|YOM KIPPUR (DAY OF ATONEMENT)
Yom Kippur is probably the most important holiday of the Jewish year. Many
Jews who do not observe any other Jewish custom will refrain from work, fast
and/or attend synagogue services on this day. Yom Kippur occurs on the 10th
day of Tishri. The holiday is instituted at Leviticus 23:26.
The name "Yom Kippur" means "Day of Atonement," and that pretty much
explains what the holiday is. It is a day set aside to "afflict the soul," to atone
for the sins of the past year. In Days of Awe, "books" are mentioned in which
God inscribes all of names. On Yom Kippur, the judgment entered in these
books is sealed. This day is essentially a Jew’s last appeal or chance to change
the judgment and to demonstrate true repentance and possibly to make
As noted in Days of Awe, Jews believe Yom Kippur atones only for sins
between man and God, not for sins against another person. To atone for sins
against another person, they teach that one must first seek reconciliation
with that person, righting the wrongs they have committed against them if
possible. This must all be done before Yom Kippur.
Yom Kippur is a complete Sabbath; no work can be performed on that day. It
is well known that Jews are supposed to refrain from eating and drinking
(even water) on Yom Kippur. It is a complete, 25-hour fast beginning before
sunset on the evening before Yom Kippur and ending after nightfall on the
day of Yom Kippur. The Talmud also specifies additional restrictions that are
less well-known: washing and bathing, anointing one's body (with cosmetics,
deodorants, etc.), wearing leather shoes (Orthodox Jews routinely wear
canvas sneakers under their dress clothes on Yom Kippur), and engaging in
sexual relations are all prohibited on Yom Kippur.
As always, any of these restrictions can be lifted where a threat to life or
health is involved. In fact, children under the age of nine and women in
childbirth (from the time labor begins until three days after birth) are not
permitted to fast, even if they want to. Older children and women from the
third to the seventh day after childbirth are permitted to fast, but are
permitted to break the fast if they feel the need to do so. People with other
illnesses are urged to consult a physician and a rabbi for advice.
Most of the holiday is spent in the synagogue, in prayer. In Orthodox
synagogues, services begin early in the morning (8 or 9 AM) and continue
until about 3 PM. People then usually go home for an afternoon nap and
return around 5 or 6 PM for the afternoon and evening services, which
continue until nightfall. The services end at nightfall, with the blowing of the
tekiah gedolah, a long blast on the shofar.
It is customary to wear white on the holiday, which symbolizes purity and
calls to mind the promise that one’s sins shall be made as white as snow
(Is. 1:18). Some people wear a kittel, the white robe in which the dead are