Tahanun

Confessing your sins every day, twice a day, for the rest of your life.

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A Longer Version for Torah Reading Days

On Monday and Thursday mornings, Tahanun is augmented by a lengthy opening section of supplications beginning with the words "ve-Hu rachum" (He, the merciful one [is forgiving of iniquity and does not destroy]). It describes the unending sufferings of the Jewish people throughout the ages, especially during the medieval period when these heartrending elegies were written.
 
Rather than blaming God or a specific oppressor for the disasters that have befallen the people, these prayers admit that Israel has only received just punishment for its failure to faithfully fulfill the terms of the covenant. Pleading for divine mercy and forgiveness, the worshipers pray that the "living and everlasting God" will not forsake His people.
 
The reason for the expanded Tahanun on Mondays and Thursdays is based on a seminal event in Israel's national history. According to the midrashic tradition, after the shameful episode of the Golden calf, Moses ascended Mount Sinai on a Thursday, the First of Elul, to receive the second set of the Ten Commandments. He descended 40 days later on a Monday, Yom Kippur, carrying with him not only the tablets of the law but also God's forgiveness for Israel's sin.
 
Ezra established the custom of rabbinical courts convening on Monday and Thursday, the traditional market days in ancient Israel. According to the kabbalistic literature, on these days the heavenly court judges human beings.
 
Consequently, extra supplications were introduced into the Tahanun recited on these days with the hope that God will show mercy to thosewho humbly seek forgiveness for their transgressions." Tahanun is not recited on festive occasions and other joyous dayswhen expressions of tragedy and grief would detract from the celebration.

Don't Say It Now!

Similarly, it is also omitted on days of sadness, when thereis no need to add to the sorrow. Therefore, Tahanunis not recited on Sabbaths, festivals (Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot, Rosh Hodesh Purim, Hanukkah, Tu B'Shevat, Yom ha-Atzmaut, Lag Ba-Omer, YomYerushalayim), between Yom Kippur and Sukkot, and during the entire month of Nisan.
 
It is not said on Tisha B'Av, which according totradition will be transformed from a day of sorrow to one of rejoicing in the Messianic Era. Tahanun is also omitted at services conducted ina house of mourning during shiva, in the presence of a bridegroom on the day of his wedding or for seven days thereafter (onlythree days if a remarriage for bothparties), in the synagogue where a circumcision will take place later that day, and in the presence of aprimary participant (father, mohel, sandek) in a brit milah that will take placeelsewhere.
 
In Hasidic congregations, Tahanun is not said on the yahrzeit of a rebbe, since this is regarded as an uplifting day that providesan opportunity for spiritual renewal rather than one of abjectsadness.

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Ronald L. Eisenberg

Ronald L. Eisenberg, a radiologist and non-practicing attorney, is the author of numerous books, including The Jewish World in Stamps.