Yom Kippur: Jews gather for ‘holiest day,’ the Day of Atonement

Black-and-white drawing of soldiers gathered in room around man speaking

A Kol Nidre service for Jewish soldiers during the Franco-German War, depicted by Hermann Junker. Photo by Center for Jewish History, NYC, courtesy of Flickr

SUNSET TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 18: The high hopes and sweetness of Rosh Hashanah have passed, and Jewish families move to the solemn observance of what often is called the holiest day in the calendar: Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. Most Jews aged 13 and older try to complete a 25-hour fast with nothing passing the lips—no liquids or foods of any kind. That extreme fast deepens each individual’s spiritual reflections and makes everyone across the community share in completing a difficult tradition.

Old manuscript of Jewish prayer

The Kol Nidrei prayer of Yom Kippur. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Between the two major holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur—a period sometimes called the Days of Awe—Jews reflect on the past year and make amends for their failings. They look toward the balance of the new year 5779 (which is only 10 days old on Yom Kippur) and pray that God will renew their spirits and guide them in good ways.

YOM KIPPUR: THE HOLIEST DAY

Visit any Jewish house of worship and you will see ways that the main seating area can be expanded on special occasions. On Yom Kippur, the main holiday when all partitions separating rooms are removed, overflow seating sometimes is added in other parts of the building and everyone in the Jewish community shows up for at least part of the long series of services.

Services open with Kol Nidre, now widely regarded as a deeply emotional moment when the larger Jewish community gathers, amends are made, and the community symbolically opens itself to regular members as well as others who rarely attend services. There is a long and complex history to the traditions of Kol Nidre, but overall, it represents a fresh resetting of commitments and promises within the community.

The rest of the Yom Kippur litugy also has beautiful moments that encourage repentance, recommitment to the faith’s ideals and remembrance of the core story that has led the Jewish people through thousands of years of challenges. Rabbis typically spend a great deal of time preparing their Yom Kippur sermons, recognizing that they are preaching to many men and women who only hear them on Yom Kippur.

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Yom Kippur: Jews fast, repent, end High Holidays on holiest day of the year

Kol Nidre, or All Vows, composed by Max Bruch, performed by Pablo Casals and remixed with artwork edited by Leo Bar for Pix in Motion. Fonts are from a 19th-century Jewish prayer book. You also can view this video on Vimeo.

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SUNSET FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 29: From the sweet wishes of Rosh Hashanah and through the High Holidays, Jews arrive tonight at what is often referred to as the holiest day of the year: Yom Kippur.

YOM KIPPUR AROUND THE WORLD: Wherever they find themselves, Jews fast and gather at Yom Kippur for traditional prayers. This photo shows U.S. Navy Lt. Yonina Creditor, originally from Virginia, leading Yom Kippur services aboard the aircraft carrier USS George Washington. U.S. Navy photo by William Pittman released for public use.

A solemn observance, Yom Kippur (also called the Day of Atonement) is believed to be the final opportunity to make amends before one’s fate is sealed for the coming year.

Did you know? Throughout history, when Jews were forced to publicly convert to another religion, the Yom Kippur Kol Nidre service would annul those vows.

For 25 hours–this year, from sunset on September 29, the official start of Yom Kippur–Jews uphold a strict fast. Intense prayer accompanies the fasting, and many Jews spend hours repenting. Having asked forgiveness from others and made amends in the days preceding Yom Kippur, Jews ask forgiveness from God on Yom Kippur. Kol Nidre, or “All Vows,” gathers the larger Jewish community and begins Yom Kippur evening services; Ne’ilah, a service during which the Torah ark remains open and the congregation stands, is the final plea to God for forgiveness. A blast from the shofar follows the final prayers.

Why is Kol Nidre so significant? Kol Nidre is a deeply emotional experience for many Jews. At the start of Yom Kippur, amends are made and the community symbolically opens itself to regular members as well as others who rarely attend services. There is a long and complex history to the traditions of Kol Nidre—and there are many examples in Jewish fiction of moving scenes set at Kol Nidre. Overall, Kol Nidre represents a fresh resetting of commitments and promises within the community.

