On Yom Kippur, we daven our four regular tefillos - Ma'ariv, Shacharis, Mussaf, and Mincha. All of those Tefillos are named after some combination of the time they are at, or Korbanos that were brought on that day.

I understand that the word Neilah means closing/locking, but that's about it. What closing does this refer to, and why would we name a Tefillah after it? Alternatively, what else could the word Neilah mean that would make sense for a Tefillah name?

  • There are a few explanations in the liturgy (Nusach Ashkenaz) which refer to Ne'ilah being נעילת שערים with these gates being שערי תשובה – Noach MiFrankfurt Sep 16 at 13:38
  • Mishneh Torah Hilkhot Tefilah 1:7: "Similarly, they instituted a prayer after the Minchah Prayer [to be recited] close to sunset on fast days only, its purpose being to increase supplication and pleading because of the fast. This is called the Ne'ilah prayer, as if to say that the gates of Heaven are closed behind the sun, which becomes hidden, since it is recited only close to [the time of] sunset". – Tamir Evan Sep 16 at 13:41

While we call it Ne’ilah, its full name is Ne’ilas She’arim (locking of the gates; Mishnah, Taanis 26a). Rashi (ad. loc., DH “Ne’ilas She’arim”) references the Yerushalmi (Berachos, 4th Perek) that gives two explanations of this name:

  • Rav holds that it is said with the locking of the gates in Heaven
  • R’ Yochanan holds that it is said with the locking of the gates of the Beis HaMikdash

Since, in either case, Ne’ilah would be said close to the end of the day, with these “lockings of the gates,” it became known as Ne’ilah. (Rashi has more to say, regarding how this name applies to other fasts, but that’s irrelevant to our discussion. Below is a copy of Rashi, with my translation.)

נעילת שערים - מפורש בברכות ירושלמי בפרק תפלת השחר אימתי נעילה יש אומרים נעילת שערי מקדש וי"א נעילת שערי שמים שנועלים אותן לעת ערב בגמר תפלה [...]

”Locking of the gates” - it is explicit in Yerushalmi Berachos, Perek Tefillas HaShachar, “When is Ne’lah? Some say the locking of the Temple gates, and some say the locking of the gates of Heaven; for they would lock them close to evening, with the conclusion of the Tefillah.

And the original Yerushalmi (on Sefaria it’s 31a, in the middle; still my translation):

אימתי הוא נעילה רבנן דקיסרין אמרין איתפלגון רב ור' יוחנן רב אמר בנעילת שערי שמים ור"י אמר בנעילת שערי היכל

When is Ne’ilah? The Caesarean Rabbis said: Rav and R’ Yochanan argue. Rav said: with the locking of the Heavenly gates. R’ Yochanan said: with the locking of the gates of the Heichal.

  • What does " locking of the gates of Heaven" mean? – Tamir Evan Sep 23 at 14:19
  • @TamirEvan I have always understood it as a metaphor for the “final call” to send in your tefillos, before time is up at the end of the day. I encourage you to ask it separately. – DonielF Sep 23 at 15:03

The Yerushalmi [Berachot Y 45a] says that Rabbi Levi said: God said in Isaiah 1:15:

Even if you pray profusely I will not answer, [because] your hands are full of blood.

תַרְבּוּ תְפִלָּה אֵינֶנִי שמֵֹׁעַ יְדֵיכֶם דָּמִים מָּלֵאוּ גַם כִי

He concluded that IF your hands are not full of blood AND you pray profusely, you WILL be answered! It’s a promise! He turned the negative-sounding biblical verse into something positive. So the Sages added Neilah to increase the chance that our prayers will be answered on Yom Kippur. So you could interpret Neilah as "Last chance to have your prayers answered -- We are closing up!"

  • 1
    1. Interesting that in your edition it’s on 45a; in mine (Sefaria) it’s on 31a. 2. Keep reading and you’ll get to the Gemara that actually explains its name, which I’ve quoted in my answer. It’s not dissimilar from what you’ve said, just that mine is the actual Gemara, rather than speculation. – DonielF Sep 16 at 15:05

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