Monday, March 09, 2015

A Bear's Kol Nidre

Back in 2007 I wrote up a quick description of the Kol Nidre experience in my shul. It was huge hit. The next year I added description of other shuls I attended, and other people from other types of shuls begin sharing their experiences as well. Over the years I compiled them as part of what I called the DovBear Kol Nidre project.

Today's post, the first in countdown of classic posts that will culminate on Pesach, is the Kol Nidre project post from 2010

Please do us a favor and share on Twitter, Facebook, etc. Thanks.

Sectarian Differences on Kol Nidre night

Original Publication Date: Thursday, September 1,  2010

The Big Shul Where I Grew Up and the Yeshivish Minyan I Attend Now

  • Attendance: 90 percent of the shul is in their seats by the time the pregame starts. 20-50 percent are wearing white kippot (in the childhood shul the number was higher.) Most of the women are wearing something white, too.
  • Pre-game: Every Torah is taken out of the Aron, and the pillars of the community are honored with the privilege of carrying them. (This is one honor that isn't auctioned to the highest bidder.) The rabbi leads the procession to the shulchan, reciting Ohr Zeruah l'tzadik every few steps. We answer him. When the men reach the shulchan they crowd around the chazan who has been waiting there, pushing in as tightly as possible. All of this began within 30 seconds of the announced start time.
  • The show: Takes about 10 minutes. The chazan always uses the same tune, the traditional tune that can be heard on any number of cantorial tapes. His voices gets louder each of the three times he recites it. We hum along, and answer thunderously when the time comes to scream: solachti kidvorecha. After the chazan intones the shehechayanu the Torahs are silently returned to their place.
  • Post game: The children exit, and the Rabbi delivers words of encouragement or rebuke, and in some years, an appeal is also conducted for some worthy charity. (not the bedek habayis fund). Marriv begins afterwards, led by the chazan, who also selects the tunes for the slichos which are sung responsively.
The Hasidic Sfard Shteeble I Used to Attend
  • Attendance: About 15 percent of the shul is present at the announced start time which is for Tfillas Zaka, not Kol Nidrei. Aside from their kittels, very few of the men are wearing white, and many have substituted a standard black gartel for the kittel's white belt. A number of the women wear white and many have identical white kerchiefs over their wigs; some wear what look like white aprons.
  • Pre-game: The congregation gradually enters, and slowly the men take their seats and hunch over Tfillas Zakka, a long semi-silent prayer said in an audible whisper. In a few minutes the drone of conversation is replaced with the hum of prayer. At some point (usually within 5 minutes of the announced start time for Kol Nidrei) a gabbai slaps his hand on a table and the rebbe groans or whines or wails out a kabbalistic prayer called Kum Rebbe [name I forget. Eliezer?]. Those who know it whisper the words together with the rebbe.
  • The show: The Torahs are taken from the aron, and the men carrying them, also community pillars, gather around the shulchan. After they arrive, the rebbe goes to the amud (about 15 feet from the Torahs) and bleats out Kol Nidrei using a tune that is strange yet powerful in its own right, but only vagualy similar to the traditional tune. The crowd bellows the response lines, and at the end the rebbe's shehechyanu is extended into a wail that soulds like the shofar.
  • Post-game: When the Torahs are back in their place, Maariv begins immediately, led by the rebbe.
The Reconstructionist Shul... (Tziporah)
  • Attendance: Yes, most everyone is seated by the time we start; the people still walking around chatting are either service big-wigs, showing off that they're part of running this thing, or people who come only once/year and have a lot of people to say "hi" to that they haven't seen in a while. Moms are trying to round up the kids and get them settled into the childcare before it gets quiet, stopped repeatedly by the old people who want to talk about "how big" everyone is getting.
  • Pre-game: I think one of the rabbis or somebody usally says something or does a reading or whatever to make everyone shut up. Then both Torahs are taken out, and the rabbis carry them around the shul in different directions, singing "Ohr Zeruah" along with the congregation, trailed by Board members, etc. It takes FOR-fricking-EVER. Everyone wants to touch the Torahs and the rows are too long for everyone to reach it, so some scuffling ensues. (Very genteel scuffling, of course).
  • The show: For the last several years, the first rendition of Kol Nidrei has been done with a cello and some other instrument. Several of us are horrified by this; some refuse to attend b/c of it; others find it nice and "contemplative." Phhbt. With a Bad Cohen on the ritual committee, they're lucky it's not worse. Anyway, then it's usually the rabbi and one of our lay leaders with a great voice, and the third time is a chorus that always includes the old ladies with the horribly wobbly voices that make you wince. Thank G-d it's over.
  • Post-game: Torahs get put away, then there's a neverending procession of readings, speeches, prayers, whatever, all the way through to the Amidah/kaddish, and finally the feature event of the evening: the rabbi's sermon. This is what most of us are looking forward to, since it's the junior rabbi who actually has a formal education and can link HH Days themes to something relevant and make it interesing.
  • After the sermon, there's a vast rustle and buzz as people try to exit before the President/Vice President get up and beg for money and more volunteers. It's not pretty.
The Yeckish Shul... (Mar Gavriel)
  • "Talles" is scheduled for some time around sunset, or slightly afterward. People start to shuffle in at least 10-15 minutes earlier, but there are always people running in at the last moment. All married men (after Shono Rishôno) wear kittels (as they do on RH, as well). We use the terms "kittel" and "sargenes" interchangeably. Virtually all the women wear white.

