The Musaf Service for Yom Kippur, like all musaf services, contains liturgical elements unique to the day on which it is said. In all cases, mentioning the specific sacrifices which were offered at the Temple in observance of that particular day serves as the chief discriminant to distinguish between the various musaf services. In addition to the expected recounting of the additional sacrifices, the Musaf Service for Yom Kippur contains a long piyutic offering, included in the Kedushat Hayom section, crafted from the Mishnaic account of the Temple ritual as preserved in Mishnah Yoma. The addition of this Avodah service (not to be confused with the Avodah section of the Amidah) might appear to be a radical departure from the basic structure of the Musaf Amidah. However, an analysis of this structure with regard to thematic content indicates that the inclusion of the Avodah service does no violence to the text or the context of the Musaf Amidah for Yom Kippur. Moreover, it seems that this section is liturgically crafted to prompt the attentive participant into a willing suspension of disbelief, transcending the reality of time and space, and touching the mythic plane.

This transcendence is not unique to the Avodah Service for Yom Kippur; it is precisely the same effect that is attempted in the crafting of the marriage service. At the wedding ceremony, the calling of, “Barukh Habba!” bids the observer to suspend reality and enter the mythic realm, while the smashing of the glass breaks the connection between the real and the mythic worlds. During the time that the two worlds are fused, the marriage liturgy calls forth images of the Creation, Moses at Sinai, and the Messianic Era. However, the effect of fusing the real and the mythic worlds during the wedding ceremony is achieved for the observer not only through the liturgy, but with the judicious aid of props such as the chupah, the smashed glass, and to a lesser extent the participants: bride, groom, and officiant. In this regard, the term prop is used here to refer to the symbols of a ritual that one can hold, touch, or somehow physically manipulate. Thus, while the east wind, for example, (Exo.14:21) might be regarded as a symbol of God’s intervention in history, it could not be considered a prop. Unlike many ritual moments, the Avodah Service for Yom Kippur contains no props, the effect of merging the real and the mythic worlds is achieved solely through liturgical means.

While the Avodah Service1 proper begins with Amitz Ko’ach, a long piyutic summary of Jewish history, the text of the Kedushat Hayom section preceding the Avodah Service functions, in addition to the duties it assumes on all festivals, to set the mood for the fusing of the real and mythic worlds which will follow. The Kedushat Hayom section opens with the short paragraph, Atah Vachartanu, which affirms Israel’s selection for Divine service and Vatiten Lanu, an historical statement of God’s institution of the particular festival. This is followed by Umiphney Hata’inu, an explanation of why prayer has replaced the cultic sacrifices, a plea to restore the Temple, and an assurance that with the rebuilding of the Temple, we would once again fulfill our sacrificial obligations. More an apologetic than a dispassionate statement, Umiphney Hata’inu is followed by a request for beneficence and for the restoration of the Temple and, finally, a description of the additional offering characteristic of the Musaf Service. Thus far, there is no difference in the liturgical flow of the text for the festivals and the text for Yom Kippur, nor has the Kedushat Hayom section established any special mood specific to Yom Kippur. The salient features of this portion of the Musaf Amidah may be outlined as follows: (1) an historical statement, (2) an apologetic, (3) a request for the restoration of the Temple and the re-establishment of the sacrificial cult, and (4) the specific Musaf offering. This whole liturgical type-scene could be cast into a generalized prose framework descriptive of all the festivals which would read something like:

“Oh God, it was You that instituted this special day and because we sinned and are being punished, we can no longer fulfill the sacrificial demands of this day. These offerings include whatever sacrifices are written in Your Torah. We would graciously offer them again if we lived on our land and had a Temple in which to offer them. Deal kindly with us and restore the sacred offerings and reestablish Your presence in Zion.”

Thus far, this whole portion of the Musaf Amidah centers around a re-enactment, or at least a description, of the Temple ritual for the festival day, with prologue and epilogue. In most cases, we may assume that performance of the sacrifice itself was the dominant Temple activity. When some other activity dominated, or was at least as significant as the sacrifice, including it in this liturgical model still makes sense. This is precisely the situation regarding the Musaf Service for Yom Kippur in which the sacrifice was embellished with an elaborate Temple ritual which included the high priest’s annual entrance into the Holy of Holies and the otherwise prohibited vocalization of God’s holy name.

