Aleinu (Hebrew: עָלֵינוּ, "upon us") or Aleinu leshabei'ach ("[it is] upon us to praise [ God ]"), meaning "it is upon us or it is our obligation or duty to praise God," is a Jewish prayer found in the siddur, the classical Jewish prayerbook. It is recited at the end of each of the three daily Jewish services. It is also recited following the New Moon blessing and after a circumcision is performed.
The traditional view of its composition, based on a geonic account, is that this prayer was created and proclaimed by Joshua in biblical times. However, the modern scholarly view is that the prayer was composed in Talmudic times for the mussaf liturgy on Rosh Hashanah. The Aleinu praises God for allowing the Jewish people to serve him, and expresses their hope that the whole world will recognize God and abandon idolatry.
The following is the first half of the current Ashkenazi version of the prayer (there is also a second paragraph, which some traditions omit, though it is a standard part of the Ashkenazi orthodox liturgy). Translation by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, from the Koren Sacks Siddur, Copyright 2009.
Use in the synagogue
The original context of this prayer was as part of the middle paragraphs of the Amidah prayer in the additional service on Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), and more specifically in the passage known as Malchuyot (the kingdom of God). In this context it includes both paragraphs of the prayer. The first paragraph is also included at the equivalent point in the liturgy for Yom Kippur.
In the Middle Ages the custom grew up of reciting the first paragraph every day, at the end either of the morning service alone or of all the prayer services for the day. In the 16th century the kabbalist Hayim Vital, recording the opinions of Isaac Luria, ruled that both paragraphs should be included in all services, and should end with the verse "on that day the Lord shall be one and His Name one". This has been accepted in all communities except for the Spanish and Portuguese Jews, who retain the "short Alenu".
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