    "Talles" is when the one rabbi, the other rabbi, and finally the chazzen for KN/ma'ariv sing the berocho over the talles, with great pomp and circumstance, before donning it. After the chazzen is done, each man (married or not) dons his talles. All who are wearing kittels wear all-white talleisim, whereas bachelors and men in Shono Rishôno wear their ordinary black-striped talleisim

    At this point, the chazzen puts his talles over his head and entire body, and hunches over the shtender, to silently whisper a personal prayer -- I assume הנני העני ממעש, or one of the other ones printed in the book. When he is done, he removes the talles from his head, and the rabbi, who is standing next to him, proclaims: "בישיבה של מעלה ובישיבה של מטה, על דעת המקום ועל דעת הקהל, אנו מתירין להתפלל עם העבריינים."

    Then, the chazzen, in a quiet voice, begins "Kol Nidrei", in the old tune. The congregation hums along for some parts. This is then repeated in a louder voice, and finally in an even louder voice.

    When this is done, we say the line
    ונסלח לעל עדת בני ישראל ולגר הגר בתוכם כי לכל העם בשגגה
    a single time, and then Shehecheyonu. The congregation responds a rousing "Omein!" to the chazzen's Shehecheyonu, and then the chazzen sits down.

    The rabbi then gives his YK sermon, the only time that he speaks over the whole 25 hours. Usually, this lasts until nightfall, at which point we begin Borachu. In years when there has been persecution of Jews somewhere in the world, or violence in Israel, the sermon has been curtailed, in order to have time to recite some Psalms before Borachu.

    The whole procedure is beautiful in its simplicity.

    No Torah-scrolls, no Tefillo Zakko, no Kom Rebbi Shim'ôn, no appeal for money.
UK Orthodox Experience.(SM)
  • Everyone to be sat in seat before Yomtov. 50% are. The rest arrive - in their cars - after.
  • Tefillas Zaka, what's that? Oh you mean the thing that meshugana SM says when he won't respond to everyone's greetings. Kum Rebbe Shimon - ?
  • Kittel - I wear one. So does the Rabbi, the Chazzan and perhaps 5 other people.
  • Bigwigs take Sefer Torah out of ark and parade them to Bimah. Chazan makes meal of Kol Nidre - must still be hungry. It is the standard tune but by the time he's done it and the choir has helped it doesn't feel like it.
  • Appeal for UJIA (Israel). Sermon.
  • Ma'ariv. The songs are well known so people stop talking when they are being sung - more or less. Otherwise there is a steady hum throughout. This is better than on RH when you cannot hear the Chazzan or yourself.
  • 3 hours later - home.
    Which is why, although I have no affinity for their beliefs, I go to Chabad for Neilah, daven for the Old Age home shacharit and mincha and teach the rest of the time, fitting in my davenning wherever I am and in the quietest place I can find.

Search for more information about Jewish sects at

No comments: