Jerrold Landau
Genealogical and Translation Services

Maaravot, Yotzrot, Kerovot


Rosh Hashanah

 The piyyutim of the Yamim Noraim are similar in form and style to those of other occasions, albeit more numerous, lengthy, and elaborate. As most congregations recite the piyyutim of the Yamim Noraim in some form or another, they tend to be more familiar to the average worshipper than those of the Shalosh Regalim or other special occasions. Most congregations recite a subset of the piyyutim that appear in the Maḥzorim, and many different customs exist regarding which to recite and which to skip. As with the other Yotrzrot and Kerovot, I will not be providing a line by line explanation – for such exists in Maḥzorim with commentaries (e.g. Artscroll in English, and Maḥzor Rabba and Rinat Yisrael in Hebrew). Rather, I will give an overview of the structure and themes.

 Unique features of the piyyutim of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur include:

  • The absence of Maaravot.
  • The absence of a Zulat in the Yotzrot.
  • More numerous Kadosh phrases in both the Yotzer and Kerovot. These Kadosh phrases are often interwoven as refrains in longer piyyutim. Many congregations skip the longer piyyutim, but recite the Kadosh phrases responsively.
  • The elaborate style of Kerovot for Musaf on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, and for all the daytime services of Yom Kippur. On all other occasions, Kerovot only appear at Shaḥarit.
  • Piyyutim inserted in the middle of Kedusha, and in the latter part of the Amida following Kedusha for Musaf. While these are not officially Kerovot, I will cover them in this section.


The Yotzer of the first day of Rosh Hashanah is based on the Kingship of Gd, with each stanza beginning with the word Melech. Gd is portrayed in anthropomorphic terms, but also through His deeds. Gd wreaks vengeance upon His enemies, is feared by all humanity, judges the world on the Day of Judgment; but He also gives strength to the weary, and exonerates those who pursue justice. The Yotzer of the second day consists of seven stanzas, with the first, third, and seventh focusing on Kingship; the second and fourth on remembrance; and the third and sixth on the shofar – thereby covering the three main themes of the Rosh Hashanah Musaf: Malchuyot, Zichronot, and Shofrot.

As is often the case with the piyyutim of Rabbi Eleazar HaKalir (author of the Yotzrot of the first day), the rhyming pattern and alliteration in these piyyutim can be quite intense. A particular poignant example from the Yotzer of the first day is: מֶֽלֶךְ טַלִּיתוֹ כַּשֶּֽׁלֶג מְצֻחְצָח. צַח וּבְצַחְצָחוֹת יְצַחְצַח. מְצַחְצְחִים פָּעֳלָם לְנַצַּח [Melech talito kasheleg metzaḥtzaḥ, tzaḥ uvetzaḥtzaḥot yetaḥtzaḥ, metzaḥtzaḥim paalam lanetzaḥ]. The King whose garment is as pure as snow, He is pure, and He purifies with purification, those who purify their deeds for victory. One can almost hear the sound of Gd polishing and refining the deeds of His beloved people.

A very unusual acrostic appears in the Yotzer of the second day: Shimon bar Yitzḥak, Elḥanan my son, may he live long, and be inscribed for eternal life, Amen Selah. This Yotzer, like many other piyyutim, was written by Rabbi Shimon Hagadol of Mainz (Mayence). It refers to the legend that his son Elḥanan was kidnapped by a Christian maid, sent to a monastery, and converted to Christianity. He rose up the ranks of the church and ultimately became the pope. In this piyyut, his father expresses the hope that his son would ultimately return to Judaism. According to some versions of the legend, a reunion ultimately took place, and the pope saved the Jews from persecution. Whether or not this is historically true, it vividly portrays the possibilities of repentance, even for those who have strayed very far from their roots. As such, it is very appropriate for Rosh Hashanah. [31]

There is a common Ofan for both days. Similar to the Yotzer of the first day, it focuses on the theme of the Kingship of Gd. Each stanza ends with the word Melech. The themes of remembrance and the shofar are also mentioned in this Ofan. One line has an altered wording for Rosh Hashanah on Shabbat, when the shofar is not blown. On a weekday, one says: Listen to the sound of the shofar blast of those who blow it for You today, O King. On Shabbat, this changes to: Listen to the remembrance of the shofar sound to those who remember You today, O King. The piyyut ends with “We will bless the living Gd and King,” thereby segueing into the continuation of the Kedusha of the first pre-Shema bracha.

The Kerovot of the two days of Rosh Hashana begin with an opening Reshut, in which the prayer leader expresses his trepidation at the task ahead, and prays for success in representing the congregation on the Day of Judgment. The first three sections after the Reshut focus on the lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The section on Isaac makes mention of the Akeida [Binding of Isaac], which is one of the central themes of Rosh Hashanah. The third (Jacob) section on the first day actually deals more with Rachel than Jacob. Based on Midrashim, Rachel is portrayed as weeping over her childless state, fearing that she may fall into the lot of Esau. There is an exchange of embryos between Leah and Rachel, so that Rachel would have a son; and the eventual birth of Joseph is noted. The analogous section on the second day begins with an additional plea by the prayer leader for success at his mission, mentions Abraham and Jacob briefly, and then expresses the hope that our prayers and shofar sounds will be heard, and salvation will be granted.

Following וְאַתָּה קָדוֹשׁ יוֹשֵׁב תְּהִלּוֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל קל נָא is the well-known piyyut Ata Hu Elokeinu Bashamayim Uvaaretz. This piyyut, recited in this position on both days of Rosh Hashanah as well as Yom Kippur, describes the attributes of Gd. As with many of the major piyyutim of the Yamim Noraim, the Aron Kodesh is opened for the recitation.

The next portion of the Kerovot consists of several Kadosh phrases woven into piyyutim. Many congregations have the custom of reciting the Kadosh phrases, but omitting the accompanying piyyutim. On the first day of Rosh Hashanah there are four Kadosh phrases, and on the second day there are eleven. Given that three of the four Kadosh phrases of the first day deal with the shofar, they and their accompanying piyyutim are switched with those of the second day if the first day occurs on Shabbat.

The Kadosh phrases of the first day are:

  • Arouse Yourself and sound Your shofar (i.e. Gd’s shofar to be sounded at the onset of the Messianic era) to cut off all evildoers, and may You be sanctified by those who know how to sound the shofar, O Holy One. This is followed by a piyyut lamenting the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash, and looking forward to the time when Gd’s kingship will be rectified with the ultimate redemption.
  • And so, Gd remembered Sarah as He had stated, so please now recall her descendants for the good on this day, O Holy One. This is followed by a piyyut recalling Sarah’s barren state, the promise of a son, and the birth of Isaac when she was 90 years old. According to tradition, the promise and the birth took place on Rosh Hashanah. The birth of Isaac also forms the opening theme of the Torah reading for that day.
  • O King, rescue from wickedness those who know the sound of the shofar, O Holy One. O King, remember the shofar of the ram that was caught in the bushes, for those who will be blowing a horn for you today, Awesome Holy One. These two Kadosh phrases then form the refrain of the following piyyut.


On the second day, the first seven Kadosh phrases are recited together, and then are woven into the following piyyut. Only the seventh of these phrases mentions the shofar. The others note that the Jewish people are glorifying Gd’s Name, express the hope that our fervent prayers be answered, and look forward to the end of the exile, the return to Jerusalem and the Temple service, and the coming of the Messiah. The next two phrases, which form the refrain of the following piyyut, state that Gd judges righteously and fairly, and that nobody can dispute His judgment, for Gd does as He wishes. The final two of the eleven Kadosh phrases express the hope that Gd’s great Name will stand for us even if we lack good deeds, and beg that Gd not enter into a dispute with us. Since Gd even finds fault with the angels, how can man, fashioned of clods of earth, ever hope to be justified in judgment.

