Prior to the Musaph service on the High Holidays, the cantor recites a prayer called Hineni, named after the first word of the prayer meaning "Behold, I am...". The prayer's contents is mainly the cantor's plea that G-d grant him the strength to serve as the congregation's prayer representative and listen to his and the congregation's prayers and requests.

I have notice that in several shuls, the cantor begins the prayer at the back of the shul and slowly walks towards the bimah by the time the prayer is completed.

What is the origin of this custom and why is this done?

  • 2
    I've never seen this...
    – Double AA
    Aug 19, 2015 at 14:26
  • According to a friend of mine who works as a conservative cantor, the origin is "old ladies on ritual committees who want to set the cantor up with their granddaughters and I won't do it."
    – Yitzchak
    Aug 19, 2015 at 19:42
  • @Yitzchak There's something to be said about ritual committee ladies who think that marrying a cantor is a great option for their granddaughters. But, I won't say what that is.
    – DanF
    Aug 19, 2015 at 20:01
  • @Yitzchak Over a year later, I'll reveal why I think the ladies are doing that - they think that when the cantor passes their grandaughter singing "Hineini", somehow, he's saying "I'm ready to get married ... to her!"
    – DanF
    Apr 21, 2017 at 3:09

1 Answer 1


This article says:

The prayer probably dates from medieval times; its authorship is unknown. The hazzanim of nineteenth century Eastern Europe added drama to their recitations of the prayer by approaching the bimah from the rear of the synagogue as they chanted.

A story is told of Hazzan Joseph Altshul of Slonim. His choir would stand on the bimah awaiting his entrance. One choir member would call out, "Where is the hazzan?" The cantor would answer, "Hineni, here I am." A second choir member would call, "Why are you standing in the doorway?" The cantor would reply, "He'ani, I am poor." Then the choir would ask, "Do you need money?" Hazzan Altshul would continue his rendition and elucidate, "He'ani mima'as, I am poor in deeds."

My Conservative shul does this, and from what I have read, this seems to be a common custom in many Conservative and Reform shuls. I haven't seen this done in Orthodox shuls.

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