Yom Kippur is the tenth and final day of the Ten Days of Repentance which begin with Rosh Hashanah. 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 Ten Days of Repentance, a Jew tries to amend his behavior and seek forgiveness for wrongs done against God (bein adam leMakom) and against his fellow man (bein adam lechavero). The evening and day of Yom Kippur are set aside for public and private petitions and confessions of guilt (Vidui). At the end of Yom Kippur, one considers himself absolved by God.
The Yom Kippur prayer service includes several unique aspects. One is the actual number of prayer services. Unlike a regular day, which has three prayer services (Ma'ariv, the evening prayer; Shacharit, the morning prayer; and Mincha, the afternoon prayer), or a Shabbat or Yom Tov, which have four prayer services (Ma'ariv; Shacharit; Musaf, the additional prayer; and Mincha), Yom Kippur has five prayer services (Ma'ariv; Shacharit; Musaf; Mincha; and Ne'ilah, the closing prayer). The prayer services also include a public confession of sins (Vidui) and a reenactment of the special Yom Kippur avodah (service) of the Kohen Gadol in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
|Yom Kippur||Starts (at sundown)||Ends (at night)|
Total abstention from food and drink usually begins 30 minutes before sundown (called tosefet Yom Kippur, lit. "Addition to Yom Kippur"), 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 large and festive meal on the afternoon before Yom Kippur, after the Mincha afternoon prayer. Wearing white clothing is traditional to symbolize one’s purity on this day. Many Orthodox men immerse themselves in a mikvah on the day before Yom Kippur.
Erev Yom Kippur (lit. "Yom Kippur eve") is the day preceding Yom Kippur, corresponding to the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei. This day is commemorated with two festive meals, the giving of charity, and asking others for forgiveness.
Before sunset on Yom Kippur eve, worshippers gather in the synagogue. The Ark is opened and two people take from it two Sifrei Torah (Torah scrolls). Then they take their places, one on each side of the cantor, and the three recite:
In the tribunal of Heaven and the tribunal of earth, by the permission of God—praised be He—and by the permission of this holy congregation, we hold it lawful to pray with transgressors."
All personal vows we are likely to make, all personal oaths and pledges we are likely to take between this Yom Kippur and the next Yom Kippur, we publicly renounce. Let them all be relinquished and abandoned, null and void, neither firm nor established. Let our personal vows, pledges and oaths be considered neither vows nor pledges nor oaths.
The leader and the congregation then say together three times “May all the people of Israel be forgiven, including all the strangers who live in their midst, for all the people are in fault.” The Torah scrolls are then replaced, and the customary evening service begins.
The morning prayer service is preceded by litanies and petitions of forgiveness called selichot; on Yom Kippur, many selichot are woven into the liturgy. The morning prayers are followed by an added prayer (Musaf) as on all other holidays. This is followed by Mincha (the afternoon prayer) which includes a reading (Haftarah) of the Book of Jonah, which has as its theme the story of God's willingness to forgive those who repent. The service concludes with the Ne'ilah prayer, which begins shortly before sunset, when the "gates of prayer" will be closed. Yom Kippur comes to an end with a recitation of Shema Yisrael and the blowing of the shofar, which marks the conclusion of the fast.
This traditional prominence is rooted in the Babylonian Talmud’s description of how to attain atonement following the destruction of the Temple. According to Talmud tractate Yoma, in the absence of a Temple, Jews are obligated to study the High Priest’s ritual on Yom Kippur, and this study helps achieve atonement for those who are unable to benefit from its actual performance. In Orthodox Judaism, accordingly, studying the Temple ritual on Yom Kippur represents a positive rabbinically-ordained obligation which Jews seeking atonement are required to fulfill.
In Orthodox, most Conservative, and some progressive synagogues a detailed description of the Temple ritual is recited on the day. In most Orthodox and some Conservative synagogues, the entire congregation prostrates themselves at each point in the recitation where the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) would pronounce the Tetragrammaton (God’s holiest name, according to Judaism). The main section of the Avodah is a threefold recitation of the High Priest’s actions regarding expiation in the Holy of Holies. Performing the sacrificial acts and reciting Leviticus 16:30, “for on this day atonement shall be made for you, to atone for you for all your sins, before God…” (he would recite the Tetragrammaton at this point, to which the people would prostrate to the ground) and after extending the Name, he would finish the verse “…you shall be purified.” He would first ask for forgiveness for himself and his family (“Your pious man”), then for the priestly caste (“Your holy people”), and finally for all of Israel (“Your upright children”). (These three times, plus in some congregations the Alenu prayer during the Musaf Amidah on Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, are the only times in Jewish services when Jews engage in complete full-body prostration, with the exception of some Yemenite Jews and talmedhei haRambam who may prostrate themselves on other occasions during the year). A variety of liturgical poems are added, including a poem recounting the radiance of the countenance of the Kohen Gadol after exiting the Holy of Holies, traditionally believed to emit palpable light in a manner echoing the Bible's account of the countenance of Moses after descending from Mount Sinai, as well as prayers for the speedy rebuilding of the Temple and the restoration of sacrificial worship. There are a variety of other customs, such as hand gestures to mime the sprinkling of blood (one sprinkling upwards and seven downwards per set of eight).
Orthodox liturgies include prayers lamenting the inability to perform the Temple service and petitioning for its restoration, which Conservative synagogues generally omit. In some Conservative synagogues, only the Hazzan engages in full prostration. Some Conservative synagogues abridge the recitation of the Avodah service to varying degrees, and some omit it entirely. Many Reform and Reconstructionist services omit the entire service as inconsistent with modern sensibilities.
