Yom Kippur History, Celebration & Significance- Day of Atonement

Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement is the most important holiday in the Jewish faith. It’s also known as the Sabbath of Sabbaths. It lasts for 25 hours. During this period, Jews ask God to forgive them for all their sins. Yom Kippur concludes the “10 days of repentance” that begin with Rosh Hashana (New Year’s Day) on the first day of the month of Tishri. It is believed that on Yom Kippur God decides each person’s fate, so Jews are encouraged to make amends and ask forgiveness for sins committed during the past year.

When do Yom Kippur celebrations take place?

The foremost Jewish religious holiday, Yom Kippur is observed on the 10th day of the lunar month of Tishri (in the course of September and October). Jews seek to make up for their sins and achieve reconciliation with God.

Day of Atonement is observed on Thursday, September 16, 2021.

yom kippur date

History Of Yom Kippur

According to tradition, the first Yom Kippur took place after the exodus of Israelites. They arrived at Mount Sinai, where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. Descending from the mountain, Moses found his people worshipping a golden calf and shattered the sacred tablets in anger. The Israelites then atoned for their idolatry and God forgave their sins. He also offered Moses a second set of tablets.

10 commandments

Before the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, the high priest performed an elaborate sacrificial ceremony. He successively confessed his own sins, the sins of priests, and the sins of all Israel. He then entered the Holy of Holies, wearing white linen clothes. There he sprinkled the blood of the sacrifice and offered incense. The ceremony concluded when the scapegoat, symbolically carrying the sins of Israel, was driven to its death.

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Traditions of Yom Kippur- Day of Atonement

In Jewish tradition, God writes the fate of each person for the coming year into a “book” on Rosh Hashanah. God then waits until Yom Kippur to “seal” the book. During the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Jews try to improve their behavior and ask God to forgive their sins.

The Torah commands all Jewish adults (apart from the sick, the elderly, and women who have just given birth) to refrain from eating and drinking between sundown on the evening before Yom Kippur and nightfall the next day. The fast cleans the body and spirit. Orthodox Jews refrain from wearing leather shoes, bathing, washing, using cosmetics, wearing leather shoes, and sexual relations. These prohibitions are aimed to prevent worshippers from focusing on material possessions and superficial comforts.

om kippur symbols

Jewish people gather and spend the eve of Yom Kippur and the entire day in prayer and meditation. On the eve of Yom Kippur, they recite Kol Nidre. Friends also ask and accept forgiveness from one another for past offenses on the evening before Yom Kippur. Obtaining forgiveness from one’s fellows signifies God’s forgiveness.

Jews consider Yom Kippur and the days leading up to it as a time for prayer, good deeds, reflecting on past mistakes, and making amends with others. They may wear long white robes called Kittel and visit and pray at synagogues.

synagogue at yom kippur

Some Jews make donations or volunteer their time for charity which way to atone and seek God’s forgiveness. One ancient custom known as kapparot involves swinging a live chicken or bundle of coins over one’s head while reciting a prayer. Then they give chicken or money to the poor.

kapparot yom kippur

At the end of the Day of Atonement, Jews consider themselves absolved by God.

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Yom Kippur or Day of Atonement Prayers

The services on Yom Kippur last continuously from morning to evening and include readings from the Torah and the reciting of prayers. 

Five distinct prayer services take place on Yom Kippur, the first on the eve of the holiday and the last before sunset on the following day. These include Ma’ariv, the evening prayer; Shacharit, the morning prayer; Mincha, the afternoon prayer, Musaf, the additional prayer; and  Ne’ilah, the closing prayer. All five prayer services include a public confession of sins (Vidui). The additional (Musaf) prayer includes a prayer dedicated to the special Yom Kippur Avodah (service) of atonement ritual performed by high priests during ancient times at the holy temple of Jerusalem.

Members of the Jewish gatherings recite Yizkor. Memorial prayers for the recently deceased are called Yizkor. The services end with closing prayers and the blowing of the ritual horn known as the shofar, a musical instrument carved from the horn of a ram.

Then, Jews are able to feast, breaking the fast.

Yom Kippur Greetings

You say, “Have an easy fast” or “gmar chatima tova” (may you be inscribed for a good year) on the day of atonement. Also, you greet on Yom Kippur by saying say “shana tova” (happy new year)

blessed yom kippur

Significance of Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur marks the end of Days of Repentance, which begin with Rosh Hashanah. People think that during the 10-day period, a person is able to influence God’s plans for the coming year. The purpose of Yom Kippur -the day of atonement is to effect individual and collective purification by sincere repentance for one’s own sins against God. As well as forgiving the sins of others. It is the most important festival of Jews.

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