Yom Kippur, the Day of atonement, is the most sacred of the Jewish holidays. It is regarded as the "Sabbath of Sabbaths." By Yom Kippur the 40 days of repentance, that begin with the first of Elul, have passed. On Rosh Hashanah the God Almighty has judged most of mankind and has recorded his judgment in the Book of Life. But he has given a 10 day reprieve. On Yom Kippur these 10 days of reprieve ends and the Book of Life is closed and sealed. Those who have repented for their sins are granted a good and happy New Year. (Yom Kippur is on 7th-8th October, 2011)
Yom Kippur, the Day of atonement, is the most sacred of the Jewish holidays. It is regarded as the "Sabbath of Sabbaths."
By Yom Kippur the 40 days of repentance, that begin with the first of Elul, have passed. On Rosh Hashanah the God Almighty has judged most of mankind and has recorded his judgment in the Book of Life. But he has given a 10 day reprieve.
On Yom Kippur these 10 days of reprieve ends and the Book of Life is closed and sealed. Those who have repented for their sins are granted a good and happy New Year.
Since Yom Kippur is the day to ask forgiveness for promises broken to God , the day before is reserved for asking forgiveness for broken promises between people, as God cannot forgive broken promises between people.
The Customs or Minhagim:
Yom Kippur is a day of "NOT" doing. There is no blowing of the Shofar and Jews may not eat or drink, as fasting is the rule. It is believed that to fast on Yom Kippur is to emulate the angels in heaven, who do not eat, drink, or wash.
The Five Prohibitions of Yom Kippur:
- Eating and drinking
- Anointing with perfumes or lotions
- Marital relations
- Wearing leather shoes
While Yom Kippur is devoted to fasting, the day before is devoted to eating. According to the The Talmud the person "who eats on the ninth of Tishri (and fasts on the tenth) , it is as if he had fasted both the ninth and tenth." Prayer is also down played so that Jews can concentrate on eating and preparing for the fast.
The Prayer and Confession:
On the eve of Yom Kippur the community joins at the synagogue. Men put on prayer shawls (not usually worn in the evenings). Then as the night falls the cantor begins the "Kol Nidre", it is repeated 3 times, each time in a louder voice. The Kol Nidre emphasizes the importance in keeping vows, as violating an oath is one of the worst sins.
An important part of the Yom Kippur service is the "Vidui" (Viduy) or confession. The confessions serve to help reflect on ones misdeeds and to confess them verbally is part of the formal repentance in asking G-d's forgiveness. Because community and unity are an important part of Jewish Life, the confessions are said in the plural (We are guilty)
As Yom Kippur ends, at the last hour a service called "Ne'ila" (Neilah) offers a final opportunity for repentance. It is the only service of the year during which the doors to the Ark (where the Torah scrolls are stored) remain open from the beginning to end of the service, signifying that the gates of Heaven are open at this time.
Unlike most Jewish holidays, Yom Kippur has few home rituals. It is made for communal worship. There are no festive meals, except the breaking of the fast. Most activities are suspended during Yom Kippur. However, in addition to prayer and fasting (don't let the little ones fast too long), you can try out activities like these which are in keeping with the mood of the sacred Yom Kippur celebrations.
1) Pray alone and meditate
Yom Kippur being a day of worship and fasting, set aside some time to pray and meditate alone. Read Rebbe Nachmann of Bratslav’s prayer and think about the ways in which you are part of the natural world that surrounds you. Contemplate in what ways you can contribute to preserve and enhance the beauty of the world? How can you be of assistance to the world?
Rebbe Nachmann’s Prayer
Master of the Universe, grant me the ability to be alone.
May it be my custom to go outdoors each day among the trees and grasses,
Among all growing things,
There to be alone and enter into prayer.
There may I express all that is in my heart,
Talking with Him to whom I belong.
And may all grasses, trees, and plants
Awake at my coming.
Send the power of their life into my prayer,
Making whole my heart and my speech through the life and spirit of growing things,
Made whole by their transcendent Source.
Oh! That they would enter my prayer!
Then would I fully open my heart in prayer, supplication, and holy speech;
Then, O God, would I pour out the words of my heart before Your Presence.
