From Kol Nidre to Neilah: All Jewish prayers for Yom Kippur

We’ve compiled for you the well-wishing, comforting time-honored words in an extensive prayer project – the Ynetnews Machzor; We invite everyone to become at one with the tunes – old and new – and choose your personal favorite from the prayer soundtrack, embedded within the DNA of the Jewish soul
Yom Kippur – the holiest of Jewish days, the day on which Judaism believes each and every person is judged – has its own rhythm. Within the noise that surrounds our lives, this quiet rhythm beats loudly. Wherever you live, wherever you were raised – Manhattan, Bnei Brak or Kibbutz Beit Hashita - Yom Kippur ranks at the top of the Jewish National Consensus Index. And we’re all beating to its rhythm.
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They say there isn’t a person who doesn’t pray - to someone, something, sometime. Prayer is the essence of hope and faith. It’s the invisible backbone connecting us to life. Yom Kippur is the Day of Jewish Consensus. It’s the only day of the year when Jews worldwide silence their routine, change their habits, ignite some degree of hope, linking up to something, someone, sometime.
We’ve collected for you the well-wishing, comforting centuries-old words in an extensive prayer project – the Ynetnews Machzor (prayer book.) The very same words sung by our ancestors, connecting us across the globe with a strong, fine thread. Words of inner quiet, love and peace.
On the day when hope and prayers are air bound, we’re pleased to present the Ynetnews Machzor in which the most prominent, touching and moving prayers are presented in chronological order in both contemporary and time-honored musical arrangements.
Whether you’re fasting or not, on your way to synagogue or at home, whether you’re far from a synagogue, or synagogue is far from you – this year, we invite everyone to become at one with the tunes – old and new – and chose your personal favorite from the prayer soundtrack, embedded within the DNA of the Jewish soul. We pray not only that the gates of Heaven should open on this day, but some temporal gates too, and that each and every person can, once more, touch their fellow’s soul.

The first of five Yom Kippur prayers – recited on the eve of Yom Kippur

Kol Nidre ('All our vows')

The prayer that sets off Yom Kippur (In Ashkenazi communities) is not the most important, but being sung to the same tune for generations, it creates a community bond, opening both our hearts and the gates of Heaven.
“Kol Nidre,” sung in Aramaic - the language spoken at the time of the Geonim, 1,500 years ago, and believed to have been penned at that time – is recited in most communities in Israel and is concerned with collective “absolution of vows,” the cantor and two prominent community members serving as a kind of court.
(Despite the years and the distance of time, there is no more classic performance than this)

What’s in it? Everything: Community gathering, emotional and historical charge and inspirational content. And the hope of starting a fresh, new, clean page. The crowd fills the synagogues in waves of white and the cantor begins – at first softly, and then with full force: “All the vows, prohibitions, oaths that we vow, consecrate or prohibit upon ourselves – we regret them.” (If you’ve made a specific vow, you shouldn’t rely on this wording alone.) You can enjoy this classic rendition by Hassidic legend, Mordechai ben David here.)
IDF Chief Cantor (Res), Shai Abramson and a choir conducted by Gabriel Chouraki. A chilling rendition of Kol Nidre set to images of abandoned synagogues across Poland (historical charge…)
(Photo: Meir Bulkah, j-nerations dorldor)

And here is the moving performance of the LGBT congregation "Beit Simchat Torah" in New York:
(Beit Simchat Torah )

Lecha Eli ('To Thee, oh God')

Mizrachi communities begin Yom Kippur prayers with this piyyut (liturgical poem) traditionally attributed by scholars to Ibn Ezra and more recently to Yehuda Halevi. This medieval piyyut has only improved over the years, gleaning countless tunes and renditions.
Fans of Yemenite pronunciation will enjoy Boaz Maouda’s performance. Here you can enjoy Hezi Fanian’s version in which he renews the piyyut in Persian (translated by Franz Tirosh Dagan) which he dedicates to the Jewish community in Iran and to the people of Iran:
(Photo Nuriel Nissani)