With minor embellishments or alterations, the Musaf Service for all other holy days follows the pattern thus far described. For example, on Rosh Hodesh, the apologetic is removed and the exhortation is combined with the historical statement. Otherwise, the flow of the text is identical. The Sabbath Musaf Service follows this modified scheme as well. It is interesting to note, though, that when Rosh Hodesh falls on Shabbat, an apologetic, Ulephi Shechatanu, is inserted and the structure of the Festival Musaf is virtually recovered. The Kedushat Hayom section for the Rosh Hashanah Musaf likewise opens with Atah Vachartanu followed by Umiphney Hata’inu and the sacrificial offerings. Similarly, this whole liturgical type-scene concludes with Vetechezena Eineynu… expressing belief in God’s return to Zion and the concomitant restoration of the Temple. However, the inclusion of the Malkhuyot, Zikhronot and Shofarot sections totally destroys the illusion of a re-enactment of a Temple observance as described above. If these sections recovered some major aspect of a Temple ritual, the philosophical framework would remain intact, but the discussions of these additions in Tractate Rosh Hashanah give no hint that this is the case. Thus, it is the Musaf service for Rosh Hashanah, not Yom Kippur, which deviates in the structure of the Kedushat Hayom

The Kedushat Hayom section for the Festivals contains two more paragraphs after the specific musaf offering. The first, Melekh Rachaman, repeats the plea to God to answer the request for the reestablishment of the sacrificial cult. It specifically beseeches God, in abundant mercy, to rebuild the Temple as of yore and to restore the priesthood to the service of the Temple, the Levites to the resumption of festive song, and the Israelites to their homes. Following the plea is a reaffirmation that all Israel shall appear at the Sanctuary on the occasion of the festivals and once again bring the sacrificial offerings. The final paragraph entreats God to bestow upon the people the blessings of the festivals for life and peace, joy and gladness as was promised to the ancestors. The Kedushat Hayom ends with the hatimah, “who sanctifies Israel and the festivals.”

The Kedushat Hayom for the Yom Kippur Musaf diverges from the that of the festivals following the standard description of the sacrificial musaf offering. The theme, as indicated above, that has been developed thus far, is one of sin, contrition, and the future hope of restoration, all of which is centered specifically around the sacrificial offering itself. However, on Yom Kippur, immediately following the offering, Aleynu Lishabe’ah is inserted which reaffirms the oneness of the Creator and the authority of God’s throne over the heavens and the earth. This paragraph is followed by an entreaty for the granting of a clarity of expression to those who are commissioned to stand and offer prayer on behalf of the House of Israel. The text asks God to guide these representatives, teaching them what to say, instructing them how to speak, and showing them how to glorify God’s name2. The text states that these representatives stand between the nation of Israel and God. The eyes of the people are cast upon them as their eyes in turn, are cast upon God. Further, it is stated that the people surround them like a wall, perhaps reminiscent of the sequestering of the high priest within the Temple precinct, suggesting a connection between then and now. The representatives lift up their eyes to Heavens. The 3-fold mention of eyes here prefigures the 10-fold mention of eyes at the end of the Avodah service and both occurrences together function to frame the entire literary unit of the Avodah in which the real and mythic worlds are connected.

While the paragraph Al Kain Nikaveh Lekha, generally associated with Aleynu, is not included here, its theme of universality and messianism is still invoked by association for the liturgically knowledgeable. Thus, by including these two paragraphs, the text begins to tie together the ancient Temple days, the future Messianic era, and the current moment in which the communal representatives stand. The association of the past with the present is made even tighter by including the relationship between the congregation and its representatives in analogy to the relationship of the nation to the priesthood of yore. Moreover, the fact that these representatives are commissioned by the community is a stark reminder that they are not the priesthood that was commissioned by God through Moses, a textual reinforcement of the theme presented earlier in Umiphney Hata’inu. In Ohilah La’el, the subsequent and final text before the beginning of the Avodah service, the congregational representative (the shali’ah tzibur) entreats God on his own behalf, somewhat reminiscent of the chanting of Hineni, for the power of speech; that his words and meditations be acceptable to God. Significantly, the leader’s request for himself follows the congregation’s plea for him in contradistinction to the ritual of the high priest who will first ask absolution for himself and the priesthood and only then request pardon for the nation. Once again, in underscoring the differences between the past and the present, the connection between the two eras is reinforced.

At this point, via the mechanisms discussed above, a strong tie has been established, particularly between the present congregational setting and the ritual of the Temple. Liturgically, the participant has been prepared for the fusing of the two worlds which is now about to take place. The text which achieves this connection is the opening piyut, Amitz Ko’ach, which presents a cursory review of biblical history from the time of the Creation to the election of the Levites and the consecration of the priesthood. By starting the piyut in this manner, the author, Rabbi Meshullam ben Kalonymos, attempts to strip away any last vestige of the present and invites the participant to enter the past world of the Temple by approaching that era from an even more ancient time. Moreover, with the explicit references to the sin of Adam and Eve, Cain’s murder of Abel, antediluvian idolatry, Noah’s ark, the Tower of Babel, and the Binding of Isaac, Kalonymos also focuses the heretofore developed Yom Kippur themes of individual sin and Divine pardon for the sake of our ancestors’ merit, themes which presumably occupy a central place in the congregant’s psyche by this time of the day, into the era of the Temple. This introduction ends with the appointment of the Levites to the service of the Temple and the sanctification of the priesthood for its holy task. At this point the nexus between the present and the past has been established and the willing participant finds himself transported back to the Temple precinct and no longer fully, if at all, in the realm of the present.