The Kerovot then continue with the major piyyutim that form the highlight of the repetition of the Shaḥarit Amida. On the second day, the first of these piyyutim is Melech Elyon [the Supreme King]: And so, there was a King in Jeshurun, the Supreme King. This piyyut graphically describes Gd’s deeds and attributes. Toward the end, it contains two stanzas that describe man (referred to Melech Evyon, the impoverished king) who withers away and dies. The Aron Kodesh is closed for the recitation of the Melech Evyon stanzas. The final stanza then returns to a description of the Melech Elyon, Who judges in truth, and Whose seal is truth. On the first day, an analogous Melech Elyon piyyut is recited during Musaf rather than Shaḥarit.

The next piyyut is Hashem Melech. A different version exists for each day. The piyyut is based on the refrain: השׁם מֶֽלֶךְ השׁם מָלָךְ השׁם יִמְלֹךְ לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד [Gd is King, Gd ruled, Gd will rule forever and ever]. This is not a pasuk in and of itself, but rather a composite of three pesukim, Psalms 10:16, 93:1, and Exodus 15:18 – the latter from Shirat Hayam. Each stanza consists of three phrases, ending with one of the three parts of the refrain. Some phrases describe the angelic hosts proclaiming Gd as King, whereas other describe the Jewish people making the proclamation – in either the past, present, or future tense. On the first day, each phrase ends with bekol (i.e. they proclaim out loud). On the second day, the first of the three verses in the stanza describes the angelic proclamation, the second describes the human (i.e. Jewish people’s) proclamation, and the third states that these and those join together to make the proclamation.

The final of the major piyyutim of the Shaḥarit Kerovot is: Lekel Orech Din [Let us coronate the Gd Who arranges judgment]. The stanzas alternate with the conclusion: din [judgment] or beyom din [on the Day of Judgment]. The same piyyut is recited on both days, as well as on Yom Kippur. In most customs of Nusaḥ Sephard, Lekel Orech Din is deferred to Musaf on the second day. The reason is that we are uncertain of the moment of Gd’s judgment on Rosh Hashanah, which could take place either during the first quarter of the day, or the second quarter of the day. To cover all bases, we recite the piyyut focusing on Gd’s judgment in the earlier timeframe on the first day, and the latter timeframe on the second day [32].

The Siluk of the first day focuses on the judgment of Rosh Hashanah, but also mentions Kingship, Gd’s remembering, and the shofar. The Siluk of the second day focuses on the might of Gd, refers to the judgment, and then describes in detail the ten trials that Abraham endured, concluding with the Akeida. There is also a piyyut inserted in the middle of the Kedusha. The same piyyut is recited on both days. It is divided into two parts, a longer part prior to Az Bekol, and a shorter part prior to Yimloch Hashem Leolam. Each stanza ends with a form of the word aish [fire]. An interruption of the Kedusha with a piyyut is unusual, and is only found in the Yamim Noraim services. As with the Siluk, most congregations omit the Kedusha piyyut.

There is a full set of Kerovot of the elaborate style for Musaf of the first day. The Musaf Kerovot are less detailed than those of Shaḥarit. There is no elongated Reshut following the usual Misod Ḥachamim. This is due to the fact that the prayer leader has already made his plea for the success of his mission with the Hineni prayer prior to the silent Amida. The first three sections of the Kerovot deal with the concept of judgment, and mention Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. The flood is mentioned, along with the hope that such a catastrophe never occur again. The sounding of the shofar is also noted, as is the concept of repentance.

There is no חַיּ וְקַיָּם נוֹרָא וּמָרוֹם וְקָדוֹשׁ piyyut. The two Kadosh phrases state that, were Gd to be exacting in judgment, nobody would survive; and were Gd not to act for His own sake and remove His anger, it would be useless to scrutinize people and search for good deeds. The major piyyut is Melech Elyon, in the same style as the analogous piyyut for Shaḥarit of the second day.

The Siluk, the most famous of all Silukim and arguably of all piyyutim of the Yamim Noraim, is Unetane Tokef, recited on both days of Rosh Hashanah as well as Yom Kippur. Unetane Tokef graphically portrays the Divine Judgment, with Gd as Judge, Knower, and Witness Who writes, seals, remembers everything that is forgotten, and opens the book of memories, which read themselves. The angels themselves quake in fear, as they, too, cannot withstand the Divine judgment. All human beings pass before Gd as sheep being counted by the shepherd. On Rosh Hashanah it is written and on Yom Kippur it is sealed: who shall live, who shall die; who in a timely fashion, and who untimely fashion; who will be at peace, who will be afflicted; who will become impoverished, and who will become wealthy. Numerous types of death are noted: by fire, by sword, by beast, by hunger, by thirst, by earthquake, by plague. Unetane Tokef resonates with the worshippers, as everyone can relate to the fragility of life, to the sudden changes that can occur, and to the intrinsic uncertainty of the human condition. It speaks to our primal fears as mortal beings. The piyyut then states that the harsh decree can be averted by repentance, prayer and charity. It concludes with a praise of Gd, Who is eternal, in contrast to man, who comes from dust and ends in dust.

Unetake Tokef is said to have been written by Rabbi Amnon of Mainz, who was a friend of the bishop of the city. At one point, the bishop insisted that Rabbi Amnon convert to Christianity. Rabbi Amnon asked for three days to think about it. After three days, Rabbi Amnon refused, and said that the bishop should cut off his tongue that even entertained the thought of conversion. Instead, the bishop ordered that Rabbi Amnon’s hands and feet, which refused to carry out the request, be chopped off. Three days later, on Rosh Hashanah, the dying Rabbi Amnon was carried to the synagogue. At Kedusha time, he asked to sanctify the Name of Gd. He recited the Unetane Tokef prayer, and then died. Three days later, he came to Rabbi Kalonymos ben Meshulam of Mainz in a dream, and taught him the prayer. Whether or not this legend is historical – and to be honest it does not really matter – the story, the content, and the themes resonate with all those gathered to pray for a good year on the Yamim Noraim [33] [34].

There are no Kerovot for Musaf on the second day. However, Unetane Tokef is recited on both days. Although it is in essence a Siluk, it has taken on the status of an independent piyyut, and even those congregations that do not recite the Siluk on any other occasion would not think of omitting Unetane Tokef. In most versions of Nusaḥ Sephard, as noted above, the Lekel Orech Din piyyut is moved to Musaf instead of Shaḥarit. It is interesting that the recitation of these two piyyutim in Musaf on the second day is not preceded by the Misod  Ḥachamim formula, asking permission to interrupt the normal order of prayer.

