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    Prelude to Kol Nidre

    Just before Kol Nidre there is a solemn proclamation that declares it permitted to pray with avaryanim, usually translated “transgressors”.

    Painting by Zalman Kleinman

    From the poetical point of view, it tells the more religiously committed worshipper not to resent the presence of the irregulars who hardly ever come to shule and have a mixed bag of achievements and iniquities.

    It also tells the sinner not to feel too alienated to endeavour to take their place in the synagogue. It says that on Yom Kippur evening no-one is too righteous or too sinful to be part of the congregation.

    What a wonderful notion – but the history of the declaration had something else in mind.

    It began amongst the Ashkenazim in Germany in the Middle Ages and was unknown to the Sephardim until the late 16th century.

    Some attribute it to the 13th century authority Rabbi Me’ir of Rothenburg, but it actually originated earlier with Rabbi Eliezer ben Yo’el HaLevi.

    The avaryanim mentioned in the formula are not sinners in a general sense but dissident members of a community who were placed under a ban for flouting a communal ordinance or some other infraction.

    Their punishment included being prohibited from entering the synagogue; on Yom Kippur, however, the ban was lifted and they could join the congregation and take part in communal worship.

    Both the poetic and the prosaic views can draw support from the statement in the Talmud, “Every fast that does not include the sinners of Israel is not acceptable to God” (K’ritot 6b).

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