Praying Twice: Avinu Malkeinu

St. Augustine once famously commented that singing a hymn is like “praying twice.”

I’m no theologian, and am therefore ill-equipped to proffer a theological explanation for the case; but my heart tells me that it is so. For there are songs, sacred songs, hymns, prayers put to music, that are so beautiful, that our hearts are elevated beyond what can be imagined with text alone.

Sacred songs so beautiful, when skillfully and lovingly performed, that one imagines God Himself being moved to tears.

Every so often I come across such a piece. Most recently, on the occasion of the (then-upcoming) Jewish High Holy Days, I stumbled across the stunning arrangement by Max Jankowski (1912-1991) of the traditional High Holy Day prayer, Avinu Malkeinu. (“Our Father, Our King”)  Though I’m Catholic, I know a little Hebrew, and concluded at once that here was one of those perfect alignments of text, melody, and arrangement. Honest-to-God Soul Music.

The lyrics, roughly, in English:

Our Father, Our King, hear our prayer.
We have sinned before you.
Have compassion on us and on our children.
Help us bring an end to pestilence, war, and famine.
Let all hate and oppression vanish from the earth.
Inscribe us for a blessing in the Book of Life.
Let the new year be a good year for us.

My understanding is that this prayer is said twice a day between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the yearly season of repentance.

But now as to the “music” part…

There are several lovely versions of the hymn available for downloading, free, online, I’ve uploaded two of them to STGS for the convenience of our readers:

First, Cantor Frank Birnbaum’s wonderful version:


Next, there’s a lovely choral version by Israel’s all-female Li-Ron Choir:



album availabe from

And finally—last, but far from least—there’s Barbra Streisand’s knock-your-socks-off performance from her Higher Ground LP. (It’s available to sample on YouTube *see below), though it sounds much better in HiFi. )

[tentblogger-youtube 0YONAP39jVE]



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