The piyyutim of the repetition of Musaf on both days extend beyond the usual Kerovot, as follows:

  • Additions to the Kedusha, the same on both days. These insertions graphically elaborate on the angelic praises of Gd that are reflected in the regular Kedusha. Most congregations do not add these insertions. As with the morning Kedusha insertions, they are found in the Additional Piyyutim section in Artscroll.
  • Vechol Maaminim, recited on both days of Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur. Each verse begins with וְכֹל מַאֲמִינִים [and all believe], outlining a fundamental aspect of Gd’s attributes and actions. Gd is described as a Gd of faith, Who examines thoughts, Who is a powerful redeemer, Who is the Sole Judge, Who has no equal, etc. Prior to Vechol Maaminim, several paragraphs are added to the repetition of the Amida before the Uvechein paragraphs.
  • Vayeetayu, also recited on both days of Rosh Hashanah and on Yom Kippur (other than in Nusaḥ Ari), just after the Uvechein paragraphs. This piyyut elaborates on the theme of the Uvechein paragraphs, describing how all peoples of the earth will eventually come to recognize the sovereignty of Gd.
  • Oḥila, recited on both days of Rosh Hashanah prior to the onset of the Malchuyot, Zichronot, and Shofarot sections of the Amida, and on Yom Kippur prior to the Avoda. Oḥila is a form of Reshut, where the prayer leader asks for eloquence in approaching Gd at this critical point in the service. It is preceded by a prayer in which the prayer leader once again asks for success for himself and for other prayer leaders, and that he not fail at his task, or be humiliated by his own foibles or those of the congregation.
  • Three lengthy piyyutim, different on each day, introducing each of the  Malchuyot, Zichronot, and Shofarot sections of the Amida, elaborating on these three central themes of the service. Most congregations omit these introductions.
  • Hayom, recited on both days of Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur, at the very end of the repetition of the Musaf Amida. Hayom is a simple piyyut, asking that today (Hayom) Gd strengthen us, bless us, raise us up, accept our prayers, etc. Hayom is followed by a series of pesukim aspiring for a return to the Temple, and that our service of Gd be positively accepted. It concludes with the hope that righteousness, blessing, mercy, life, and peace be with us and all of Israel forever – a noble, uplifting thought as the very long Shaḥarit / Musaf service of the Yamim Noraim draws to its conclusion.


Many of us were raised with the childlike notion that Gd is angry when Rosh Hashanah starts, but changes His attitude toward grace and mercy by the end of the service. This is based on the Midrash that Gd moves from the seat of justice to the seat of mercy on Rosh Hashanah. As mystical, childlike, and magical as this sounds, it can be looked at logically as well. We spend the morning and early afternoon of Rosh Hashanah performing many commandments, as well as reconnecting with basic themes of faith that may not be in the forefront of our thoughts during the regular days of our super-busy lives: Gd is the ultimate ruler (Malchuyot – Gd’s omnipotence), but is also all-knowing (Zichronot – Gd’s omniscience). Gd intervened in the world early in history with the creation of the world, the Exodus, the giving of the Ten Commandments accompanied by shofar blasts, and many other times. The world runs in accordance with Gd’s direct will (as it says in Zichronot: it states on this day regarding the nations, who will have the sword and who will have peace, who will have hunger and who will have abundance…). Gd will again intervene overtly in world history as the Messianic era approaches and world history reaches its climax, with Gd acknowledged as the Ruler of all. As we reconnect with these basic doctrines of Jewish belief, and remind ourselves that these are the beliefs that really matter to us, and are etched deep in our psyche despite all the time we spend on the mundane realities of day-to-day life, we demonstrate to ourselves and to Gd that we really are “on His team” in running the world, and that our aspirations match His aspirations. With that recommitment and reconnection to the basic tenets of our belief, it is reasonable to expect that Gd will look upon us with mercy and grace rather than anger. After all, Gd needs human beings who are on His team. As the abundance of piyyutim on Rosh Hashanah accentuate and highlight these basic tenets of our belief, reinforcing the themes of Kingship, Gd’s memory, and Gd’s cataclysmic intervention in the world, reminding ourselves of Gd’s judgment and of our great patriarchs and matriarchs who founded our People – the piyyutim are integral to the process of bringing us to a good outcome in the judgment of Rosh Hashanah.


Yom Kippur

No day of the year is as plentiful in prayers and piyyutim as Yom Kippur. There are two basic forms of the Yom Kippur piyyutim: the Yotzrot and Kerovot, and the Seliḥot that are included in each of the five services of the day. In this section of the book, I focus on the Yotzrot and Kerovot. I will deal with Seliḥot in a later section. The form of the Yotzrot and Kerovot of Yom Kippur is similar, albeit more elaborate, than those of Rosh Hashanah. The Yotzrot and Kerovot focus on and accentuate the two main themes of the day: a) human failings and our requests for forgiveness and atonement, and b) effusive praise of Gd in the style of angels. These two themes may seem contradictory, but both are fundamental to the Yom Kippur service. Both also reflect the reality of the human condition – in some ways, we resemble animals, and in some ways, angels [35].

Like Rosh Hashanah, there are no Maaravot for Yom Kippur. The two special features of the Yom Kippur Maariv service are the Kol Nidre ceremony prior to Maariv, and the elongated Seliḥot service following the Amida.

Unique among every other day of the year, the preliminary part of the Yotzer bracha is extended as follows: Blessed are You, Hashem, our Gd, King of the world, Who opens up for us the gates of mercy, and grants light to the eyes of those who await His forgiveness… This opening sets the tone for the prayers and petitions of the day. According to some customs, the Aron Kodesh is opened for this preface. In deference to the reluctance to change the text of the bracha itself, Nusaḥ Ari omits this elongated opening.

The Yotzer of Yom Kippur is quite short compared to those of Rosh Hashanah. It consists of a poetic request for forgiveness with an alternating refrain: Forgive the holy nation on the holy day, Exalted and Holy One; We have sinned our Rock, forgive us, our Creator. The latter refrain also appears numerous times in the Seliḥot section of all Yom Kippur services. The refrain of the Ofan is: His Kingship is asserted in the community of my congregation, and His honour is my faith, to Him I direct my requests to forgive my sins and transgressions, and on the fast day of Yom Kippur, may He respond and say, I have forgiven. Each stanza of the Ofan piyyut begins with the word Kadosh, and ends with Baruch Shem Kvod Malchuto [Blessed is the Name of the honour of His Kingdom].

The Kerovot for Shaḥarit and Musaf are largely analogous to each other, with similar themes and different versions of the same style of piyyut. On the other hand, some of the piyyutim of Shaḥarit are equivalent with those of Rosh Hashanah. I will discuss the Kerovot of Shaḥarit and Musaf in tandem.

As on Rosh Hashanah, the Kerovot of  Yom Kippur Shaḥarit open with an extended Reshut in which the prayer leader begs for success at the task ahead. At Musaf, this petition is accomplished by the Hineni prayer prior to the silent Amida. The three opening sections of the Kerovot (Magen, Meḥaye, and Meshalesh) for both services outline the power of Yom Kippur to atone. The first section reflects back to the shofar blasts of Rosh Hashanah: The congregation, shaken up by the shofar sounds of Rosh Hashanah, is now standing shoeless, clothed in white, pleading for their lives. These sections of the Kerovot also mention the merits of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. There is an additional piyyut following the second section, known as a Tochaḥa (piyyut of reproof or admonition), outlining concepts of repentance. At Shaḥarit, it begins and ends with: Until the day of his death, You wait for him to repent, to turn him towards life. At Musaf, the analogous piyyut begins and ends with:  As long as he has his soul, Gd hopes for the repentance of man fashioned from earth, to grant him life, and benefit his ultimate destiny. The opening verse of each of the three sections of the Musaf piyyutim refers to Yom Kippur by three different terms: Shabbat Shabbaton [the Sabbath of Sabbaths], Yom Kippur, and Tzom Heasor [the Fast of the Tenth]. These three terms are also woven into the respective piyyut as the acrostic. Following these three sections at Shaḥarit, the Ata Hu Elokeinu piyyut (same as on Rosh Hashanah) is recited. The next part of the Kerovot are the piyyutim, two for Shaḥarit and two for Musaf, based on the Kadosh phrases. The Kadosh phrases for Shaḥarit are as follows:

The next part of the Kerovot are the piyyutim, two for Shaḥarit and two for Musaf, based on the Kadosh phrases. The Kadosh phrases for Shaḥarit are as follows:

  • Please forgive, please remove sin and iniquity, and let Your power be exalted, O Holy One.
  • Please, Merciful One, atone the sins of those who are standing and describing Your praise, let them be inscribed for good life in the book, O Holy One. These two Kadosh phrases form the refrain of a piyyut, each line of which ends with the first few words of a pasuk from Psalm 145 (Ashrei).
  • O King Who lives forever, You will rule alone forever, O Holy Gd.
  • O King Who hears supplications, Who will hurry with salvation to His nation, Awesome and Holy One. These two Kadosh phrases form the refrains of the second piyyut.