Here is an excerpt from the (rather long) piyyut opening with the words “Lecha Atzmi” performed by the star Hassidic singer Yaakov Shwekey and his brother, Moshe David Shwekey:
(Eran Yaakov)

And we couldn’t not share the version by Meir Banai who, a decade ago, brought this medieval piyyut about yearning for God to the stages of Tel Aviv:

Ya’ale Tahanunenu ('Our plea will ascend')

No synagogue remains unmoved as the congregation, during recitation of the Shema, cries out in unison: “Baruch shem kavod malchuto le’olam va’ed” - “Blessed is the name of His glorious kingdom for all eternity” (recited in a whisper during the rest of the year.) Following the quiet prayer, the cantor resumes his public prayer.
“Ya’ale Tahanunenu” opens Selichot in Ashkenazi congregations. Befitting its status, this piyyut has over a dozen melodies, including the Chabad version by Yonatan Razel, and the extremely popular melody, performed here by musician, Odelya Berlin.
And here is the moving rendition by Cantor Joseph Gold and the (then) teenage Nicole West at the “Congregation of Sinai Temple.”

Haneshema Lach ('The soul belongs to Thee')

In what ranks among one of the longest sections of Selichot – “Shom’eah Tfila” (Hear our prayer,) several dozen verses have been collated and arranged. Likely no synagogue sings them all through till morning (it’s Yom Kippur, after all...) but we had to give you a taste. Here is a nostalgic snippet sung by Ehud Banai with the late Rabbi Menachem Froman - and here’s Yonatan Razel’s wonderful version, as broadcast in Ynetnews’s first Klal Israel Selichot several years ago:
(Avihu Shapira)

Darkecha Elokeinu ('It is Thy way, Oh God')

One of a select group of piyyutim inextricably associated with a certain Hassidic group – in this case, Chabad (Lubavitch.) This upbeat arrangement is set to what is believed to be the most ancient of the piyyutim - written by 5th/6th century Rabbi Yossi ben Yossi. On Simchat Torah of 1955, the Lubavitcher Rebbe taught it to his followers (here you can hear the Rebbe himself singing it.) No Selichot event since would be complete without this piyyut.
Here is Ishay Ribo’s version:

Ki Hineh Kechomer ('As clay in the hand of the potter')

There are many zeniths to the Yom Kippur prayer service. “Ki Hineh Kechomer beyad Hayotzer,” recited in Ashkenazi communities to emphasize the nothingness of man – is doubtlessly one such a high point. Here is Odelya Berlin with the Rabbi Shalom Charitonov’s popular melody:

Shma Koleini ('Hear our voice')

This moving prayer recurs throughout the Days of Awe between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur (Yamim Nora’im) liturgy. The prayer is recited on Yom Kippur during Arvit, Shacharit (morning prayer) Musaf (additional prayer) and Mincha (afternoon prayer.) In simple language, we ask for the most basic of things through prayer: compassion, closeness, wisdom, strength and a beautiful old age. The congregation stands before the open ark and the emotive verses need no tune to pull on the heartstrings, but the most beautiful tunes are sometimes set to the cleanest of words.
Here Avremi Roth sings to Rabbi Haim Banet’s familiar tune - and here is Yitzhak Meir’s version at the Yeshurun synagogue in Jerusalem.

Ki Anu Amecha ('For we are your people')

This piyyut precedes the public confession to be repeated throughout the prayers until the concluding Neilah prayer. It’s sung to a multitude of different tunes. Here is Yisroel Williger’s rendition. And while we’re on the subject of confessions, here we have Yossele Rosenblatt singing “Al Het.”
And here “Halev Vehamayan” (The heart and the spring) with Hilik Frank and Ishay Ribo “Ki Anu Banecha ve’ata avinu” (for we are your children and you are our father.)

