Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur is one of the most important celebrations for Jews. It is held during the tenth day of Tishri and was first established in Leviticus. The name translates into “Day of Atonement” and this is essentially what the holiday is about. It is an event reserved for the affliction of the soul, for the atonement of sins which were made during the previous year. Yom Kippur is considered the final day where Jews can make their appeal to God to demonstrate repentance for the sins they committed and to make amends for them.

Origin of Yom Kippur

While Yom Kippur is a day of atonement, it will only atone for sins which have occurred between men and God, not for sins which were made against other individuals. To atone for a sin which was made to another individual you will first be required to reconcile with them, to right whatever wrongs you made against them. These things must be done prior to Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur is considered a total Sabbath which means no work is permissible during it. It is also customary for Jews to fast during this day, not eating any food or even consuming water. The event is considered a total fast which lasts for a duration of 25 hours which starts before sunset on the eve of Yom Kippur and ends at the start of the following evening.

The Talmud has a number of other guidelines that Jews are expected to adhere to during this event, such as no sexual intercourse, no bathing or placing cosmetics or perfumes on the body. The wearing of leather shoes is also prohibited, particularly among Orthodox Jews. Some of these restrictions may be lifted if following them threatens a person’s life.

How Yom Kippur Works

Jews spend much of this holiday in their synagogue, and will engage in prayer. For Orthodox synagogues the event will start early (usually no later than 9 am), and will continue until approximately 3 PM. At this time the members of the synagogue will return home to rest and take a nap, returning to the synagogue no later than 6 PM. They will then stay in service until nightfall. The tekiah gedolah (which is an extended blast of the shofar) will then sound to signify the conclusion of the event.

Jews are expected to dress in white during Yom Kippur. This color is believed to represent purity and is a reminder of the promise that the sins which Jews have committed will become as white as the snow. Some Jews don a kittel, which is a type of robe white in color in which the deceased are buried.

The liturgy associated with Yom Kippur is much more significant than with other holidays. The liturgy for Yom Kippur is so extensive that a special prayer book named the machzor will commonly be used for this event. The beginning evening service is called Kol Nidre, which is named for the starting prayer of the evening.