Yom Kippur – Day of Atonement
Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) is one of the most important holidays in the Jewish calendar, given over to repentance, and celebrated on the tenth day of Tishri (September/October).
On Yom Kippur work is forbidden and one must fast. According to tradition, it is on this day that Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the tablets of law – a sign of the Lord’s having forgiven the Israelites the sin of idolatry which they committed by worshipping the golden calf. In the days of the Jerusalem Temple the high priest would ritually cleanse the whole people of Israel by transferring its sins to a designated scapegoat which he would then dispatch into the wilderness. Yom Kippur was also the only day of the year when the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies in the Temple. After the destruction of the Temple the holiday moved into the “the little Temple” – the synagogue. On the Day of Atonement a serious, solemn mood pervades the synagogue, while most of those in attendance wear white. Yom Kippur concludes the period of the Ten Days of Repentance beginning on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
Tradition prescribes intent prayer, tzedakah or giving donations to the needy, as well as the confession of one’s sins, leading to a change of consciousness and conduct. An all-day liturgy at the synagogue contains many forms of confession. Yom Kippur is the only day during the year when prayers such as Kol Nidrei (All Vows) are intoned, at the beginning of the fast, and Neila (Closing), at its end. All of these prayers express the hope of being sealed in the Book of Life, the certainty of one’s repentance having been received and one’s sins pardoned. The Torah fragment about the ritual of Yom Kippur at the Temple is read in addition to the whole Book of Jonah, which treats of remorse and remission. The final act of the holiday, the final call to repent, is the blowing of the shofar or ram’s horn.