Monday, September 17, 2007

Apple #267: Yom Kippur

I see by my calendar that Yom Kippur is coming up this Saturday. I know that it's a Jewish religious holiday, but I don't know much more about it than that.

  • The words "Yom Kippur" mean "Day of Atonement."
  • It is considered the most sacred of Jewish holy days, the "Sabbath of Sabbaths." People who don't usually attend services the rest of the year often attend services on Yom Kippur.
  • Supposedly on this day, the books of judgment are sealed. Actually, 10 days earlier on Rosh Hashanah, the names of the chosen are written in the Book of Life. On Yom Kippur, that book gets sealed for the year. So this day is your last chance to do all you can to try to get your name entered in the Book of Life.
  • To make this happen, you must atone for sins between you and God. That is essentially what the services on Yom Kippur are all about.
  • If you want to atone for sins committed between you and another person, you must seek out that person before Yom Kippur, reconcile your differences, and right the wrongs in whatever manner is appropriate. The 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are especially reserved for this type of reconciliation.

Mushka (age 4) and Rochel Goldman (age 2) help their mother light candles in preparation for Yom Kippur. It is also customary to light candles and bless the challah (traditional bread) the night before Yom Kippur.
(Photo from

  • Atonement happens on this day in particular to commemorate the time, back in the day, when Moses yelled at the Israelites for worshiping the golden calf and threw the Ten Commandment tablets to the ground, breaking them. After Moses went up the mountain and sought and gained God's forgiveness, Moses came back to the Israelites with a list of things they should do to atone for their sins. And they had to do these things "for all time."

Moses loses it.
(sourced from Graham Phillips)

  • The main thing on Moses' list is to keep a full fast for 25 hours, from sunset the evening before, until nightfall on Yom Kippur.
  • Not only are you to abstain from eating or drinking, you should also refrain from
      • working
      • washing and bathing
      • anointing your body -- no perfumes, lotions, oils, deodorant, etc.
      • wearing leather shoes (presumably because an animal had to die for them)
      • any sexual relations
  • Current Jewish law has added a couple of exceptions. For health reasons, children under 9 years old and pregnant women are not allowed to fast. Also, if you're especially sick or if you've just had a baby, you could be granted an exception.
  • In addition to keeping to Moses' list, it is also customary to wear white to symbolize purity of the soul, and to spend most of the day in the synagogue.
  • Yom Kippur services generally include a group confession and displaying the holy scrolls of the Torah. Because the scrolls are sacred, out of respect, worshipers stand through the entire service, which is quite lengthy.
  • The majority of the service is characterized by repentance and heartfelt prayers for forgiveness.
  • The service ends with a very long blast of the shofar, which is a kind of trumpet supposed to be made from a ram's horn. After the shofar blast, the people respond: "Next year in Jerusalem!"

Blowing the shofar at the end of Yom Kippur services
(Photo from

As I type this, there are five days left until Yom Kippur. . . .

Judaism 101, Yom Kippur, The Jewish Holiday of Yom Kippur
Howstuffworks, Yom Kippur

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