The Yom Kippur Amidah



By Rabbi Richard Sarason

The Yom Kippur Amidah is an extended variant of that for Rosh Hashanah, which was discussed in the Ten Minutes of Torah posting of February 28, 2013, and may usefully be consulted in this context. All of the insertions that are made into the Amidah on Rosh Hashanah and Shabbat Shuvah (the Sabbath of Repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) also appear on Yom Kippur. The only differences, as would be expected, are in the middle, festival, benediction, K’dushat HaYom (“The Sanctity of the Day”), where the special themes of each holy day are articulated.

In the first paragraph of that benediction, Attah v’chartanu (“You have chosen us”), Yom Kippur is referred to as having been given to us for m’chilah (annulment), s’lichah (pardon), and kapparah (atonement), “for annulling all our wrongdoings.” This is the characteristic liturgical vocabulary of Yom Kippur.

The third paragraph of this benediction takes a unique form on Yom Kippur, deploying as well the characteristic Yom Kippur vocabulary that we have just pointed out. It reads as follows:

Our God and God of our ancestors, pardon our iniquities on this Day of Atonement. Wipe out and remove all our transgressions and sins from before Your eyes, as it is written: It is I, I who – for My own sake – wipe your transgressions away and remember your sins no more (Isaiah 43:25), and it is written: I wipe away your sins like a cloud, your transgressions like mist – Come back to Me for I redeem you (Isaiah 44: 22), and it is written, For on this day atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you of all your sins; you shall be clean before Adonai (Lev. 16:30).

Note the two verses from Isaiah cited here: both derive from the book’s second half, and are the words of an anonymous exilic prophet whose message is one of comfort and inspiration that God has not rejected the people in their exile; that they will be restored to their land, just as, through repentance and return, they will be restored to divine favor.

The fourth and final paragraph of the benediction (Kadsheinu b’mitsvotecha, “Sanctify us through Your commandments”) also ends with text that is unique to Yom Kippur. Afterv’taheir libeinu l’ovd’cha be’emet (“Purify our hearts to serve You in truth”), the text concludes:

For You are the Forgiver of Israel and the Pardoner of Yeshurun in every generation,
And we have no king who pardons and forgives except for You.
Praised be You, Adonai, King who pardons and forgives our iniquities and those of all His people the household of Israel, and makes our guilt pass away every year:
King over all the earth, Who sanctifies Israel and the Day of Atonement.

The last phrase of the closing peroration (chatimah), “King over all the earth . . .” also is recited on Rosh Hashanah, since it articulates the malchiyyot theme of the High Holidays, proclaiming and renewing God’s sovereignty. Otherwise, the characteristic theme unique to Yom Kippur here is the appeal to God as Pardoner and Forgiver of the people Israel each year on the Day of Atonement.

In the traditional liturgy, the Musaf (“Additional”) Amidah on each of the High Holidays is expanded to include the major statement of characteristic themes for each occasion. TheK’dushat HaYom benediction on Rosh Hashanah includes the extended Malchiyyot(“Sovereignty”) texts (accompanied by shofar blasts); this is followed by the separate benedictions and texts (also accompanied by shofar blasts) for Zichronot (“Divine Remembrance”) and Shofarot (“Shofar-blasts”). On Yom Kippur, the Musaf Amidahincludes in their place Seder Ha’Avodah (literally, “the Order of the [Temple] Worship”), the narrative recollection cum re-enactment of the atonement rites in the Second Temple on Yom Kippur as these are described or imagined in Mishnah Yoma. Since most North American Reform prayer books have omitted the Musaf service, these characteristic materials have been redistributed to other services: Malchiyyot-Zichronot-Shofarot become the Shofar Service at the end of the Rosh Hashanah morning liturgy, while a more contemporary reframing of Seder Ha’Avodah appears in the Afternoon Service. It remains to be seen how Mishkan HaNefesh, the new Reform Machzor, will treat Seder Ha’Avodah, since no draft materials have yet been made available.

Dr. Sarason is Professor of Rabbinic Literature and Thought and the Associate Editor of the Hebrew Union College Annual. He was ordained at HUC-JIR.

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