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20 November 2017 - 3 Kislev 5778 - ג' כסלו ה' אלפים תשע"ח
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Yom Kippur the holiest day Print E-mail

...In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and you shall not do any work ... For on that day he shall provide atonement for you to cleanse you from all your sins before the L-rd. - Leviticus 16:29-30 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 Tishrei.

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. .This day is, essentially, your last appeal, your last chance to change the judgment, to demonstrate your repentance and make amends and be sealed in the book of life.

Yom Kippur atones only for sins between man and G-d, not for sins against another person. To atone for sins against another person, you must first seek reconciliation with that person, righting the wrongs you committed against them if possible. That must all be done before Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur is a complete Sabbath; no work can be performed on that day and refrain from eating and drinking. It is a 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: washing and bathing, anointing one's body (with cosmetics, deodorants,), wearing leather shoes, 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. People with other illnesses should consult a physician and a rabbi for advice.

Most of the holiday is spent in the synagogue, in prayer. 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 symbolises purity and calls to mind the promise that our sins shall be made as white as snow. Some people wear a kittel, the white robe in which the dead are buried.

Yom Kippur service

The evening service that begins Yom Kippur is commonly known as Kol Nidre, named for the prayer that begins the service. Kol nidre means “all vows,” and in this prayer, we ask G-d to annul all personal vows we may make in the next year. It refers only to vows between the person making them and G-d, such as “If I pass this test, I'll pray every day for the next 6 months!” The main theme of the prayers is to ask G-d for forgivenness for sons we have committed. All sins are confessed in the plural (we have done this, we have done that), emphasising communal responsibility for sins.

There are two basic parts of this confession: Ashamnu, a shorter, more general list (we have been treasonable, we have been aggressive, we have been slanderous...), and Al Cheit, a longer and more specific list(for the sin we sinned before you forcibly or willingly, and for the sin we sinned before you by acting callously...) Frequent petitions for forgiveness are interspersed in these prayers.

It is interesting to note that these confessions do not specifically address the kinds of ritual sins that some people think are the be-all-and-end-all of Judaism.

There is no “for the sin we have sinned before you by eating non-kosher food and for the sin we have sinned against you by driving on Shabbat” (though obviously these are implicitly included in the catch-all).

The vast majority of the sins enumerated involve mistreatment of other people, most of them by speech (offensive speech, scoffing, slander, talebearing, and swearing falsely, to name a few). These all come into the category of sin known as Lashon ha-ra (lit: the evil tongue), which is considered a very serious sin in Judaism.

The concluding service of Yom Kippur, known as Ne'ilah, is one unique to the day. The ark is kept open throughout this service, thus you must stand throughout the service. There is a tone of desperation in the prayers of this service. The service is sometimes referred to as the closing of the gates; think of it as the “last chance” to get in a good word before the holiday ends.

After Yom Kippur, one should begin preparing for the next holiday, Sukkot, which begins five days later.

Supplied by Judaism 101

(Issue September 2009)

 

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