David Rosenthal
David Rosenthal

Yom Kippur and Kol Nidre

“In Jewish history there are no coincidences.”
– Elie Wiesel.

The “Day of Atonement” or Yom Kippur, is the holiest day in the Hebrew calendar. Its importance lies in the word “forgiveness”, for without forgiveness there is no atonement, not even repentance. Moreover, to forgive comes from the Latin “per donare”, that is, “to give”. Consequently, in order to be able to give, one must first have forgiven. Likewise, the prefix “per” means completeness and “donare” means to give, so forgiving is an act of complete giving.

On Yom Kippur it is forbidden to eat, drink, bathe and wear jewelry; also, to anoint oneself with oils, creams or balms is forbidden. Likewise, having intimate relations and wearing leather (considered a luxury) is forbidden. On the other hand, it is customary to dress all in white, as a simile of man to an angel. In fact, Sephardic Jews call this date “the white fast”.
Now, the Kol Nidre, is a very particular prayer-declaration that evokes the history of persecution that the Jewish people have had to face during their extended exile throughout history, and specifically that religious persecution that forced hundreds of thousands to forced conversions, especially to Catholicism. Well, this opening declaration of the holiest day is focused on breaking the promises made involuntarily for the coming year, with respect to the year that has just begun according to the Hebrew calendar.

Kol Nidre which means “all vows” is written in Aramaic and would date back to the Visigothic Spanish Middle Ages, however, it could date from much earlier, and would be the time of the Babylonian exile, when the kingdom of Judah was deported to the once great Empire.

Israel in exile and its tribulations can transport any reader inexperienced in the subject, or simply curious, to all kinds of scenarios, one of them, the Inquisition, and how countless people were forced to abandon their religion, on pain of death. Likewise, nowadays, the children of the “forced” (Bnei Anusim) have been returning to the faith of their grandparents, or at least, realizing their true origin.

Yom Kippur and Kol Nidre is one more demonstration of the tenacity of the Jewish people and the resilience that characterizes them. Forgiveness is a key element for self-improvement, for it is a constant, since man is always haunted by sin and evil inclination. And, the annulment of promises that were made out of obligation, but also the annulment of negative decrees that may await the person, are a new opportunity for life.

However, forgiveness is not given by itself, if the offended one has not forgiven. And, unfulfilled promises will continue to add up as sin when it was to another that the promise was made and not kept. So, in the God-man relationship there could be absolution, as long as there is forgiveness and guilt, also atonement and repentance. Nevertheless, the man-man relationship must be remedied or settled between them, since neither the divine will take care of that debt, which, although it may be impersonal or subjective, is a matter of this world.

About the Author
Political scientist, analyst, researcher, journalist and columnist in various national and international media outlets. Host of “The Footprints of Sepharad in the New World,” a radio show on Radio Sepharad about Sephardic heritage in America. Also conferencist in multiple topics, like history, literature, judaism, women's history and mysticism.
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