Rosh HaShana Prayers

  Sh’losh Esrei Middos: The Thirteen Attributes of Mercy

      The enumeration of the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy has a unique expiating quality. The Almighty revealed to our master, Moses, the order of prayer for forgiveness-Seder S’licah, when Moses asked the Almighty to show him His Divine glory. “And the Lord passed by him, and proclaimed, the Almighty, mighty, merciful, and gracious…” (Exodus 34:6-7). In the Talmud, Rabbi Yochanan said: “…this verse teaches us that the Holy One, bless be He, drew His robe around Him like the reader of a congregation and showed Moses the order for prayer. He said to him: ‘Whenever Israel sins, let them carry out this service before Me, and I will forgive them’… Rabbi Judah said: “A covenant has been made with the Thirteen Attributes that they will not be turned away empty-handed” (i.e. that Israel will not be turned away empty-handed when they recite them), as it says, “Behold, I made a covenant.” (Exodus 34:10)

THE AMIDAH:   The Silent Amidah

 The outstanding difference between the liturgy of Rosh HaShana and that of other festivals is in the Amidah, especially the Mussaf Amidah which is the longest of the entire year, with a total of nine benedictions (seven benedictions on Shabbos and the festivals).

      Outline of the Berachos (benedictions) of Mussaf:

1.  Avos – concerning the Patriarchs. 

2.  Gevuros – the Almightiness of God

3.  Kedusha HaShem – Sanctification of the Divine Name

4.  Kedushas HaYom and Malchuyos – Sanctification of the day and Kingship verses. 

5.  Zichronos - Remembrance verses

6.  Shofaros – verses expressing the significance of the Shofar. 

7.   Avodah – the Temple service

8.   HoDa’ah – Thanksgiving

9.   Bircas Shalom – the blessing of the Peace. 


      Malchuyos, “the Kingdom of the Almighty” open with the Alien l’Shabeach prayer which stresses the Almighty’s universal kingship and His selection of Israel as His chosen people. In many congregations, it is customary to kneel down and bow during the reader’s repetition of the words, “we bend the knee and prostrate ourselves”. One should place a covering on the floor before bowing.

      Zichronos, “remembrance” stresses the concept of Rosh HaShana as a day of judgment, and the Divine determination of human destiny.

      Shofaros, “blowing the Shofar” reminding us of receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai, messianic redemption of the world and the Temple service.

      This division corresponds with the three names of Rosh HaShana:

        Yom HaDin – Day of Judgment (Malchuyos)

        Yom HaZikaron – Day of Remembrance (Zichronos)

        Yom Teruah – Day of Sounding the Horn (Shofaros)

      Each of these sections begins with a short prayer stating the central theme, followed by ten verses from the Bible; three from the Chumash (Pentateuch),  Kesuvim (Hagiorapha), N’viim (Prophets) and a concluding verse from the Chumash.

      During the reader’s repetition, the Shofar is blown at the conclusion of each section.


      This stirring prayer is recited during the repetition of the Mussaf Amidah, immediately before kedusha. The prayer opens with a description of the heavenly court on Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur and goes on to enumerate the Divine decrees to be pronounced on mankind, “how many shall die and how many shall be brought into existence…”. It concludes with a call to the sinner that penitence, prayer and charity can avert a severe decree.

      This moving prayer was composed by Rabbi Amnon of Mainz, Germany close to 1,000 years ago. Rabbi Amnon, a wealthy scholar of prominent descent, was repeatedly but fruitlessly pressed by the Archbishop of Mainz to convert to Christianity. On one occasion, Rabbi Amnon requested three days to consider. Upon reaching home he was filled with remorse that he had given the impression he might even consider betraying his belief in the Almighty. For three days and nights he prayed and fasted. When he did not appear before the bishop, he was arrested. The furious bishop had Rabbi Amnon’s hands and feet cut off as Rabbi Amnon was repeatedly asked to reconsider his decision.

      That Rosh HaShana, Rabbi Amnon requested he be carried to the synagogue and before the congregation recited the kedusha, Rabbi Amnon recited this prayer, u’Nesaneh Tokef and immediately died. Three days later he appeared in a dream to Rabbi Kalonymous ben Meshullam, taught him this prayer and asked that all Jewry insert this prayer into their High Holiday liturgy.

AVINU MALKEINU: Our Father Our King

      We follow Rabbi Akiva’s example and use the expression, "Our Father our King” which precedes each request as we beseech the Almighty. The source for this special prayer of petition is from the Talmud,.

 "It is further related of Rabbi Eliezer that once he stepped down before the Ark and recited twenty-four benedictions (which according to the Mishnah in Ta'anis 2:4 ought to be recited on fast days when there is a drought, and his prayer was not answered. Rabbi Akiva stepped down after him and exclaimed, 'Our Father our King, we have no King but Thee; Our Father our King, for Thy sake have mercy upon us', and rain fell." (Tractate Ta'anis 25b)

HaYom Haras Olam

      “This Day, the world was called into existence.” This prayer constitutes the epilogue to each of the three texts of Malchuyos, Zichronos and Shofaros.

Vidduy: Confession of Sins

      This confessions sins, Vidduy, is a Biblical injunction, derived from Numbers 5:7, “v’hisvaddu es chatasam” (then they shall confess their sin). Rabbi Aharon HaLevi, in his classic work, Sefer HaChinunch, says: “By putting his confession into words, the sinner gives clear evidence of his conviction that all his deeds are known to the Almighty. He does not pretend the almighty does does ‘see’ his deeds. Moreover, by giving a detailed account of his transgression and by expressing remorse, he will be more circumspect in the future and be saved from further pitfalls.”


      Hallel is not recited on Rosh HaShana.

Last updated on: 03/31/2020
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