On 8 October 2019, Jewish people all around the world will celebrate Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur, which is also known as the Day of Atonement, is the holiest day of the year in Judaism. It occurs on the tenth day of the seventh month, and is regarded as the “Sabbath of Sabbaths”. Yom Kippur completes the annual period known in Judaism as the High Holy Days or Yamim Nora’im (“Days of Awe”) that commences with Rosh Hashanah.
According to Jewish tradition, God inscribes each person’s fate for the coming year into a book, the Book of Life, on Rosh Hashanah, and waits until Yom Kippur to “seal” the verdict. During the Days of Awe, a Jew tries to amend his or her behavior and seek forgiveness for wrongs done against God (bein adam leMakom) and against other human beings (bein adam lechavero).
The day preceding Yom Kippur is called Erev Yom Kippur. This day is commemorated with additional morning prayers, asking others for forgiveness, giving charity, performing the kapparot ritual, an extended afternoon prayer service, and two festive meals.
During Yom Kippur, five additional prohibitions are traditionally observed, which are no eating and drinking, no wearing of leather shoes, no bathing or washing, no anointing oneself with perfumes or lotions, and no marital relations. Total abstention from food and drink as well as keeping the other traditions begins at sundown, and ends after nightfall, or more or less for a 25-hour period. Wearing white clothing (or a kittel for Ashkenazi Jews), is traditional to symbolize one’s purity on this day. Many Orthodox men immerse themselves in a mikveh on the day before Yom Kippur.
Jewish people will observe Yom Kippur by spending most of the day in synagogue services. Yom Kippur has five prayer services (Ma’ariv; Shacharit; Musaf; Mincha; and Ne’ilah, the closing prayer). The prayer services also include private and public confessions of sins (Vidui) and a unique prayer dedicated to the special Yom Kippur avodah (service) of the Kohen Gadol (high priest) in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
Yom Kippur is a legal holiday in the modern state of Israel. There are no radio or television broadcasts, airports are shut down, there is no public transportation, and all shops and businesses are closed. It is considered impolite to eat in public on Yom Kippur or to sound music or to drive a motor vehicle. There is no legal prohibition on any of these, but in practice such actions are universally avoided in Israel during Yom Kippur, except for emergency services. Over the last few decades, bicycle-riding and inline skating on the empty streets have become common among secular Israeli youngsters, especially on the eve of Yom Kippur in Tel Aviv and Israel in general.
If you do not celebrate Yom Kippur, you could still share the spirit by taking the time to reflect on your past actions and seek forgiveness for any fault or mistake. Apologize to families or friends for any wrongdoings. You could also donate to your nearest charities.
How about you? Tell us your favorite Yom Kippur activity, or share your most memorable Yom Kippur celebration!
G’mar Hatimah Tovah! Tzom Kal!