Yom Kippur is a legal holiday in the modern state of Israel. There are no radio or television broadcasts, airports are shut down, there is no public transportation, and all shops and businesses are closed. In 1973, an air raid siren was sounded on the afternoon of Yom Kippur and radio broadcasts were resumed to alert the public to the surprise attack that launched the Yom Kippur War.
In 2008, 63% percent of the people of Israel said that they were intending to fast on Yom Kippur . This may be the reason that it is very common in Israel to wish "Tsom Kal" (="an easy fast") to everyone before Yom Kippur, even if you don't know if they will fast or not.
It is considered "bad form" to eat in public on Yom Kippur or to drive a motor vehicle. There is no legal prohibition on driving or eating in public, and from the strict legal point of view any person has the right to do so - but in practice, such actions are liable to get the person so doing violently assualted by mobs of stone-throwing youths and religious fanatics, with little hope of being helped out by the police. Allowance is only made for ambulances and emergency vehicles, and even they are on many cases liable to be violently assaulted .
Over the last few decades, bicycle-riding on the empty streets has become a new “tradition” among secular Israeli youngsters, especially on the eve of Yom Kippur. In consequence, Yom Kippur is jocularly referred to as the “Festival of Bicycles.” Bicycle sales rise in the weeks before Yom Kippur, and companies have taken to advertising children’s bicycles as “Yom Kippur specials.”
Traditionally, Yom Kippur is considered the date on which Moses received the second set of Ten Commandments. It occurred following the completion of the second 40 days of instructions from God. At this same time, the Israelites were granted atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf; hence, its designation as the Day of Atonement.
According to biblical scholars, the original ceremony was simply the ritual purification of the sanctuary from any accidental ritual impurity, at the start of each new year, as seen in the Book of Ezekiel, which textual scholars date to before the priestly source, but after JE. According to the Book of Ezekiel, the sanctuary was to be cleansed by the sprinkling of bullock's blood, on the first day of the first and of the seventh months — near the start of the Civil year and of the Ecclesiastical year, respectively; although the masoretic text of the Book of Ezekiel has the second of these cleansings on the seventh of the first month, biblical scholars regard the Septuagint, which has the second cleaning as being the first of the seventh month, as being more accurate here. It appears that during the period that the Holiness Code and the Book of Ezekiel were written, the new year began on the tenth day of the seventh month, and thus biblical scholars believe that by the time the Priestly Code was compiled, the date of the new year and of the day of atonement had swapped around.
While the Temple was standing in Jerusalem (from Biblical times through 70 C.E.), the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) performed a complex set of special services and sacrifices for Yom Kippur. These services were considered to be the most important parts of Yom Kippur, as through them the Kohen Gadol made atonement for all Jews in the world. During the service, the Kohen Gadol entered the Holy of Holies in the center of the Temple, the only time of the year that anyone went inside. Doing so required special purification and preparation, including five immersions in a mikvah (ritual bath), and four changes of clothing.
Seven days prior to Yom Kippur, the Kohen Gadol was sequestered in the Parhedrin chamber in the Temple, where he reviewed the service with the Temple sages, and was sprinkled with spring water containing ashes of the Red Heifer as purification. The Talmud (Tractate Yoma) also reports that he practiced the incense offering ritual in the Avitnas chamber.
On the day of Yom Kippur, the Kohen Gadol had to follow a precise order of services, sacrifices, and purifications:
The Kohen Gadol wore five sets of garments (three golden and two white linen), immersed in the mikvah five times, and washed his hands and feet ten times. Sacrifices included two (daily) lambs, one bull, two goats, and two rams, with accompanying mincha (meal) offerings, wine libations, and three incense offerings (the regular two daily and an additional one for Yom Kippur). The Kohen Gadol entered the Holy of Holies three times. The Tetragrammaton was pronounced three times, once for each confession.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Fast Day of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross is observed on September 14 in the Julian Calendar, roughly coinciding with Yom Kippur (which oscillates with respect to the Julian and Gregorian Calendars). One Orthodox priest – Rev. Patrick Reardon – argues that it is obviously derived from Yom Kippur, and that everyone realizes this. The Amish Christians also observe a Fast Day on October 11 in the Gregorian Calendar, which similarly coincides roughly with Yom Kippur.
However, Yom Kippur is most comparable to the Christian holy day of Good Friday. As Yom Kippur is seen as the day for atonement of sins, so is Good Friday depicted as the event which Christ granted humanity atonement through his death and resurrection.
The fasting suggests Yom Kippur while the Exodus story suggests Passover. Later, Muhammad mentioned that Muslims would have their sins forgiven if they repented sincerely and fasted on Ashura. There are conflicting accounts as to whether it corresponds with Passover or with Yom Kippur. Furthermore, Ashura no longer generally coincides with either days, since the Quran prohibited intercalation into the lunar calendar, resulting in the gradual shift of the start of the 354 day Islamic year with respect to the solar year, while the lunisolar Hebrew Calendar retains intercalation.
Actor Leonard Nimoy, who played the half human and half Vulcan character Mr. Spock on the 1960’s American television show Star Trek, used the priestly greeting he saw during the Kohanim at his childhood synagogue on Yom Kippur as the basis of the spread-fingered "Vulcan Greeting" which became a popular part of the show.