Kol Nidre (“all vows”) is an ancient formula, said on Yom Kippur eve, declaring all unintentional vows we may make over the (coming) year null and void. It has also come to refer to the entire Yom Kippur evening service.

Read: What to Expect at Yom Kippur Services?

What is the meaning of Kol Nidre?

Kol Nidre serves a technical function, ensuring that we do not unknowingly transgress vows we may not even know we’ve made. This is similar to the declaration made on the morning before Rosh Hashanah.

Read: Why Start Yom Kippur With Kol Nidre?

On a deeper level, it reflects the way we enter this sacred day, when we are wholly united with G‑d and each other, leaving behind our self-imposed limitations, proclaiming—to ourselves and G‑d—that we regret and distance ourselves from the poor decisions that we humans inevitably make.

Read: Why Is Kol Nidre Considered the Holiest Jewish Prayer?

What language is Kol Nidre written in?

Since Kol Nidre is essentially a declaration before a court, it was composed in Aramaic, the vernacular of the majority of Jewish people for centuries prior to the Islamic Conquest. It also contains some Hebrew, notably scriptural quotes.

Read: Why Is the Talmud in Aramaic?

How is Kol Nidre said?

Kol Nidre is chanted by the leader of the congregation (chazan), flanked by men bearing at least 3 Torah scrolls. Kol Nidre is said three times consecutively, with the congregation standing and chanting the words along in an undertone. It concludes with the leader and the congregation chanting a number of verses in the Torah that mention G‑d’s forgiveness.

What tune is used for Kol Nidre?

Among Ashkenazim, there is a time-hallowed tune used for Kol Nidre, which, for many, signals the start of Yom Kippur and the spiritual high and cleansing that it brings.

Listen: A Chazzan Sings Kol Nidre

How ancient is Kol Nidre?

The text of Kol Nidre has been around at least since the Geonic Period, and it is even mentioned in the Zohar, which originated nearly 2,000 years ago. Some attribute it to the Anshe Knesset Hagedolah (“Men of the Great Assembly”) at the beginning of the Second Temple era, making it well over 2,300 years old.

Read: Who Were the Men of the Great Assembly?

Where can one find the Kol Nidre text?

Kol Nidre is found in a standard Yom Kippur Machzor (“prayerbook”). Chabad.org has several options for you to print before the onset of the holy day.

Print: Essential Yom Kippur Prayers | Kol Nidre Text

What is said right after Kol Nidre?

Immediately following Kol Nidre, the chazan loudly chants the Shehecheyanu blessing, in which we thank G‑d for bringing us to this sacred day.

More: The Shehecheyanu Blessing

What else happens on Kol Nidre night?

Following Kol Nidre, Yom Kippur services are similar to a typical holiday (or Shabbat) prayer service, with the Shema (and its blessings) and the Amidah (“the silent prayer”), with some notable Yom Kippur-related additions:

  • At the end of the Amidah (which is modified for Yom Kippur), we confess to sins we (or others) may have done, arranged in Hebrew alphabetical order.

  • The service concludes with Selichot, poetic prayers for forgiveness, built around the theme of the 13 Attributes of Mercy.