How “Kol Nidrei” Captures the Essence of Yom Kippur

Although by far the most well-known piece of the holy day’s prayers, Kol Nidrei was a late and controversial addition to the liturgy that, in strict halakhic terms, should be considered of secondary importance. Rather than addressing Yom Kippur’s central themes of repentance and atonement, it is a blanket annulment of vows and oaths. Yet, argues Wendy Amsellem, the importance ascribed to it in the popular imagination is well founded:

In both biblical and rabbinic literature, vows are a very serious matter. Numbers 30:3 cautions, “If a man vows a vow to God or swears an oath to forbid something to himself, he shall not violate his words, all that he says he must do.” . . . Thus if a person took a vow, for example, to refrain from eating chocolate, the Torah commands her to keep her vow, and so the prohibition against her eating chocolate takes on the severity of a biblical injunction. [Put differently], our words have the capacity to take on divine force. . . .

We can understand . . . the desire to speak significantly, to impose a steadfastness on our inherently mutable existence. We want to be more noble in our speech, more reliable in our actions. Yet [talmudic] anecdotes about those who take vows always seem to end with a desire to get out of them. . . . We are unable to meet our commitments; we don’t want the same things tomorrow that we want today.

Yet halakhah allows for vows to be annulled in most circumstances, usually by going to a rabbi or rabbinic court, expressing regret, and then receiving absolution. The Talmud discusses the details of such annulment at length, relating many cases of sages who sought annulments of their vows from their colleagues and teachers. Amsellem continues:

Although [there is a case where a talmudic rabbi] frees himself from a vow, [the great sage] Shmuel teaches that it is preferable to have others annul one’s vows. . . . This [teaching] introduces a communal element. Others can help out when a person realizes his limitations.

Humans want to be like God. They inevitably fail in their aspirations, but they can rely on others in their community to come to their rescue. This is the essential message of the High Holy Days.

Read more at Lehrhaus

More about: Jewish liturgy, Kol Nidrei, Religion & Holidays, Yom Kippur

Planning for the Day after the War in the Gaza Strip

At the center of much political debate in Israel during the past week, as well as, reportedly, of disagreement between Jerusalem and Washington, is the problem of how Gaza should be governed if not by Hamas. Thus far, the IDF has only held on to small parts of the Strip from which it has cleared out the terrorists. Michael Oren lays out the parameters of this debate over what he has previous called Israel’s unsolvable problem, and sets forth ten principles that any plan should adhere to. Herewith, the first five:

  1. Israel retains total security control in Gaza, including control of all borders and crossings, until Hamas is demonstrably defeated. Operations continue in Rafah and elsewhere following effective civilian evacuations. Military and diplomatic efforts to secure the hostages’ release continue unabated.
  2. Civil affairs, including health services and aid distribution, are administered by Gazans unaffiliated with Hamas. The model will be Area B of Judea and Samaria, where Israel is in charge of security and Palestinians are responsible for the civil administration.
  3. The civil administration is supervised by the Palestinian Authority once it is “revitalized.” The PA first meets benchmarks for ending corruption and establishing transparent institutions. The designation and fulfillment of the benchmarks is carried out in coordination with Israel.
  4. The United States sends a greatly expanded and improved version of the Dayton Mission that trained PA police forces in Gaza after Israel’s disengagement.
  5. Abraham Accords countries launch a major inter-Arab initiative to rebuild and modernize Gaza.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, Israeli Security, U.S.-Israel relationship