YOM KIPPUR: A PACKED SYNAGOGUE

Visit any Jewish house of worship and you will see ways that the main seating area can be expanded on special occasions; Yom Kippur is the main holiday when all the partitions separating rooms are removed, overflow seating sometimes is added in other parts of the building and the majority of the Jewish community shows up for at least part of the long series of services.

Although Yom Kippur is a solemn day, it is also one of celebration: Celebration of the anniversary of God forgiving the Jewish people for worshipping the golden calf. According to Jewish scholar and ReadTheSpirit contributing writer, Joe Lewis:

By traditional calculation, Moses brought the second tablets to the people on Yom Kippur. God’s nature is revealed to Moses as a God of mercy and compassion, patience and kindness (Ex. 34:6), and this idea is central to the liturgy of the day. We end the day with a blast on the shofar, eat our fill, and make plans for the festival of Sukkot (Tabernacles), which is only five days away.

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Categories: Jewish

Yom Kippur: Jews fast 25 hours, wrap up High Holidays on Day of Atonement

Fast blessings with empty bones in back

Photo by Paul Jacobson, courtesy of Flickr

SUNSET TUESDAY, OCTOBER 11: From the sweetness and high hopes of Rosh Hashanah, Jewish families move to the solemn observance of what often is called the holiest day in the calendar: Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. Between these two major holidays, a period sometimes called the Days of Awe, Jews reflect on the past year and make amends. They look toward the balance of the new year, which is only 10 days old on Yom Kippur, and pray that God will renew their spirits and guide them in good ways. On Yom Kippur, most Jews 13 and older try to complete a daunting 25-hour fast with nothing passing the lips—no liquids or foods—in order to deepen their relationship with G_d.

YOM KIPPUR: HIGH ATTENDANCE

Visit any Jewish house of worship and you will see ways that the main seating area can be expanded on special occasions; Yom Kippur is the main holiday when all the partitions separating rooms are removed, overflow seating sometimes is added in other parts of the building and the majority of the Jewish community shows up for at least part of the long series of services.

Front coer of music with man photographed at center

Kol Nidre sheet music. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Services open with Kol Nidre, when the larger Jewish community gathers, amends are made. There is a long and complex history to the traditions of Kol Nidre, though overall, Kol Nidre represents a fresh resetting of commitments and promises within the community.

Did you know? Rabbis typically spend a great deal of time preparing their Yom Kippur sermons, recognizing that they are preaching to some men and women who only hear them on Yom Kippur. Christian clergy face a similar challenge, each year, in preparing their Easter and Christmas Eve sermons.

Although Yom Kippur is a solemn day, it is also one of celebration: Celebration of the anniversary of G_d forgiving the Jewish people for worshipping the golden calf. According to Jewish scholar and ReadTheSpirit contributing writer, Joe Lewis:

By traditional calculation, Moses brought the second tablets to the people on Yom Kippur. God’s nature is revealed to Moses as a God of mercy and compassion, patience and kindness (Ex. 34:6), and this idea is central to the liturgy of the day. We end the day with a blast on the shofar, eat our fill, and make plans for the festival of Sukkot (Tabernacles), which is only five days away.

FEED THE SPIRIT—For Yom Kippur, Bobbie Lewis writes about the nature of the 25-hour fast as it is observed by most Jewish families, and she includes a delicious recipe for salmon, which her family enjoys in preparation for the fast.

For families: Yom Kippur offers a unique opportunity for children to see their parents engaged in serious observance of their religious traditions, and the days leading up to the holiday allow families to examine and discuss their relationships. Families might want to write a themed letter each year; break fast together on Yom Kippur; and engage young members in the Yizkor memorial service, for parents who have passed away.

For non-Jews, 10 basic facts on Rosh Hashanah are provided in an article by the International Business Times.

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Categories: Jewish

September, October and November: Warm up as the season cools down

Autumn_in_Dresden

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SEPTEMBER and OCTOBER and NOVEMBER 2015—The crunch of autumn leaves, the sharp scents of cinnamon and clove and the comfort of steaming soups and drinks usher in the chill of autumn.

