Should Jews Recite the Kol Nidre In Contradiction to the Torah?

Should Jews recite the Kol Nidre on Yom Kippur and what does the Torah say about honoring our vows?

The opening prayer of  popular, modern Judaism’s Yom Kippur is the Kol Nidrei (or Kol Nidre) (pronunced: coal nee-dray) which is the   “annulment of vows” recited at sundown of Yom Kippur eve.

Here is Cantor Angela Buchdahl singing a version of “Kol Nidrei”:

The Kol Nidrei service consists of the opening of the Ark and taking out the Torah scrolls, reciting the Kol Nidrei and returning the Torah scrolls to the Ark. Kol Nidrei, the prayer which ushers in the holy day of Yom Kippur, is perhaps the most famous one in our liturgy. Ironically, it is not really a prayer at all, but rather a statement. A statement that deals with promises, vows and other sorts of verbal commitments commonly made in the course of the year.  Kol Nidrei, which means “all vows”, nullifies the binding nature of such promises in advance. One declares all future vows and promises invalid, by declaring that all vows are “absolved, remitted, cancelled, declared null and void, not in force of in effect.”   –Chabad

Why Is Kol Nidre recited?

The following apolagetics are used to rationalize the Kol Nidre which is not valid according to Jewish law

Currently, Kol Nidre even includes a nullification of all future vows! This change to include the nullificaiton of all vows made in the future was made by French rabbi, Rashi’s son-in-law, Meïr ben Samuel, who changed the original phrase “from the last Day of Atonement until this one” to “from this Day of Atonement until the next.”

Would you trust someone whose vows in the past and in the future carried so little weight that they would begin every Yom Kippur
pronouncing that vows they had not yet made weren’t to be validated or were meaningless and that they should not be held accountable for them?

The Judges/Sages Rejected Kol Nidre!

The “Kol Nidre” was discredited in both of the Babylonian academies and was not accepted by them.

Ancient Sages and Jewish rabbis in Babylon rejected Kol Nidre

Five geonim (rabbinic leaders of medieval Babylonian Jewry) were against reciting this absolution of vows, while only one was in favor of
reciting the prayer. Even so early an authority as Saadia Gaon wished to restrict it to those vows extorted from the congregation in the synagogue in times of persecution (“Kol Bo”), and he declared explicitly that the “Kol Nidre” gave no absolution from oaths an individual took during the year. [48]

Amram Gaon in his “Siddur” (l.c.) calls the custom of reciting the “Kol Nidre” a foolish one (“minhag sheṭut”). According to Naṭronai, however, it was customary to recite the formula in various lands of the Jewish dispersion, and it is clear likewise from Amram’s “Siddur” (ii. 37a) that the usage was wide-spread as early as his time in Spain. But the geonic practise of not reciting the “Kol Nidre” was long prevalent; it has never
been adopted in the Catalonian or in the Algerian ritual (Zunz, l.c. p. 106); and there were always many congregations in lands where the Provençal and Spanish ritual was used which did not recite it (“Orḥot Ḥayyim,” p. 105d.

Judah ben Barzillai, a Spanish author of the twelfth century, in his halakic work “Sefer ha-‘Ittim,” declares that the custom of reciting the
“Kol Nidre” was unjustifiable and misleading, since many ignorant persons believe that all their vows and oaths are annulled through this
formula, and consequently they take such obligations on themselves carelessly (“Orḥot Ḥayyim,” p. 106a).

For the same reason Jeroham ben Meshullam, who lived in Provence about the middle of the fourteenth century, inveighed against those fools
who, trusting to the “Kol Nidre,” made vows recklessly, and he declared them incapable of giving testimony (“Toledot Adam we-Ḥawwah,” ed.
1808, section 14, part iii., p. 88.

What Does the Torah Say About Honoring One’s Vows?

Black Jewish child studying the Torah to become a Bar Mitvah

Kol Nidre (Pronunciation: coal nee-dray) is nowhere to be found among the teachings of the Torah, the prophets and the Judges of Israel.In fact the Torah is explicit in teaching that a vow to a a person cannot be broken or nullified by G-d. -WaYiqra/Leviticus 22,18-21, and 27,2

21 “‘This is the law for the nazir who makes a vow and for his offering to
Adonai for his being a nazir — in addition to anything more for which he
has sufficient means. In keeping with whatever vow he makes, he must
do it according to the law for the nazir.’”- BaMidbar/Numbers 6,2-21

BaMidbar/Numbers 15:3 speaks of burnt offerings or sacrifices to fulfill a special
vow.

BaMidbar/Numbers 29, 40: Moshe told the people of Isra’el everything, just as Adonai had ordered Moshe.

Numbers chapter 30 Makes it clear that we are obligated to fulfill our vows.

Only a husband and nullify  the vows that a woman makes to God. Kol Nidre cannot nullify these vows

2 (1) Then Moshe spoke to the heads of the tribes of the people of Isra’el. He said, “Here is what Adonai has ordered: 3 (2) when a man makes a vow to Adonai or formally obligates himself by swearing an oath, he is not to break his word but is to do everything he said he would do.

4 (3) “When a woman makes a vow to Adonai, formally obligating herself, while she is a minor living in her father’s house; 5 (4) then, if her father has heard what she vowed or obligated herself to do and holds his peace, then all her vows remain binding — every obligation she has bound herself to will stand. 6 (5) But if on the day her father hears it, he expresses his disapproval, then none of her vows or obligations she has bound herself to will stand;and Adonai will forgive her, because her father expressed his disapproval.

