Day of Atonement
Yom Kippur represents a culmination of the Ten Days of Repentance which began on Rosh Hashanah...
Expires Oct. 15
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Yom Kippur - 5779
“This shall be an eternal law for you: Each year on the 10th day of the 7th month you must humble your souls and not do any work. This is true for both the native born and the sojourner who sojourns among you. For on this day you shall have all your sins atoned, so that you will be cleansed. Before Hashem you will be cleansed of all your sins. It is a Sabbath of Sabbaths to you, and a day upon which you must humble your souls. This is a law for all time.”
-- Leviticus 16:29-31
The holiday of Yom Kippur (the name means "Day of Atonement") is observed between the eve of the ninth and the eve of the tenth of Tishrei, which is the seventh month in the Jewish calendar. It is the only holiday in the Jewish calendar which does not have a day added to it for those Jews living outside the land of Israel.
Tishrei is both the first month and the seventh month in our calendar. It was the month in which man was created, so in that sense is the first month of man’s physical existence (our first birthday, so to speak). However, from the transformation of our people into a nation as described in the book of Exodus, we have a new way of looking at the calendar - from when we left slavery to become free people, unified by our G-d to serve Him only.
Yom Kippur represents a culmination of the Ten Days of Repentance which began on Rosh Hashanah. It is the most solemn and important holiday in the Jewish year and is characterized by “humbling our souls”. The actual laws concerning this “humbling” are given in Halacha, a biblical authority structure dating back to the time of Moses. Specifically, five things are forbidden on Yom Kippur: eating and drinking, washing oneself for personal grooming, the wearing of leather shoes, anointing the body (for non-medical purposes), and conjugal relations. The punishment for indulging in these pleasures during this day of humbling is in the hands of Hashem and is said to be death. Children, pregnant women and those who are ill are generally exempted from observing the fast of Yom Kippur.
A holiday prayer book is called a Machzor, meaning "returning." Our rabbis taught that every year is a repeating cycle in which the same separation between holiness and the mundane or secular occurs both annually and weekly. Every Sabbath in the year, for example, has the same sanctity and blessing which existed on the very first Sabbath of Creation. In the same way, every Yom Kippur has the very same sanctity as the very first Yom Kippur observed by the Children of Israel at Mount Sinai, approximately 3500 years ago, when Israel received full forgiveness after the sin of the golden calf. This means that every Yom Kippur is just as effective for our repentance and forgiveness.
Each day of the year we gather for collective prayer three times a day. On biblical holidays, we pray four times a day. On Yom Kippur we pray five times:
The first time of collective prayer is prayed just after nightfall after Yom Kippur begins and we start Ma’ariv (the evening prayer service) with “Kol Nidrei” (lit. “All Vows”) - This prayer asks G-d to consider the coming year’s “statements of intent” we may make, which cannot be fulfilled because of circumstances beyond our control, as not being vows or oaths in His eyes. Ma’ariv then continues with a slightly adapted version of that which we pray every night of the year.
The second time of collective prayer is Shacharis (morning) prayer, upon arising and assembling. This also has some slight variations, due to the holiday.
The third time of collective prayer is known as the Musaf prayer, the "additional" service. Every biblical holiday has its own thematic elements in the Musaf prayer. Yom Kippur's deals mostly with our repentance and our being forgiven.
The fourth time of collective prayer is the Mincha (afternoon) service. We pray Mincha every day, but again there will be some holiday specific adaptations.
The fifth and final prayer for Yom Kippur is unique to Yom Kippur, and is never prayed at any other time. It is called Ne'ilah, which means "closing." It is prayed just as the sun begins to reach the tops of the trees, as the day is drawing to a close. (However, Yom Kippur is not over until the sky is dark and at least three stars are visible.)
After Yom Kippur ends, we recite or hear Havdalah (“Separation”) over the fruit of the vine (wine or grape juice) before we eat anything. The Havdalah service declares the separation between the holy and secular days, and Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year.
As we leave the synagogue at the end of Yom Kippur, we bless each other with wishes for "a good and blessed year."
Rabbi Akiva taught: “Fortunate are you, Children of Israel! Before Whom are you cleansed? Who cleanses you? Your Father in heaven! As it is written, ‘I will sprinkle upon you clean water, and you will be cleansed of all your impurities...’ (Ezekiel 36:25) Furthermore, it is written, ‘G-d is Israel's hope.’ (Jeremiah 17:13) [The word “mikvah” ("hope") is also a colloquialism; a homonym for the ritual purification pool.] Just as the mikvah cleanses the impure, so does the Holy One, blessed is He, cleanse the Children of Israel.”
-- Mishnah Yoma 8:9
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