The Kadosh phrases for Musaf are:

  • Let us be considered as he (the Kohen Gadol) who stood at the gate, and let our prayer push away the corrupt serpent (i.e. the evil inclination), and we will sanctify You on the Sabbath of Sabbaths, O Holy One.
  • Today when You open the books, have mercy on the nation that is glorifying Your Name, and we will sanctify You on Yom Kippur, O Holy One.
  • Tie up the Adversary (i.e. the evil inclination or the Satan) in chains, and grant good news to those in exile, and we will sanctify You on the Fast of the Tenth, O Holy One. These three Kadosh phrases form the refrains of a piyyut.
  • Please respond to my silent prayer, and desire my outcry, O Holy Gd.
  • Our Master, remember Your mercy to the voice of Your nation, Awesome and Holy One. These two Kadosh phrases then form the refrains of the second Musaf Kadosh piyyut.


The Kerovot then continue with a series of piyyutim, most of which begin with the Uvechein introduction. The majority of these piyyutim have an analogous version for Shaḥarit and Musaf, although several only appear in Shaḥarit. Many congregations only recite a subset of these piyyutim. These piyyutim are as follows:

  • וּבְכֵן וְאַתּה כְּרַחוּם סְלַח לָֽנוּ [And so, as You are the Merciful One, forgive us]. A different version exists for Shaḥarit and Musaf.
  • Hayom Yikateiv. This piyyut is only for Shaḥarit. The long refrain states that the books of life and death are open today, and calls upon the Jewish people to rise up, awaken themselves, and plead for their lives before He Who dwells on high.
  • וּבְכֵן אַךְ חַנּוּן אַתָּה וְרַחוּם לְכָל פֹּֽעַל [and so, You are gracious and merciful to all creatures]. The refrain of most of the verses is: for You are merciful to all creatures; and of the fourth (or in the last set, the sixth) verse: gracious and merciful to all creatures. A different version exists for Shaḥarit and Musaf.
  • Imru L’Elokim [State about Gd]. This piyyut, describes Gd through His deeds, attributes and actions. The Aron Kodesh is opened due to the significance of this piyyut. The version for Shaḥarit has 22 stanzas, going through all the letters of the aleph beit, whereas the version for Musaf has 11 stanzas, skipping the letters chaf through shin. Apparently, some Maḥzorim have the full set of stanzas for the Musaf version.
  • Maaseh Elokeinu [And so the deeds of our Lrd are great]. Each stanza begins with “The deeds of our Lrd”. The Aron Kodesh remains open. The last verse of each stanza states: Therefore, let Him be glorified… This piyyut is analogous to the Melech Elyon piyyutim of Rosh Hashanah. The second last stanza describes the deeds of man rather than those of Gd. Man makes plans, lives in deceit, and meets his end buried among the maggots in a cleft of earth. The Aron Kodesh remains open for this piyyut, but is closed for the stanza describing the frailties of man, and is then reopened for the final stanza. Analogous versions exist for Shaḥarit and Musaf, with the stanza about man being the same for both.
  • Asher Ometz (for Shaḥarit) and Asher Eimatecha (for Musaf). These analogous piyyutim have alternating stanzas. The first stanza of the pair describes the loftiness of Gd, dwelling on high, and receiving the praise of the angels. The second stanza states that, nevertheless, Gd desires the praises of mortal man, formed of clay and living on earth – and that desire demonstrates the glory and praiseworthiness of Gd.
  • Al Yisrael Emunato [Upon Israel is His faithfulness]. This, and the following four piyyutim are only for Shaḥarit. This piyyut describes the praises of Gd that apply to Israel.
  • Ein Kamocha [You have no equal]. The verses are in pairs, with the first pair describing that Gd has no equal above, and no equal in deeds on earth below.
  • Haaderet Vehaemuna [Power and faith are ascribed to He Who lives forever]. This piyyut is included in the regular Shabbat and Yom Tov Pesukei D’Zimra in Nusaḥ Sephard, and as such is quite familiar. The Aron Kodesh is opened. Each stanza describes attributes of the eternal Gd.
  • Naamircha Beeima [We will speak of You in awe]. Each two-word stanza describes how we will glorify and honour Gd.
  • וּבְכֵן רוֹמְמוּ השׁם אֱלֹקינוּ וְהִשְׁתַּחֲווּ לְהַר קָדְשׁוֹ כִּי קָדוֹשׁ השׁם אֱלֹקינוּ [And so, let us exalt Gd our Lrd, and bow down at His footstool, for He is holy]. The stanzas are in pairs, with the first word of one stanza starting with Romemu, and the first two words of the second stanza starting with Kadosh Hu.


In the latter part of the above list of piyyutim that apply only to Shaḥarit, I have listed those that appear in the main part of the Artscroll Maḥzor, as well as in the  Birnbaum Maḥzor. The Additional Piyyutim section of Artscroll includes five additional similar piyyutim, including an additional Romemu piyyut, that are recited by some congregations. The entire set of piyyutim is included in Maḥzor Rabba.

The long Kerovot are now drawing to a close. Two declarative phrases, similar in style to the Kadosh phrases, are now recited. They are recited both at Shaḥarit and Musaf, although the wording of the second phrase is slightly different for Musaf. Each has an associated piyyut, which Arscroll relegates to the Additional Piyyutim section.

  • To He Who sits atop praises, Who rides the Heavens, He is Holy and Blessed.
  • They (the angels) ask each other, Where is the Gd of gods, where is the Dweller of the heights? And they all sanctify and praise Him.

At Shaḥarit, Lekel Orech Din is now recited. This is the same piyyut that was recited on both days of Rosh Hashanah. Given that the judgment inscribed on Rosh Hashanah is sealed on Yom Kippur, the piyyut is relevant and very significant for both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

The Siluk of Musaf is Unetane Tokef. As on both days of Rosh Hashanah, Unetane Tokef forms a central highlight of the repetition of the Amida. The lengthy Siluk of Shaḥarit begins with Mi Yetane Tokef [Who can ascribe the power of Gd?]. These opening words bear a striking resemblance to the Unetane Tokef Siluk of Musaf. If one looks at the opening words of each, it appears that at Shaḥarit, the question is asked: Who can ascribe the power? Whereas at Musaf, the question is answered: Let us ascribe the power. However if one goes on to the object of the opening, it is clear that at Shaḥarit, the question is referring to Gd, whereas at Musaf, the stated answer is referring to the power of the day of Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur.

The Shaḥarit Siluk opens by describing praises to and attributes of Gd. It states that all creation, both heavenly and earthly, praises Gd. It then specifically describes the praises of Israel, who desire Gd and His Torah, and have been burned, strangled, drowned, and buried alive for the unity of Gd’s Name [36]. It moves on to portraying the frailty of man, with his evil inclination. Sins accumulate. But Gd has provided a remedy – one day a year, elevated above all others, to atone for sins. Everyone is fasting on this day – parents and children, young and old. They are praying and pleading that their sins be erased. Like all Silukim, it concludes by segueing into the Kedusha.

