It is customary to perform the order of “Annulment of Vows” in the synagogue on Erev Rosh Hashanah and Erev Yom Kippur in order to save one’s self from the punishment of not keeping the vows one has made throughout the year. It is customary to perform this annulment following Selichot services before beginning the Shacharit prayer. Similarly, it is customary to recite the text of “Kol Nidrei,” which is also a form of Annulment of Vows, on the night of Yom Kippur before the Arvit prayer.
Nevertheless, it is important to point out that these annulments do not help for all vows one has made throughout the year, for there are many intricate details regarding the laws of vows and oaths which are not upheld in the context of this annulment, for instance, the fact that the one who made the vow must delineate the vow before a scholar and the fact that the scholar must find an “opening” in order to annul the vow by having the individual feel remorse for making the vow. The Rivash (Rabbeinu Yitzchak bar Sheshat, student of the Ran and others, who lived approximately six-hundred years ago) writes that the nullification of vows found in the “Kol Nidrei” text is not intended to annul vows at all; rather, it is only a plea to Hashem. Similarly, the Nimukei Yosef writes that we recite this text as a prayer to Hashem that we not stumble and be punished for the vows and oaths we have made during the course of the past year and they should be released and annulled before Hashem as if they were never made in the first place.
Indeed, several Geonim and Rishonim are of the opinion that the “Kol Nidrei” text should not be recited at all, for no vows are annulled as a result of saying it. On the contrary, because an Annulment of Vows is performed, unlearned individuals will treat vows and oaths lightly by thinking that as a result of reciting “Kol Nidrei,” all of their vows are annulled in any case.
Nevertheless, the prevalent custom has become to indeed recite “Kol Nidrei” as well as the text of “Annulment of Vows” or “Annulment of Curses” on Erev Rosh Hashanah and Erev Yom Kippur and there is indeed a mystical reason for doing so according to the Mekubalim. Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l rules that one may participate in this annulment of vows even if one is home and hears this being done live on the radio, via live satellite hook-up, on the phone, and the like, for one need not hear the actual voice of those individuals performing the annulment; rather, it is sufficient to hear them through the radio. It is therefore acceptable for a woman who is unable to attend the Annulment of Vows performed on Erev Rosh Hashanah and Erev Yom Kippur to participate by phone by having her husband, father, or someone else in attendance call her before the congregation begins reciting the appropriate texts. Similarly, a wife may appoint her husband as her agent to perform the Annulment of Vows on her behalf. Those performing the annulment must therefore have those participating from home via phone or live hook-up and listening to the annulment in mind.