2) Engage in charitable works
It is customary to give contributions to a charity before a Jewish holiday. Judaism emphasises that 'Tzedakah' or charity is an important part of living a sufficiently sacred life. Unlike philanthropy, which is totally voluntary, tzedakah is seen as a religious obligation, which must be performed regardless of financial standing, and must be performed even by the poor. It is considered to be one of the three main acts that grant forgiveness of sin, and the annulment of bad decrees. Giving charity to the poor is given precedence over any other charity according to the Talmud. So follow the Talmud and help some poor people in your locality. Tzedakah may be in the form of money or time volunteered for a good cause. It is even better if your identity remains unknown to the receiver of your gift. Jewish tradition argues that the second highest form of tzedakah is to anonymously give donations to unknown recipients. The best way to do so is to donate used or saleable goods to a thrift shop or shelter.
3) Perform a mitzvah
Yom Kippur is the time to beg forgiveness and improve. And what better way to work towards your amelioration than by performing a mitzvah? 'Mitzvah' is a Jewish word that stands for any good deed performed in accordance with the divine commandments given in the Torah (the whole body of the Jewish sacred writings and tradition including the oral tradition). The best mitzvah is to touch the life of someone else and see if you can help him/her in some way. Send gifts and sweets to people you feel need a little encouragement or an emotional boost. These can be your relatives or neighbours or a distant one. You can visit a nearby hospital or nursing home before Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur and spend sometime with elderly patients admitted in there; especially those who do not have many visitors or have none to call of their own. Make sure to call the hospitals or nursing homes beforehand to arrange for your visit. Carry along a small gift like some flowers in a colorful vase, a flowering plant, or a pretty scarf for a woman; a baseball cap or a bright tie for a man. See that your visit becomes worthwhile and meaningful to the people there. Your presence will fill them with a sense of belonging to the community, especially if they are unable to attend services. Have a great time performing your mitzvah!
4) Attend Yizkor
Attending Yizkor is one of the best things to do on Yom Kippur. If you're a Jew, you must be well acquainted with the tradition of Yizkor. A memorial service for the dead, this Jewish custom requires you to visit the graves of loved ones before the High Holy Days. Performing this deed is considered to have special virtue. It helps us to remember the people who gave us life and inspired us to perform good actions. Moreover, Jewish mystics believe that visiting the graves of dead relatives encourages them to intercede with God on our behalf. If you have children or grandchildren or other young relatives, take them along with you to attend the Yizkor service. Take some time prior to Yizkor to tell about your folks and show their pictures to your kiddies so that they know who they have come to visit and don't get bored while you attend the service. And it will also help you to pass on to your children the values your dead folks taught you.
5) Attend religious services for Yom Kippur
The High Holy Days are the time to attend religious services. In modern times, many congregations offer a Selichot Service near midnight on the weekend preceding the Ten Days of Repentance. You too can attend one in the company of your friends, family members or relatives. Call local synagogues, community organizations, and colleges to inquire about the times and location of their services. These days, a number of synagogues require tickets for admission to services on the High Holy Days. Be sure to ask whether tickets are available for non-members, as well as about their price. Nearly all Jewish communities offer free services for the High Holy Days; however reservations are usually required because of the need to provide adequate seating. Generally, Yizkor services and children’s services are free and open to the community. However, you are advised to inquire beforehand to avoid any unnecessary embarrassment.
6) Break the fast
Yom Kippur is the day dedicated to the purification of the soul or the spirit. It is the time to keep a fast - to deprive your body physically in order to rise to a higher spiritual plane. Have a meaningful fast and break it gracefully with a nice meal. People often gather in the synagogue or at the home of friends to break their fast. It is traditional to eat challah and cake -- which are baked just before the holiday (though you need not limit yourselves to these). Avoid meat dishes, as they are generally difficult to digest after fasting for one whole day.
7) Seek Forgiveness
The Ten Day of Repentance or 'Aseret Yemei Teshuva' are the first ten days of the Jewish month of Tishrei, beginning on the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah and ending on Yom Kippur. During this time, Jews practice 'Teshuvah' (or repentance). It is the time to examine one's ways, engage in Repentance and the improvement of the spirit. It is also the occasion for "Vidui" or confession; to ask for and grant forgiveness. Judaism teaches that we cannot attain Divine forgiveness until we have seriously sought forgiveness from those we have ever wronged in the course of our life. During our life we all make mistakes. Amending those mistakes and promising never to repeat them is the best way to begin the New Year. Jewish wisdom holds that we all eventually meet those we have wronged, and so we should look them in the eye and ask for forgiveness.