The major players in this drama are the high priest and the nation of Israel, including those in the present congregation who are able to imagine themselves within the Temple precinct. The attendant priests and Levites play only a minor role. The congregational leader is more than a mere prop. While he may be symbolically associated with the high priest, and indeed delivers the dialog attributed to the high priest by the Mishnah, the leader also functions as a story teller, delivering other text as well. The congregant is required to participate in a predominantly passive manner, hearing the text, as read or chanted by the reader, and imagining himself to experience the drama that is being described. This type of passive communal participation parallels the chief activity of the nation at the Temple reinforcing the illusion of being there for the congregant. Though the congregational responses in the present could be cued to the past response of the nation, involving the congregant all the more in the unfolding pageant, even these verses are delivered mainly as narrative text, never allowing the congregant full participation. The passive nature of the congregant’s participation serves to reinforce his role as an observer standing with the multitudes at the Temple precinct. Moreover, even when the congregation is asked to reply, it is not strictly with the voice of the nation, other text is assigned as well. One must wonder if it would be preferable to have a symbolic high priest, the reader perhaps, deliver the high priest’s dialog and the congregation responding only with the nation’s cry of, “Blessed be the name…” However, in at least one published machzor3, the text assigned for congregational response is not keyed in any obvious way to the role of the nation at the Temple.

The text depicting the Temple ritual is highly structured and focuses on the activities of the high priest which are described in great detail. Throughout, the text remains quite graphic, facilitating the congregant in his effort to imagine the action as it takes place. For example:

Your loyal servants kept the high priest secluded for one week before the Day of Atonement in accordance with the law of consecration. Waters of purification were sprinkled upon him to cleanse him while he was making himself familiar with the Avodah service. Seven days before the day of Atonement the high priest was taken from his home to an apartment in the Temple where he would practice the Avodah Service for the Day of Atonement. Another priest was made ready to take his place in case anything happened that would disqualify the high priest…

The text continues in this visually narrative manner relating the details of how the Temple ceremony was conducted from the beginning to its conclusion. The ritual itself takes place predominantly in three acts, absolution for the high priest and his family, absolution for the priesthood including the high priest and his family, and absolution for the nation. Each confession and plea for pardon uttered by the high priest prompts the national, hence congregational, response: Barukh Shem Kavod Malkhutoh Le’olam Va’ed, blessed be the name of his glorious majesty forever and ever. The text describing each of these scenes is virtually identical.

The major activities which are interspersed with these absolution vignettes are all procedures which inevitably move the Temple ritual toward the sacrificial offering. Thus, between the high priest’s personal supplication and the plea for the priesthood, the two goats were chosen, the lots were drawn and the scapegoat was appointed. Between the plea for the priesthood and the entreaty for the nation, the high priest slaughtered his own bull, as well as the goat, and prepared them along with incense for the offering. After entreating God on behalf of the nation, the scapegoat was driven into the wilderness and the prepared sacrifice was offered. After the sacrificial service is concluded, the high priest washed several times and was escorted home, just as he was taken from his home seven days before. While the now guiltless nation sang hymns (Ps.144:15) of joy, the high priest declared a holiday and made a feast for his friends. Reemerging intact from the Holy of Holies, the high priest would bless the assembled multitude, petitioning God on behalf of the nation for a year of abundance, prosperity, good harvests, and a variety of other such blessings. After a special supplication for the people of the Valley of Sharon, the account of the Temple ritual for the day of Yom Kippur comes to an end.

The remainder of the Avodah service constitutes an epilogue which, in analogy to the breaking of the glass at the wedding ceremony, severs the connection between the real and the mythic worlds. This epilogue begins with the reader declaring, “How glorious was the high priest when he emerged from the Holy of Holies in peace, without mishap.” This ambiguous statement can be interpreted either as the eye-witness account of a current observer or as the reaction of the future congregant passing judgement on the outcome of the Temple ritual just described. Thus, the link that was forged between the past and the present begins to dissolve. This deterioration is hastened by the inclusion of the piyutic offering, Mareh Kohen, which extols the countenance of the priest. The excessive use of alliteration and poetic style of this alphabetical acrostic, in contradistinction to the narrative prose style in which the account of the Temple festivities is written, focuses the attention of the listener back into the present where the congregational representative is once again leading prayer. The declaration following this piyut that all these things occurred while the Temple was upon its foundation and the holy sanctuary was set upon its base, while the high priest stood and ministered and his generation watched and rejoiced, destroys any last vestige of the illusion that one is in the Temple precinct.

