Of all the Jewish Holidays, Yom Kippur is undoubtedly the most solemn. Let’s take a closer look at this special day, which falls at the very beginning of the Jewish year…

What is Yom Kippur a commemoration of?

Jewish tradition relates that Yom Kippur is the day on which Moses learnt from G-d that He had forgiven the Israelites for their sin of the Golden Calf. Forty days after receiving the Torah from G-d, the Israelites did the unthinkable and committed the cardinal sin of idolatry by creating and serving a molten golden image in the form of a calf. Moses interceded on behalf of the people, begging for forgiveness for almost three entire months. On the tenth of the Jewish month of Tishrei, G-d forgives the people for their sin.

From that day on what did Yom Kippur become known as?

Since the day that G-d forgave the Israelites for the sin of the Golden Calf, the tenth of Tishrei, Yom Kippur, became known as the Day of Atonement and it is on that day that the Jewish people come before G-d and have their fate for the coming year decided upon. Ten days after the Jewish New Year of Rosh Hashanah, on which they are inscribed in the Book of Life or Death, they are inscribed in either of those books on the fateful day of Yom Kippur.

What does Yom Kippur being a Day of Atonement mean practically?

The Jewish people afflict themselves for a period of twenty-six hours on Yom Kippur- from several minutes before sunset on the ninth of Tishrei until after nightfall on the tenth they abstain from eating or drinking, do not wash or anoint themselves, don’t wear leather footwear and abstain from spousal intimacy. On Yom Kippur, the Jewish people are likened to the spiritual beings that have no need for physical things. Instead of spending time on these physical matters, the Jewish people spend their day in the Synagogue where they are engaged in beseeching G-d in repentance and prayer.

What prayers are recited on Yom Kippur?

There are five prayer service on Yom Kippur;

  1. Aravit- the night service held on the night of the ninth of Tishrei
  2. Shacharit- the morning prayer on the tenth of Tishrei
  3. Musaf- the additional prayer which is added on special days
  4. Mincha- the afternoon prayer
  5. Neilah- the final, climatic prayer of the day when it is believed that the gates of heaven are closing and it is the people’s last chance to beseech G-d.