7 (6) “If, having made vows or rashly committed herself to an obligation, she gets married; 8 (7) and her husband hears but holds his peace with her on the day he learns of it, then her vows and obligations she has bound herself to will stand. 9 (8) But if her husband expresses his disapproval on the day he hears it, he will void the vow which is on her and the obligation to which she has bound herself; and Adonai will forgive her.

10 (9) “The vow of a widow, however, or of a divorcee, including everything to which she has obligated herself, will stand against her.

11 (10) “If a woman vowed in her husband’s house or obligated herself with an oath; 12 (11) and her husband heard it but held his peace with her and did not express disapproval, then all her vows and obligations will stand. 13 (12) But if her husband makes them null and void on the day he hears them, then whatever she said, vows or binding obligation, will not stand; her husband has voided them; and Adonai will forgive her.
14 (13) Her husband may let every vow and every binding obligation stand, or he may void it. 15 (14) But if her husband entirely holds his peace with her day after day, then he confirms all her vows and obligations; he must let them stand, because he held his peace with her on the day he heard them. 16 (15) If he makes them null and void after he has heard them, then he will bear the consequent guilt.”

We see that only a woman who is a minor, living in her father’s house and a married woman whose husband disapproves of her vows may be
released from and forgiven of her vows by HaShem. We also see that the husband negating his wife’s vows after he has heard them ( and affirmed them is guilty and will bear the consequences of this negation). How much more guilt do we bear when we make vows to HaShem and then attempt to nullify them with reciting the Kol Nidre? No other persons are given absolution from vows under any circumstances according to the words of HaShem.

22 . “When you make a vow to Adonai, your G-d, you are not to delay in fulfilling it, for Adonai your God will certainly demand it of you, and your failure to do so will be your sin. 23. If you choose not to make a vow at all, that will not be a sin for you; 24. but if a vow passes your lips, you must take care to perform it according to what you voluntarily vowed to Adonai your God, what you promised in words spoken aloud.

-Devarim/Deuteronomy 23:22-24.

Additionally, the teaching against breaking a vow is so serious that we are taught that it is better that one should not make vows,

When you make a vow to God, do not delay to fulfill it. He has no
pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. 5 It is better not to make a vow than to
make one and not fulfill it. -Qoheleth/Ecclesiastics 5,4-5.

Can Vows to G-d and Man Be Nullified?

It is important to state that the Kol Nidre  is nowhere to be found among the teachings of the Torah, the prophets and the Judges of Israel.In fact the Torah is explicit in teaching that a vow to a a person can not be broken or nullified by G-d.

  • WaYiqra/Leviticus 22,18-21,  
  • WaYiqra/Leviticus 27,2
  • BaMidbar/Numbers 6,2-21,
  • BaMidbar/Numbers15,3
  • BaMidbar/Numbers 30.
  • Devarim/Deuteronomy 23: 22-24.

Additionally, the teaching against breaking a vow is so serious that we are taught that it is better that one should not make vows.- Qoheleth/Ecclesiastes 5: 4-5. However, there was a custom mentioned by HaZaL that taught that a person can exclaim out loud the annulment of vows only made to YHWH on Rosh HaShannah, in seeking for forgiveness. -Bavli Talmud Mas. Nedarim 23b

None the less, any vows made to a person, YHWH can not  and will not absolve.-Mishna Yoma 8,9

“When thou shalt vow a vow unto the Lord thy God, thou shalt not slack to pay it: for the Lord thy God will surely require it of thee…that which is gone out of thy lips thou shalt keep and perform…” -Deuteronomy 24:21, 23

The only way that a vow between people can be nullified is if the person to whom you have made a vow releases you from it. This is not done through a prayer or incantation that you make on Yom Kippur. You must approach the person to whom you have made the vow and ask for forgiveness and the nullification of the vow. Otherwise, you must honor your vows. It is a matter of integrity and treating others as you expect to be treated. Vows to the Creator were always made before witnesses (it takes to or three witnesses to establish a legal matter), therefore , such vows can only be annulled before a Bet Dein, and not in a prayer. As well, the specific vow itself must be mentioned when the request to nullify it is brought forth.

Kol Nidre,  for whatever reason it was created, whether in good intentions or not, is a clear violation of Torah miswoth.

When thou shalt vow a vow unto the YHWH thy G-d, thou shalt not slack to pay it: for the YHWH thy G-d will surely require it of thee…that which is gone out of thy lips thou shalt keep and perform.  -Devarim/Deuteronomy 24:21, 23

Unfortunately, like many innovations to Judaism, it has become a popular ceremony. Kol Nidre is not only against the teachings of Torah and HaZaL, it is not the tradition, and should not be the tradition of West African Jews of the Diaspora or Jews anywhere. It is our purpose to return to the paths of Torah according to the teachings of G-d, which He has laid down for our ancestors and for us.

An interesting song which was popular among Christians in the predominately African-American “Holiness church” was: “I Made A Vow and I Won’t Take it Back” or “Won’t Take it Back”. This seems to be a Caribbean version of it

I made a vow, I made a vow, I made a vow,
to the Lord and I won’t take it back,
and I won’t take it back

I promised the Lord that I would
Praise Him, praise Him
I promised the Lord that I would
Trust Him, trust Him

I promised the Lord that I would
Service Him ’til I die

And I won’t take it back,
and I won’t take it back

Chorus:
He’s done so much for me
That I just can’t tell it all
He set my spirit free
And I just can’t tell it all
Won’t take it back
I promised the Lord
That I would serve Him until I die
And I won’t take it back!
And I won’t take it back!

How much more should we as Torah observant Jews about honoring the vows that we have made to both HaShem and our fellow man?

African Jewish woman praying

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