Kol Nidre: Variations on a Theme

Resource Kit by
Jessica Kirzane

Module Content



Kol Nidre is a legal formula recited in the evening service that begins the holiday of Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement. This ritual recitation may have been developed in the early medieval period as a response to Jews being forced to convert, either to Christianity or Islam. The text absolves those who recite it from vows in God’s name made under duress, so that the breaking of such vows is not counted as a sin. Its dramatic recitation and musical setting lend it an emotional intensity that has allowed the prayer to develop resonances beyond the stated meaning of the text. The High Holidays—the celebration of the new year on the Jewish calendar, which includes Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur—have in general come to signify a return to tradition and to religious duties that may have been neglected over the past year, and Kol Nidre serves as a climactic moment of this return.

This kit gathers together examples of the use of Kol Nidre in modern Jewish literature, music, and film, asking students to consider how the prayer has come to stand for adherence to and return to Jewish tradition, and what precisely that return entails.

Cover image: Cover of sheet music for an arrangement of Kol Nidre by Solomon Schenker, 1913. Courtesy of the Center for Jewish History, https://www.flickr.com/photos/center_for_jewish_history/4991049347.