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The Hull Reform Synagogue - Ne've Shalom




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This year, our High Holy Day Services were conducted by a team of the Shul's Lay Readers supported by members providing readings during parts of the Services. This sermon was written by Malcolm Rosenberg and delivered by Malcolm during our Kol Nidre Service. We will be publishing the Rosh Hashanah sermon in the next issue.


Every year Jews in Israel and the Diaspora flock to Shul, in their millions to hear this Declaration. But what actually is it ? What are its origins and why do we recite it 3 times?     


Technically Kol Nidre is not really a prayer, but more of a legal document wherein we release vows and asks God to annul those  vows made during the coming year, and wouldn't be out of place in a Solicitors office or a Shul Council meeting for that matter. It's the only Jewish festival named after a prayer, and opens the doors to Yom Kippur;  a day of reflection, a day of introspection, a day when we bare our soul to God , almost touch the Divine Presence, a day when all our defences are stripped away, aware of what we have done and what we could do better as Jews and of people. Kol Nidre is written in Aramaic, not Hebrew, it's name taken from the opening words meaning "all vows".


Well, with many things in Judaism it goes back to Persecution.


I want you to imagine its 1917, a hundred years ago, during the First World War and a lonely Jew happened to be in the same coach as a number of Russian soldiers. They began to harass the chap. One pulled his ear, another his hair and a third threw his lunch out of the window. The Jew was incensed, but wisely said nothing. But after been annoyed and ridiculed for some time, he rose from his seat and angrily shouted, "Yekum purkan min shemaya hina vehisda verahemei vehayei ariha ….."


One of the soldiers who prided himself on his intellectual capacity, and unaware that the stranger had quoted an Aramaic passage from the Shabbat morning service,  exclaimed, "Hey, hold on boys, leave him alone. This fellow isn't a Jew – he's a Frenchman".


Some scholars claim  that the reason for the Kol Nidre prayer goes back to the Spanish Inquisition of the 15th Century, some even earlier to the 5th and 6th Century

In these times Jews were forced to convert to Christianity, to Islam or die. These Jews were known as 'Conversos', masquerading  as converts to another religion. However, these  Jews remained faithful to Judaism at heart, and to some degree, of observance too. It was difficult, but every Yom Kippur Eve they would gather in secret hideout Shuls and before the Service, would tearfully and emotionally ask God to forgive them for all their transgressions made in the previous year contrary to Jewish doctrine.


When the danger had passed many of these forced converts wanted to return to their Jewish community, but they had been forced to swear vows of fealty to another religion. Because of the seriousness with which Jewish tradition views verbal promises, the Kol Nidre formula was developed precisely in order to enable those forced converts to return and pray with the Jewish community, absolving them of the vows that they made under distress. This is one theory, but the fact is we don't know for sure the real reason, as it is just lost in the mists of time. Some say Kol Nidre predates the Inquisition by 500 years, but put simply, it is just the opening prayer of the holiest day of the year, and as such, is said with great devotion not because of  its content.


And the 3 times .


One reason is so that latecomers get a chance to hear it if you missed it first time round , or second time, etc. You know what it's like. You rush home from business, grab your last meal for 25 hours and straight off to Shul.


Also there is another reason . Because of a custom of ancient Jewish courts, to be released from a legally binding vow, it had to said 3 times.


But what of the music and melody of Kol Nidre. We don't know who composed it, again lost in the mists of time. Nevertheless, it's a challenge to any singer, and a Cantor's delight. This plaintive, haunting melody varies in intensity from pianissimo to fortissimo and has been recorded by various artists. Cantor Yosselle Rosenblatt is on the list. Other names also on the list are Avram Fentuch, Alexander Tsaliuk,  Azi Schwartz , Moshe Oysher and Moshe Koussevitzky, as are Jan Peerce, who is also on the list.


Perhaps the most well known versions are Al Jolson in the original Jazz Singer mercifully not 'blacked' up for the occasion. Also, Neil Diamond reprised the role in the remake.  Perry Como also is on the list and they are not all men, as Cantor Angela Buchdahl is also on the list.


Johnny Mathis is also  on the list, a devout Catholic, he appreciated  its huge emotion and powerful message. He first learnt the melody, then the words. It wasn't a religious thing with him, as he didn't have to masquerade as anyone else, but maybe in some small way paid something back to those 'Conversos' Jews who didn't have a choice.


So In conclusion we ask God to release these vows, and instead, grant us a year of happiness and redemption.




All contributions are accepted on the understanding that the authors are responsible for the opinions expressed which do not necessarily reflect the views of Ne've Shalom, the Hull Reform Synagogue.





Ne've Shalom
Great Gutter Lane
HU10 6DP



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