What is Yom Kippur ?

The Feast of Yom Kippur

What is Yom Kippur and how is it celebrated?

Yom Kippur, the day of repentance, is also known as the Day of Atonement. It is the most holy day on the Jewish calendar. Jews believe that on this day they can make the last appeal to God to forgive them for their sins which they have committed. They also believe Yom Kippur is the last chance to change the judgement of God. Described as a Shabbat shabbaton (Shabbat of solemn rest) in the Torah, Yom Kippur is a day of fasting, prayer, and reflection. Yom Kippur is the culmination of a period of time during the month of Elul in which Jews are required to take stock of their lives, to ask forgiveness from friends and family, and to take steps toward self-improvement for the year to come.

What are some of the customs on Yom Kippur?

  • Yom Kippur atones only the sins man has committed towards God. It does not include the sins towards another human. All sins confessed are in plural, emphasizing the responsibility of the community as a whole towards the wrong done.

  • On this day, even the Jews who do not observe the other Jewish customs, make it a point to attend the synagogue for prayer, do not go to work, and fast.

  • They spend the entire day praying in the synagogue till the services end at nightfall.

  • Yom Kippur is a day for fasting and many Jews do not even consume water as per custom.

  • Some notable athletes have observed Yom Kippur, even when it conflicted with their playing their sport.

  • The fast goes on for 25 hours.

  • People wear the colour white, which is symbolic of a pure soul which has been washed of all its sins.

  • Some wear the white robe in which the dead are buried, called the kippel.

Five Prayer Services

People usually spend the day in synagogue where usually five prayer services are held. They are-

  • Maariv - Its solemn Kol Nidrei service, on the eve of Yom Kippur.

  • Shacharit - Morning prayer, it includes a reading from Leviticus followed by the Yizkor memorial service.

  • Musaf - It includes a detailed account of the Yom Kippur Temple service.

  • Minchah - It includes the reading of the Book of Jonah.

  • Neilah - Closing of the gates service at sunset.

Customs and Traditions

Avoid five actions during Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur is observed for a long period of 25 hours beginning at sundown. People are refrained from doing five things. They are-
1. Eating or drinking
2. Bathing
3 Applying lotions, creams
4. Wearing leather shoes
5. Engaging in conjugal relations

The Feast of Yom Kippur

  • The day is the most solemn of the Jewish Calender, yet an undertone of joy suffuses it with the faith that they have received the forgiveness of God. Since on Yom Kippur the Jews believe they have been forgiven for their sins, they break the fast with a proper celebratory meal.

  • Jews traditionally eat a Meal of Cessation - called Seudat Mafseket - before the Yom Kippur fast. This meal includes meat products, as well as high water content products, to help sustain them for a fast of 25 hours. 

  • The celebratory meal to break the fast includes bagels, kugel (a baked pudding or casserole similar to a pie), Matzoh Ball soup, blintzes ( a thin pancake), Brisket etc.

  • The food as per custom is always kosher, i.e. food that is obtained in accordance with Jewish law.

Last Updated: 3rd September, 2018