The Kedusha of both Shaḥarit and Musaf has a four-part piyyut, to be inserted at various places in the Kedusha. Each stanza of the first three sections of the Shaḥarit piyyut ends with the words: Ruach [spirit], Nefesh [soul], and Basar [flesh], referring to man. The end of each pair of stanzas in the fourth segments alternates between Hashem Ado-neinu, and Ma Adir Shimcha [How mighty is Your name], based on the Adir Adireinu part of Kedusha. The four parts of the Musaf piyyut all begin with Az milifnei Bereishit [Then, before creation]. As on Rosh Hashanah, most congregations omit the Kedusha piyyut.

At Shaḥarit, prior to Tusgav after Kedusha, there are a series of 18 piyyutim, which are omitted by most congregations. At Musaf, all of the post-Kedusha piyyutim listed above for Rosh Hashanah are also recited on Yom Kippur – with the obvious exception of the introductions to Malchuyot, Zichronot, and Shofarot. A central highlight of Musaf is the Avoda service, describing the service of the Kohen Gadol in the Beit Hamikdash. The Avoda is preceded by Aleinu [37]. Following the Avoda, the Mareh Kohen piyyut is recited, describing the radiance of the Kohen Gadol following his performance of the Yom Kippur service in the Beit Hamikdash [38]. This is followed by a lengthy series of lamentations over the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash and our inability to perform the service of Yom Kippur [39] as prescribed in the Torah.

Seliḥot are inserted in the latter part of the middle bracha of all four repetitions of the Amida on Yom Kippur. These Seliḥot include the Ashamnu and Al Ḥet confessions. As this section of the book focuses on the Yotzrot and Kerovot piyyutim, I will deal with the Seliḥot portions of the Yom Kippur service in the overview of Seliḥot in a subsequent section of this book.

Both Minḥa and Neila have the elaborate style of Kerovot, albeit in far briefer form than those of Shaḥarit and Musaf. These Kerovot begin with the usual invocation of Misod  Ḥachamim. The first three paragraphs focus on Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob respectively. At Minḥa, the piyyut notes that Eitan (a pseudonym of Abraham) recognized the truth of Gd in a generation that did not understand Gd. Abraham spread Gd’s Name, and provided food for all wayfarers. At Neila, the piyyut mentions that Abraham knew Gd from his youth, was tested ten times, and did not waver. At Minḥa, the second section recalls the Akeida, whereas at Neila, it notes that Isaac was considered the main offspring of his father, prayed to Gd intensively, and enjoyed the blessings of prosperity. At both Minḥa and Neila, the piyyut states that the image of Jacob is engraved on Gd’s throne. The Minḥa piyyut then goes on to describe how the descendants of Jacob have gathered to beseech Gd on this day, and expresses the hope that their prayers be heard.

There are three Kadosh phrases for Minḥa:

  • The nation preserves its faith, so for Your sake help those who remain, please accept our prayers as incense, O Holy One.
  • May the good, forgiving Gd atone and forgive, O awesome Holy One.
  • May our prayers be accepted by Him in heaven as sacrifices, O Holy Gd.

This is followed by a piyyut describing the angelic phrases, with the refrain: Michael praises at the right, and Gabriel utters on the left, in the heavens there is none like our Lrd, and in the land, who is like Your nation of Israel. In most congregations, the refrain is recited once, and the piyyut is skipped.

At Neila, this usually lengthy section of the Kerovot consists of a single Kadosh phrase, with no piyyutim:  Please hear, please forgive today, for the day is ending, and we will praise you, O awesome and fearsome One, O Holy One.

There is a brief Siluk at Minḥa. Uncharacteristically, the Birnbaum Maḥzor includes it. The Artscroll Maḥzor relegates it to the Additional Piyyutim section, as usual. This Siluk lists the seven heavens in which Gd dwells, focuses on the praises that ascend to Gd from both the angels on high and the beings on earth, and then segues into the Kedusha.

The even briefer Siluk of Neila is included in both Maḥzorim. It asks that Gd open up the gates of the Temple, the hidden gates, the gates of Heaven, the gates of purity, the gates of prayer that coronate Gd’s crown. As the gates are about to close at the conclusion of Yom Kippur, we ask that they remain open to accept the climax of the day’s prayers.

Both Minḥa and Neila have the usual Seliḥot section of the repetition of the Amida, which will be discussed later in the Seliḥot section of this book. The Seliḥot of Neila are particularly detailed and elaborate.

It is colloquially noted that the services of Yom Kippur last the entire day. That being said, most synagogues have some sort of break between Musaf and Neila. Those that recite most or all of the piyyutim would have a shorter break, if at all. Those that skip many of the piyyutim would have a longer break. (Of course, the number of piyyutim recited is not the only factor affecting the length of the service – the style of the cantor, the presence or absence of a choir, and the rabbi’s sermon and explanations will also have their effect.) In any case, the piyyutim, whether many or few (or should I better say, whether very many or many) reinforce the themes of the day, and stress both the insignificance and pettiness of human beings, as well as their potential to reach great heights in approaching Gd. As such, they help the worshipper tap into the awesome power of Yom Kippur to bring forgiveness and reconciliation.


First Days of Sukkot

The Maaravot, Yotzrot, and Kerovot piyyutim for Sukkot are less intricate than those of Pesaḥ and Shavuot. There is no special form of piyyut in these sections, such as the Bikur of the first nights of Pesaḥ, the long Seder piyyutim of the last days of Pesaḥ and Shavuot, and the Azharot of Shavuot Musaf. There are no detailed historical reviews, as on Pesaḥ and Shavuot. The Megillah of the Yom Tov, Kohelet, does not feature in the piyyutim, as does Song of Songs on Pesaḥ. Of course, Sukkot has its own signature set of piyyutim, the Hoshanot, which will be described in a separate section of this book. Simḥat Torah does have its own unique style of piyyutim.

The Maaravot of the first two nights mention the mitzvot of Sukkah and Arba Minim [four types of vegetation prescribed for Sukkot], as well as Hallel, rejoicing on the festivals, and the abundant festival offerings during the time of the Beit Hamikdash. The final section looks forward to the restoration of the Beit Hamikdash, and the reward in the World To Come for observing the commandments. Each stanza of the longer piyyut (third of the six Maaravit sections) of the first night ends with a word rhyming with Sukkot. Each stanza of the somewhat longer, analogous piyyut of the second night ends with Beḥag Hasukot [on the Festival of Sukkot]. Both piyyutim overview aspects of the holiday, and look forward to the future reward. The piyyut of the second night includes references to the Simḥat Beit Shoeiva [water drawing festivities] in the Beit Hamikdash, which is timely, since these festivities began on the second night of Sukkot (as described in Mishnah Sukkah chapter 5).

The Yotzrot of both days continues with the theme of overviewing the commandments of the day. The latter part of the Yotzer of the first day contains stanzas dedicated to each of the four species separately. Each stanza of the Yotzer of the second day ends with a phrase from the various pesukim in the Torah describing Sukkot. Most come from the section outlining the commandments of Lulav and Sukkah (Leviticus 23), but the pesukim of Deuteronomy 16:13-15 are also included. As is common in the Yotzer, Kadosh phrases are embedded in the piyyut. On the first day: I will glorify with praise and gratitude, in the midst of the congregation and the community, as I take the lulav and the bundle, O Holy One. On the second day: I will recite Hallel with my mouth and tongue, to He Who listens to the sound of prayer, as He said, “You shall take for yourselves on the first day” O Holy One.

