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How to Observe Yom Kippur 2017

How to Observe Yom Kippur 2017


Yom Kippur In Brief

Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year, when we are closest to G‑d and to the essence of our souls. Yom Kippur means “Day of Atonement,” as the verse states, “For on this day He will forgive you, to purify you, that you be cleansed from all your sins before G‑d.”1

It is held on the 10th day of Tishrei, coming on the heels of Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year, which is on the first and second days of Tishrei).

For nearly 26 hours (in 2017, from several minutes before sunset on Sept 29 until after nightfall on September 30) we “afflict our souls” by avoiding the following five actions:

  • Eating or drinking (in case of need, see here and consult a medical professional and a rabbi)
  • Wearing leather shoes
  • Applying lotions or creams
  • Washing or bathing
  • Engaging in conjugal relations

Like Shabbat, no work is to be done, and special holiday candles are lit before the onset of the holy day.

Opening the synagogue ark.
Opening the synagogue ark.

The day is spent in the synagogue, where 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;
  • Neilah, the “closing of the gates” service at sunset, followed by the shofar blast marking the end of the fast.

Click here for a detailed overview of the day’s prayers.

Beyond specific actions, Yom Kippur is dedicated to introspection, prayer and asking G‑d for forgiveness. Even during the breaks between services, it is appropriate to recite Psalms at every available moment.

What to Do Before Yom Kippur

Photo: Chaya Mishulovin, Lubavitch Chabad of Skokie
Photo: Chaya Mishulovin, Lubavitch Chabad of Skokie

Forty days before Yom Kippur, on the first of Elul, we begin blowing the shofar every morning and reciting Psalm 27 after the morning and afternoon prayers. In Sepharadic communities, it is customary to begin saying Selichot early every morning (Ashkenazim begin just a few days before Rosh Hashanah)—building an atmosphere of reverence, repentance and awe leading up to Yom Kippur.

For the week before Yom Kippur (known as the 10 Days of Repentance), special additions are made to prayers, and people are particularly careful with their mitzvah observance.

We are all human, and we occasionally slip. Is there anyone you may have offended or otherwise hurt? Go ahead and ask for their forgiveness. Are you carrying any grudges? Now is the time to sincerely and wholeheartedly let them go.

Just as Yom Kippur is a day of fasting, the day before Yom Kippur is set aside for eating and preparing for this holy day. Here are some of the activities that we do on the day before Yom Kippur:

  • Kaparot is often performed in the wee hours of this morning
  • There is a beautiful custom to request and receive a piece of honey cake, so that if, G‑d forbid, it was decreed that we need be recipients, it be fulfilled by requesting honey cake and being blessed with a sweet year
  • We eat two festive meals, one in early afternoon and another right before the commencement of the fast.
  • Many have the custom to immerse in a mikvah on this day.
  • Extra charity is given. In fact, special charity trays are set up at the synagogue before the afternoon service, which contains the Yom Kippur Al Cheit prayer.
  • Just before the fast begins (after the second meal has been concluded), it is customary to bless the children with the Priestly Blessing.

What We Do After Yom Kippur

Lulavim and etrogim for sale in Israel prior to Sukkot (file photo).
Lulavim and etrogim for sale in Israel prior to Sukkot (file photo).

After night has fallen, the closing Neilah service ends with the resounding cries of the Shema prayer: “Hear O Israel: G‑d is our L‑rd, G‑d is one.” Then the congregants erupt in joyous song and dance (a Chabad custom is to sing the lively “Napoleon’s March”), after which a single blast is blown on 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.

Indeed, although Yom Kippur is the most solemn day of the year, it is suffused with an undercurrent of joy; it is the joy of being immersed in the spirituality of the day and expresses confidence that G‑d will accept our repentance, forgive our sins, and seal our verdict for a year of life, health and happiness.

There is a custom that after Yom Kippur, we immediately begin (planning) construction of the sukkah, which we will use for the joyous holiday of Sukkot, which follows in just five days.

