On a brisk, clear September evening, at the height of the First Crusade and precisely nine-hundred and six years before the fourth season premiere of The Sopranos, the Rabbi Amnon of Mainz was summoned to appear before the local bishop, where he was commanded to renounce his Judaism and profess allegiance to the one true faith of Christianity. Reb Amnon, who was known throughout Germany for his wisdom and piety, requested that he be granted three days in which to make a decision. The Bishop relented, and Amnon returned to his home in Mainz, where he was quickly overwhelmed with feelings of guilt and remorse for having even appeared to consider betraying his faith in God and the Torah. Thus, when the three days expired, and his refusal to convert became known, the local bishop -- a man who quite likely could have convinced Tony to come to church more often -- ordered that Reb Amnon's hands and feet be severed as punishment. Dispirited and dismembered, the gravely wounded Rabbi made one final Yom Kippur appearance before his congregation, and in the midst of Kol Nidre services he composed with his dying breath the Unetaneh Tokeh, a prayer of such raw power and spirituality that that it remains even today the climactic component in the liturgy of the Jewish High Holy Days. "B'Rosh Hashanah y'kateivun, u'v'Yom tzom Kippur y'chateimun," it reads. "On Rosh Hashanah it is written, and on Yom Kippur it shall be sealed: How many shall pass away and how many shall be born; who shall live, and who shall die; whose life cut short, and whose life lived full."
And so it is here upon this auspicious near-millennial anniversary, on the holiest night of the Hebrew calendar, that David Chase has elected at long last to debut his much anticipated new season. Given the man's well-known predilection for inscribing the fate of the entire year in the first episode, it somehow seems so fitting. And so what fate shall be sealed for the Sopranos? Or even The Sopranos, for that matter. Who shall live, and who shall die? Whose life cut short, and whose lived full? Christopher's? Ralphie's? Paulie's? Melfi's? And what of Mr. Chase and the show itself? Will they prosper in the ratings and the glow of God's love, or will he face the same forlorn fate as Farscape producer and fellow David (Kemper), who saw his promised fifth season evaporate before the fourth had even finished? The early returns look good, but if our time on this Earth has taught us anything, it's that God and Sunday Nights on HBO quite often work in very mysterious ways.