There is a common Ofan for both days. It notes that the community of worshippers have gathered with their lulavs to praise Gd. It asks that Gd bring them back to Jerusalem, listen to their desires, rejoice with them, and forgive their sins.

The Zulat of both days contains a request for redemption, and looks forward to the re-establishment of the fallen Sukkah of David (Amos 9:11, also well-known from the addition to the Birkat Hamazon on Sukkot). The Zulat of the first day opens with אָנָּא השׁם הוֹשִׁיעָה נָּא, known from Hallel, but also from Mishnah Sukkah 4:5, and from the Hakafot of Simḥat Torah. The hopes for the coming of the Messiah, the destruction of our enemies, and the ultimate redemption in the same style as the redemption of the Exodus, and the splitting of the Red Sea are expressed.

The opening piyyut of the Kerovot of both days links Yom Kippur to Sukkot. The Kerovot of the first day start with: I shuddered in fear on Yom Kippur, frightened by the counting of my sins. On the second day it states: I was inscribed for life on the tenth [of the month]. The set of three opening piyyutim then mention the mitzvot of the Lulav and Sukkah. On the first day, the clouds of glory are mentioned, in accordance with the view that the mitzvah of Sukkah commemorates the protection of the Children of Israel by the clouds of glory in the desert. The first piyyut of the first day ends with Shor o Kesev [a bullock or a sheep]– referring to the sacrifices of the festival, but also to the beginning of the Torah reading of the day. On the second day, these piyyutim also mention the prayer for rain, the 70 bullocks and 98 sheep offered over Sukkot, along with the hope that those who observe the festival will eventually merit being sheltered under the sukkah of the leviathan.

Following the customary three opening piyyutim, there is a חַיּ וְקַיָּם נוֹרָא וּמָרוֹם וְקָדוֹשׁ piyyut on the second day. It focuses on the mitzvah of Sukkah, stating that it should not be considered a triviality in our eyes, as it is considered to be equivalent to all the mitzvot of the Torah. Those who observe it will be blessed, and those who rebel against it will be eternally cursed. This is a reference to the Midrash that at the end of days, the nations of the world, seeing the reward given to the Jews, will ask for a reward for themselves. Gd then will give them a single mitzvah, the mitzvah of Sukkah, so they can earn the reward. A harsh, hot wind then blows, and the nations of the world kick down the sukkah as they leave it in anger. (One is allowed to, and even supposed to, leave the sukkah if the conditions are adverse, but one should do so contritely and not in anger  – Mishnah Sukkah 2:8.) The piyyut ends with בּֽסֻכַּת חַיּ וְקַיָּם נוֹרָא וּמָרוֹם וְקָדוֹשׁ – the reward will be in the sukkah of the living, enduring, awesome and supernal Gd.

There is no analogous piyyut of this nature on the first day in most Maḥzorim. The Rinat Yisrael Maḥzor does include such a piyyut for the first day. Its style is more mystical than the second day piyyut. Most of the phrases ends with a word that rhymes with Sukko (His sukkah). [40] [41]

On the first day, there are two Kadosh phrases. These phrases form the refrain to a piyyut that reviews the four species, indicates the number of each species that are included in the bundle (with three Hadassim symbolizing the three forefathers, and the two Aravot symbolizing the number of wings of an angel), notes that they are to be taken for seven days, and that the mitzvah applies during the day and not at night. It then prays that this mitzvah shall stand us in good stead and lead to  our redemption. The two Kadosh phrases are as follows:

  • I will recite Hallel on the first day with my mouth and tongue, to extend my reverence to the Gd Who is the Last and the First – O Holy One.
  • Gd does not demand difficult tasks to prove righteous the nation that He desires, may You find favour in these [species], O Holy One. [42]

This is followed by the piyyut Uvechein Vayehi Beshalem Sukko [And so, His tabernacle was in Shalem]. This piyyut is of the same style as the Asher Ometz and Asher Eimatecha pair of piyyutim recited five days earlier on Yom Kippur. On Yom Kippur, these piyyutim contrast the abundant praises of Gd uttered by the angels with the desire of Gd to be praised by human beings. On Sukkot, this piyyut contrasts Gd’s dwelling place among the heavenly angels – called a sapphire sukkah, with His desire to have a dwelling place among the Jewish people in the Beit Hamikdash in Jerusalem. The sapphire sukkah is a reference to the mystical pasuk of Exodus 24:10 describing the throne of Gd:  וַיִּרְאוּ אֵת אֱלקֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְתַחַת רַגְלָיו כְּמַעֲשֵׂה לִבְנַת הַסַּפִּיר וּכְעֶצֶם הַשָׁמַיִם לָטֹהַר  [Mechon Mamre: and they saw the Gd of Israel; and there was under His feet the like of a paved work of sapphire stone, and the like of the very heaven for clearness]. Shalem as a name for Jerusalem is based on Genesis 14:18, when Melchizedek the King of Shalem brings bread and water to Abraham after the defeat of the four kings. The phrase Vayehi Beshalem Sukko is from Psalms 76:3.

Prior to the Kadosh phrases of the second day, there is a piyyut that reviews the deeds of Abraham, Jacob dwelling in Sukkot, the shelter of the clouds of glory in the desert, the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, the construction of the Mishkan, the commandment of Sukkah, and the drawing of the water. This is followed by the two Kadosh phrases, the second of which forms the refrain of the following piyyut, which gives an overview of the festival of Sukkot, noting its date, as well as the mitzvah of Arba Minim and the recital of Hallel. The two Kadosh phrases of the second day are more esoteric than those of the first day. They are as follows:

  • To protect me with a covering, to anoint my King, with the anointing of the Holy One.
  • For the First One (i.e. Gd) to renew me as originally, the nation guarded by the pupil of His eye, I will recite praises with my mouth and tongue, O Exalted Holy One.

The Siluk of the first day continues with the focus on the Arba Minim and the recitation of Hallel. It makes no mention of the mitzvah of Sukkah. It lists the number to be taken of each of the four species: one lulav and etrog as Gd is one, two aravot like the two mothers [43] and the two wings of an angel, three hadassim like the three patriarchs and the threefold recitation of Kadosh in Kedusha, taken together in a bundle of four like the number of matriarchs (here referred to as ‘valleys’) and the four animal forms in the Merkava [chariot of Gd], with four wings, for seven days like the seven days of the week, but with an eighth day celebration (adding in Shemini Atzeret) like the eighth day of the circumcision. This part of the Siluk bears some similarity to the Echad Mi Yodeah song of the Pesaḥ Seder. The Siluk then describes various analogies of each of the species. It continues with the famous Midrash that the etrog has both taste and smell like those who have both Torah and good deeds; the lulav has taste but no smell, like those who have mitzvot but are weak in Torah; the hadassim have smell and a bitter taste, like those who study Torah but their wisdom is bitter (i.e. they are weak in mitzvot); and the arava has no taste or smell, like those who are stubborn and cut off. Yet they are all tied together to complement each other, to atone for each other, and to merge their properties with one another, so that they can all offer pleasant praises to their Creator.

The Siluk of the second day is more than twice as long as that of the first day. It begins by describing the sukkah, with its walls, its schach covering, and its shade. Curiously, it states that a stranger, gentile, or uncircumcised person has no place within the sukkah. Those who keep this mitzvah are promised their own set of walls with mezuzot and pleasant abodes in This World, and canopies in the upper abodes in the World To Come. The concept that the mitzvah of Sukkah is equivalent with all other mitzvot is repeated. Toward the end of the Siluk, the four species are enumerated.