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John August 22, 2017

As a fresh convert, this app is extremely helpful. It doesn't help that I have a poor memory, lol, but it is a great app and it will help me head my family in instructing them on the whens, whys, and hows of holidays. Reply

Yehuda Shurpin for October 11, 2016

Re: water fountain on Yom Kippur The laws regarding operating a water fountain on Yom Kippur are the same as Shabbat and in most cases, according to many opinions, the operation of the water fountain would be permitted. Of course, just because you can operate it, does not mean you can drink from it since eating and drinking are prohibited on Yom Kippur - unless it is for a child or someone who is ill and permitted to drink. Reply Staff via October 11, 2016

To Sheila The yahrtzeit candle should be lit today, the eve of Yom Kippur, before you light the holiday candles. Reply

Sheri (Serah Simah Bas Faigah) Zukin Los Angeles October 10, 2016

Is it permissible to use a water fountain on Yom Kippur? Reply

Sheila Jackson, MS October 10, 2016

When do I light my yartzeit light? Reply

Barry Reuben London August 15, 2017
in response to Sheila:

To remember those who have passed.

I lost my daughter aged 21. I light a candle, but not to remember her.
i think of her all day every day. Reply

jim dallas October 6, 2016

everybody should engage this site! excellent and informative article and of great interest to me personally. thanks! Reply

chuck Calabasas, CA September 8, 2016

Thank you, Josh P. of Seattle, for that beautiful and important prayer. Why didn't you tell me this a long time ago? Reply

Josh P. Seattle, WA September 8, 2016

Re: Bris on Yom Kippur If you are not Jewish, you can send an email to a Jew at any time that is convenient for you. If they are observant, they will simply read your email after the conclusion of Yom Kippur.

If you are a Jew, I strongly recommend refraining from sending a congratulatory email until after the conclusion of Yom Kippur. Reply

Josh P. Seattle, WA September 6, 2016

Forgiveness @Andrea -
Part of the days leading up to Yom Kippur we do, in fact, extend forgiveness to others.

However, it might surprise you that we do this every night before we go to bed! In a prayer before going to bed, we make the declaration, "Master of the Universe, I hereby forgive anyone who has angered or antagonized me or who has sinned against me, whether against my body, my property, my honor or against anything of mine; whether he did so accidentally, willfully, carelessly, or purposely; whether through speech, deed, thought, or notion. May no man be punished because of me." Reply

Andrea Marie Maryland September 5, 2016

Forgiveness As part of Yom Kippur, do you ever extend forgiveness to others who have offended you? Reply

Walter Connecticut September 22, 2015

Is there somewhere I can go participate in the ceremonies Reply

Anonymous CA September 22, 2015

What is the proper way to email someone and congratulate them when their grandson's BRIS is on Yom Kippur? Thank you. Reply Staff via September 22, 2015

To Anonymous Yom Kippur is called the Sabbath of Sabbaths in the Torah, it is a day on which we may not work. Have an easy fast and feel free to contact us anytime. Reply

Anonymous September 22, 2015

What about work? Can we go to work on Yom Kippur? Reply

inge reisinger zwickau September 22, 2015

thank you for the good insight and the comment of mr.joseph luna made me laughing it couldn't be better explained

thanks to all and may we be written in the book of life and a sweet healthy and peaceful new year to the staff and all readers Reply

Joseph Luna Bronx, NY September 18, 2015

Thank you for such an insightful overview of Yom Kippur. It was just what the doctor ordered. Reply

Beatrice Gil September 9, 2015

Thank you very much for this detail insight. Reply

omar sedky pacifica, ca October 3, 2014

thank you, very insightful Reply

Fred October 2, 2014

Wondering I don't understand something. Why is it written, "...forgave the Jewish people" during the time when all of the tribes were there in the wilderness? Reply

John North Orange County, Calif. September 30, 2014

Thanks, that was most inspirational. Reply

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