Yom Kippur – The Day of Atonement
Yom Kippur is the holiest holiday in Judaism and only lasts twenty five hours. When Yom Kippur is translated to English from Hebrew it is “day to atone.” In English it is more commonly known as the “Day of Atonement.” Regarded as the Sabbath of Sabbaths, Jews take time to afflict their soul and confess their guilt over the past year. During their confessions Jews hope God will hear them and forgive them of their wrongs. Jews make the commitment to not do the same bad things again the following year if God forgives them.
Yom Kippur is the tenth day of Tishrei, the seventh month of the Hebrew. Tishrei is like January in the Gregorian calendar so this is when many Jews repent for what they did wrong over the last year and commit to do better the following year.
Rosh Hashanah is the first day of Tishrei to mark the new year. It is one of the High Holy Days of Judaism. On Rosh Hashanah, every righteous person’s name is inscribed in the Book of Life. The ones who do not make it into the Book of Life are condemned to death. Others may not be put in the Book of Life right away or condemned to death. Instead they have time to repent or as it is called in Hebrew “teshuvah.”
Yamin Nora’im, “Days of Awe, is the time to repent during and after Rosh Hashanah. The Days of Awe lasts ten days. During that time Jews reflect on the past year. They recognize the wrongs they’ve done and pray to God He will forgive them. Jews will work on amending their behavior and going out to do good deeds.
Yom Kippur is the other High Holy Day of Judaism. It is the last day of the Days of Awe and happens on the tenth of Tishrei. The day is extremely important because it is the day that people’s fates are decided and sealed. Since it is the last day it is a day filled with prayer and a whole prayer service that is observed by most Jewish people.
Traditionally, there are restrictions that worshipers follow to focus on their prayers and worship rather than on their own material possessions and superficial comforts. There is to be no eating or drinking on Yom Kippur. It is believed that this cleanses the body and the spirit so it is not to be seen as a punishment. The only people exempt from fasting are young children under the age of thirteen, sick, and pregnant women.
Everyone, with no exceptions, who observes Yom Kippur are not to wear any shoes that are made of leather or use any leather in them. There is to be no showering, bathing, or washing during the day. No one is put on perfume, cologne, lotions, or makeup. Married couples are not to have marital relations, such as sex. Some people may choose to wear white on Yom Kippur to symbolize purity.
The day preceding Yom Kippur there are additional morning prayers and people ask for forgiveness. Jews also spend the time giving to charity, going to the kapparot service, and spending the afternoon in an extended prayer service. Usually there are two festive meals that people eat on the day before.
Yom Kippur is meant to be a day of rest. Jews take the time to go to the synagogues to continuously pray and to ask for forgiveness from God. Many secular Jews observe Yom Kippur so the attendance at synagogues go up. The increase in attendance and the special holiday means there is a special prayer service for Yom Kippur.
During a typical service there is only three prayer services. One in the morning (Shacharit), one midday (Mincha), and one during the evening (Ma’ariv). Since Yom Kippur is a major holiday and one of the High Holy Days of Judaism there are five prayer services held; Ma’ariv, Shacharit, Mysaf, Mincha, and Ne’ilah. During each prayer service Jews confess there sins in private and publicly.
During one of the services there is a special and unigue prayer that is prayed for the high priest in the Holy Temple of Jerusalem. The rabbi and the congregation read from the machzor which is only read from during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Yom Kippur is not over until there is the single blast of the shofar to mark the end of the twenty five hour period. The shofar is a trumpet made from a ram’s horn.
Historically, Yom Kippur has been celebrated since the time of Moses. When the Israelites arrived to Mount Sinai with Moses is when the first Yom Kippur happened. After Moses received the Ten Commandments from God, he found the Israelites worshiping a golden calf.
Out of anger Moses broke the tablets the Ten commandments were written on. Realizing their mistake the Israelites began to pray to God asking for forgiveness for worshiping an object. God forgave the Israelites and gave Moses a second set of tablets with the Ten Commandments.
From there Yom Kippur became a tradition and holiday in Judaism. The original tradition only allowed the high priest to pray for all of the Jewish people in the Holy Temple. This was the only time the high priest could enter the temple and when they got in they would preform rituals to ask for forgiveness.
One of the rituals the high priest would preform is sprinkling the blood of a sacrificed animal onto the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark of the Covenant contains the Ten Commandments. As the high priest sprinkled the blood they would atone for sins and ask for forgiveness for the people of Israel.
The tradition stayed around until 70 A.D. when the Romans came and destroyed the Second Temple. Instead of rebuilding and continuing the tradition, it was adapted to fit a service for rabbis and their congregation in their individual synagogues.
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is Jewish New Year. A typical way to tell another Jew “Happy New Year” is to say “L’Shana Tova.” There is also “Tzom Kal” or “Easy Fast,” “G’mar Hatimah Tovah” or “May you be sealed for a good year (in the Book of Life).”
One historic event that happened on Yom Kippur is the Yom Kippur war or the fourth Arab-Israeli war. The war began on October 6, 1973. Egypt and Syria launched a coordinated attack against Israel in order to win back some their lost territory from a previous war in 1967, the third Arab-Israeli war. They aligned countries decided to attack Israel on Yom Kippur.
Egypt and Syria knew that many of Israel’s soldiers would be sent home or occupied with the traditions of Yom Kippur. That day Israeli Defense Force was taking by surprise. Egypt went for the Sinai Peninsula to wipe out the Israelis while Syria struggled to fight in Golan Heights.
After the first attack Israel quickly became ready to fight. They began to fight back against the Arab Forces. Iraq also joined the war and struggling Syria were backed by Jordan for support. Israels efforts to fight back cost the army many soldiers and a tremendous amount of equipment.
The U.S. later became part of the war to help Israel. Initially, the decision was delayed for a week by President Richard Nixon. The delay was an effort to show that the U.S. sympathized with Egypt in the war even though they were about to help Israel.
By the end of the war Israel was able to recapture Golan Heights. The war was officially over on October 25, 1973 when Egypt and Israel ceased fire. The two countries agreement was secured by the United Nations.