If the first day of Sukkot falls on Shabbat, the instruction is to switch the days of the Kerovot, reciting the second day’s Kerovot on the first day, and the first day’s on the second. Neither Artscroll nor Maḥzor Rabba give a reason for this swap. Although various parts of the Kerovot for both days mention the mitzvot of Arba Minim and Sukkah, there seems to be more of a focus on the Arba Minim on the first day’s Kerovot, where the Kadosh phrases refer to the Arba Minim, the Chai Vekayam piyyut that refers to sukkah is omitted in most Maḥzorim, and the Siluk focuses exclusively on the Arba Minim. Since the Arba Minim are not taken on the first day that falls on Shabbat, it may be that it was considered more appropriate to recite the Kerovot of the second day, which have relatively more references to the mitzvah of Sukkah.


Shabbat Ḥol HaMoed Sukkot

Similar to Shabbat Ḥol HaMoed Pesaḥ, there is a Yotzer, Ofan, and Zulat, but no Kerovot. Unlike Shabbat Ḥol HaMoed Pesaḥ, these piyyutim do not focus on the Megillah of the day. There is no reference at all to Kohelet. The focus is primarily on the mitzvah of Sukkah, which, unlike the mitzvah of the Arba Minim, remains applicable on Shabbat.

The Yotzer overviews the halachot pertaining to the sukkah. It is interesting that such a halachic overview of the mitzvot of the day is not found among the piyyutim of the first days, which primarily have a Midrashic bent. The following halachot are mentioned in the Yotzer:

  • A sukkah must have more shade than sunlight.
  • The sukkah is to be covered with schach, and can be decorated with curtains and tapestries.
  • Metal bars should not be used for the schach.
  • One should eat, drink, and spend one’s leisure time in the sukkah.
  • A sukkah should not be less than four by four cubits (note: This view is mentioned in the Talmud, but is not the view that we follow – we follow the view that it should be at least seven handbreadths square.)
  • One must leave one’s permanent residence and dwell in the temporary residence of the sukkah.


The Yotzer then continues by describing the final feast of the righteous in the Garden of Eden, with the menu consisting of the leviathan and the behemoth (A theme elaborated on in Akdamut on Shavuot as well). The Midrash that I have described in the Kerovot of the second day is then included again: The nations of the world ask for a reward at the end of days, and are given the mitzvah of Sukkah, but forfeit the reward by kicking it down when the conditions become adverse. The Yotzer ends by praying that Gd pour His anger on the wicked, and rebuild the temple in Jerusalem.

The brief Ofan elaborates on the praises of the angels, mentioning the Chayot, Ishim, Chasmalim of the Merkava chariot, and the angel Kaftziel [44]. All gather together to recite the Kedusha.

The brief Zulat reviews the slavery in Egypt, the Ten Plagues (listing a subset), the Exodus, and the giving of the Torah. The Children of Israel were then protected in a sukkah in the desert.



Shemini Atzeret and Simḥat Torah

The Maaravot of both these nights focus on the essence of the festival of Shemini Atzeret. Simḥat Torah is not mentioned. In fact, each section of the Maaravit of Simḥat Torah night begins with the word Shemini [eighth], highlighting the fact that Simḥat Torah is not its own festival, but rather the second day of Shemini Atzeret. The Maaravit of Shemini Atzeret ask Gd to bless the year with goodness – an allusion to the upcoming prayer for rain. The fact that it is the time to come in from the sukkah and return to the house is also noted [45]. The Maaravit of Simḥat Torah ask for Gd’s blessing and favour, highlighting the theme of blessing that pervades the Torah reading of the day. As we conclude the festive season, we read about blessings in the Torah, and ask for Gd’s blessings upon ourselves.

The more extensive piyyut for the third section of the Maaravot of both nights focuses on aspects of Shemini Atzeret, as well as other mitzvot and concepts relating to the number eight. The piyyut for both nights is different, but with a similar structure and theme. Each stanza begins with the word Shemini, and ends with the words Bayom Hashemini. The mitzvah of Brit Milah on the eighth day is mentioned repeatedly, and the mitzvah of waiting eight days before an animal is valid for a sacrifice is also noted. The piyyut of the first night also makes mention of the eighth day of the inauguration of the Mishkan, when Aaron began his tenure as Kohen Gadol; as well as the decree of the quantity of rain for the upcoming year that is determined on that day.

On both nights, the piyyut reviews the six main halachic concepts through which Shemini Atzeret is differentiated from the preceding days of Sukkot, as outlined in the Gemara, Yoma 2b-3a, with the acronym פז"ר קש"ב   [pezar Keshav] – these are:

  • Payis –The rotation of Kohanim to bring the festival sacrifices in the Mishnah, Sukkah 5:6, comes to an end, and a separate lottery [payis] takes place for the Shemini Atzeret offering.
  • Zeman – There is an obligation to recite the Shehecheyanu bracha on Shemini Atzeret, as it is a separate holiday, in clear contrast to the last day(s) of Pesaḥ.
  • Regel – The day is a separate holiday. The unique commandments of Sukkot no longer apply on Shemini Atzeret.
  • Korban – The Musaf sacrifice of Shemini Atzeret is unique, and does not follow the pattern of the prior seven days of Sukkot. In fact, it is the same Korban as the Musaf of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
  • Shira – There is a unique Psalm for Shemini Atzeret, different than the Psalms recited in the Beit Hamikdash on the seven days of Sukkot.
  • Bracha – The day is a day of blessing. There are two interpretations as to the meaning of this blessing. The more common interpretation, adopted by the author of the piyyut, is that this was the day where the people blessed King Solomon after the celebration of the inauguration of the Beit Hamikdash (I Kings 8:66). The second interpretation, brought down by Tosafot in the aforementioned Gemara, is that the reference to the festival in the brachot of the day (Amida, Kiddush, and Birkat Hamazon) is different than that of Sukkot. One no longer says Bechag Hasukkot hazeh, but rather BeShmini Chag Haatzeret hazeh (Nusaḥ Ashkenaz) or BeShmini Atzeret Hechag hazeh (Nusaḥ Sephard).


The Yotzer of Shemini Atzeret begins with a request for rain. It asks that Gd prepare joy for us and hear our prayers on this eighth day. It continues by looking forward to the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash and the coming of the Messiah. The Yotzer of Simḥat Torah is built around the blessings of Moses recounted in the Torah reading of Vezot Habracha. Each stanza ends with the first words of a pasuk, ranging from Deuteronomy 33:1 (the beginning of the parsha), to 33:29 (the final words of Moses before he ascends Mount Nebo and passes away). This is the only one of the Sukkot / Shemini Atzeret / Simḥat Torah piyyutim that is constructed around an analysis of the pesukim of a section of the Torah, as are so many of the piyyutim of Pesaḥ and Shavuot.

The Ofan piyurim of both days describe the angelic praises of Gd, a common theme of Ofanim. The refrain on Shemini Atzeret  מֶּלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים [the King, King of kings], and the refrain on Simḥat Torah is the first response of Kedusha, קָדושׁ קָדושׁ קָדושׁ השׁם צְבָאות. The Shemini Atzeret Ofan lists a whole host of angels, some by type and some by name, including: Erelim, Malachim, Seraphim, Chashmalim, the Chayot of the Merkava, and the individual angels Michael, Gabriel, Kemuel, Raphael, Hadarniel, Sandalfon, and Galitzur. On Simḥat Torah, the praises are described through the vantage points of the clouds, the rainbow, and the constellations. In keeping with the theme of the Torah, the angel Metatron is portrayed teaching Torah to Israel, and the angel Yefeifiya, the prince of the Torah, is portrayed as affixing crowns to the letters of the Torah.

