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A Step-by-Step Yom Kippur Guide

A Step-by-Step Yom Kippur Guide


On Yom Kippur, the day when we are likened to angels, many have a custom to wear white clothing while praying. Married Ashkenazic men traditionally wear a simple, long white garment called a kittel. The kittel is also the traditional Jewish shroud; wearing it reminds us of our mortality and urges us to repent.

Before sunset (click here for exact time in your location), women and girls light holiday candles, and everyone changes into non-leather shoes and holiday finery.

Kol Nidre

On Yom Kippur, the tallit (prayer shawl) is worn for all the prayer services. In preparation for Kol Nidre, the tallit should preferably be donned before sunset. (If donning the tallit after sunset, the traditional blessing is not recited.)

He chants the Kol Nidre three times, each time on a slightly higher note

Ideally, Kol Nidre should begin shortly before sunset. The Torah scrolls are all removed from the Ark—it is a great mitzvah to purchase the honor of holding the first Torah scroll—and the procession of scrolls moves towards the bimah (reading table) while everyone kisses and embraces the passing Torahs.

After requesting permission, from both the heavenly and earthly courts, to “pray with the transgressors,” the cantor begins the Kol Nidre. He chants the Kol Nidre three times, each time on a slightly higher note. The congregation reads along with the cantor, in an undertone.

The Kol Nidre is followed by a few brief verses and prayers and culminates with the Shehecheyanu blessing, in which we thank G‑d for “granting us life, sustaining us, and allowing us to reach this occasion.” This blessing is recited in honor of every holiday, but usually following the night’s kiddush. On Yom Kippur, because there is no kiddush, the blessing was incorporated as part of the prayers. Women and girls do not recite this blessing with the congregation—as they have already recited it after lighting the holiday candles.

In most congregations, at this point the rabbi delivers a sermon. In many congregations, this sermon is accompanied by an appeal—for charity has the power to evoke heavenly mercy.

The evening prayer service then commences.

We are likened to angels, so we too, like the angels, can recite it out loud

During Yom Kippur, every time we say the second verse of the Shema, the “Baruch Shem” verse—“Blessed is the Name of the glory of Your kingship forever and ever”—it is proclaimed out loud. Throughout the year, this blessing is recited in an undertone, as it was “stolen” from the angels. On Yom Kippur, however, we are likened to angels, so we too, like the angels, can recite it out loud.

The special Yom Kippur Amidah (standing prayer) incorporates a lengthy confession of sins. This confession is recited silently, and with each sin that we confess, we lightly knock our chest—the domicile of the heart, the seat of our passions and impulses—with our fist. The confession is later repeated, after the Amidah, together with the entire congregation. This double confession is repeated during all the day’s prayers, with the exception of the final Ne’ilah prayer.

The Amidah is followed by liturgy interspersed with the recitation of the verses (Exodus 34:6–7) that allude to G‑d’s Thirteen Attributes of Compassion: “G‑d, G‑d, benevolent G‑d, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in kindness and truth; He preserves kindness for two thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin, and He cleanses.”

The entire Kol Nidrei and evening service should take approximately two hours.

Many have the custom to recite the entire Book of Psalms after the evening service.

Yom Kippur Morning and Early Afternoon

We read about the special Yom Kippur service in the Holy Temple

The joint morning and Musaf services occupy the bulk of the day (approximately six hours). The morning service pretty much follows the order of the traditional Shabbat and holiday service. The special Yom Kippur Amidah and confession is recited, followed again by songs and special Yom Kippur liturgy.

Two Torah scrolls are taken from the Ark, and from them we read about the special Yom Kippur service in the Holy Temple—may it soon be rebuilt. The haftorah discusses the concepts of repentance and fasting, the themes du jour of Yom Kippur.

In many communities, the aliyahs—whose supply doesn’t meet the demand, due to the large crowd and the auspiciousness of the day—are auctioned off to the highest bidders, with the monies raised earmarked for a charitable cause.

