History of Yom Kippur

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In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and you shall not do any work ... For on that day he shall provide atonement for you to cleanse you from all your sins before the Lord. - Leviticus 16:29-30

Yom Kippur, or the "Day of Atonement", is the most important and sacred of holidays for the Jewish people; it is a day when the Jews consider themselves closest to God. Many secular Jews who don't normally observe other religious holidays will observe the traditions of Yom Kippur. The holiday is observed on the tenth day of Tishri or the seventh month, as detailed in the Leviticus passage. Repentance and reform are the central themes of this day, providing a time each year for one to atone for his or her sins against God.

Erve Yom Kippur ("Eve of Yom Kippur") is celebrated with charitable giving, and the visiting of others to seek forgiveness. In accordance with Jewish law, one has Ten days of Repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to consider the people they have sinned against. At the end of Yom Kippur, one considers one's self absolved by God. The holiday is solemn in nature, but is considered a joyous occasion.

Traditions of Yom Kippur

The Yom Kippur Calendar

Yom Kippur will occur on the following days of the Gregorian calendar:[1]

  • Jewish Year 5770: sunset September 27, 2009 - nightfall September 28, 2009
  • Jewish Year 5771: sunset September 17, 2010 - nightfall September 18, 2010
  • Jewish Year 5772: sunset October 7, 2011 - nightfall October 8, 2011
  • Jewish Year 5773: sunset September 25, 2012 - nightfall September 26, 2012

Festivities begin on the eve of the "Day of Atonement" when girls and their mothers light candles and recite blessings. Leather shoes are exchanged for canvas, plastic or sandals. A ritual feast begins, and includes the asking and giving of honey cakes - in acknowledgement that all Jews are recipients in God's world, and as a prayerful hope for a sweet and abundant year. Often, a ritual bath, called a "Mikvah" is performed. Thirty minutes before sundown, fasting begins. The fast lasts for 25 hours, and is completed at sunset the following day. The restrictions on fasting may only be lifted under concern for health or life. According to Jewish law, children under the age of 9, and women who have given birth within three days prior are exempted from the fast.

Additional and less know restrictions include a complete and total abstinence of the following: lotions or perfumes, bathing and washing, the wearing of leather shoes and sexual relations.

It is customary to wear white on this holiday. The color white symbolizes purity, and is meant to call to mind the promise that sins shall be made as white as snow, as mentioned in Isaiah 1:18.


The Yom Kippur celebration typically begins the night before with the an evening service called Kol nidre meaning "all vows". Most of the next day is spent in synagogue in prayer. Orthodox services can begin as early as 8 or 9 am, and last until 3pm. Evening services begin again at 5 or 6 pm and continue until nightfall. The conclusion is called Ne’ilah, sometimes referred to as the "closing of the gates", and is celebrated with a very long blast of the shofar (a ram's horn used as a wind instrument), singing, dancing, and more feasting.

Jewish Holidays

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References & Resources

  1. Jewfaq.org - Judaism 101 Yom Kippur, MyJewishLearning - Yom Kippur: The Day of Atonement, Chabad.org - Yom Kippur: Yom Kippur in a Nutshell, OU.org - Yom Kippur Central