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El Male Rahamim

EL MALE RAHAMIM (Heb. אֵל מָלֵא רַחֲמִים; "God full of compassion"), a prayer for the departed recited at the funeral service, on the anniversary of the death (*Yahrzeit), on visiting the graves of relatives (especially on the Ninth of *Av and during the month of Elul), or after having been called up to the reading of the Law (see *Ashkavah). In some Ashkenazi rites it is also part of the memorial service (*Hazkarat Neshamot) on the festivals and on the Day of Atonement. El Male Rahamim originated in the Jewish communities of Western and Eastern Europe where it was recited for the martyrs of the *Crusades and of the *Chmielnicki massacres. This explains the many different versions of this prayer in various European communities (e.g., Nemirov, Lublin, Prague, etc.). At a funeral service which takes place on those days when *Taḥanun is not said, El Male Raḥamim is also omitted and other appropriate prayers are substituted. In the Conservative version of El Male Raḥamim, the words "and in whose memory charity is offered by… so and so…" are omitted (see Likkutei Tefillah, A Rabbi's Manual [RAA] (1965), 120ff.). The Reform ritual has a shorter version of the traditional Hebrew and English text (Rabbis' Manual [CCAR] (19612), 99).

Musical Rendition

The elaborate musical form of the prayer, and its – often virtuoso – rendition by a cantor, are customary only among the Ashkenazi communities. There it has become the symbolic center of the burial and commemoration ceremonies, next to the *Kaddish. The melody is almost never featured in the standard collections of synagogal song. The version attributed originally to Joshua (Osia) *Abrass became famous when Solomon *Razumni recited it after the Kishinev pogrom.


Davidson, Oẓar, 1 (1924), 176, no. 3808, and 3800, 3801, 3804, 3805, 3806, 3807; Elbogen, Gottesdienst, 203; Siddur Oẓar ha-Tefillot (Sephardi, 1916), 723ff. MUSICAL RENDITION: A. Baer, Ba'al Tefillah (18832), no. 829; M. Wodak, Ha-Menaẓẓe'aḥ (1898), no. 442; J.J. Sebba, Shirei Yosef (1914), no. 102.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.