Avinu Malkeinu is recited at every Shacharit and Mincha service between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur and on fast days.1 The Talmud teaches that the Avinu Malkeinu prayer was composed by Rabbi Akiva.2 As the story goes, there was once a severe drought, and as a result the rabbis declared a day of fasting and prayer for rain. The Mincha service that day was held in the public square, and one of the senior rabbis led the service. Unfortunately, even after this elaborate prayer service, led by one of the most esteemed individuals in the community, the people’s prayers remained unanswered. There was no rain in sight.
Then, on his own initiative, Rabbi Akiva stepped up to the podium and began to recite his own impromptu prayers. He said, “Avinu Malkeinu, our Father and King, we have no other King but You! Avinu Malkeinu, for Your sake, have mercy on us!” It then began to rain. When the people saw that Rabbi Akiva was answered after having recited this prayer, it was added to the regular liturgy for the Aseret Yemei Teshuvah and for fast days. There are some slight variations between the wording of Avinu Malkeinu recited during the Aseret Yemei Teshuvah and that on fast days.3
Avinu Malkeinu has gone through a number of changes over the years. As noted above, it was originally a two-line prayer. Additional stanzas were added later so that Avinu Malkeinu resembled the Shemoneh Esrei in its order and content. It was then expanded even further, culminating in the 44 stanzas that are most common today.4 There are a number of versions of Avinu Malkeinu in use today that have been adopted by different communities. For example, versions of Avinu Malkeinu have 22 verses (arranged according to the letters of the alphabet), 25 verses (Siddur Rav Amram Gaon), 27 verses (the custom in most Yemenite communities), 29 verses (the custom in Spanish and Portuguese communities), 31 or 32 verses (in Syrian communities), and 53 verses (in the Salonika community). There are other customs, as well.
It is taught that the power of this prayer lies in its dual declaration of G-d as both our Father and our King. By emphasizing these two distinct aspects of G-d’s authority, we arouse the corresponding emotions: the Father Who is loving and forgiving, and the King Who rules as He sees fit. Avinu Malkeinu is recited while standing, and it is customary to open the aron kodesh. The recitation of Avinu Malkeinu does not require the presence of a minyan. One who is praying alone may recite it as well.5
There are different customs regarding the wording of certain phrases and stanzas of Avinu Malkeinu on Rosh Hashana. For example, on Rosh Hashana most congregations omit the first stanza, which reads, “We have sinned before You,” due to the festive nature of the day.6 There is also a difference of opinion whether Avinu Malkeinu should be recited on Shabbat and Friday afternoons.7 Common custom, especially in Ashkenazic congregations, is not to recite Avinu Malkeinu on Shabbat, or even Friday afternoons, due to its supplicatory nature and its reference to sin – themes that are not in the spirit of Shabbat.8 Nevertheless, when Yom Kippur falls on a Shabbat, Avinu Malkeinu is recited at the Ne’ila service.9 Other congregations recite Avinu Malkeinu even when Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur fall on a Shabbat, and it seems that the Arizal did so as well.10 There is also something of a “compromise” approach in which a modified version of Avinu Malkeinu is recited on Shabbat.11
While common custom is to recite some of the Avinu Malkeinu stanzas responsively with the chazzan, there have been authorities in the past who opposed the practice, arguing that doing so arouses “accusers.”12 Some authorities say that when reciting the stanza of “kra ro’a gezar dineinu” (tear away the evil verdict), the words ro’a gezar should be recited in a single breath. In fact, these authorities encourage one to teach others to also do so.13 One who already recited Avinu Malkeinu in a previous minyan is permitted to recite it again at a later minyan along with the congregation.14 Although Tachanun is not recited in a mourner’s home, Avinu Malkeinu is recited as normal.15
1. OC 602:1.
3. On Tzom Gedalia, the version for the Aseret Yemei Teshuva is recited.
4. Tur, OC 601.
5. Be’er Heitev 602:1; Sha’arei Teshuva, OC 584:2.5.
6. Mateh Ephraim 584; Ishei Yisrael 2:33, n. 100; Orchot Rabbeinu, vol. 2, p. 181.
7.Mishna Berura 584:3; Aruch Hashulchan, OC 584:2; Levush 584; Elya Rabba 584:6.
8. OC 602:1. Regarding the propriety of crying during the prayers on Rosh Hashana, see Elya Rabba, OC 594:6; Yechave Da’at 2:69; Ma’aseh Rav 207; Teshuvot V’hanhagot 2:268.
9. Rema 623:5; Mishna Berura 623:10.
10. Beit Yosef, OC 584; Kaf Hachaim, OC 584:8, Minhagei Eretz Yisrael 28:18.
11. Kaf Hachaim, OC 582:16. See also Shu”t Harivash 512.
12. Minhag Yisrael Torah 602:1.
13. Mishna Berura 584:3, 622:10
14. Rivevot Ephraim 2:165.
15. Mateh Ephraim 602:11.