AL ḤET (Heb. עַל חֵטְא; "for the sin"), first words of a formula of confession of sins (and of each line in the formula) recited on the *Day of Atonement. The confession of sins during the afternoon *Amidah on the eve of the Day of Atonement and in every Amidah (and repetition of the Amidah) on the day itself, with the exception of that of the *Ne'ilah service, is required according to a baraita (Yoma 87b). In talmudic times, apparently, any expression admitting sinfulness sufficed, but in time a set form of confession evolved. There are two such forms: *Ashamnu, known as the "Shorter Confession," and Al Ḥet, the "Great Confession" (so called in the *Maḥzor Vitry, 374; Siddur Rashi, 96; and Ha-Manhig, 60a).
Al Ḥet contains a list of sins in alphabetical order, two sins being allotted to every letter. Each line begins: "For the sin we have sinned before Thee." After the 44 sins in alphabetical order, another nine lines are added enumerating sins according to their prescribed punishments. The recitation is divided into four parts. After each, the formula, "And for all these, O God of forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement, is chanted during the reader's repetition. The list of sins embraces the specific (e.g., unchastity) and the general (e.g., those committed "unwittingly"), but sins of a ritual nature are not included. The whole confession is in the first person plural, perhaps as an expression of the doctrine of collective responsibility.
The authorship of the Al Ḥet is unknown. It is first mentioned in the She'iltot of Aḥai Gaon (eighth century) and an abbreviated and probably more original form is found in the Seder Rav Amram. The Christian Didache (second century) also contains traces of an earlier Jewish alphabetical confession suggesting that this arrangement is very ancient. In the Sephardi rite the alphabetical arrangement is only one letter for each sin, but in some this is followed by a reverse-order alphabetical arrangement. The Yemenites use a shortened version. There are many textual variants of Al Ḥet according to different rites; an interesting example of the confession apparently used in pre-expulsion England is contained in the Eẓ Ḥayyim (ed. I. Brodie, 1 (1962), 102 ff.). It is customary to recite Al Ḥet while standing with the head bowed, and to beat one's breast at the mention of each sin. In Reform usage the Al Ḥet has been considerably shortened.
Baer S., Siddur, 416 ff.; Elbogen, Gottesdienst, 150; Idelsohn, Liturgy, 229; Hertz, Prayer, 910–8; Abrahams, Companion, cc; Adler-Davis, 2 (1915), 79; E. Levi, Yesodot ha-Tefillah (19615), 262.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.