On the Eve of Yom Kippur, we eat a sustaining meal and light holiday candles with a special blessing. We then go to synagogue for the special Kol Nidrei service, in which we invoke both an earthly and a heavenly court to release us from any unfulfillable vows we may make in the year to come, and invite all those who have sinned to come and pray with us. Two Torah scrolls are taken out and are held by two people, one on each side of the leader, forming the required legal quorum of three.
This annulment procedure has been quite controversial over the centuries since it was first instituted, some time before the ninth century C.E. Many anti-Semites have seized upon this apparent release from obligations to proclaim the untrustworthiness of the Jews. However, this dull, legal formula, recited in Aramaic, does not constitute a blanket release from promises, especially those made to other people, but only between the individual and G-d. Still, the many arguments against it led to its periodic banishment from the makhzor, most recently by the Reform movement in 1844, but sentimental attachment to the plaintive melody led to its restoration in 1964. The Reconstructionist movement briefly abolished and then reinstated it, with slightly different wording.
One theory of the origins of the distinctive tune postulates that it was composed during the time of the Spanish Inquisition, when Jews were forced to convert to Christianity to save their lives, but continued to practise Judaism in secret. The beautiful, haunting melody made it into the music of Beethoven, Bruch and Schoenberg, among others. Many artists, both Jewish and non-Jewish, have recorded it. Below is a video of Perry Como singing Kol Nidre.
Because the annulment of vows cannot take place on the actual holiday itself, the Kol Nidrei service is held before sunset. To acknowledge that it is not yet evening, we wear our tallitot, the ritual prayer shawls that are only worn during the day.
Kol Nidrei – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Celebrate!, Lesli Koppelman Ross