Jewish Calendar - Yom Kippur Basics
of Yom Kippur
Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), the holiest and most solemn day in the Jewish
calendar, is a 25-hour fast devoted to prayer and penitence. This is in accordance
with the tradition that a person's destiny for the coming year is decreed on
Rosh ha-Shanah (first and second days of Tishri) and sealed ten days later on
Yom Kippur (tenth day of Tishri). Thus, Yom Kippur closes the period of penitence
and self-examination known as Aseret Yemei Teshuva (the Ten Days of Repentance).
The prayers of the day stress confession of sins and supplications for forgiveness,
and are couched in the plural, on behalf of the "entire congregation of
Israel."The rabbis teach, however, that the day can only serve to atone
for transgressions against God; sins committed against individuals require their
forgiveness prior to the day.
the entire community of Israel..." (Numbers 26:2)
Yom Kippur, also called the "Sabbath of Sabbaths," is the only fast
day that is never postponed, even if it falls on the Sabbath. Five mortifications
are prescribed for the day, from sunset to sunset: abstention from food, drink,
sexual intercourse, anointing with oil, and wearing leather shoes. Despite these
rabbinic mortifications, based on the biblical injunction to "afflict yourselves,"Yom
Kippur is still considered a festival.
evening prayer services begins with the moving Kol Nidrei prayer. Prayers
continue the entire next day until sunset, when the closing Ne'ilah
("locking" in Hebrew) service marks the "closing of the gates
of heaven." Yom Kippur concludes with the declaration of God's unity,
a single, powerful sounding of the shofar, and the prayer "Next year
The festival prayer book (mahzor) includes all the prayers recited
from the morning of the day before Yom Kippur until the last prayer at the
close of the holiday. The prayer shawl (tallit) is worn during all
five Yom Kippur services (evening, morning, afternoon and evening). It is
customary on Yom Kippur to hang a white Torah curtain in the synagogue and
to dress the Torah scrolls in white mantles. Many worshippers, too, wear white,
the color associated with symbolic purity (and hence forgiveness of sins),
integrity and piety. In certain Ashkenazi congregations it is still customary
to wear a special white gown called a kittel.
The traditional greeting on Yom Kippur is Gemar Hatimah Tovah - "a
propitious final sealing [of the divine judgment]."
|Kol Nidrei, meaning "All
Vows," are the opening words of a declaration recited by the prayer leader
in the synagogue at the commencement of the Yom Kippur evening service.
It states that all kinds of vows made before God unwittingly or rashly
during the year (and hence not fulfilled) shall be considered null and
void. Kol Nidrei, a very old declaration, is recited in Aramaic
is recited in most congregations three times, and in Aramaic. During its
recitation the ark is opened and two Torah scrolls are removed, one held
on each side of the prayer leader.
of the Day of Atonement commences with a festive meal (se'udah ha-mafseket),
prior to the start of the fast at sunset.After the meal, festival candles
are lit at sunset ; the Shehe'heyanu prayer, is then recited, thanking
God for the gift of life and for having brought us to this season. It is customary
to wear non-leather shoes to the synagogue and to dress in white.
The meal eaten
prior to the fasts of Yom Kippur and Tish'ah be-Av (the Ninth of Av) are both
called se'udah ha-mafseket. The meal eaten before Yom Kippur is a festive
meal with abundant food, unlike the meal before Tish'ah be-Av which is traditionally
sparse (no meat or wine) as an expression of the mournful nature of the upcoming
Barukh atah Adonai eloheinu melekh ha'olam, asher kid-shanu be'mitzvotav
ve'tzivanu le-hadlik ner shel Yom Tov (when the festival falls on
Shabbat, the concluding words are "ner shel Shabbat v'Yom Tov").
(Praised are You, Sovereign of the Universe, who has sanctified us with
Your mitzvot and has commanded us to kindle light for the festival.)
Barukh atah Adonai eloheinu melekh ha'olam, she'hecheuanu
v'kiymanu v'higiyanu lazman a-zeh. (Praised are You, Sovereign of
the Universe, for granting us life, for sustaining us, and for enabling
us to reach this day.)
Traditional foods (eaten at se'udah ha-mafseket)
Round hallah, suggesting's God's crown (kingship being a central theme; also
suggests the continuing cycle of life), apples dipped in honey, expressing the
wish for a sweet and fruitful year.
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