The Ten Days of Repentance: The Aseret Yemay Teshuvah - The Jewish Voice
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The Ten Days of Repentance: The Aseret Yemay Teshuvah

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The ten days from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur are known as Aseret Yemei Teshuvah, or the Ten Days of Repentance (more accurately translated as the Ten Days of Return).

When the prophet Isaiah tells the Jewish nation to repent for their sins, he says, “Seek G d when He may be found; call Him when He is close.”1 When is that? The sages say that this verse refers to these ten days, when G d is especially close to us.

The sages describe this period as a time when “the gates of heaven are open, and I will listen to your prayers.”

Maimonides2 explains:

“Even though repentance and crying out to G d are always timely, during the ten days from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur it is exceedingly appropriate, and accepted immediately [on high].

“For these reasons,” continues Maimonides, “it is customary for all of Israel to give profusely to charity, perform many good deeds, and be occupied with observance of G d’s commandments from Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur to a greater extent than during the remainder of the year.3

Why is this period unique? Rabbi Shmuel Eliezer Edeles (Maharsha, 1555-1631) explains that our fate for the coming year is decided on Rosh Hashanah but not sealed until Yom Kippur. Accordingly, this is the time to return to G d and beg Him to change the judgment for the better.4

In Prayers

There are a number of tweaks made to the daily prayer service that you need to watch out for:

During morning services, after the Yishtabach blessing, it is customary to say Psalm 130.

Three times a day, in the Amidah (standing prayer), we substitute the phrases haE-l hakadosh (“the holy G d”) with hamelech hakadosh (“the holy king”), and melech ohev tzedakah umishpat (“king who loves righteousness and justice”) with hamelech hamishpat (“the king of judgement”). There are a number of other insertions that were instituted by the medieval sages which can be found in the prayerbook.

Following the Amidah, and the subsequent Tachanun (supplicatory prayers), we add the full Avinu Malkeinu prayer.

As we have been doing since the start of the month of Elul (and will do until the seventh day of Sukkot, Hoshana Rabbah), we say Psalm 27 following morning and afternoon (or evening) prayers.


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