Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year—the day on which we are
closest to G‑d and to the quintessence
of our own souls. It is the
Day of Atonement—“For on this day He will
forgive you, to
purify you, that you be cleansed from all your
sins before G‑d” (Leviticus 16:30).
For nearly twenty-six hours—from several minutes before sunset on 9 Tishrei to after nightfall on 10 Tishrei—we
“afflict our souls”:
we abstain from food and drink, do not wash or anoint our bodies, do not wear leather footwear, and abstain from marital relations.
Before Yom Kippur
we perform the Kaparot
atonement service; we request and receive honey cake, in acknowledgement that we are all recipients in G‑d’s world, and in prayerful hope for a sweet and abundant year; eat a festive meal;
immerse in a mikvah;
and give extra charity. In the late afternoon we eat the pre-fast meal, following which we bless our children,
light a memorial candle
as well as the holiday candles, and go to the
synagogue for the Kol Nidrei service.
In the course of Yom Kippur we hold
five prayer services: Maariv, with its solemn
Kol Nidrei service, on the eve of Yom Kippur; Shacharit—the morning prayer, which includes a reading from Leviticus followed by the Yizkor memorial service; Musaf, which includes a detailed account of the Yom Kippur Temple service; Minchah, which includes the reading of the
Book of Jonah;
and Neilah, the “closing of the gates” service at sunset. We say the Al Chet confession of sins eight times in the course of Yom Kippur, and recite
Psalms every available moment.
The day is the most solemn of the year, yet an undertone of joy suffuses it: a joy that revels in the spirituality of the day and expresses the confidence that G‑d will accept our repentance, forgive our sins, and seal our
for a year of life, health and happiness. The closing Neilah service climaxes in the resounding cries of
“Hear O Israel . . . G‑d is one.” Then joy erupts in song and dance (a Chabad custom is to sing the lively
“Napoleon’s March”), followed by a single
blast of the shofar, followed by the proclamation, “Next year in Jerusalem.” We then partake of a festive after-fast meal, making the evening after Yom Kippur a yom tov (festival) in its own right.