The Kol Nidre is one of the opening prayers recited on the eve of Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish year. With its haunting melody and Aramaic lyrics, this powerful and salient liturgy carries the weight of centuries of Jewish history in its chant. The Kol Nidre centers on vows—vows made honestly and sincerely, promises hidden deep in our hearts, and oaths forced upon us. Though the origination of the prayer is shrouded in mystery, some scholars believe it became popular in the 15th century during the inquisition of Spanish Jews as they were forced to convert to Christianity. The recitation spoken at the start of Yom Kippur would free them from their legal vows to Christianity so they could properly celebrate the Day of Atonement with forgiveness and an open heart. Unfortunately, the prayer that may have brought comfort to so many Jews forced to convert was also the prayer most often cited by Christians to support their assertions that the oath of a Jew cannot be trusted.
Below is the portion of the Kol Nidre prayer spoken by Shylock and Jessica in this production.
כל נדרי ואסרי וחרמי, וקונמי וכנויי, וקנוסי ושבועות,
דנדרנא ודאשתבענא, ודאחרימנא ודאסרנא על נפשסנא,
מיום כפורים זה עד יום כפורים הבא עלינו לטובה, כולהון אחרטנא בהון,
כולהון יהון שרן, שביקין שביתין, בטלון ומבוטלין, לא שרירין ולא קימין.
נדרנא לא נדרי ואסרנא לא אסרי, ושבועתנא לא שבועות
All vows, renunciations, bans, oaths, formulas of obligations, pledges, and promises that we vow and promise to ourselves and to God from this Yom Kippur to the next—may it approach us for good—we hereby retract. May they all be undone, repealed, canceled, voided, annulled, and regarded as neither valid nor binding. Our vows shall not be considered vows; our renunciations shall not be considered renunciations; and our promises shall not be considered promises.