|Yom Kippur is traditionally spent in the synagogue, fasting and praying. Painting by Maurycy Gottlieb (1878).|
|Official name||Hebrew: יוֹם כִּפּוּר or יום הכיפורים|
|Also called||Day of Atonement|
|Observed by||Judaism and Jews|
|Significance||Judgment day for individuals and all people. Day of Atonement for sins, and for the Golden calf.|
|Date||10th day of Tishrei|
|Related to||Rosh Hashanah, which precedes Yom Kippur, and Sukkot, which follows Yom Kippur.|
Yom Kippur (Hebrew:יוֹם כִּפּוּר meaning Day of Atonement) is the holiest day of the year in the Jewish calendar. It falls on the tenth day of Tishrei - the seventh month of the Jewish calendar. In the Bible, the day is called Yom HaKippurim (Leviticus 23:27) and it is said to be one of the Yamim Noraim (meaning: "Days of Awe").
As the Jewish day of Atonement, Yom Kippur's central themes are repentance and reconciliation with God and one's neighbors. According to the Mishnah, it is said that "the Day of Atonement" can absolve people from sins against God, but not from sins against a fellow human unless the pardon of the offended person be secured (Mishnah tractate Yoma 8:9). Hence the custom of terminating all feuds and disputes on the eve of the fastday (or in the ten-day period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur). Even the souls of the dead are said to be included in the community of those pardoned on the Day of Atonement. It is customary for children to have public mention made in the synagogue of their departed parents, and to make charitable gifts on behalf of their souls.
The rites for Yom Kippur are set forth in the sixteenth chapter of Leviticus (cf. Exodus 30:10; Leviticus 23:27-31, 25:9; Numbers 29:7-11). It is described as a solemn fast, on which no food or drink are to be consumed, and on which all work is forbidden. Additionally, washing, wearing cosmetics and leather shoes, and conjugal relations are prohibited (Mishnah tractate Yoma 8:1).
The day is commemorated with a 25-hour fast and intensive prayer. Total abstention from food and drink usually begins half-an-hour before sundown (called "tosefet Yom Kippur," the "addition" of fasting part of the day before is required by Jewish law), and ends after nightfall the following day. Although the fast is required of all healthy adults, fasting is specifically forbidden for anyone who might be harmed by it.
Yom Kippur is observed in different ways in different Jewish communities. Sephardic Jews (Jews of Spanish, Portuguese and North African descent) refer to this holiday as "the White Fast" because they have the custom of wearing only white clothing on this day, to symbolize their "white" (pure) desire to free themselves from sin. Ashkenazic Jews, though acknowledging the origins of the holiday as a day of rejoicing, tend to take a more somber, solemn attitude to the day.
In Biblical times, sacrifices were offered in the Temple of Jerusalem (see below).
There is a commandment to eat a large and festive meal before Yom Kippur starts. Virtually all Jewish holidays involve a ritual feast; in the case of Yom Kippur, the meal that precedes the holiday supposedly makes the fast even more strenuous, thereby fulfilling the injunction "you shall afflict yourselves" in Leviticus 23:27. Traditional foods consumed during that meal include kreplach and rice. Many Orthodox men also immerse themselves in a mikvah (ritual bath).
Men (and some Reform and Conservative women) don a Tallit (four-cornered prayer garment) for evening prayers, the only evening service of the year in which this is done. Many married men also wear a kittel, or white shroud-like garment, which symbolizes inner purity. Prayer services begin with the prayer known as "Kol Nidre," which must be recited before sunset, and follows with the evening prayers (ma'ariv or arvith), which include an extended Selichot service.
The morning prayer service is preceded by litanies and petitions of forgiveness called selichot; on Yom Kippur, many selichot are woven into the liturgy. The morning prayers are followed by an added prayer (musaf) as on all other holidays, followed by mincha (the afternoon prayer) and the added ne'ilah prayer specifically for Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur comes to an end with a recitation of Shema Yisrael and the blowing of the shofar, which marks the conclusion of the fast.
The Torah is read during the morning and afternoon prayers (Leviticus 16 and 18, respectively); the Book of Jonah is read as the haftarah in the afternoon. Depending on the nusach (version) of the prayers, some communities pray continuously from morning until nightfall, while others include a short break. Every prayer includes the vidduy (confession).
While the Temple was standing in Jerusalem (from Biblical times until 70 C.E.), the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) performed a complex set of special services and sacrifices for Yom Kippur. These services were considered to be the most important parts of Yom Kippur, as through them the Kohen Gadol made atonement for all Jews in the world. During the service, the Kohen Gadol entered the Holy of Holies in the center of the Temple, the only time of the year that anyone went inside. Doing so required special purification and preparation, including five immersions in a mikvah (ritual bath), and four changes of clothing.
