: Keter Publishing House, Ltd., 1971),
Vols. 10, 14.
Abraham. Jewish Worship. Copyright © 1971 by The
Jewish Publication Society of America (Philadelphia, PA).
The Institute for Jewish Music was established in 1957, to gather
and disseminate information about the world's Jewish music.
The institute uncovers, nurtures, preserves and teaches the
musical traditions of various Jewish communities; promotes cantorial
music and establishes institutions for advanced training and
the study of hazzanut according to respective Jewish
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