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    What Kol Nidrei means

    What Kol Nidrei means must be more than the music. Otherwise it would never have been so battered and battled over during the course of its long history.

    Yet when you delve into the text you find that it seems to negate everything that Judaism believes in. Where Judaism says that one must keep a promise (Deut. 23: 21-23, Kohelet 5:4-5), Kol Nidrei says that oaths are no oaths.

    The key to Kol Nidrei rests not in the oaths but attitudes. It seems to be human nature to blithely undertake things which turn out to be too difficult to fulfil.

    Sometimes we know in advance that we should not be making the undertaking but we do it for dramatic effect. How often did people say to me as their rabbi, “I promise on my mother’s grave to do such-and-such a thing”. Perhaps it was, “I swear on my daughter’s life that I will do such-and-such”.

    Fortunately I knew enough to smile and not take the promise seriously but I still got upset at the mention of a dead parent or a living child.

    In any case Kol Nidrei does not deal with promises to other people but promises to God, and that’s where we make our great mistake.

    We think God will recognise that we are exaggerating and He will smile and forgive us. Descartes said, “God will forgive – that’s His job!”

    Through Kol Nidrei we say to God, “Lord, Your children fear that they will promise You too much. Please guide us to keep our undertakings modest.”

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