Yom Kippur – Day of Atonement

“The LORD said to Moses, “The tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. Hold a sacred assembly and deny yourselves, and present an offering made to the LORD by fire. Do not work on that day, because it is the Day of Atonement, when atonement is made for you before the LORD your God.” Leviticus 23:26-28 NIV.

Yom Kippur falls on the 10th of Tishrei, this year on September 14th.

During the Temple times, a week before Yom Kippur, the Cohen ha Gadol (High Priest) went to live in his chamber in the Temple in spiritual and physical preparation of this holy day. On Yom Kippur he was to make atonement for all Jews in the world. This was the only time of the year he entered the Holy of Holies. During the “Avodah” – Temple service, the high Priest changed into five different sets of garments, immersed himself in the mikveh five times, washed his hands and feet ten times, sacrificed two lambs, one bull, two goats, and two rams. He offered meal and wine libations, and made three incense offerings. On this day, he had to work harder than all the priests and Levites present.

Today, Orthodox men immerse themselves in the Mikveh (ritual bath) on the day before Yom Kippur.

Early in the afternoon, all Jewish businesses and shops are closed, and traffic virtually comes to a stand still. Traffic lights stop working and there is no national radio or television. Even Ben Gurion International Airport closes its air space to all air traffic in the early afternoon. About four hours after the end of the holiday the airport reopens for international arrivals. Departures commence an hour later. Likewise, all harbours and border crossings in and out of the country close for the holiday. As a security measure, the crossings into Gaza, Judea and Samaria are also closed until the end of this holiest day of the year.

Just before sunset, the streets fill with people walking to nearby synagogues. On the evening of Yom Kippur, in synagogues around the world the cantor chants the “Kol Nidrei” – all vows, in Aramaic, dating from post-Talmudic times. The music was composed mid 15-16th century in south Germany. During this holiest day of the Jewish Year, synagogue attendance usually triples.

“May all the people of Israel be forgiven, including all the strangers who live in their midst, for all the people are in fault…”

Through the “Kol Nidrei” people ask God forgiveness for vows they made to God and people, but could not carry out.

During the Middle Ages, German Jews replaced the Kol Nidrei with recitations of Psalms. Anti-Semites accused the Jews of being not trustworthy and their oaths worthless, spurring many pogroms.

During the Spanish Inquisition, when many Jews were forced to become Christians, this stirring and haunting melody became even more relevant.

As a symbol of purity many Jews wear white clothing and either walk on plastic shoes or house slippers, as long as they are not from leather. They spend most of Yom Kippur in synagogue, where prayer services are followed by litanies and petitions of forgiveness.

Even non-religious Jews try to keep the 25 hour fast.

When the sun is setting, many flock to the synagogue for the Ne’ilah prayer, after which the “Shma Israel” is recited and the Shofar blown. This symbolizes the closure of God’s books, in which the names are written for those who shall live or die the next year.

When Yom Kippur ends, directly after a festive meal, many religious Jews begin to build their Sukkah (booth for the Feast of Tabernacles). Hammers can be heard all over the city.

In ancient times it was customary to herald the end of Yom Kippur by blowing the Shofar at the Western Wall. This custom was re-installed when in 1967 Jerusalem was re-unified.

Copied with permission from Petra van der Zande from her book entitled Remember, Observe, Rejoice which can be purchased by clicking here on this link.