The Zulat of Shemini Atzeret describes the Jewish people gathered together to pray for rain, and requests that their prayers be answered. The Zulat of Simḥat Torah continues the theme of the Yotzer. The Yotzer went through the blessings in the second last chapter of the Torah. The Zulat continues with the story and Midrashim of the final chapter of the Torah. Moses is told to ascend the mountain. He assumed that he would ascend for the same purpose as he ascended Mount Sinai, and gain more insights into Torah. However, Gd informs him that he is to die on the mountain. Moses cries out “Woe, woe,” and prays that he be allowed to cross over the river into Israel with his people. Gd commands him to refrain from further prayer, for the time of Joshua’s leadership has arrived. Moses then asks Gd to publicize his sin to the Children of Israel, so that they do not think that he sinned in private. Gd then announces that Moses is to die due to the sin of the Waters of Strife [Mei Merivah]. The people pray that Moses be spared, but are unsuccessful. Moses prepares for death by the kiss of Gd. He is then mourned for thirty days. His nation will forever remember Moses’ role in the Exodus, the splitting of the sea and the giving of the Torah. It is interesting to note that the piyyutim of Simḥat Torah review the ending of the Torah, but make no mention of Bereishit. The Gemara mentions that Vezot Habracha is the Torah reading for the day. The reading of Bereishit is a later addition to the Torah readings of the day.

There are no Kerovot for either day. The only other Yom Tov without Kerovot is the first day of Pesaḥ. The extensive Musaf piyyutim of Tefillat Geshem seemingly displace the Kerovot of Shaḥarit of Shemini Atzeret, as do the piyyutim of the Tefillat Tal on the first day of Pesaḥ. On Simḥat Torah, the absence of Kerovot may be due to the extensive set of piyyutim and hymns recited during the Hakafot prior to the Torah reading. The elaboration of the prayers of the day is focused on the Torah service rather than the Amida. The Book Toldot Chag Simḥat Torah (by Avraham Yaari, published by Mossad Harav Kook), notes that over 800 piyyutim exist for Simḥat Torah in various traditions. The author speculates that there were many more that have been lost to us. Clearly, not all are recited by all customs, for if they were, the synagogue service would last for many days. I will provide an overview of Tefillat Geshem and the Hakafot of Simḥat Torah in later sections of this book.

In the rubric of the Yotzrot of Simḥat Torah, there is one more piyyut worth nothing, although it comes before the Yotzer bracha, so is not formally part of the Yotzrot. A unique piyyut is recited prior to Nishmat, just before the conclusion of Pesukei D’Zimra. The Rinat Yisrael Maḥzor classifies this as a Reshut piyyut. Often, Reshut piyyutim ask for permission to interrupt the normal order of prayer, but in this case, as in some other cases, they rather serve as focus and introduction to the upcoming prayer. The Nishmat piyyut asks that the souls of the Torah scholars be blessed with success, contentment and eternal life. The first six of the seven stanzas end with a section of pesukim 8-10 of Psalm 19, extolling the virtues of the Torah, its commandments, and the fear of Gd. The final stanza prays for the end of the exile, when all mouths will be filled with song like the sea (a prelude to a phrase of the Nishmat prayer).




31. For more details on the legend of the Jewish Pope, see

32. Here is the famed Cantor Yossele Rosenblatt singing Lekel Orech Din

33. For the story of Rabbi Amnon and Unetane Tokef, see

34. For a rendition of Unetane Tokef by the chief cantor of the IDF, along with video clips of the Yom Kippur War, listen to:

35. Based on a Gemara in Ḥagigah 16a (from Sefaria): שלשה כמלאכי השרת יש להם דעת כמלאכי השרת ומהלכין בקומה זקופה כמלאכי השרת ומספרים בלשון הקדש כמלאכי השרת שלשה כבהמה אוכלין ושותין כבהמה ופרין ורבין כבהמה ומוציאין רעי כבהמה:

Six statements were said with regard to humans: In three ways, they are like ministering angels, and in three ways they are like animals. The baraita explains: In three ways they are like ministering angels: They have intelligence like ministering angels; and they walk upright like ministering angels; and they speak in the holy tongue like ministering angels. In three ways humans are like animals: They eat and drink like animals; and they multiply like animals; and they emit excrement like animals.

36. Although written centuries earlier, one does not have to listen too carefully to hear echoes of the Shoah in this segment of the Siluk. It is also reminiscent of the various forms of death mentioned in Unetane Tokef.

37. Although Aleinu is a formal part of the nusaḥ of the Amida for Rosh Hashanah Musaf, it is not on Yom Kippur. Nevertheless, it is added to the repetition of the Yom Kippur Musaf Amida as an introduction to the Avoda.

38. Here is the London Jewish Boys Choir singing Mareh Kohen:

39. One might rightly refer to this series of lamentations as Kinot [dirges]. This would be the only time other than Tisha B’Av where piyyutim similar to Kinot are recited. I will deal with these dirges in the Kinot section of this book.

40. In the Yotzrot of Shabbat Ḥol HaMoed Pesaḥ, we also made note of piyyutim that are included in Rinat Yisrael, but not in Artscroll or Maḥzor Rabba. My respect is given to Rinat Yisrael, somewhat underappreciated in the English-speaking world since the advent of Artscroll, for its thorough treatment of piyyutim, well organized with clear, terse Hebrew commentary. It also accurately classifies the piyyutim by type.

41. The חַיּ וְקַיָּם נוֹרָא וּמָרוֹם וְקָדוֹשׁ piyyut is section d) in my list of the sections of the elaborate style of Kerovot in my introduction to these sections. I have examined its existence in the various Maḥzorim. This type of piyyut exists in all Shaḥarit Kerovot of the elaborate style, with the exception of those of the seventh day of Pesaḥ and the first day of Sukkot. Rinat Yisrael comes to the rescue for the first day of Sukkot by providing this piyyut, but it does not do so for the seventh day of Pesaḥ. Incidentally this type piyyut does not exist, even in Rinat Yisrael, for the non-Shaḥarit Kerovot of Musaf on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, and Musaf, Minḥa and Neila on Yom Kippur.

42. This appears to be a hint that the Arba Minim are readily available, and that the commandment is easy to fulfil. This may be a contrast to the mitzvah of fasting on Yom Kippur, performed five days previously, which is particularly onerous mitzvah. It does not seem to take into account the current pricing issues surrounding the Arba Minim, or the difficulties involved in finding the most beautiful set.

43. Very curious of course, as there are four mothers in our tradition. It is probable that two listed here refer to Sarah and Rebecca, who are mothers of the entire nation, as opposed to Rachel and Leah, who each are only mothers of part of the nation.

44. See for a description of the angel Kaftziel.

45. Outside of Israel, the tradition is to continue to sit in the sukkah on Shemini Atzeret. This is due to the sfeika deyoma issue, where the Torah mitzvot of the previous day may carry over to the next day (i.e. in the case of Shemini Atzeret, the eighth day retains some aspects of the seventh day). The mitzvah of Arba Minim does not carry over, as it is only a Torah commandment on the first day outside the Beit Hamikdash. Various traditions exist regarding which meals should be partaken in the sukkah on Shemini Atzeret in the Diaspora, as eating in the sukkah represents a contradiction of the aspect of completing the joy of the festival in the house. Some only eat in the sukkah during the day but not the evening, so as to highlight the difference between Shemini Atzeret and Sukkot, while still maintaining the tradition of eating in the sukkah to some degree. The Maaravit of Shemini Atzeret night clearly state that it is the occasion of coming in from the sukkah to the home. Once again, we have a hint in the liturgy that the observance of the festival in the Diaspora is not the ideal.


 © 2020 by Jerrold Landau