The Torah reading is followed by the Yizkor service—traditionally preceded by the rabbi’s homily. In the Yizkor prayer we beseech G‑d to kindly remember the souls of our dear departed ones; traditionally, all those who do not recite Yizkor (i.e., those whose parents are both still alive) leave the synagogue for the duration of the brief prayer.

The Yizkor service is followed by the Musaf service. The most prominent feature of this is the Avodah, a rather lengthy and detailed recounting of the Yom Kippur service in the Holy Temple, whose highlight was the high priest’s entry into the Holy of Holies. During the course of the Avodah, on three occasions we relate how the high priest would pronounce G‑d’s ineffable name, and in response the assembled Jews would prostrate themselves on the ground. When reaching these passages, we too prostrate ourselves on our hands and knees.

We beseech G‑d to restore the Temple service with the coming of Moshiach

The Avodah concludes with a series of prayers in which we beseech G‑d to restore the Temple service with the coming of Moshiach. We also recount the tragic story of the cold-blooded murder of the “Ten Martyrs” by the Roman regime.

Towards the end of Musaf, the kohanim (priests) administer the priestly blessing.

In most synagogues, the Musaf prayer is followed by a break, lasting between one and three hours.

Late Afternoon

Minchah, the afternoon prayer, is called for one or one and a half hours before sunset.

The service commences with the Torah reading, which speaks of the purity of Jewish life and warns us not to engage in immoral practices. For the haftorah we read the entire book of Jonah, which contains a timely message on the importance of repentance and prayer.

The Yom Kippur Amidah is then followed by a few brief prayers. The entire Minchah service lasts approximately one hour.

Now, moments before sunset, in the waning hours of Yom Kippur, we reach the climax of the holiest day of the year, and we recite the Ne’ilah prayer. Ne’ilah means “locking.” The gates of heaven, which were open all day, will now be closed—with us on the inside. During this prayer we have the ability to access the most essential level of our soul, the level that is in a state of absolute oneness with her Creator. The Holy Ark remains open for the duration of the entire prayer.

The Ne’ilah Amidah is somewhat abbreviated—it does not contain the lengthy version of the confession. The Amidah is followed by a selection of prayers, and culminates with the cantor emphatically proclaiming the words of the Shema—“Hear O Israel, the L‑rd is our G‑d, the L‑rd is one!” With intense concentration, the congregation repeats the verse. The cantor then recites the “Baruch Shem” verse three times, again followed by the congregation. Finally, with all his might the cantor proclaims seven times, “The L‑rd is G‑d!” and again the congregation repeats after him. This is followed by the joyous proclamation, “Next Year in Jerusalem!”

The shofar is then sounded—one triumphant, long blast

The shofar (ram’s horn) is then sounded—one triumphant, long blast, signifying the end of the holy day. In Chabad synagogues, the shofar blast is preceded by the euphoric singing of “Napoleon’s March.” At this point we are ecstatically confident that G‑d has sealed us all for a wonderful year: a year of happiness, prosperity and health; the year when we will finally experience the long-awaited Redemption.

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Darlene phoenix September 20, 2015

How is Yom Kippur celebrated at home Reply

Rita regina Milano Italy September 29, 2017
in response to Darlene :

if I have difficulty to go to Sinagogue due to health problems Reply

Chana Benjaminson September 29, 2017
in response to Rita regina:

Rita Regina it is actually better to stay home and feel better, and fast, then to go to synagogue. The mitzvah of the day is to fast. So do not feel bad. Stay at home and rest and pray at home. Chatima tova. Reply

Akav India October 2, 2017
in response to Chana Benjaminson:

Nice post Reply

leon roiter barranquilla October 18, 2014

yom kippur Yom hakipurim. It has long been debated the reason to use these two expressions.
This ritual which is devoted entirely to the performance the kohanim practiced in both temples during this day, named Yom Kippur ( Most jews call this day the day of fasting). Most Kohanim ignore the reason why they are mentionned so many times during this day. Most rabis who have passed through barranquilla avoid the explanations due to the ten kohanim who inhabit this city since their arrival from their ancient lands.
Some day jews will decide to maintain the sacred sacred, they will understand why A´Shem decided to invest Aharon, not Moses with such an extrange and painstaiking responsability filled with kedusha. Jews understand very Little about the knives used to make the meat of the permisible animals fit to consume.
Our new rabbi( we have had many new rabbies in my town) told me that korbanot were dessigned for the kohanim to eat. I told him that many sons of kohanim go to bed hungry. Reply