Finally, just as the Avodah service begins with the eyes of the people cast upon their congregational leaders, now it ends with the eyes of the congregation cast upon the drama which has just concluded. Ashrey Ayin, a plaintive recounting of the Temple experience, is an acrostic piyut of ten verses expressing deep sorrow at the loss of the Temple. Just as the eye motif forms a frame which includes the Avodah service, Ashrey Ayin, together with the ensuing paragraph, Aval Avonot - but the sins of our fathers - forms a larger frame around the entire section which begins with Umiphney Hata’inu. Thus, the text forms an inclusio within an inclusio, each sharing the same end frame. The literary structure of Ashrey Ayin itself suggests the sense of incompleteness that one feels after having witnessed a pageant no longer extant. The first verse acts as an introduction while the next four verses are written as an alphabetic acrostic with two letters (אהלנו|בשמחת, גילנו|דיצת, etc.) per verse (א-ח). However, not all pairs of letters are thus represented and the acrostic structure is inconsistent. It feels as though parts of this poem were lost, substantially edited, or pieced together from multiple earlier editions4. While the text of, Aval Avonot, is still related, to the subject of the Temple, its main theme, the enumeration of forbidden acts on YomKippur day, indicates that the Avodah service has formally come to a close. “Happy is the eye that saw all of this. Is it not so that for what the ear has heard our soul grieves?”

In many American congregations, the structure of the Musaf Amidah for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is irretrievably altered owing to the length of these services, modern religious temperament, and an overall unfamiliarity with these liturgical texts. What should be an emotional moment on Yom Kippur lapses into an unsettled nervousness for many, as they long for the conclusion of the Amidah. The willing suspension of disbelief which allows one effectively to project oneself back to the Temple no longer works (the broken ritual) for a number of American Jews. Moreover, regarding the destruction of the Temple and the resultant dispersion as punishment for sin does not resonate (the broken myth) with everyone. Neither does the whole concept of animal sacrifice nor the re-establishment of the cult as a normative Jewish practice. For many, the spiritual fulfillment they experience, associated with the observance of Yom Kippur, comes not from the traditional ties to the Temple and the majesty of ancient rituals, but from other aspects of this holy day.

This situation poses a dilemma for the Conservative pulpit rabbi. Strict adherence to the text of the Amidah, however, ideal, runs the risk of loosing the attention of a significant portion of the congregation, particularly if presented in the traditional way and in Hebrew. The use of English only partly mitigates the problem. Possible approaches to reconnecting the congregation to the liturgy include adult education programs or the creation of alternative readings that capture the essence of the text. Neither suggestion, however, is a perfect solution.

An alternative approach is to try and restructure the meaning and significance of what the Temple service could mean in our times. Such a reconstruction was attempted by Kaplan when he interpreted the Avodah service in terms of purifying and cleansing our homes, synagogues, and schools of the impurities caused by the sins of the people, just as the Temple had to be purified, in order to merit God’s presence. He states5:

“What the Abodah rite should symbolize is that just as each individual Jew was to assume responsibility for the contamination of the sanctuary and for the elimination from it of God’s Presence, so must everyone today recognize his individual responsibility for the corruption of our social institutions and their tendency to defeat the divine purpose of life, and seek by all the means at his command to atone for the evil they do.”

A severe drawback to this suggestion is that all connections to past times are severed resulting in a temporal discontinuity of the Jewish people.

Thus, the present form of the Musaf Amidah for Yom Kippur is, and will likely continue to remain, problematic for many with regards to the Avodah service. While the Avodah service is mainly a narrative piece, the inclusions for Rosh Hashanah are short sections interrupted with shofar blowing. A greater variety of creative methods exist to tailor these sections to the needs of the congregation if such methods are required. For this reason, the difficulties associated with the Kedushat Hayom section of Yom Kippur are not found to the same degree in the Musaf Amidah for Rosh Hashanah. The Kedushat Hayom section of the Musaf Amidah for Yom Kippur, including the Avodah service, can be a powerful and emotionally charged experience to those who are still connected to the liturgy and the myth. Like other powerful rituals, it beckons the participant to transcend both time and space and take a brief excursion into the mythic world.

-shalom uverakha-
(peace & blessing)
ronald b. kopelman