Yom Kippur, also known as the Day of Atonement, is the most solemn and important of the Jewish holidays. Its central themes are atonement and repentance. `
Yom Kippur is a complete Sabbath; no work can be performed on that day.
The people of Israel traditionally observe this holy day with a 25-hour period of fasting and intensive prayer, often spending most of the day in synagogue services. Yom Kippur is the tenth day of Tishrei. According to Jewish tradition, God inscribes each person’s fate for the coming year into a "book" on Rosh Hashanah and waits until Yom Kippur to "seal" the verdict. During the Days of Awe, a Jew tries to amend his or her behavior and seek forgiveness for wrongs done against Judge of the whole world, eg: God (bein adam leMakom) and against other human beings (bein adam lechavero). The evening and day of Yom Kippur are set aside for public and private petitions and confessions of guilt (Vidui).
About Vidui: In Judaism, confession (Hebrew וידוי, Viddui) is a step in the process of atonement during which a Jew admits to committing a sin before God. In sins between a Jew and God, the confession must be done without others present (The Talmud calls confession in front of another a show of disrespect). On the other hand, confession pertaining to sins done to another Jew are permitted to be done publicly, and in fact Maimonides calls such confession "immensely praiseworthy".
The Torah says: Vayikra / Leviticus 23:27 decrees that Yom Kippur is a strict day of rest and of fasting. "…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 HaShem."
Customs For Erev Yom Kippur
- Traditionally, "all who eat on the ninth are considered to have fasted on the ninth and the tenth." It is thus a mitzvah to eat and drink Erev Yom Kippur.
- It is customary to give increased charity on Erev Yom Kippur as charity helps to repeal any evil decrees.
- Sins committed against another person cannot be atoned for until one has first sought forgiveness from the person he/she has wronged. (Even the great day of Yom Kippur or death cannot atone for sins against fellow man.)
- It is customary to go visit (or call) friends, family, associates and any person whom one may have somehow wronged or spoken ill of in the past year and ask forgiveness. For example, any stolen objects must be returned to their rightful owners.
- It is a mitzvah to immerse oneself in a mikvah (ritual bath) on Erev Yom Kippur. This symbolizes a person’s rebirth associated with the doing of Teshuvah, return.
- It is customary to wear white on Yom Kippur. This is symbolic of the angels and of spiritual purity. Many married men wear a kitel, which is also worn upon burial (and by many men at their wedding) as a reminder of the day of death and repentance.
- Though not usually worn at night – the talit (prayer shawl) is worn for Kol Nidre, is kept on for the entire evening service, and is left unfolded at the synagogue to be adorned again the next morning.
Total abstention from food and drink usually begins 30 minutes before sundown, and ends after nightfall the following day. Although the fast is required of all healthy adults, it is waived in the case of certain medical conditions.
Virtually all Jewish holidays involve a ritual feast, but since Yom Kippur involves fasting, Jewish law requires one to eat a and festive meal on the afternoon before Yom Kippur, after the Mincha afternoon prayer. Wearing white clothing, for men a Kittel, is traditional to symbolize one’s purity on this day. Many Orthodox men immerse themselves in a mikvah on the day before Yom Kippur.
After Yom Kippur ends, we are required to recite or hear Havdalah over wine before we are allowed to eat anything (Kasher). The Havdalah service declares the separation between the holy and mundane days, and Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year.
Although Yom Kippur is a serious time, there is an undercurrent of joyful hope. We believe that HaShem will accept our sincere repentance and forgive us for our sins, allowing us to build a relationship of love and trust with Him again. The day ends with a shofar blast and singing of “Next Year in Jerusalem” usually accompanied by singing and dancing.
After Yom Kippur, one should begin preparing for the next holiday, Sukkot, which begins five days later.
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