Se’u She’arim ('Lift up your gates')

Just before Kaddish, (here in a beautiful Hassidic style - and here in the style of the Jews of Cochin,) we finish the evening prayer with Psalm 24, opening with the words “A psalm of David”. Although the tune to the seventh verse, “Seu She’arim” is attributed to 19th-century cantor, Shmuel Naumbourg, cantorial scholar Akiva Zimmerman claims that the tune, sung in synagogues with great pomp, actually originates in the Parisien circus. Sorry if we’ve spoiled it for you.

If towards the end of the fast, you’re fantasizing about fish with a carrot on its head (Ashkenazim – originally from European countries,) you’re ten hours away from your cup of coffee. If, on the other hand, you’re from a Mizrachi background – you probably started your morning prayers two hours earlier. Do not despair, And good luck.
Following the regular, as ever moving, “Adon Olam”, “Ana Bekoach” (here you can listen to Ovadia Hamama and Itzik Eshel’s version,) “Pesukei dezimra” and the “Amida”, the cantor starts special High Holiday liturgy.
This is how the cantor begins:
(From Michael Sitbon’s album “Sha’at Neilah”) )

Kedusha (Holiness)

As its name suggests – the holiest part of the prayer service, recited while standing. "Nakdishach ve na’aritzach” (We will bless and honor you) in Shacharit and “Keter” (crown) during Musaf (During Shacharit in some communities), inspires glory in their description of what is happening in the worlds above us. Here, in Mizrachi style (with renowned paytan, Rabbi Haim Louk) and here in Carlebach’s beloved version, widely sung in various communities.

Ve'heviotchem el Har Kodshi ('These I will bring to my holy mountain')

Beyond doubt, one of the most loved and most sung parts of the prayer. If you’re lucky and the cantor has chosen the “Sha’at Neilah” melody, it’ll get you energized long before your long-awaited coffee does.

And if you prefer a quieter version, here Mordechai ben David provides us with the real thing. And here’s the duo, Yonina with a down-to-earth rendition:

Retzei ('Be favorable')

And here we have Avraham Fried, the undisputed star of Hassidic music – in a soulful song combining Hassidic pop and light cantorial music. In a unique interpretation complied during the Covid pandemic, he was joined by world-leading cantor, Rabbi Yitzhak Meir Helfgot for an outstanding performance (Synagogue cantors are still trying to imitate this version. Good Luck.)

Adon Haselichot ('Lord of Selichot')

What hasn’t been written (or sung) about the ultimate Selichot piyyut, the exclusive territory of the Mizrachi communities – and definitely on Yom Kippur. While Ashkenazim mournfully sing soulful piyyutim, our Sephardi brethren teach us how to score points with the Holy One with a series of Selichot piyyutim that even keep the children inside the synagogue. Here is the Jerusalem Children’s Choir’s performing “Aneinu” ("Oh Lord, answer us”.)
Neither the Jews in Ethiopia nor those in the shtetls of Eastern Europe sung “Adon Haselichot,” but female singers and artists from all Jewish diaspora backgrounds and genres got together to sing the Selichot anthem – that’s not even sung in all synagogues. Scandalous I say.
Here we have Liat Yitzhaki with friends (Ruhama Raz, Hani Nahmias, Hagit Yaso, Sharon Zelikovsky, Shalva’s lead vocalist, Etti Levi, Hadar Atari and Moran Mazor:)
(Chagay Adorian)

And while we’re in the swing of things with Selichot, like today’s not a fast day – “Israeli Piyyut,” when the paytanim and singers, Lior Elimelech and Michael Peretz and Uriel Shai’s project, met Golani Brigade fighters in their training grounds in the north of the country. The project connects artists from across the industry to the rich piyyut sources of the Jews of Morocco.
What do you think of Ziki Zinati’s “Adon Haselichot,” “Aneinu,” and “El Nora Alila” in Mizrachi pop style? Don’t think, Just sing.

And this from Yonatan Razel and Haim Louk:
(Amit Ben Shushn - ABSProductions)

This prayer is recited immediately following Shacharit, in memory of the additional sacrifice offered in the Temple on the Day of Atonement.

