Commentary Magazine


Yom Kippur Mahzor

To the Editor:

I read with great interest Dr. David Baumgardt’s article “Yom Kippur and the Jew of Today,” in your October issue, in which he attempts to discover some new meaning in the Day of Atonement ritual. It is an interesting philosophical religious analysis. . . .

However, Dr. Baumgardt mentions “in utmost contrast to such purposeless drifting, the martyrologies of the Minhah Selihoth point to the examples of the great Jewish martyrs of all times, who preferred the most cruel death to the desertion of their faith,” and then proceeds to quote excerpts from the martyrology of Rabbis Akiba, Israel, and Hananya. I am in a quandary as to which edition of the Mahzor Dr. Baumgardt refers to. . . . Checking a few editions of the Mahzor, I was unable to come across any martyrology in the Minhah service, but only in the Musaf service, in the “Ehleh Ezkarah” prayer. To which edition of the Mahzor does Dr. Baumgardt refer?

A second small point: Dr. Baumgardt in quoting “Rabbi Teradyon ben Hananya was thrown onto a heap of branches” inverted the order of the names; it is, of course, Rabbi Hananya ben Teradyon.

In his discussion of the Musaf service, I feel that Dr. Baumgardt should have included two significant and majestic prayers. One is the “Hineni” prayer of an unknown authorship chanted by the Cantor as an introduction to Musaf, in which he petitions the Lord to accept his prayer on behalf of the congregation. The second is the soul-stirring prayer of the saintly Rabbi Amnon, “Unsane Tokef” which bespeaks the signal moment of Yom Kippur, the mortal sheep passing before the Divine Shepherd in judgment.

[Rabbi] Harry J. Nussenbaum
New York City

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Dr. Baumgardt writes:

It seems to me that nothing is easier than to alleviate Rabbi Nussenbaum’s apprehensions. I intentionally omitted reference to “Unsane Tokef” because this prayer is not to be found in the Yom Kippur Mahzor alone but also in the Rosh Hashanah liturgy; and the same applies to the “Hineni” prayer. How many other devotional pieces would have had to be included, had I not limited myself to the Yom Kippur Mahzor exclusively!

The name of the father-in-law of Rabbi Meir is, of course, Hananya ben Teradyon, as a look into any Mahzor and into the Pirke Abot 3:2 reveals. The inverted order of the name was a typographical error unfortunately not caught in the proofreading.

As to the martyrologies, Rabbi Nussenbaum is entirely mistaken in assuming that they are nowhere to be found in the Minhah service. The best old critical edition of our Mahzorim by Wolf Heidenheim—which has been reissued since 1800 in countless copies in Central Europe for more than a century in Roedelheim and Frankfort on the Main—places the martyrologies in the Minhah and not in the Musaf service (see e.g. edition of 1915, p. 307).

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