The Meaning of “Next Year in Jerusalem”

Jews of all backgrounds are familiar with the phrase “le-shanah ha-ba’ah bi-Yerushalayim,” “Next Year in Jerusalem.”[i]  It makes two appearances annually in Jewish liturgy: at the conclusion of the Passover Seder and at the conclusion of the Ne’ilah service of Yom Kippur.  Although the phrase is not found in any Hazal sources, it appears in sources from the early Rishonim.  The custom to say “Next year in Jerusalem” on Passover existed as early as the 13th century,[ii] and the phrase itself appears even earlier in piyyutim (liturgical poems) for both Passover and Yom Kippur.[iii]

R. Yosef Tuv Elem, living in 11th century France, wrote a piyyut named “A’amir Mistatter,” which was adopted as the yotser for Shabbat Ha-Gadol.  It consists of 25 stanzas, which alternate between describing God’s creation of the world, His miraculous redemption of the Jews from Egypt, and His future redemption of the Jews from their exile.  The final two stanzas, which end with the phrase, “In Jerusalem next year,” describe the ultimate restoration of the Temple service: “The whole-hearted who wish to make Him great/ with joy will He lead them to His Temple/ There all of Israel will serve Him// Raise Your wondrous arm/ To gladden the nation which suffered/ In Jerusalem next year.”[iv]

The phrase appears again in the 12th century Yom Kippur piyyut, “Yedidekha me-Emesh,” written by R. Yehudah ha-Levi of Spain.  The piyyut implores God to answer the congregation’s prayers and forgive their sins, and it includes the phrase, “Next year in Jerusalem.”  The fourth stanza reads:  “Extract us from sin, He Who dwells in the heavens/ as the sun sets, call to those who pass through fire and water/ ‘Next Year in Jerusalem.’”[v]

In addition to documenting the usage of “Next year in Jerusalem” in early liturgy, these two piyyutim also show how the phrase was interpreted many centuries ago.   R. Yosef Tuv Elem’s piyyut draws a parallel between the lines, “There [in the Temple] all of Israel will serve Him” and, “In Jerusalem next year.”  This juxtaposition clarifies what Jews hope will occur in Jerusalem next year; namely, that the Temple service will be restored and Jews will gather there to serve God.  In R. Yehudah ha-Levi’s piyyut, “Next year in Jerusalem” is the phrase which God uses to declare the end of the Jews’ exile.  The fact that “Next year in Jerusalem” appears in two piyyutim in prominent places – the concluding lines of a stanza – shows that neither author created or popularized the line himself; the phrase was already well known among the Jewish community and each paytan merely shaped the refrain into his piyyut.[vi]

Why is “Next year in Jerusalem” said exclusively on Passover and Yom Kippur?  In the daily Amidah, Jews pray for Jerusalem’s reconstruction and the reestablishment of the Davidic monarchy. What distinguishes between those berakhot of the Amidah and the phrase “Next year in Jerusalem,” which is reserved for two holidays each year?  Furthermore, what does “next year” signify?  Do we not hope for a more immediate redemption, “speedily in our days?”

Although Jews pray each day for their immediate redemption, “Next year in Jerusalem” signifies something more – their longing for the return of the holiday sacrifices.  Yom Kippur and Passover are unique in the Jewish calendar because, more than any other holiday, their fundamental identities are inherently and integrally bound to the Temple service.

The Torah repeatedly presents the Temple service of Yom Kippur as more fundamental to the day’s identity than any other holiday’s services.  Yom Kippur’s service is introduced in Parashat Aharei Mot as the procedure with which the Kohen Gadol is permitted to enter the otherwise restricted Holy of Holies.[vii]  Only by meticulous performance of a series of ritual immersions, changes in wardrobe, animal offerings, blood sprinklings, and confessions for sins may he enter the Holy of Holies without dying.  The Torah reveals that this service should be performed annually as the Yom Kippur avodah only at the conclusion of the section, where it also describes the day’s laws of affliction and God’s promise of atonement.  In the Torah’s description of Yom Kippur, all other aspects of the day are secondary to the Kohen’s service.

This emphasis on the avodah is seen in the mussaf prayer on Yom Kippur as well.  On other holidays, the mussaf prayer’s description of the mussaf offerings merely records the number of animals and libations brought in the Temple.  On Yom Kippur, however, we recite lengthy piyyutim describing the details of the Kohen Gadol’s service.  This description culminates with the piyyut, “Emet Mah Nehedar:” “True! – How majestic was the Kohen Gadol as he left the Holy of Holies in peace, without injury.”[viii]  The piyyut describes the elation and celebration that followed the Kohen Gadol’s completion of the service, which secured the atonement of the whole Jewish people.  We, too, are swept up in the nation’s excitement, and we sing out, confident that we have been forgiven.  Our mussaf prayer then turns tragic.  On the heels of the ecstasy of “Emet Mah Nehedar” comes the misery and terror of, “Fortunate is the eye that saw all these; for the ear to hear of it distresses our soul.”[ix]  We are jolted from our fantastical involvement in the Kohen Gadol’s celebration, and we return, instead, to the present Yom Kippur.  The Temple service, which dominates the identity of the day, can no longer be performed, and we are left to mourn its absence, unsure what we can do in its place.

In one of his Teshuvah lectures, R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik describes a similar sense of desperation Jews felt in the first Yom Kippur after the Temple was destroyed.[x]

The Mishna teaches us: “Rabbi Akiba said: Fortunate are you, Israel!  Who is it before Whom you become clean?  And Who is it that makes you clean?  Your Father Who is in heaven” (Yoma 8:9).

