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Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur

Second Chances


Forty days after they received the Torah at Mount Sinai and committed to be G‑d’s chosen people, the Children of Israel worshipped a Golden Calf. Moses pleaded with G‑d not to destroy His errant nation, and on the tenth of Tishrei G‑d said, “I have forgiven.” Ever since, we observe this date as the “Day of Atonement”—a celebration of our indestructible relationship with G‑d. It is the holiest day of the year, when we reconnect with our very essence, which remains faithful to G‑d regardless of our behavior.

Angelic Behavior

We wear white clothes in emulation of the spiritual angelsYom Kippur is a fast day: from sundown on the eve of Yom Kippur until the following nightfall, we do not eat or drink. (If you’re ill, consult a rabbi.) We also abstain from certain physical pleasures: wearing leather footwear, bathing or washing, applying lotions or creams, and marital relations. It is also a “day of rest,” on which all work is forbidden (as on Shabbat).

Five Prayers

We wear white clothes in emulation of the spiritual angels, and spend the greater part of the day in the synagogue engaged in repentance and prayer. There are five prayer services: 1) The evening prayers, which begin with the solemn Kol Nidrei. 2) Morning prayer. 3) Musaf, which includes a description of the Yom Kippur Holy Temple service. 4) Afternoon prayer, during which the Book of Jonah is read. 5) Ne’ilah, recited as the day wanes and the verdict for the new year is sealed. The first four prayers include a (private) confession of sins to G‑d.

Many laws and customs are associated with the prayer services; your synagogue rabbi will lead you along as needed.

End of the Fast

Ne’ilah concludes with the congregation calling out the Shema in unison, and then a blast of the shofar signals the end of the day.

Yom Kippur is followed by a festive meal. We rejoice, confident that G‑d has forgiven our sins.

For detailed Yom Kippur how-tos, visit our expanded Yom Kippur section.

By Staff
Illustrations by Yehuda Lang. To view more artwork by this artist, click here.
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Anonymous Reno September 30, 2017

Don't people in a established synagogue remember how intimidating it is to insert you into new surroundings and people you don't know. A little warmth would go along way. Especially when everyone is outwardly showing Love and respect to those they know In attendance. You feel very backward trying to break the ice when no one else wants to. I kept telling myself I was Hashem's guest in order to make it through the service. Would loved to have stayed to break the fast but didn't want to be standing in the corner eating by myself. Glad I only have to be rejected by my own people only a couple times a year. Reply

David Lozano South Wales September 30, 2017

Excellent Reply

Edith Saller Berryville, AR September 5, 2017

Some websites say Rosh Hashanah is a picture of the final wedding or Nisuin. Others say Yom Kippur is. Which is it? And how long back in history have the Jews had this view? Reply

Josephine Rossano Orlando, Florida October 11, 2016

"behavior doesn't matter" If the children of Israel did not repent, would G-d had forgiven them? Reply Staff via September 20, 2015

To Alice The fast ends at 732PM in NY in 2015 Reply

Alicia Feuer NYC September 14, 2015

Break fast What time in NYC is break fast? Reply

Steve Virginia October 2, 2014

G'mar Hatimah Tovah or Gmar Chatimah Tova - essentially but not literally "may you be sealed for a good year". The hope that you are judged well by G-d and your name is in the book.
"Gmar tov" is the abbreviated form. Reply

herb mordkoff rockaway nj October 2, 2014

proper greeting what is the proper greeting for yom kippur? What is the meaning of gmar tov? Reply

David Flinkstein London, UK October 5, 2011

Re The annual loop of atonment & forgiveness There are many forms of idolatry, anything that is put or done as being more important than God is idolatry. Instead of atoning 365 days of the year you might as well have just one day to atone by fasting. The whole idea is that there is a covenant with God. You have to think if you are a Jew why did your soul and not someone else's soul enter the embryo in your mother's wombe and make you to be reborn as a Jew?
Could it have been to make your soul closer to God? Reply

Anonymous Calabasas, CA October 4, 2011

Yom Kippur I think Susanna misses the point.

One of my rabbis decribes sin as "not seeing the truth yet." It is not about the obvious Bernie Madoff-like behavior, but about how our ego can invade our motivations, even when we think we are doing good. I used to read the Al Chet and think, "I never did that! I didn't cheat in business, or on my wife. I didn't steal or kill, or do any of those things. Why am I even here?"

What I have come to learn is that a fine line exists between righteous and self-righteous. Yom Kippur is the time for me to stop acting, stop emotiing, and genuinely reflect on my behavior and my motives, in order to become more selfless and genuinely righteous in the year to come. The concept of T'Shuvah deepens and becomes more real every year. I don't think I will ever get it down completely. That is why I will continue to PRACTICE Judaism every year of my life, and strive to improve one day at a time. I am grateful to Chabad, which helps me do so. Reply

Anonymous October 3, 2011

Annual Atonement It's very easy to take this all for "self"; (not saying there's no room for self eval) but, this is about the national of Israel, not just individuals. Yes, individuals should repent daily if necessary and make the amends, daily because no one knows the hour of their own demise, or demise of a loved one; we have 364 days to clean up individualy, and incourage others to do so and to be ready for the GREAT DAY; we also have Rosh Chodesh which many use a mini Yom Kippur; nothing stopping anyone from making a correction today; while tit is still called today. Reply

Menachem Posner for September 29, 2009

To Lady Arwen Legolas Wilson: Here is a snippet from Daniel 4:24 that I believe is relevant: "Indeed, O king, may my counsel please you, and with charity you will remove your sin and your iniquity by showing mercy to the poor; perhaps your tranquility will last."

Obviously, cash itself would not be able to "buy off" G-d. However sincere goodness and sharing with others is surely a great merit which would stand in anyone's defense. Reply

Lady Arwen Legolas Wilson September 27, 2009

Tzedakah during the Yomim Noraim (High Holidays) Can G-D's Mercy really be bought with money. Where does it say that in the Torah? Reply

susanna yonkers, ny September 25, 2009

The annual loop of atonment & forgiveness In reading your comments about Yom Kippur, it seems you are describing a loop --all year people sin (I assume you are describing the sins without forethought -- cheating and hurting others, adultry, physiucal violence, etc. are not included) and then by atoning on this day, G-d will forgive and we can start fresh. Is there are time within the 12 months to think back and atone as well? I think it would be better to have a day of meditation and atonement more frequently so that people might not feel well, I sinned, but never mind, it will all be forgiven on Yom Kippur. The best time to atone, I think, is immediately after committing the sin. I met an orthodox man today who fasts every day the week before YK for a few hours to get his body used to hunger. I think he's missing the whole point, but maybe I am missing something here. Anyway - wish you all a good year filled with love and, hopefully, some peace on the horizon. Reply

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