Hineni He’ani Mema’as ('Here I am, impoverished of deeds')

Just before the Amida (standing - the way the prayer is said) is recited in a whisper, the cantor in Ashkenazi congregations makes a personal request to be a worthy intermediary for the transmission of prayers. Although the formula is reserved for the cantor alone, it holds a special place of honour in congregants’ tears and prayers. Here it is as performed by legendary cantor, Yossele Rosenblatt.
This cover version by cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgot with the Ra’anana symphonic orchestra:

Unetanneh Tokef ('Let us now relate the power of this day’s holiness')

Probably the most moving prayer of all. “Unetanneh Tokef” (Here is Cantor, Haim Adler performing the traditional version) opens Kedusha in Ashkenazi synagogues and the whole Musaf prayer in Sephardi communities. Unlike other piyyutim that hold fast to the rules of rhyme and would pass all inspection by the Hebrew Language Academy, “Unetanneh Tokef” talks straight to the heart, in language that any Hebrew speaker would understand: The language of Judgement Day.
In addition to figurative descriptions of the goings on in the Beth Din in the Heavens, the prayer details what we’re really asking for: our lives, our children, health and livelihood “Who by fire, who by plague, who will rest and who will wander.” As the prayer poignantly clarifies our predicament, after three and a half hours in synagogue it really doesn’t matter whether it or not it was penned by Rabbi Amnon of Mainz who died sanctifying God.
It's been boldly and fearfully recited for over a thousand years in Ashkenazi communities and has known a broad variety of melodies that have become part of Jewish tradition, until Yair Rosenblum showed up – an Israeli kibbutznik who had never set foot in a synagogue, in 1990, left all the tunes that came before him in the dust.
With the late Hanoch Albalak, the work was dedicated to the 11 members of Kibbutz Beit Hashita who died in Yom Kippur war, fifty years ago today. The melody has since become a firm favorite among Haredim, national religious – and everything along the spectrum. From Avraham Fried’s haunting version here, through to IDF Chief Cantor (Res), Shai Abramson in a video clip produced by the IDF incorporating images of the Yom Kippur War.

Bnot Natan’el – three sisters and an artist who brought feminine Selichot into the synagogue – present a female version:
(Eli Ziv, Tali Fish)

Leonard Cohen’s unforgettable take-off:
 Who by fire

And of course, we couldn’t do without the amazing “Givatron” version with the late vocalist, Hanoch Albalak who died in 2019 “Who shall live and who shall die, who shall complete his years and who shall not complete his years.”

Synagogues, however, don’t forget Yossele Rosenblatt’s and Malavsky’s original version, many creating a musical fusion deliberately (and occasionally by mistake) combing the two versions.
Here is Haim Banet’s popular version, as performed by Yitzchak Meir and Avremi Roth’s version - and here Cantor Arik Wollheim performs the classic “Kebakarat” (Like a shepherd pasturing his flock):

Ein Kitzba ('There is no set span for your years')

If you open your machzor, and turn to the end of Unetanneh Tokef, you can sing with the cantors the melody from the Modzitz Hassidim (march, in fact). What a wonderful way to begin the Kedusha.

V'yetayu Kol L'avdecha ('Then all shall come to serve you')

Yet another prayer that was forever changed when Carlebach came along, bringing it to the broader public with a never-ending bouncy tune. (It’s all good. Dinner’s not drying out on the hot plate:)

The Lithuanian Hebron nusach (liturgical formula) puts up its own versionand at the other end of the spectrum, we have Yoni Ganot hosting Ishay Ribo and Ilan Damari:
(Yoav Genut)

And here, in a very different version – popular in synagogues:

Ochila La'el ('I will hope in God')

But just before, we couldn’t not mention “Ve Kol Ma’aminim” ('And all who believe') recited by all Ashkenazi communities - following “Hamol”. No mystery about why Ashkenazi prayers ends so late.
Here’s Mordechai ben David’s invigorating version – one of many melodies which, due the sheer length of the piyyut, are often sung in succession in the same prayer.

