Occasions 365

Yom Kippur

The Jewish Day of Atonement

The observance of Yom Kippur or the "Day of Atonement" in the Jewish faith springs from a command that God gave Moses. Yom Kippur history can be traced back to the sacred Book of Leviticus, it is written that "the Lord said to Moses: the tenth day of the seventh month is the day of atonement. Hold a sacred assembly and deny yourselves, and present an offering made to the Lord by fire." This command forms the basis of the holiday, which is perhaps the most somber and important religious observance in the entire Jewish calendar.

Yom Kippur falls 10 days after Rosh Hashanah, another major Jewish religious holiday; the intervening period is known as the Days of Repentance. During these days, an observant Jew will ask forgiveness from his or her peers for wrongs committed over the course of the year; on the actual Yom Kippur date, the person asks the Lord for forgiveness through prayer.

How the Day of Atonement Is Observed

A significant part of the observance takes place in a synagogue, where Yom Kippur services can last for the entire day. All in all, there are five separate synagogue services held on Yom Kippur, which can extend from the early morning until the late afternoon hours. Also, on the holy day, people are supposed to remain in constant prayer until the traditional sound of the ram's horn marks the conclusion of the observance. During Yom Kippur, people make numerous personal sacrifices, including:

  • A fasting period of 25 hours, including both food and drink
  • Abstinence from bathing and the wearing of any perfumes or deodorants
  • Abstinence from sexual activity

It is also forbidden to wear leather shoes on Yom Kippur, and most Jewish people will wear white outfits on the holiday as a symbol of purity and reconciliation with the Lord.

Given the solemnity of the occasion, it is traditional to offer simple good wishes to friends and neighbors. Yom Kippur ecards and greetings can be sent, but it is a fairly private holiday and does not warrant the kind of celebratory and joyous mood associated with Hanukkah.

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