Avinu Malkeinu (Hebrew: אָבִינוּ מַלְכֵּנוּ; "Our Father, Our King") is a Jewish prayer recited during Jewish services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, as well as on the Ten Days of Repentance from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur. In the Ashkenazic tradition, it is recited on all fast days; in the Sephardic tradition only because it is recited for the Ten Days of Repentance does it occur on the fast days of Yom Kippur and the Fast of Gedaliah.
Joseph H. Hertz (died 1946), chief rabbi of the British Empire, described it as "the oldest and most moving of all the litanies of the Jewish Year." It makes use of two sobriquets for God that appear separately in the Bible; "Our Father" (Isaiah 63:16) and "Our King" (Isaiah 33:22).
The Talmud (T.B. Ta'anith 25b) records Rabbi Akiva (died 135 CE) reciting two verses each beginning "Our Father, Our King" in a prayer to end a drought (apparently successfully). In a much later compilation of Talmudic notes, published circa 1515, this is expanded to five verses. It is very probable that, at first, there was no set number of verses, no sequence, nor perhaps any fixed text. Apparently an early version had the verses in alphabetic sequence, which would mean 22 verses. The prayer book of Amram Gaon (9th century) had 25 verses. The Mahzor Vitry (early 12th century) has more than 40 verses and added the explanation that the prayer accumulated additional verses that were added ad hoc on various occasions and thereafter retained. Presently, the Sephardic (Spanish and Portuguese) tradition has 29 verses, among the Mizrahi Jews the Syrian tradition has 31 or 32 verses, but the Yemenite has only 27 verses, the Salonika as many as 53 verses, the Ashkenazic has 38 verses, the Polish tradition has 44 verses, all with different sequences. And within traditions, some verses change depending on the occasion, such as Rosh Hashana (when it is said kotvenu - "inscribe us"), or the Ne'ila Yom Kippur service (chotmenu - "seal us"), or a lesser fast day (zokhreinu - "remember us").
Each line of the prayer begins with the words "Avinu Malkeinu" ["Our Father, Our King"] and is then followed by varying phrases, mostly supplicatory. There is often a slow, chanting, repetitive aspect to the melody to represent the pious pleading within the prayer. There are 54 such verses. Verses 15-23 are recited responsively, first by the leader and then repeated by the congregation. The reader also reads the last verse aloud (and sometimes it is sung by the entire congregation) but, traditionally, in a whisper, as it is a supplication.
On most days when Avinu Malkeinu is recited, it is included during Shacharit and Mincha on that day. It is omitted on Shabbat (except Yom Kippur at Ne'ila) and at Mincha on Fridays. On Erev Yom Kippur it is not recited at Mincha but some congregations do recite it in the morning when it falls on Friday. On Yom Kippur, Avinu Malkeinu is also recited during Maariv and Ne'ila, except when Yom Kippur falls on Shabbat in the Ashkenazi tradition, in which case Avinu Malkeinu is recited during Ne'ila only. During the Avinu Malkenu, the Ark is opened, and at the end of the prayer, the Ark is closed. In the Sephardic tradition, it is recited on Shabbat, and the Ark is not opened.
Throughout the Ten Days of Repentance, five lines of Avinu Malkeinu that refer to various heavenly books include the word Kotveinu ("Inscribe us"). During Ne'ila, this is replaced with Chotmeinu ("Seal us"). This reflects the belief that on Rosh Hashanah all is written and revealed and on Yom Kippur all decrees for the coming year are sealed. When recited on Fast Days (other than the Fast of Gedaliah which falls in the days of Penitence) the phrase Barech Aleinu ("bless us") in the 4th verse is recited instead of the usual Chadesh Aleinu ("renew us"), and "Zochreinu" (remember us) is recited in verses 19-23 in place of "Kotveinu B'Sefer" (inscribe us in the book). Fast Days on which it is not recited (by any custom) are Tisha B'Av, the afternoon of the Fast of Esther except when it is brought forward (thus not falling immediately before Purim) and when the 10th of Tevet falls on a Friday it is omitted at Mincha (as is usual on a Friday).
Sephardic Jews do not recite Avinu Malkeinu on fast days (except those that fall in the days of Penitence). Instead, a series of Selichot prayers specific to the day are recited.
