Yom Kippur - September 14, 2013
Yom Kippur is the Jewish holiday of the Day of Atonement. It falls on the tenth day of the Hebrew month of Tishri, the seventh of the Religious Calendar. (Leviticus 23:27-28) The Bible calls the day ''Yom HaKippurim'' (Hebrew, "Day of the Atonements"). It is one of the ''Yamim Noraim'' (Hebrew, "Days of Awe"). The day is commemorated with a 25-hour fast and intensive prayer.
Yom Kippur is the Jewish day of repentance, considered to be one of the holiest and most solemn days of the year. Its central theme is atonement and reconciliation. Eating, washing, cosmetics, wearing leather shoes, and conjugal relations are prohibited (''Mishnah'' tractate ''Yoma'' 8:1). Total abstention from food and drink usually begins half-an-hour before sundown (called "''tosefet Yom Kippur''," the "addition" of fasting part of the day before is required by Jewish law), and ends after nightfall the following day. Although the fast is required of all healthy adults, fasting is specifically forbidden for anyone who might be harmed by it.
Yom Kippur is observed in different ways in different Jewish communities. Sephardic Jews (Jews of Spanish, Portuguese and North African descent) refer to this holiday as "the White Fast." Consequently, many Jews have the custom of wearing only white clothing on this day, to symbolize their "white" (pure) desire to free themselves from sin. Ashkenazic Jews, while acknowledging the origins of the holiday as a day of rejoicing, tend to take a more somber, solemn attitude to the day.
Observances among secular Jews
Yom Kippur is considered one of the holiest of Jewish holidays, and its observance is held even among the majority of secular Jews who may not strictly observe other holidays. Many secular Jews will fast and attend synagogue on Yom Kippur, where the number of worshippers attending is often double or triple the normal attendance. In Israel, public non-observance (such as eating or driving a motor vehicle) is taboo. In Israel on Yom Kippur there is no broadcast television, no public transportation, and the airports are closed. There is no commerce of any kind in the Jewish areas.
Since the roads in Jewish communities are free of motor vehicles on the time of the holiday, many secular Jews or non-Jewish individuals use the opportunity to ride on different kinds of ground human-powered transport vehicles, the most popular of which is the bicycle; Yom Kippur there has the nickname "Festival of Bicycles" . This custom, which gained popularity in the recent decades, is especially popular on the eve of Yom Kippur.
On Yom Kippur in 2006, many children in Israel were injured while cycling or skating - 95 of whom required medical attention from Magen David Adom crews.
The eve of Yom Kippur
There is a commandment to eat a large and festive meal before Yom Kippur starts after the ''mincha'' prayer. Traditional foods consumed during that meal include kreplach and rice. Many others also have a custom to eat another meal before that, consuming fish. Also, many Orthodox men immerse themselves in a ''mikvah''.
Men (and some reform and Conservative women) don a ''tallit'' (four-cornered prayer garment) for evening prayers, the only evening service of the year in which this is done Many married men also wear a ''kittel'', or white shroud-like garment. Prayer services begin with the prayer known as "Kol Nidre," which must be recited before sunset, and follows with the evening prayers (''ma'ariv'' or ''arvith''), which include an extended Selichot service.
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, followed by ''mincha'' (the afternoon prayer) and the added ''ne'ilah'' prayer specifically for Yom Kippur. 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.
The Torah is read during the morning and afternoon prayers (''Leviticus'' 16 and 18, respectively); the ''Book of Jonah'' is read as the ''haftarah'' in the afternoon. Depending on the ''nusach'' (version) of the prayers, some communities pray continuously from morning until nightfall, while some include a short break. Every prayer includes the ''vidduy'' (confession); see below for more information.
Forgiveness and ''vidduy''
According to the Talmud, God opens three books on the first day of the year; one for the thoroughly wicked, another for the thoroughly pious, and the third for the large intermediate class. The fate of the thoroughly wicked and the thoroughly pious is determined on the spot; the destiny of the intermediate class is suspended until Yom Kippur, when the fate of everyone is sealed. The liturgical piece ''Unetaneh Tokef'' (attributed to Rabbi Amnon of Mainz) states:
God, seated on His throne to judge the world, at the same time Judge, Pleader, Expert, and Witness, opens the Book of Records. It is read, every man's signature being found therein. The great trumpet is sounded; a still, small voice is heard; the angels shudder, saying, "this is the day of judgment": for God's very ministers are not pure before God. As a shepherd musters his flock, causing them to pass under his rod, so does God cause every living soul to pass before Him, to fix the limit of every creature's life and to ordain its destiny. On New-Year's Day the decree is written; on the Day of Atonement it is sealed; who shall live and who are to die....But penitence, prayer, and charity may avert the harsh decree."
According to Maimonides, "all depends on whether a man's merits outweigh the demerits put to his account," so it is therefore desirable to multiply good deeds before the final account on the Day of Atonement (''Yad'', Laws of Repentance 3:4). Those that are found worthy by God are said to be entered in the Book of Life, hence the prayer: "Enter us in the Book of Life." Hence also the greeting, "May you be sealed [in the Book of Life] for a happy year" ("''Gemar Chatima Tovah''"). In letters written between New-Year and the Day of Atonement, the writer usually concludes by wishing the recipient that God may seal his fate for happiness.
Penitent confession was a requisite for expiation through capital or corporal punishment. On Yom Kippur, every prayer (whether silent or communal) includes the ''vidduy'', a standardized confession. It consists of the short ''vidduy'' and the long ''vidduy'' (the latter is omitted in the ''ne'ilah'' service). Both are arranged alphabetically, probably to aid the public in memorizing it.
Reconciliation with others
"The Day of Atonement absolves from sins against God, but not from sins against a fellow human unless the pardon of the offended person be secured" (Mishnah tractate ''Yoma'' 8:9). Hence the custom of terminating all feuds and disputes on the eve of the fastday (or in the ten-day period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur). Even the souls of the dead are included in the community of those pardoned on the Day of Atonement. It is customary for children to have public mention made in the synagogue of their departed parents, and to make charitable gifts on behalf of their souls.
The rites for Yom Kippur are set forth in the sixteenth chapter of Leviticus (cf. Exodus 30:10; Leviticus 23:27-31, 25:9; Numbers 29:7-11). It is described as a solemn fast, on which no food or drink could be consumed, and on which all work is forbidden. In Biblical times, sacrifices were offered in the Temple in Jerusalem.
Service in Temple in Jerusalem
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.
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 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.
Remembering the Temple service
A recitation of the sacrificial service of the Temple in Jerusalem traditionally features prominently in both the liturgy and the religious thought of the holiday. Specifically, the ''Avodah'' ("service") in the ''musaf'' prayer recounts the sacrificial ceremonies in great detail.
In Orthodox and most Conservative synagogues, a detailed description of the Temple ritual is recited on the day, and the entire congregation prostrates themselves at each point in the recitation where the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) would pronounce the tetragrammaton. (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''). 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).
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. Conservative services generally omit prayers for the restoration of sacrifices. Reform and Reconstructionist services omit the entire service as inconsistent with modern sensibilities.
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