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Yom Kippur: Day of Atonement

Yom Kippur: Day of Atonement

Yom Kippur is one of the holiest observations for the year for people of the Jewish faith. It is the Day of Atonement and is a day marked by worship services and fasting. Yom Kippur occurs on the tenth day of Tishri, which is the seventh month of the Jewish calendar.

This day marks the end of the high holy days, or the Days of Awe, which are the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The start of the year is Rosh Hashanah, and on that day God opens the books to inscribe the names and fates of the faithful. The ten days that follow and culminate on Yom Kippur are a time of reflection and atonement to change the judgment entered next to your name for the upcoming year.

The books close on Yom Kippur, so it serves as the last day to modify the judgment against you before the books close for the year. This holiday of introspection and repentance has less to do with making up for breaking dietary restrictions or other actions, and more to do with atoning for what you’ve said and done throughout the year. This opportunity allows you to free yourself from vows said under duress or to make up for gossip, slander and other acts of ill will.

During Yom Kippur, the faithful make amends through repentance, prayer and good deeds. One important aspect of the holiday is that most people are expected to fast for the entire duration of Yom Kippur as long as the fast doesn’t threaten their life or health. This fast includes avoiding eating food and drinking water. There are exceptions for children under the age of nine and women who have just given birth.

In addition to a total fast, Jewish people follow restrictions of the Sabbath, and many follow other restrictions that don’t allow for bathing or washing, wearing cosmetics or leather shoes. Instead of spending the day resting or relaxing, worshipers spend the day at the synagogue and attend services that start early in the morning and continue into the evening after an afternoon break.

The first night of Yom Kippur is Erev, and it is started immediately upon sunset with the Kol Nidre. The Kol Nidre is a sacred and legal vow that the congregation chants three times. It releases the person from oaths made under duress during the previous year. Scholars believe it originated during the Middle Ages as a way to bring Jewish people back to good standing after a forced conversion.

The service also includes a confession of communal sins that are all phrased using the “we” pronoun and frequent requests for forgiveness. Worship services for Yom Kippur conclude with the Ne’ilah, which indicates the closing of the gates. During this service, the ark that stores the Torah is kept open for the entire service, so congregants are standing for the full service and a blast of the shofar ends the service of this holy day.

While there are more festive holidays in the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur is one of the most important observations of the year and is a solemn occasion marked by prayer, reflection and repentance.

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