Yom Kippur: Jews ask forgiveness on Day of Atonement; final High Holidays

Red-draped tall wooden box with Jewish symbols

During the Ne’ilah services of Yom Kippur, the Torah ark is left open. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 22: The High Holidays reach their spiritual peak on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. Often described as the most significant date on the Jewish calendar, Jewish men and women traditionally prepare for Yom Kippur by asking forgiveness of anyone they have wronged in the past year. Then, Yom Kippur usually is spent in synagogue as each person reflects on the past year and prays to reconcile with both G_d and their community.

Fasting from food and drink is undertaken for 25 hours, while the color white is customarily worn to services. The Yom Kippur liturgy continues until nightfall, when services end with a long blast of the shofar.

YOM KIPPUR: KOL NIDRE TO THE ARK

The lengthy services of Yom Kippur use a special prayer book, the machzor, and the opening evening service is known as Kol Nidre, or “all vows.” During this service, the faithful ask G_d to annul personal vows they made during the next year—a great relief in past eras when Jews were forced to convert to other religions. The community asks forgiveness of collective sins, and the final service of Yom Kippur—Ne’ilah—is performed with the ark open. (Learn more from Judaism 101.) During this final service, it is often referenced as a “closing of the gates.”

Did you know? Traditionally, Yom Kippur is considered the date Moses received the second set of Ten Commandments. At this time, the Israelites were granted atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf.

In Israel today, Yom Kippur is a legal holiday. Public transportation, shops and businesses are closed, and there are no radio or television broadcasts. (Wikipedia has details.) Eating in public is strictly avoided on Yom Kippur. In recent years, however, young Israelis have taken to riding bicycles and in-line skating on the eve of Yom Kippur.

NEWS: 50 YEARS AGO …

In 1965, Hall of Fame baseball pitcher Sandy Koufax made the decision not to pitch Game 1 of the 1965 World Series, as it fell on Yom Kippur. The decision made international headlines, creating buzz around the world as the conflicts between American culture and Jewish belief were discussed. Today, JTA reflects on how Koufax’s decision still resonates—and how it impacted Jews for the generations following.