In the interests of gender neutrality, the UK Liberal Jewish prayer-book for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (Machzor Ruach Chadashah) translates the epithet as "Our Creator, Our Sovereign". It also contains a contemporary prayer based on Avinu Malkeinu in which the feminine noun Shekhinah is featured. The Reform Jewish High Holy Days prayer book Mishkan HaNefesh, released in 2015 and intended as a companion to Mishkan T'filah, includes a version of Avinu Malkeinu that refers to God as both "Loving Father" and "Compassionate Mother."
In popular culture
In 2018, composer Henry Panion, III incorporates the main theme into his Dreams of Hope for Solo Violin & Orchestra, commissioned for performance by violinist Caitlin Edwards and premiered during the opening of Violins of Hope Birmingham at the historic 16th Street Baptist Church, the site of the infamous bombing that killed the Four Little Girls in 1963.
The duo Shlomit & RebbeSoul (Bruce Burger and Shlomit Levi) perform an acoustic version on their debut album, The Seal Of Solomon (2015), while Burger himself has included a version of the song on nearly all of his albums.
The band Phish plays the song in a 5/4 time signature (titled "Avenu Malkenu").
In the 1992 film School Ties, the headmaster of the WASP elitist prep school walks in on David Greene reciting Avinu Malkeinu on Rosh Hashanah. (David is a Jewish student on an athletic scholarship to the school who deals with antisemitism by practicing Judaism clandestinely). It must be added that the WASP headmaster shows a profound understanding of the spiritual and ethical import of the Jewish High Holidays.
The prayer appears on the 2002 album Zero Church by sisters Suzzy and Maggie Roche as "Aveenu Malcainu".
The singer/songwriter Lior also performs the song at many of his live concert. It is recorded on his live album, Doorways of My Mind" (2006).
Singer Lena Måndotter recorded "Avinu Malkeinu" on her album Songs from the River (Rootsy/Warner Music, 2009).
Composer/singer Rebecca Teplow wrote a version of Avinu Malkeinu in 2017.
- Nulman, Macy, Encyclopedia of Jewish Prayer (1993, NJ, Jason Aronson) page 56.
- Hertz, Joseph H., The Authorized Daily Prayer Book with commentary, introductions and notes (rev. American ed. 1948, NY, Bloch Publ'g) page 161.
- Jacobson, B.S., Days of Awe (orig. 1936, Engl. transl. 1978, Tel-Aviv, Sinai Publ'g) page 102.
- Gold, Avi, and Scherman, Nosson, Yom Kippur - Its Significance, Laws and Prayers (1989, Brooklyn, Mesorah Publ'ns Ltd.) page 142.
- Nulman, Macy, Encyclopedia of Jewish Prayer (1993, NJ, Jason Aronson) pages 56 & 58; Abrahams, Israel, Companion to the Authorised Daily Prayer Book (2nd ed. 1922, London, Eyre & Spottiswoode) page ; Gelbard, Shmuel P., Rite and Reason: 1050 Jewish customs and their sources (Engl. transl. 1998, Petach Tikvah, Isr., Mifal Rashi Publ'g) pages 560-561.
- Gelbard, Shmuel P., Rite and Reason: 1050 Jewish customs and their sources (Engl. transl. 1998, Petach Tikvah, Isr., Mifal Rashi Publ'g) pages 560-561; Nulman, Macy, Encyclopedia of Jewish Prayer (1993, NJ, Jason Aronson) page 57.
- Rabbis Drs. Andrew Goldstein & Charles H Middleburgh, ed. (2003). Machzor Ruach Chadashah (in English and Hebrew). Liberal Judaism. pp. xi, 73, 137.
- "'Gates of Repentance' replacement advances Reform trends | j. the Jewish news weekly of Northern California". Jweekly.com. 2015-03-26. Retrieved 2015-04-14.
- Lesley Pearl (May 21, 2004). "RebbeSoul's sounds: strange but moving melange". Jweekly.
- Gelman, Herschel & Saul Wertheimer. "Avenu Malkenu History". The Mockingbird Foundation, Inc. Retrieved 12 May 2012.
"Avinu Malkeinu" by Australian-Israeli singer Lior was recorded at the Sydney Opera House in 2013.
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