Bill White UK September 29, 2017
in response to leon roiter:

An interesting point to make about “ha ki purim” is that it literally means “like Purim”, so Yom Haki Purim means “a day like Purim” and one could suggest they for Yom Kippur to be call Yom Haki Purim must mean that Purim is the greater or (at the very least) equal holy day to Yom Kippur. If Yom Kippur were a greater day one might say that Purim was like Yom Kippur and not the other was around. Reply

blanche grauer miami, FL via October 2, 2014

yortsiet candle Do you light for all members who are gone or just one symbolic candle Reply

Mrs. Chana Benjaminson via October 1, 2014

To Anonymous Yes, you may apply make up before the fast begins. Reply

Anonymous los angeles October 1, 2014

lipstick and make up before the fast? can you apply make up and lipstick right before the fast begins? Reply

Anonymous New York October 8, 2013

Yom Kippur What is the essence of the prayer Al Taschlechenu? Reply

leon roiter barranquilla September 15, 2013

avodah It took me a very long time to find out that the avodah is the central theme of yom ha-kipurim.
I wish all sinagogues had the necesary space to allow all jews to postrate on our hands and knees when the kohen pronounces for thee times the name of A'Shem.
During yom ha kipurim we bring back to life the first temple. We will never allow the essence of temple to be destroyed or distorted.
Reply Staff via September 12, 2013

To Moshe You can light the candles a few minutes earlier than that, when lighting, have in mind to accept Shabbat and Yom Kippur at the designated time. Then go to Kol Nidrei. Reply

Moshe September 12, 2013

Please advise on... Kol Nidrei starts at 7:00 PM, I am going to be in the Synagogue at that time. The time for lighting candles is at 6:47 PM. What should I do about this situation.
Thank you. Reply Staff via September 12, 2013

To Moshe The yahrtzeit candle should be lit before the Shabbat Candles are lit. Reply

Yisroel Cotlar Cary NC September 12, 2013

Havdala - No spices
- A candle is used but is lit from pre-existing flame. Reply

Moshe NY USA September 12, 2013

Please advise What is the right time to light Yorzite candles in memory of relatives? Reply

Anonymous panama September 12, 2013

glorious gift Gd opens his book and awaits us all day. It would be impossible to feel more connected than this. Such a wondrous day we are given to realize how blessed we are and to have a completely new opportunity to begin anew this year. The best part is to stand with the entire community and to also be alone on this awesome day. Reply

blanche milgraum miani beach, florida via September 12, 2013

chabad glad that you are so welcoming to all types of jews Reply Staff via September 11, 2013

To Sharona Please see the following links for some suggestions as to what to eat before the fast: pre fast feasting and Tips for an easier fast Reply

Sharona northern nj September 11, 2013

seudah mafseket - the meal before fasting hi what are your recommendations for meals throughout the day before yom kippur and the seudah mafsaket? are there traditional foods that are eaten? Reply

Anonymous india September 11, 2013

yomkippur havdalah May I have a full guide for yom kippur havdalah as it falls on shabbat and I am confused wether to include besamim at havdalah; can you please telll me. Reply

Anonymous Washington, D.C. September 10, 2013

Thank you! As someone growing in observance over the last year, I so appreciate and depend on your step-by-step guides. I ask my rabbi some things, but it feels much better to come to them with a point of clarification than a beginning to end explanation request. I did not grow up in a religious home so this helps immensely., you are a true light in the world! Reply Staff via September 10, 2013

The Torah calls Yom Kippur, Shabbat Shabbaton, the Sabbath of Sabbaths, hence it is more important than Shabbat... for more insights please see Fasting On Yom Kippur Which Falls on Shabbat Reply

Barak John fiji September 10, 2013

What happens when Yom Kippur falls on Shabbat? Reply

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