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Yom Kippur

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The Most Important Jewish Holy Day: Yom Kippur


February 28, 2012

The Most Important Jewish Holy Day: Yom Kippur

The Holy Day of Yom Kippur is widely considered to be the most important of Jewish Holy Days. Yom Kippur translates to “Day of Atonement,” and is many times observed by even the most secular of Jews (Malloy and Hilgers 2010). It is observed on the tenth and final day of a period that begins with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. These 10 days are referred to as The Days of Awe. According to Jewish law, on Rosh Hashanah, God inscribes the names of the righteous in His book of life and declares the evil to death; people who fall between righteous and evil have until Yom Kippur to repent. As a result, observant Jews consider Yom Kippur and The Days of Awe a time for prayer, donations, community service, reflection on the past, and making amends with others ("Atonement, Day Of",2010).
“...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 the L-RD” (Leviticus 16:29-30). Yom Kippur is observed on the tenth day of Tishri, the seventh month of the Jewish year. Tishri occurs in September and October of the Gregorian Calendar. The traditions of Yom Kippur begin on the eve, just before the sun sets, with a fast that will last for the next 25 hours.
During the fast, it is expected that those observing this Holy Day are not to eat or drink anything. Yom Kippur is a complete Sabbath day; absolutely no work can be done. It is common for Jews to spend the entire day in the Synagogue, in prayer, wearing white. Other less known restrictions include bathing, wearing cosmetics, perfumes, and deodorants, wearing leather shoes, and engaging in sexual relationships. As always, these restrictions can be lifted if one's health is dangered by them. Children under nine years of age, and women in child birth are not permitted to perform them even if they wanted to (Rich, 2011).
In the course of Yom Kippur, five prayer services are held. The first is Maariv, actually held on the eve of Yom Kippur; Maariv is followed by Shacharit, the morning prayer. The third and fourth prayer services are called Musaf, and Michah. The fifth, and final prayer, the Neilah is held in the later hours of the day. This prayer is referred to as the “locking prayer”. It is believed that during this prayer, one will be able to access the most essential level of their soul, and the final notes will be made by God in His book of life, thus locking in their fate for the following year. The Neilah service climaxes to joy in song and dance, followed by a single blast of the Shofar, thus signaling the end of Yom Kippur; this happens just after the sun sets.
It is believed that Yom Kippur first took place after the Isrealities' exodus from Egypt, upon their arrival at Mount Sanai. As Moses descended from the mountain, he saw that his people were worshiping a golden calf, became angry, and shattered the tablets on which the Ten Commandments had been written. This was followed by atonement by the Isrealites for their idolatry; as His forgiveness, God granted Moses another set of tablets. According to Jewish text, during Biblical times, Yom Kippur was the only day that the High Priest was able to enter the inner sanctum of the Holy Temple. Inside, he would perform a series of rituals in which he would atone for his sins, and ask God's forgiveness for himself and his people, all while sprinkling the blood from sacrificed animals on the Ark of the Covenant. This tradition is said to have lasted until the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 A.D. At that point, the tradition was adapted into a service for Rabbi's to perform with their congregations ("Yom Kippur", 2012).
The many traditions in which the Jewish people practice in observance of Yom Kippur all have specific meaning. As mentioned previously, the Torah states that all adults must abstain from eating and drinking, so as to cleanse the body and spirit. The restrictions on clothing, cosmetics, and sex are meant to prevent worshipers from focusing on superficial comforts and material desires. These traditions differ very little between the sects of Judaism. Yom Kippur is such a sacred day, that it is followed pretty closely in accordance with the Torah. Some differences include taking a nap to break up the day, wearing white clothing, and perhaps ending the fast early. There is no evidence that one branch does things differently over another, it is based more on personal taste.
“But on the tenth day of this month it is the Day of Atonement; there shall be a holy convocation for you, and you shall afflict yourselves; you shall offer a fire-offering to God. You shall not do any work on this very day, for it is the Day of Atonement to provide you with atonement before God. For any soul who will not be afflicted on this very day will be cut off from its people. And any soul who will do any work on this very day, I will destroy that soul from among its people. You shall not do any work; it is an eternal decree throughout your generations in all your dwelling places. It is a day of complete rest for you and you shall afflict yourselves; on the ninth of the month in the evening - from evening to evening - shall you rest on your rest day” (Leviticus 23:27-32). Everything needed to know about Yom Kippur is stated in the Torah. Yom Kippur is a day that is considered highly serious and sacred; the Sabbath of the Sabbath day. Yom Kippur is a day that is set aside specifically for the atonement of sins through worshiping God, and affliction of the soul.
Malloy, M., & Hilgers, T. L. (2010). Experiencing the world’s religions. Tradition, challenge, and change (5th ed.). New York City, NY: McGraw-Hill Company.
Atonement, Day of. (2010). Retrieved from
Rich, T.R. (2011). Yom Kippur. Retrieved from
Yom Kippur. (2012). Retrieved from

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