- history and meaning of yom kippur
- observing Yom Kippur
- yom kippur traditions and symbols
yom kippur, the day of atonement, is considered the most important holiday in the jewish faith. Falling in the month of Tishrei (September or October in the Gregorian calendar), it marks the culmination of the 10 days of wonder, a period of introspection and repentance that follows Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. According to tradition, it is on Yom Kippur that God decides the fate of each person, which is why Jews are encouraged to make amends and ask for forgiveness for the sins committed during the last year. the holiday is observed with a 25-hour fast and a special religious service. Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah are known as the “great holy days” of Judaism. Yom Kippur 2022 begins on the night of Tuesday, October 4 and ends on the night of Wednesday, October 5.
history and meaning of yom kippur
according to tradition, the first yom kippur took place after the exodus of the israelites from egypt and the arrival at mount sinai, where god gave moses the ten commandments. Coming down the mountain, Moses surprised his people worshiping a golden calf and smashed the sacred tablets in anger. Because the Israelites atoned for his idolatry, God forgave his sins and offered Moses a second set of tablets.
did you know? Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax, one of the most famous Jewish athletes in American sports, made national headlines when he refused to pitch in the first game of the 1965 World Series because he fell on Yom Kippur. When Koufax’s replacement, Don Drysdale, was pulled from the game for poor performance, he told Los Angeles Dodgers manager Walter Alston, “I bet you wish I was Jewish, too.”
Jewish texts recount that during biblical times yom kippur was the only day on which the high priest could enter the inner sanctum of the holy temple in jerusalem. there, he performed a series of rituals and sprinkled the blood of sacrificed animals on the ark of the covenant, which contained the ten commandments. through this complex ceremony he made atonement and asked god for forgiveness on behalf of all the people of israel. the tradition is said to have continued until the destruction of the second temple by the Romans in 70 AD; it was later adapted into a service for rabbis and their congregations in individual synagogues.
Tradition has it that God judges all creatures during the 10 days of wonder between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, deciding whether they will live or die next year. Jewish law teaches that God inscribes the names of the righteous in the “book of life” and puts the wicked to death on Rosh Hashanah; people who fall between the two categories have until yom kippur to perform “teshuva” or repentance. As a result, observant Jews view Yom Kippur and the days leading up to it as a time for prayer, good deeds, reflection on past mistakes, and reconciliation with others.
observing yom kippur
yom kippur is the holiest day of the year in Judaism; it is sometimes called the “Saturday of Saturdays.” For this reason, even Jews who do not observe other traditions refrain from work, which is prohibited during the holiday, and participate in religious services on Yom Kippur, causing synagogue attendance to skyrocket. some congregations rent additional space to accommodate large numbers of worshipers.
The Torah commands all Jewish adults (apart from the sick, the elderly, and women who have just given birth) to refrain from eating and drinking between sunset the night before Yom Kippur and evening of the next day. fasting is believed to cleanse the body and spirit, not serve as punishment. religious Jews respect additional restrictions on bathing, washing, using cosmetics, wearing leather shoes, and having sex. these prohibitions are intended to prevent worshipers from focusing on material possessions and superficial comforts.
Because holy day prayer services include special liturgical texts, songs, and customs, rabbis and their congregations read a special prayer book known as a machzor during yom kippur and rosh hashanah. Five separate prayer services take place on Yom Kippur, the first on the eve of the holiday and the last before sunset the following day. One of the most important prayers specific to Yom Kippur describes the atonement ritual performed by the high priests during ancient times. The blowing of the shofar, a trumpet made from a ram’s horn, is an essential and emblematic part of both holidays. On Yom Kippur, a single long blast is sounded at the end of the final service to mark the conclusion of the fast.
yom kippur traditions and symbols
Pre-Yom Kippur Party: On the eve of Yom Kippur, families and friends gather for a lavish party that must end before sundown. the idea is to gain strength for 25 hours of fasting.
breaking the fast: After the last Yom Kippur service, many people return home for a festive meal. traditionally consists of breakfast-like comfort foods such as blintzes, noodle pudding, and baked goods.
wearing white: It is customary for religious Jews to wear white, a symbol of purity, on Yom Kippur. some married men wear kittels, which are white shrouds to represent repentance.
charity: Some Jews make donations or volunteer their time in the days leading up to Yom Kippur. This is seen as a way to atone and seek God’s forgiveness. An ancient custom known as kapparot involves balancing a live chicken or bundle of coins on one’s head while reciting a prayer. the chicken or money is then given to the poor.
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