Yom Kippur, means “Day of Atonement,” is the most solemn and holy day
in the Jewish calendar.
According to the sources, Yom Kippur is a day of “self-denial” (Leviticus 23-27)
and day to be cleansed of one’s sins. It is observed eight days
after Rosh Hashanah. Traditionally, it is believed that on Rosh Hashana
God inscribes names in the “books” and on Yom Kippur, the judgment
entered in these books is sealed. A traditional greeting is “may you be
inscribed in the book of life.
The days between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur are called the
“Days of Awe’. The prayers and fasting on Yom kippur are supposed to
insure that through repentance, God seals the repenter in the book of
Restrictions on Yom
Yom Kippur is a fast day for adults. Males from the age of 13 and Females
from the age of 12 are obligated to fast. It is the strictest of the
Jewish year. The fast lasts for over 25 hours. Traditionally, the focus
on Yom kippur is for spiritual elevation. One way to do this is to
abstain from the physical and superficial pleasures. Consequently,
these five physical activities are forbidden on Yom Kippur:
- Eating and drinking.
- Washing one’s body.
- Anointing oneself. One cannot wear jewelry, perfume or makeup.
- Wearing leather shoes.
- Marital relations.
It is customary to wear white on Yom Kippur. This symbolizes purity and
calls to mind the promise that sins shall be made as white as snow (Is.
1:18). Some people wear a kittel, the white robe in which the dead are
In Israel, the country comes to a standstill on Yom Kippur. Places
of entertainment and stores are closed, there are no state-run
television or radio broadcasts (not even the news), and public
transport does not run. Solemnity on Yom Kippur in Israel is reinforced
by memories of the 1973 war, when Egypt and Syria launched a surprise
attack against Israel.
Customs the day before Yom Kippur:
Traditionally, every Jew is required to immerse in a mikvah (ritual
bath) on the day before Yom kippur.
It is an ancient custom to perform Kaparot before Yom Kippur. Kaparot
can be performed any time between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur but the
preferred time is just after dawn on the day before Yom Kippur. The
Kaparot ritual involves taking a chicken in your right hand and
revolving it over your head while reciting a prayer. Money is then
donated to charity.
Eating before Yom kippur
The festive meal before the fast is called Seudah Mafseket (“final meal”).
Traditionally, meat is not eaten during this meal, but poultry can be
eaten. It is traditional to eat soup, but important to put as little
salt and seasoning in the soup as possible. Before the meal a blessing
is made for bread but not for wine.
To endure the fast many people give up caffeine for a period
before Yom kippur.. For many people this helps to prevent headaches
from fasting. Also it is important to drink plenty of water at regular
intervals for the day before. It is important to leave time for the pre
fast meal. It must be eaten quite early (times change according to
location and date)..
Bringing in the festival
After the meal it is customary to light memorial candles before candle lighting.
When the Festival candles are lit, 18 minutes before sunset,.
these two blessings are recited:
Ba-ruch A-tah Ado-nai E-lo-hei-nu Me-lech Ha-olam Asher
Be-mitzvo-tav Ve-tzvi-vanu Le-hadlik Ner Shel Shabbat veShel Yom
Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the universe, who has
us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.
Ba-ruch A-tah Ado-nai E-lo-hei-nu Me-lech Ha-olam
She-heche-ya-nu Ve-ki-yi-ma-nu Ve-higi-a-nu Liz-man Ha-zeh
Additionally, before entering the synagogue, it is customary for
fathers to bless their children. Although there is no required formula
for this blessing, it is customary for fathers to say:
May God make you like Efrayim and Menashe [for a son];
or, May God make you like Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel, and Leah [for a
Traditionally, the day of Yom Kippur is devoted entirely to prayer. Repentance
(teshuva) is the theme of Yom Kippur. It is believed that usually sins
alienate one from God, but on yom kippur, repentance reconciles one
The first Yom Kippur occurred when Moses descended Mount Sinai
with the second set of Tablets of the Ten Commandments, a symbol of the
renegotiated covenant between God and the Jewish People. It is believed
that the Israelites alienated God by worshipping the golden calf. Moses
ascended Mount Sinai to ask God for forgiveness. The Israelites
repented by fasting during the day while Moses was on the mountain. On
the tenth day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei (Yom Kippur), Moses
descended Mount Sinai with the second Tablets.
