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Avinu Malkeinu (Hebrew: אָבִינוּ מַלְכֵּנוּ; "Our Father, Our King") is a Jewish prayer recited during Jewish services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, as well on the Ten Days of Repentance from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur. In the Ashkenazic tradition, it is recited on all fast days; in the Sephardic tradition only because it is recited for the Ten Days of Repentance does it occur on the fast days of Yom Kippur and the Fast of Gedaliah.
Joseph H. Hertz (died 1946), chief rabbi of the British Empire, described it as "the oldest and most moving of all the litanies of the Jewish Year." It makes use of two sobriquets for God that appear separately in the Bible; "Our Father" (Isaiah 63:16) and "Our King" (Isaiah 33:22).
The Talmud (T.B. Ta'anith 25b) records Rabbi Akiba (died 135 CE) reciting two verses each beginning "Our Father, Our King" in a prayer to end a drought (apparently successfully). In a much later compilation of Talmudic notes, published circa 1515, this is expanded to five verses. It is very probable that, at first, there was no set number of verses, no sequence, nor perhaps any fixed text. Apparently an early version had the verses in alphabetic sequence, which would mean 22 verses. The prayer book of Amram Gaon (9th century) had 25 verses. Presently, the Sephardic (Spanish and Portuguese) tradition has 29 verses, among the Mizrahi Jews the Syrian tradition has 31 or 32 verses, but the Yemenite has only 27 verses, the Salonika as many as 53 verses, the Ashkenazic has 38 verses, the Polish tradition has 44 verses, all with different sequences. And within traditions, some verses change depending on the occasion, such as Rosh Hashana (when it is said kotvenu - "inscribe us"), or the Ne'ila Yom Kippur service (chotmenu - "seal us"), or a lesser fast day (zokhrenu - "remember us").
Each line of the prayer begins with the words "Avinu Malkeinu" "Our Father, Our King" and is then followed by varying phrases, mostly supplicatory. There is often a slow, chanting, repetitive aspect to the melody to represent the pious pleading within the prayer. There are 54 such verses. Verses 15-23 are recited responsively, first by the leader and then repeated by the congregation. The reader also reads the last verse aloud (and sometimes it is sung by the entire congregation) but, traditionally, in a whisper, as it is a supplication.
On most days when Avinu Malkeinu is recited, it is included during Shacharit and Mincha on that day. It is omitted on Shabbat (except Yom Kippur at Ne'ila) and at Mincha on Fridays. On Erev Yom Kippur it is not recited at Mincha but some congregations do recite it in the morning when it falls on Friday. On Yom Kippur, Avinu Malkeinu is also recited during Maariv and Ne'ila, except when Yom Kippur falls on Shabbat in the Ashkenazi tradition, in which case Avinu Malkeinu is recited during Ne'ila only. During the Avinu Malkenu, the Ark is opened, and at the end of the prayer, the Ark is closed. In the Sephardic tradition, it is recited on Shabbat, and the Ark is not opened.
Throughout the Ten Days of Repentance, five lines of Avinu Malkeinu that refer to various heavenly books include the word Kotveinu ("Inscribe us"). During Ne'ila, this is replaced with Chotmeinu ("Seal us"). This reflects the belief that on Rosh Hashanah all is written and revealed and on Yom Kippur all decrees for the coming year are sealed. When recited on Fast Days (other than the Fast of Gedaliah which falls in the days of Penitence) the phrase Barech Aleinu ("bless us") in the 4th verse is recited instead of the usual Chadesh Aleinu ("renew us"), and "Zochreinu" (remember us) is recited in verses 19-23 in place of "Kotveinu B'Sefer" (inscribe us in the book). Fast Days on which it is not recited (by any custom) are Tisha B'Av, the afternoon of the Fast of Esther except when it is brought forward (thus not falling immediately before Purim) and when the 10th of Tevet falls on a Friday it is omitted at Mincha (as is usual on a Friday).
Sephardic Jews do not recite Avinu Malkeinu on fast days (except those that fall in the days of Penitence). Instead, a series of Selichot prayers specific to the day are recited.
In the interests of gender neutrality, the UK Liberal Jewish prayer-book for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (Machzor Ruach Chadashah) translates the epithet as "Our Creator, Our Sovereign". It also contains a contemporary prayer based on Avinu Malkeinu in which the feminine noun Shekhinah is featured.
In popular culture:
The band Mogwai's instrumental epic My Father My King is a setting of the main melody to Avinu Malkeinu.
The band Phish plays the song in a 5/4 time signature (titled "Avenu Malkenu").
Barbra Streisand sings the song with much feeling. (There is a remix by Offer Nissim)
The singer/songwriter, Lior, also performs a powerful and emotive version of the song at many of his live gigs. It is recorded on his live album, "Doorways of My Mind" (2006).
In the 1992 film, School Ties, the headmaster of the WASP elitist prep school walks in on David Greene reciting Avinu Malkeinu on Rosh Hashanah. (David is a Jewish student on an athletic scholarship to the school who deals with antisemitism by practicing Judaism clandestinely).
In 2013, Stephen DeCesare, (a Roman Catholic composer), wrote a version dedicated to Cantor Fred Scheff of Temple Shalom, Middletown RI. (Music available on sheetmusicplus.com).
The Israeli heavy metal band Orphaned Land incorporates the Avinu Malkeinu into their song "Our Own Messiah" from their 2013 album All Is One.