It seems certain that Rabbi Akiba said this soon after the fall of the second Temple.  To understand the full meaning of his words, we must try to picture the mentality and broken spirit of the Jews in that first year after the destruction of the Temple.  Yom Kippur had arrived and suddenly the people realized that there would be no sacrificial service, the High Priest could not enter the Holy of Holies, there would be no incense, no public celebration for the High Priest as he would emerge from the holy place.  They were deprived of the entire sacred service which took place on Yom Kippur when the Temple was standing.  They felt that all they cherished was lost and that there was no hope of repairing the damage. It seemed as though they would remain plunged forever within the deep darkness enclosing them.  It was then that Rabbi Akiba declared: “Fortunate are you, O Israel, before Whom do you cleanse yourselves?”

Even though Hazal have since developed a prayer service to substitute for the missing sacrifices, our contemporary observance of Yom Kippur still lacks the biblical and historical centerpiece of the day, the Kohen Gadol’s avodah.

Similarly, the Passover festival celebrates God’s miraculous redemption of the Jews from Egypt, and it contains the pesah offering at its center.  A few days before the Plague of the Firstborns, God commands the Jews to acquire lambs and prepare to sacrifice them on the fourteenth day of Nissan, after which God will pass through Egypt, killing all non-Jewish firstborns.[xi]  God then tells the Jews that they will similarly observe and celebrate this day in future years, and informs them of some laws associated with the Passover holiday.  Every year, all Jews would gather in the Temple and slaughter their lambs, joyously reliving the exodus and praising God.

Our Passover seder is the exilic version of the biblical pesah offering.  Nowadays, we cannot offer the pesah without the Temple, but we attempt to preserve the other, secondary aspects of the holiday.  We place a roasted bone on the seder plate as an inadequate placeholder, as we try to maintain feelings of festive celebration even when the namesake of the holiday is lost.  The text of our haggadah betrays our hidden disappointment with the status quo and our aspiration for the reinstitution of the pesah offering.  In the berakhah of “Asher Ga’alanu” with which Maggid ends, we ask God, “Enable us to reach future holidays and festivals in peace, rejoicing in the rebuilding of Your city and ecstatic in Your service.  And there we will partake of the sacrifices and Pesach offerings.”[xii]  We are unsatisfied with our incomplete celebration of Passover, and we long for the Temple service.  We reveal a similar sentiment in “Hasal Siddur Pesah,” R. Yosef Tuv Elem’s piyyut which concludes the seder: “As we have been privileged to arrange it, so may we be privileged to perform it (the sacrificial pesah service).”[xiii]  Though not despondent as we conclude this festive night, we admit that the highlight of the seder night is missing in the Temple’s absence.

It is no accident that, when R. Soloveitchik seeks to demonstrate halakhic man’s cognitive separation between the ideal Halakhah and empirical reality, he uses Yom Kippur and Passover as his examples.[xiv]

The concept of the Day of Atonement or the night of Passover, for example, is an ideal concept, and halakhic man sees the Day of Atonement in the resplendent image of the glory of the sacrificial service of the day or the night of Passover in all its majesty, at the time when the Temple was still standing.  Both the Day of Atonement and the Passover festival nowadays, when we have no high priest, nor sacrifices, nor altar and the whole Temple service cannot take place, are devoid of all that holiness and glory with which they were endowed at the time of the Temple.  Both are only a pale image of the ideal constructions that were given on Mount Sinai.

We say “Next Year in Jerusalem” on Yom Kippur and on the night of Passover because of the centrality of the Temple service to these days.  After concluding the prayer services of Yom Kippur, which substitute for the biblically mandated mussaf service, we proclaim, “Next Year in Jerusalem.”  After finishing the Passover seder, in which we can eat matsah but not the korban pesah, we proclaim, “Next Year in Jerusalem.”  Next year, we will observe the day properly, in a rebuilt Jerusalem, with a rebuilt Temple and a reenacted sacrificial service.  Next year, we will no longer need the placeholders of the hazzan’s mussaf and the bone on the seder plate.

Gilad Barach is a fourth-year student in Yeshiva College, majoring in physics and mathematics, and is a staff writer for Kol Hamevaser.

[i] The fourth word, “ha-benuyah,” “the rebuilt [Jerusalem],” is a modern addition, apparently introduced by Jewish communities in Jerusalem to keep the wish relevant.

[ii] See Sefer ha-Minhagim by R. Avraham Hildik (b. c. 1240), “Customs of the Month of Nissan.”

[iii] The piyyuttim are discussed at length in Ze’ev Gothold, “Tahkemon” (Hebrew) (Jerusalem: 2009), v. 2, p. 60-106.

[iv] Meir Ganz (ed.), Mahzor, Minhag Polin (Hebrew) (Altona, Germany: 1826), volume 2, p. 247.  The translation is mine.

[v] Judah HaLevi. “Yedidekha me-emesh,” in Selected Liturgical and Secular Poems, ed. Dr. Simon Bernstein (New York: Ogen Publishing House, 1944), p. 97.  The translation is mine.

[vi] Gothold, p. 65.

[vii] Va-Yikra 16:1-34.

[viii] Arnold Lustiger (ed.), The Kasirer edition Yom Kippur Machzor (New York: K’hal Publishing, 2006), p. 619.

[ix] Ibid., p. 620.

[x] Pinchas Peli (ed.), Soloveitchik on Repentance (New York: Paulist Press, 1984), p. 54-55.

[xi] Shemot 12:1-20.

[xii] R. Yosef Adler, Haggadah for Passover with Commentary Based on the Shiurim of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (New York: Urim Publications, 2008), p. 75.

[xiii] Joseph Tabory, JPS Commentary on the Haggadah (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2008), p. 122.

[xiv] R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Halakhic Man (trans. by Lawrence Kaplan) (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1983), p. 26.