Prior to Yom Kippur, the Kohen Gadol was sequestered in the Parhedrin chamber in the Temple, where he reviewed the service with the Temple sages, and was sprinkled with spring water containing ashes of the Red Heifer as purification. The Talmud (Tractate Yoma) also reports that he performed the incense offering ritual in the Avitnas chamber.
On the day of Yom Kippur, the Kohen Gadol had to follow a precise order of services, sacrifices, and purifications:
The Kohen Gadol wore five sets of garments (three golden and two linen), immersed in the mikvah five times, and washed his hands and feet ten times. Sacrifices included two (daily) lambs, one bull, two goats, and two rams, with accompanying mincha (meal) offerings, wine libations, and three incense offerings (the regular two daily and an additional one for Yom Kippur). The Kohen Gadol entered the Holy of Holies three times. The tetragrammaton was pronounced three times, once for each confession.
A recitation of the sacrificial service of the Temple of Jerusalem traditionally features prominently in both the liturgy and the religious thought of the holiday. Specifically, the Avodah ("service") in the musaf prayer recounts the sacrificial ceremonies in great detail.
In Orthodox and most Conservative synagogues, a detailed description of the Temple ritual is recited on the day, and the entire congregation prostrates themselves at each point in the recitation where the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) would pronounce the tetragrammaton. (These three times, plus in some congregations the Alenu prayer during the Musaf Amidah on Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, are the only times in Jewish services when Jews engage in complete full-body prostration, with the exception of some Yemenite Jews and talmedhei haRambam). A variety of liturgical poems are added, including a poem recounting the radiance of the countenance of the Kohen Gadol after exiting the Holy of Holies, traditionally believed to emit palpable light in a manner echoing the Bible's account of the countenance of Moses after descending from Mount Sinai, as well as prayers for the speedy rebuilding of the Temple and the restoration of sacrificial worship. There are a variety of other customs, such as hand gestures to mime the sprinkling of blood (one sprinkling upwards and seven downwards per set of eight).
In some Conservative synagogues, only the Hazzan engages in full prostration. Some Conservative synagogues abridge the recitation of the Avodah service to varying degrees, and some omit it entirely. Conservative services generally omit prayers for the restoration of sacrifices. Reform and Reconstructionist services omit the entire service as inconsistent with modern sensibilities.
Yom Kippur is considered the holiest of Jewish holidays, and its observance is held even among the majority of secular Jews who may not strictly observe other holidays. Many secular Jews will fast and attend synagogue on Yom Kippur, where the number of worshippers attending is often double or triple the normal attendance. In Israel, public non-observance (such as eating or driving a motor vehicle) is taboo. In Israel on Yom Kippur there is no broadcast television, no public transportation, and the airports are closed. There is no commerce of any kind in the Jewish areas.
Since the roads in Jewish communities are free of motor vehicles on the time of the holiday, many secular Jews or non-Jewish individuals use the opportunity to ride the bicycle. Thus Yom Kippur has the nickname "Festival of Bicycles." This custom, which gained popularity in the recent decades, is especially popular on the eve of Yom Kippur.
Most Christians do not regularly observe this holiday as they do not consider this day as part of the New Covenant; however, many Christian theologians do recognize the relationship of Yom Kippur and Judgment Day. Yom Kippur is considered to be the pre-text of what is to come, a foreshadowing of the end of times when they believe that Christ will judge humankind and forgive or condemn accordingly.
Amish Christians observe a Fast Day on October 11, a Gregorian date which falls around the Hebrew date of Yom Kippur.
According to Sunni tradition, Prophet Mohammad observed the Ashura fast in Mecca, as did the local population where it was a common practice from pre-Islamic times. When Prophet Muhammad led his followers to Medina, he found the Jews of that area fasting on the Day of Ashura, or Yom Kippur. At this juncture, the fast of that day became mandatory for the Muslims. However, numerous Sunni traditions in Sahih Muslim and Sahih Bukhari confirm that fasting on Ashura was abandoned by Prophet Muhammad when the fasting of Ramadan was mandated. Ibn Hajar al-asqalani, in his commentary on Bukhari's collection, says that the obligatoriness of the fast was superseded by fasting in Ramadan, a year after his migration to Medina. Today, Sunnis regard fasting on the 10th of Muharram as recommended, though not obligatory. Conversely, Shias regard fasting on that day as undesirable though not strictly forbidden.
The Ashura is commemorated for the following occasions which Muslims believe happened on the 10th Day of the Muharram:
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