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Kol Nidrei - The nullification of unfulfilled vows to God

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The opening prayer of Yom Kippur is the Kol Nidrei (or Kol Nidre) "annulment of vows" recited at sundown of Yom Kippur eve. The Kol Nidrei service consists of the opening of the Ark and taking out the Torah scrolls, reciting the Kol Nidrei and returning the Torah scrolls to the Ark. Kol Nidrei, the prayer which ushers in the holy day of Yom Kippur, is perhaps the most famous one in our liturgy. Ironically, it is not really a prayer at all, but rather a statement. A statement that deals with promises, vows and other sorts of verbal commitments commonly made in the course of the year. The Torah places strict demands on keeping one’s word, and not fulfilling a vow is considered a serious misdeed. Kol Nidrei, which means "all vows", nullifies the binding nature of such promises in advance. One declares all future vows and promises invalid, by declaring that all vows are "absolved, remitted, cancelled, declared null and void, not in force of in effect." One of the reasons for this prayer service goes back to the days of the Spanish Inquisition, when the conversos (Jews who chose to convert to Christianity rather than face expulsion or death, but remained faithful to Judaism at heart, and to some degree in observance too) would gather on Yom Kippur eve in their hideout synagogues. Before beginning the Yom Kippur services, they would tearfully and emotionally entreat God to forgive them for all the public statements they made in the previous year which were contrary to Jewish doctrine. This is why Kol Nidrei is prefaced with the statement: “. . . by the authority of the heavenly tribunal and by the authority of the earthly tribunal, we hereby grant permission to pray with those who have transgressed.” On Yom Kippur when the essence of the soul is fully revealed, we express our real attitude towards the imperfections which might slip into our behavior, in the coming year. They are thus denied and declared insignificant. The evening service which follows Kol Nidrei consists of the Half-Kaddish, the Shema, the Amidah, the Al Chet confession of sins, and special additional prayers (piyyutim) which are said only on the night of Yom Kippur. Many have the custom to recite the entire Book of Psalms after the evening service.

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3 Yaakov ben Chaim Tzvi = "Since the soul is literally a 'part of God'; Judaism believes that the soul can never be permanently damaged, only 'stained' with the sins that run contrary to the will of God; this is one reason why Jews do not recognize the concept of an 'eternal Hell'. The soul is completely pure and it is only our physical, earthly desires which force the soul to do things 'against its will'. Yom Kippur pulls back the curtain of physical reality by revealing the pure essence of the soul allowing us to reveal our true self."