God decreed the tenth day of the month of Tishrei as a day of
“Let it be a statute for you forever: in the seventh
month, on the tenth of the month, you shall starve your vital energies
and do no manner of work…. For on this day it shall bring atonement
upon you, to purify you, before God shall you become pure of all your
aberrations.” (Vayikra/Leviticus 16: 29-30)
Prayers on Yom Kippur
Prayer services on Yom Kippur are lengthy and solemn. Traditionally,
most of the holiday is spent in prayer in the synagogue. These are the
The Evening of Yom Kippur:
- Kol Nidrei and Maariv
On Yom Kippur day:
- The Torah Reding, including the book of Jona
Breaking The Fast:
When Yom Kippur finishes, it is traditional to break the fast with a
celebratory meal. Afterwards, it is customary to start to build the
Sukkah for the next holiday of Sukkot. By doing this it is possible to
go straight from atonement for sins into doing a mitzvah a good deed,
making a fresh start for the new year.
Other modules in this unit:
- Life of Moses – Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy
- 300-year gap between Joseph and Moses, Exodus 1:1-14
- First 40 years of the life of Moses, Exodus 2:1-15
- Thutmose 1 the Pharaoh or king of Egypt, Exodus 1:1-22
- Miriam kept eye on Moses after he had been placed as a baby in a boat, Exodus 2:1-10
- Second set of 40 years, Exodus 2:11 – 7:7
- God spoke to Moses out of a burning bush, Exodus 3:1-3
- Moses was asked to take off his sandals by God, Exodus 3:4-22 & 4:1-17
- The third set of 40 years, Exodus 7:8-13 – Deuteronomy 34:12
- Aaron’s Staff becomes a Snake, Exodus 7:8-13
- The ten plagues of Egypt, Exodus 7:14-12:30
- Firstborn die, Exodus 11:1-10
- Passover commemorates the Exodus from Egypt, Exodus 12:1-10
- Moses the friend of God
- Pillar of Cloud by Day, Exodus 13:20-22
- Pillar of fire by night, Exodus 13:20-22
- The Chariots of the Egyptian army, Exodus 14:1-31
- Moses crosses the Red Sea, Exodus 14:1-31
- Moses’ older sister Miriam sings a song, Exodus 15:1-21
- Waters of Marah and Elim, Exodus 15:22-27
- Manna means ‘What Is It’?, Exodus 16:1-36
- Water from The Rock at Massah, Exodus 17:1-7
- Moses at Mount Sinai, Exodus 19:1-25
- The Ten Commandments or 10 Laws of God, Exodus 20:1-17
- The Three Annual Feasts of God, Exodus 23:14-19
- The Feast of Passover, Numbers 28:16-31
- Feast of Weeks or Pentecost, Numbers 28:26-31
- Feast of trumpets or Feast of Shofars, Numbers 29:1-40
- The Golden Calf the idol made by Aaron, Exodus 32:1-35
- Moses with the New Stone Tablets, Exodus 34:1-35
- 1st five of the Ten Commandments, Exodus 20:1-12
- 2nd five of the Ten Commandments, Exodus 20:1-21
- Ark of God – Exodus 25:10-22 & 37:1-9
- The High Priest of Israel, Exodus 39:1-31
- Tabernacle, Exodus 39:32-43 & 40:1-38
- Aaron and Miriam oppose Moses, Numbers 12:1-16
- Exploring Canaan by 12 spies, Numbers 13:1-33
- 37 years in the wilderness, Numbers 14:33-34
- Aaron’s Rod that budded, Numbers 17:1-13
- Speak to the Rock “Give Water”, Numbers 20:1-13
- Death of Aaron, Numbers 20:22-29
- The Bronze Snake, Numbers 21:4-9
- Balak Summons Balaam, Numbers 22:1-24:25
- Six cities of Refuge for Israel, Numbers 35:1-34 & Deuteronomy 4:41-43
- Daughters of Zelophehad, Numbers 36:1-12
- Moses Blesses the Tribes with Three Sermons, Deuteronomy 33:1-29
- Moses lived for 120 years, Deuteronomy 34:1-12
- Caleb was the son of Jephunneh, Numbers 14:26-38
- Joshua – The Fall of Jericho, Joshua 5:13-15 & 6:1-27
- Questions and Answers 1-16
- Questions and Answers 17-32
- Questions and Answers 33-49
- Time Line for Life of Moses
- Background Information – Life of Moses
- Next Module – Judges or rulers of Israel
- Resources – Life of Moses
- The Jewish Festival of Sukkot
- Yom Kippur, means “Day of Atonement”
- Rosh Hashanah or Yom Teruah (The Day of the Sounding of Shofar)