NE'ILAH (Heb. נְעִילָה), a worship service deriving from the ritual of the Second Temple, but subsequently recited only on the Day of Atonement as its concluding rite (see Ta'an. 4:1; Ta'an. 26b and TJ, Ta'an. 4:167c; TJ, Ber. 4:1, 7b–c; Yoma 87b and TJ, Yoma 8:8, 45c). It was originally recited on all public fast days, in addition to the Day of Atonement. It also concluded the daily *Ma'amadot, where laymen from provincial communities prayed with their priestly delegates in Jerusalem. The full name of the service is Ne'ilat She'arim ("Closing of the Gates"), referring to the daily closing of the Temple gates. On the Day of Atonement this literal closing (ne'ilat sha'arei heikhal) was associated with the symbolic closing of the heavenly gates, which remained open to prayer until sunset (ne'ilat sha'arei shamayim). Throughout the year, according to the Talmud, Ne'ilah was recited one hour before sunset, when the Temple Gates were closed; on the Day of Atonement, because of its length, Ne'ilah did not begin until close to sunset. Once Ne'ilah was limited to the Day of Atonement, it began before twilight and ended at nightfall.
By the third century Ne'ilah consisted of an *Amidah of seven benedictions, parallel to the other statutory services of the day. It likewise featured confession of sins. Attah yode'a razei olam ("Thou knowest the secrets of the world"), however, and *Al Ḥet were replaced by two prayers unique to the confession in the Ne'ilah service: Attah noten yad le-foshe'im ("Thou stretchest forth Thy hand [in forgiveness] to sinners") and Attah hivdalta enosh ("Thou has distinguished man [from the beast]"). These recapitulate the biblical-talmudic doctrine that God eagerly forgives the truly penitent. In accordance with the rabbinic idea that the divine judgment, inscribed on *Rosh Ha-Shanah, is not sealed until the Day of Atonement ends, the word to "inscribe" (כתב, ktv) (in the Book of Life) is amended to "seal" (חתם, ḥtm). To set it off from the preceding Minḥah service, Ne'ilah is prefaced by Ashrei (Ps. 145) and U-Va le-Ẓiyyon Go'el, which ordinarily introduce Minḥah.
Ne'ilah was eventually embellished with sacred poetry, especially Seliḥot. Impressive melodies heightened the emotional impact of Ne'ilah. The central motif is exhortation to make a final effort to seek forgiveness before the heavenly gates close at sunset. Yet the overall tone is one of confidence, especially in the final litany. The service proper concludes with *Avinu Malkenu and *Kaddish. The entire ritual culminates in responsive proclamations of *Shema, followed by Barukh
M. Arzt, Justice and Mercy (1963), 271–86; L. Ginzberg, Perushim ve-Ḥiddushim ba-Yerushalmi, 3 (1941), 67–108; Morgenstern, in: HUCA, 6 (1929), 12–37; E. Munk, World of Prayer, 2 (1963), 262–7.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.