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I was reading about Yom Kippur, and I came across this in a translation of the traditional recitation of the Kol Nidre:

"By the authority of the Court on High and by authority of the court down here, by the permission of One Who Is Everywhere and by the permission of this congregation, we hold it lawful to pray with sinners."

Isn't everyone a sinner? If so, doesn't this mean that whenever you pray with other people, you are praying with sinners? Is it not lawful to pray with sinners at other times?

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The previous answer does touch on the point that this was a declaration to excuse those placed in cherem (excommunication). See this comprehensive article that discusses the topic as well as how some of the ideas crossed over into the Kol Nidre paragraph that follows in the service. Much of the article has English translation. Feel free to contact me (comment) if you need help with specific other Hebrew words or phrases.

Excerpts of some main points:

Citing Mordechai Yoma ch. Shivat Yamim p. 247:

We enter the synagogue and lift the ban on praying with those individuals who violated communal decrees even if those individuals have not asked that the bans be lifted. This practice is based on what we learned (Crisus 6b) Rabbi Shimon Chisda said: any fast day on which sinners in the community are not asked to participate is deemed to not be a fast day. This rule is based on the fact that the odor of galbanum is unpleasant and yet it was included among the spices for the incense (Kitores) used in the Beis Ha’Mikdash. Abaye said: ‘We learn this rule from the verse (Amos 9, 6): And has founded His vault upon the Earth.

So, this paragraph answers your main question that sinners must be included in every fast day, not just Yom Kippur.

The Hebrew term used in the phrase you cited is עבריינים "ah-var-yah-nim" which is not the usual word used for sinners which would be חוטאים (though, it does translate as that). So, it seems that these were a special class of sinners.

The עבריינים are those individuals who were excommunicated from the Jewish community because they violated rules established by the community. Many hold the misconception that the עבריינים are the Marranos- Jews who chose conversion over death during the Spanish Inquisition. That the Mordechai, a student of the Maharam M’Rottenberg, and who lived in the 1200’s, refers to the custom provides evidence that the practice originated in Ashkenaz well before the Spanish Inquisition.

Read the rest of the article, as it delves into more detail of how excommunication worked, then, and how this phrase as well as the Kol Nidre paragraph includes the concept of charamim and similar vows, and how this entire intro. paragraph developed.

  • So it seems that the problem was one of translation? That is to say, the sword translated as "sinners" should probably have been translated differently? – Wad Cheber Aug 25 '15 at 20:56
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    @WadCheber I'm not sure if I can fairly answer this, now. As you know, when translating Hebrew to English, often some nuance within the word gets lost, as MAY have occurred here. I would have to further explore the etymology of the term avaryan as it is a pretty unusual word. – DanF Aug 25 '15 at 21:02
  • I guess what I mean is that you seem to be suggesting that "sinners" is necessary but not sufficient to the definition of the word used here - it means "sinners", but not just "sinners". There's another aspect to it (related to excommunication). Right? – Wad Cheber Aug 25 '15 at 21:06
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    @WadCheber The article does seem to suggest this. But. I'd like to reread it and join it up with some other resources that, perhaps, I can locate. You perked my curiosity, and something tells me that all sinners are included, which is what I would expect for Yom Kippur. I'm not sure, so I'll see if I can find something on this. – DanF Aug 25 '15 at 21:16
  • @WadCheber This article - tbe-oc.org/#!yk1-5775/c1bjg may give you some perspective to the origin and use of the term. It is a sermon, so read around the "homilyzing". The middle gives some historical perspective to the term, FWIW. I'm hunting for something else, though. – DanF Aug 26 '15 at 13:49
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Actually, there are types of people placed in חרם, or excommunication for certain crimes, such as not listening to the orders of a בית דין, or Jewish court. This excommunication prohibits almost every type of social interaction, including praying together. However, as Yom Kippur is the day of atonement and retuning to G-d, a special exemption is made for these excommunicated people to return to the synagogue, in hopes that this would inspire them to change their ways.

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    I remember hearing this explanation also. However, that doesn't help the readers who don't know or trust you or me. Can you edit in a source for it? (I, alas, don't remember one.) – msh210 Aug 25 '15 at 5:58
  • Suggestion - look at the article that I linked to in my answer. Perhaps you can extract some points from it that I haven't mentioned that would strengthen your answer. – DanF Aug 25 '15 at 15:39
  • I think it's mentioned in the ArtScroll machzor. @msh210 – Scimonster Aug 25 '15 at 20:11

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