Well hidden between "Hamol" and “Vekol Ma’aminim” is a precious jewel. My beloved late grandmother told me how her mother Gittel Feigel, who perished in the Holocaust, used to say that a person on trial for their lives doesn’t sit down and she would stand throughout the whole prayer and when she reached the words “B’ein Melitz Yosher” ("Without an advocate'), she’d pour out her heart and the tears would roll down her face. Me too. Here is a link to the timeless version by the London Children’s Choir.
“It is for man to arrange his feelings, but eloquent speech is a Godly gift. My Lord, open my lips, that my mouth may declare thy praise.”
Rabbi Hillel Paley’s version as performed for the “Zikaron Menachem” foundation (supporting child cancer patients and their families) stands out above all, simple and chilling:

Adir ve Na’or ('Mighty and enlightened')

Immediately following the confession, Sephardi communities recite “Mi el kamocha” (Who, God, is like you), an acrostic poem, better known as “Adir ve na’or”, an ancient, but popular piyyut, known only in Mizrahi synagogues. Three great Mizrahi piyyut singers – Haim Israel, Moshe Louk and Maimon (Menni) Cohen show us how to say Selichot without falling asleep:

Mar’eh Cohen ('The countenance of the priest')

One of the wonders of the world is this piyyut that gets a tired, hungry and thirsty congregation on its feet after four hours straight of praying. The long “order of work” (describing the work of the high priest in the Temple) finishes off with this the extremely cheerful piyyut, the congregation happily and piously joining in.
Rafi Biton with his unforgettable version of Mar’eh Cohen:

And while we’re on the subject of “order of work”, Ishay Ribo breathing life into the memory kept within the pages of the Machzor.

Vidui ('Confession')

One of the themes of the day, recurring throughout the prayers - including in various piyyutim - is Israel coming together from the four corners of the world. In Mizrahi denominations, it’s customary to chant “Ribbono shel olam, bere’oti, bacharoti sar hilam” ('Master of the World, the glory of my youth has faded.') Yair Haddad presents, melody from rural South Yemen.
Haddad renews Yemenite songs “that the Yemenite themselves have forgotten.” This piyyut is attributed to 14 century Jewish Spanish poet, Rabbi Shem Tov ben Itzchak Ardutiel. It sounds like this:
(Yair Ezra - Ayin Be Ayin yiru)

Vete’arev ('May our entreaty become pleasing before Thee')

After Retzei, (following Shacharit) during Musaf we recite the supplication: “May our entreaty become pleasing before Thee as an elevation-offering and as a sacrifice. Please, O Merciful One, in Thy abounding mercy, return your presence to Jerusalem.” And it has received a beautiful melody in recent years, so we’re sharing here Mordechai Ben David and Moti Steinmitz's version. And let us say Amen:

Hayom Te'amtzeinu ('Today, may Thou strengthen us')

Ashkenazi congregations only recite this piyyut during Musaf, and if you ask the Sefaradi congregations (and Malchus coir, performing it in Malavsky's version) they will say it’s their loss.

And here is a performance to the lovely melody of Yonatan Razel, with singer Shloime Gertner:

Et Shaarei Ratson ('It is the time for the gates of acceptance to be opened')

This popular Akedah (Binding of Isaac) piyyut holds special place in the Mizrahi siddur. Here, performed by Rabbi David Menachem with a bonus to get into the atmosphere.

