Yom Kippur this year is celebrated on September 16. Unless you’re of the Jewish faith, that may just be a date on your calendar, and you might not know what it is. Or else, you might presume it has something to do with the Yom Kippur War of 1973. This is when Egypt and Syria invaded Israel to regain territory they lost during the Six Day War in June 1967 with Israel. It doesn’t. It was called the Yom Kippur War only because the invasion was launched on this Jewish holiday.
Yom Kippur, also known as the “Day of Atonement,” is likely the most important of any holiday within the Jewish faith. It ends the Jewish New Year which commenced this year on September 7 and is known as Rosh Hashanah. The period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are called “10 Days of Awe.” This is a time for introspection and repentance. As per the History.com website, “According to tradition, it is on Yom Kippur that God decides each person’s fate, so Jews are encouraged to make amends and ask forgiveness for sins committed during the past year.”
Jewish holidays fall according to the Gregorian calendar. That means Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur could fall either in September or October which is “the month of Tishrei” in that calendar. Together they are known as Judaism’s “High Holy Days.” Yom Kippur is observed with special religious services and involves fasting for 25-hours. This year that means from sundown on Wednesday September 15 until the evening of September 16. According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, at sundown, the “soul is afflicted” by 25 hours of fasting – no drinking or eating. Fasting enables followers to stop their normal routine to refocus their attention to prayer and connecting spiritually with God.”
Also, according to the Almanac, there are many other traditions associated with Yom Kippur. For example, during synagogue services, readings from a special prayerbook, are recited. This book is called Machzor. In the morning service, Deuteronomy passages are read, and in the afternoon, “a selection from Leviticus and Genesis are read.” Those in attendance at these services are encouraged to live holy lives, reminded to love others, and bring me closer to God. A single, long blowing note from a Shofar (Ram’s Horn), ends the Holy Day of service and fasting.
Another tradition is for all to wear clothing that is white on this day. The Kittel, a white, robe-like garment, is often worn by men. “It is said to resemble angels, the high priest’s garment, and burial shroud. White reminds those attending services that they are to be like angels, praising God” according to the Almanac. White is also a color that symbolizes “the forgiveness and spiritual cleansing they’re praying for, and that life on earth is temporal.” The hope is that God will forgive them their sins as God forgave “the children of Israel for their sin of idolatry during the days of Moses.”
Those days of Moses is where Yom Kippur had its origin. As described on the History.com website, “According to tradition, the first Yom Kippur took place after the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt and arrival at Mount Sinai, where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments.” When Moses came down with the sacred tablets, he caught his people at worship around a “golden calf.” In his anger he threw down the tablets shattering them.
Having “atoned for their idolatry” God forgave the Israelites for their sins and offered Moses a second set of tablets. This second set then was placed in the “Ark of the Covenant” along with Aaron’s rod and a pot of manna. According to Wikipedia.com, this “Ark was carried by the Israelites during their 40 years of wandering in the desert. Whenever the Israelites camped, the Ark was placed in a separate room in a sacred tent, called the Tabernacle.”
The traditional greeting for Yom Kippur is either “G’mar Hatima Tova” or “G’mar Tov” which translates to “May you be sealed in the Book of Life.” Another customary saying would be “have a meaningful fast” before the holiday begins. For our observant Jewish faithful, as you return home from your “Day of Atonement” and Yom Kippur services, may you enjoy the breaking of your fasts with your traditional breakfast type comfort foods such as blintzes, lox, noodle pudding and other baked goods. Next year Yom Kippur falls on October 5.