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Avinu Malkenu


AVINU MALKENU (Heb. אָבִינוּ מַלְכֵּנוּ; "Our Father, our King"), a litany recited during the *Ten Days of Penitence and, in some rites, on fast days. Each line begins with the words Avinu Malkenu and ends with a petition. The number and order of the verses vary considerably in the different rites: in Seder Rav Amram Ga'on there are 25 verses, in the Sephardi rite 29, 31, and 32, the German 38, the Polish 44, and in that of Salonika 53. According to Jacob b. Asher (Tur, Sh. Ar., oh 602), Amram Gaon's Avinu Malkenu consisted of 22 verses arranged in alphabetical order. It became the Ashkenazi custom to recite them each morning and evening during the Ten Days of Penitence after the Amidah. The prayer is not found in the prayer books of Saadiah Gaon and Maimonides. The origin of Avinu Malkenu is R. Akiva's prayer on a fast day proclaimed because of a drought: "Avinu Malkenu, we have no King but Thee; Avinu Malkenu, for Thy sake have compassion upon us" (Ta'an. 25b). Other such litanies containing some of the same petitions but opening with *"Avinu she-ba-Shamayim" ("Our Father who art in Heaven") are still in use in some rites. Avinu Malkenu now opens, in the Ashkenazi rite, with "Our Father, our King, we have sinned before Thee" and contains petitions such as "Inscribe us in the book of good life; inscribe us in the book of redemption and salvation; inscribe us in the book of prosperity and sustenance." In the Ne'ilah service of the Day of Atonement "seal us" is substituted for "inscribe us," and on fast days "remember us" is used. In the Ashkenazi rite Avinu Malkenu is not recited on the Sabbath, since supplications should not be presented on that day (Tur, Sh. Ar., oḤ 602; cf. tj Shab. 15b). If the Day of Atonement occurs on a Sabbath, Avinu Malkenu is recited only during the Ne'ilah service. In Spain, though, it was the custom to recite it on the Sabbath of the Ten Days of Penitence, presumably on the grounds that this was warranted by the gravity of the period (Tur, ibid., and Beit Yosef, ad loc.; cf. Ta'an. 19a and Rashi ad loc.). Originally, the words Avinu Malkenu were chanted by the congregation and the rest of each verse was recited by the Reader who could add verses freely. It became the custom for the congregation to recite the whole prayer in an undertone except for some of the middle verses, which are repeated individually after the Reader. In many congregations the last verse is sung to a popular tune. The ark is opened for the prayer. The opening appeal to God as both "Our Father" and "Our King" expresses two complementary aspects of the relationship between God

and man, striking a balance between the intimacy of the one and the awe of the other.


Hertz, Prayer, 161; Abrahams, Companion, lxxiiif.; Elbogen, Gottesdienst, 147–8, 223–4; J. Heinemann, Ha-Tefillah bi-Tekufat ha-Tanna'im ve ha-Amora'im (19662), 95–96.

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