Ya Shma Evionecha ('God, hear your poor')

In Mizrachi synagogues you’ll hear this lovely piyyut opening Selichot at Mincha on Yom Kippur. The Israeli Andalusian Orchestra in Ashdod gave a Selichot concert tour and got the crowd going with this version by Maimon (Meni) Cohen and the Piyyut Ensemble. Feeling feeble at the end of a fast is for losers. This is very strong cup of black coffee.
(Mike Edri, Elad Levi, Rafi Biton)

Hamol Al Ma’asecha ('Have compassion upon Thy works')

This piyyut recurs throughout the day in Ashkenazi synagogues. During Mincha, everyone’s tired and their souls are asking for a different kind of mercy. Despite fatigue, and having sung it at least three times over the past 24 hours, we’re only too happy to sing this piyyut to two very popular melodies - competing throughout the day. You decide.
From Odelya Berlin’s annual “Ochila” show, she performs Yigal Calek quiet and gentle arrangement of “Hamol:”
(Roim Et Hakolot, Eli Zinger)

And Yumi Lowy in a moving rendition arranged by Rabbi Akiva Homnick:

And if you haven’t yet heard today “Besefer Hayim” (“In the Book of Life”) to the much-loved melody sung in most Ashkenazi synagogues, Feel free to join in:

El Nora Alila ('God of awe, God of might')

The big moment has finally arrived and the piyyut opening Neilah in Mizrachi synagogues, usually sung to a uniform melody, setting it apart from other piyyutim sung to a variety of tunes.
(Ilay Kimchi, Tamar Avraham, Chen Nevo)

Ptach Lanu Sha’ar ('Open the Heavenly gate for us')

“Neilah,” the fifth and final prayer (on the only day of the year we pray five times,) marks the climax - just before the day ends. There are only few more minutes of pleading left before the verdict is handed down. Somehow, just as everyone is totally exhausted, synagogues are suddenly packed with crowds.
This is how is sounds from Yehoram Gaon:

Avinu Malkeinu ('Our father, our king')

This well-known prayer is recited at the end of Shacharit and Mincha on the Yamim Norai’m. In the closing of Yom Kippur, the word “hotmeinu” (inscribe us) replaces the word “kotveinu” (write us) – and at the end, the congregation shouts out in unison: “Shema Israel, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad” (Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.)
Over the years, various melodies have been composed for “Avinu Malkeinu” - always spoke to the congregants’ hearts. Barbara Striesand’s rendition (to a popular folk tune) introduced the ancient piyyut to the Western world. Even if not everyone in Maddison Square Gardens understands the words, the tune gets into your bones. Before you develop an addiction to her voice.

Chabad produced a video clip “Ein lanu Melech ela ata” (“We have no God but you”) based on a melody attributed the "Alter Rebbe", Shneur Zalman of Liadi, that won the hearts of the young generation. Female cantor, Adi Arad presents a modern take on an old tune, with a band calling itself “Electro Nigun.” What would the Rebbe have to say about that?
(Lior Zusayev, Eynav Drumer)

The “Mishpacha Achat” (“One Family”) choir comprised of bereaved fathers recorded “Taheh hasha’a hazot” (“May this time be an hour of mercy and a time of acceptance before You.”) There wasn’t a dry eye in the synagogue:

Here is a more cheerful version, as sung in many of the Yeshivot - this specific video is from Merkaz Harav in Jerusalem:

And this is how it sounds, a moment before the end. You’ll be sorry it’s over:

Kadish ('Sanctification')

The Kadish during Neilah, complete with shofar blowing and the grande finale of singing “Next year in Jerusalem”, holds a special place in the day. It always electrifies the atmosphere, following a day of prayer and fasting. You can feel the collective release of tension in the air. This is how it sounds in the magnificent Hassidic performance by Eric Moses, Israel Rand, Yossi Malovany and others, who must have had something to eat before the performance.

For the past two years, as synagogues have moved outside due to the Covid Pandemic, Tel Aviv-based “Rosh Yehudi” has held Kol Nidre services on Diesengof Street, that have turned into a large-scale events. Neilah on Diesengof Street looked like this:
(Rosh Yehudi)

Most importantly – may everyone be inscribed in the Book of Life!
As the Babylonian Talmud tells us: “May the present year’s curses end as it ends, and may the upcoming year’s blessings begin as it begins.”
First published: 07:18, 09.24.23
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