About Yom Kippur
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the holiest and most important holiday in Judaism. It is a day of fasting and prayer that is celebrated on the 10th of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, 10 days after Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
Yom Kippur marks the end of the “Ten Days of Repentance,” or the “High Holidays,” and grants Jews a last opportunity to obtain forgiveness and absolution for their sins in the previous year. According to Jewish belief, on Yom Kippur judgment is passed on each person for the coming year. In order to be worthy of forgiveness from sins, this day is devoted to spiritual repentance and a commitment to start the new year with a clean conscience, secure in the knowledge that God forgives every person who truly regrets his misdeeds.
The idea of purification is fulfilled by fasting: on Yom Kippur observant Jews fast from the evening of the holy day until the following night. Unlike all the other Jewish fast days, Yom Kippur is observed in full, even when it coincides withShabbat. Yom Kippur is the only day on the Jewish calendar during which there are five prayer services.
Yom Kippur is not directly connected with any specific historical event, although some believe that on this day Moses came down from Mt. Sinai with the second set of tablets engraved with the Ten Commandments and God forgave the Israelites for the sin of the Golden Calf. This is a holiday ordained in the Torah, where it is called a Shabbat of Solemn Rest, a day on which no productive work can be done, just like on Shabbat.
Even though most of the Jewish population in Israel is not religiously observant, Yom Kippur has and remains a special day for all and has retained its unique character. Many Jews who define themselves as secular and do not visit the synagogue all year long, go to prayer services on the special day, and many also observe the fast, completely or partially.
Fast - The Torah states that this is a day on which Jews are to “afflict their souls” - by observing a total fast, abstaining from both food and drink. There is also a prohibition against all physical pleasures, wearing leather shoes, washing any part of the body (including brushing the teeth). The fast, which lasts from sundown on the eve of the holiday until the stars come out the following night, is intended to not only cause physical discomfort, but to relieve a person of involvement in physical matters so that he can concentrate on the prayer and spiritual introspection required on this day.
Kaparot - atonement ritual. On the day before Yom Kippur there is a customary atonement ritual, in which a live chicken is swung in circles above the head of a person, in the belief that the person’s sins will be transferred to the chicken, which is then slaughtered (the ritual is, of course, accompanied by special prayers). The chicken is customarily given to the poor or sold, and the money given to charity.
Selichot - asking for forgiveness. In addition to the prayers during the days of repentance preceding Yom Kippur, on the holy day itself or before it, it is customary to ask forgiveness from anyone whom one might have offended. According to Jewish belief, Yom Kippur atones for the sins between man and God, but not between man and his fellow man - people must grant one another forgiveness individually.
The meal before the fast - on the eve of Yom Kippur there is a religious precept to eat a holiday meal that ends before the beginning of the fast at sunset. The fast begins immediately after the meal.
Prayer - Religious Jews spend the whole of Yom Kippur day in synagogue devoting themselves to prayer. The prayers include a general admission of sins, and each person silently adds his own personal sins. One of the important prayers is Kol Nidrei - All Vows, named after the opening words of the first prayer, which cancels any vows that a person has made. It is customary to go to synagogue dressed in holiday clothing, and many people wear all white clothes, symbolizing purity.
The blowing of the shofar - At the close of Yom Kippur, the shofar - a ram’s horn - is blown to mark the end of the day of prayer and fasting.
On Yom Kippur there is almost no traffic on the roads, and many families go for walks along the city streets. Even in Tel Aviv, a city with a clearly secular character, where there is hardly a day or an hour when businesses are not open and the street are always full of cars, car owners respect Yom Kippur and avoid driving on this day.
Children of all ages, on the other hand, take advantage of this day when the streets are empty and are out on their bicycles, roller blades and skateboards. All businesses are closed on Yom Kippur, including those that are usually open on Shabbat. All Israeli radio and TV broadcasts are also suspended, and only the foreign stations have programming as usual.
If you are visiting Israel during this period, take advantage of Yom Kippur for a stroll through the city. It is also a good idea to visit a synagogue, to watch the congregants or to participate in this special prayer experience. In any event, take into account that in the Jewish cities everything is closed, there is no public transport (not even taxis) and the atmosphere is different than on regular days.