Fall officially begins in September with the Autumnal Equinox, when those in the Northern Hemisphere prepare for the darker half of the year and Pagans embrace Mabon, a holiday celebrating the harvest. (You’ll find links to all of our holiday coverage, including a story about the Equinox and Mabon, by visiting www.InterfaithHolidays.com)

Both Jews and Orthodox Christians welcome a New Year in September, with Jews marking Rosh Hashanah and often consuming plenty of honey. But, honey isn’t reserved for Jewish families as September is also National Honey Month.

October brings cooler weather and kicks off with the International Day of Older Persons, perhaps foreshadowing November’s National Family Caregivers Month. The astrological events of equinox are intensified with the end of Daylight Savings Time, in November, as a season of winter holidays approaches—often filled with warm candlelight and abundant feasts. Squashes, pumpkins, cranberries and root vegetables fill tables for Thanksgiving in November (or, for Canadians, in October). November brings Native American Heritage Month in the U.S., and across much of the world, German heritage is highlighted through Oktoberfest, one month earlier.

Box of pumpkins from above

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Get scared silly—or just indulge in treats—on Halloween, an international holiday of spooks and gooks. Many traditions of Halloween are ancient in nature and can be tied to pagan customs, and today, modern Pagans and Wiccans practice Samhain at this time of year. In Mexico, the Day of the Dead honors deceased ancestors in a colorful way, and Christians recall the spirits of saints on All Saints’ Day.

Celebrate friends and bonds with International Women’s Friendship Month in September, and start seeing pink with Breast Cancer Awareness Month, in October. Take the opportunity to attend a play or a musical performance in October, too, as it is National Arts and Humanities Month. Recognize the struggles and successes of gays and lesbians with LGBTQ Month, in October. Hosts for the holidays keep in mind the needs of their guests, and October raises awareness of Celiac Disease. Those who don’t eat meat are remembered during October—Vegetarian Month—and November, Vegan Month.

As the days of November become colder and darker, the winter holiday season begins, with Diwali—the Festival of Lights—in India. Orthodox Christians begin the Nativity Fast in anticipation of Christmas, and for Western Christians, Advent brings the light of the season.

Check out these month-long highlights …

OCTOBER: ST. FRANCIS PET BLESSINGS AND HALLOWEEN

Black cat lying down on white background

Photo by Michele M.F., courtesy of Flickr

Pope Francis visited the U.S. to much acclaim in late September, but it’s his namesake—St. Francis of Assisi—who is recognized as October begins. October 4 brings the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, a saint renowned for his love of animals, ecology and the poor. Pet blessings in Francis’s name have become commonplace at churches worldwide, and as environmental concerns grow deeper, Christians look to him as a Patron Saint of Ecology. Later in the month, Wiccans observe Samhain while Halloween reigns strong in many countries. Whether honoring deceased ancestors or donning costumes, there exists an undeniable link between the ancient pagan customs and today’s Halloween traditions. In Mexico and parts of Latin America, Dia de los Muertos falls during or immediately after Halloween, and is a day to celebrate the dead with food and drinks, parties and joyous remembrances.

NOVEMBER:  THE HOLIDAYS OF LIGHT

As the days become darker and colder in the Northern Hemisphere, a holiday season begins that commemorates light, warmth and goodness. In India, Diwali is one of the largest festivals of the year, also known as the Festival of Lights. Homes are extensively cleaned in preparation for the festival, and lighted lamps (diyas) are lit inside and outside the home. Gifts are exchanged and sweets consumed across India. For Jains, Diwali remembers the attainment of moksha by Mahavira, a Tirthankar, or spiritual exemplar. Across Eastern Orthodox Christianity, the Nativity Fast begins, preparing the faithful for Christ’s birth. In Western Christianity, Advent commences. Candles, lamps and lights are common across several spectrums of holidays, bringing to mind the victory of goodness over evil and light in the darkness.

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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.

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Categories: Jewish

Yom Kippur: Millions of Jews mark the Day of Atonement

Street view of city with roads showing no cars, only a few cyclers, and skyscrapers in the background

The streets of Tel Aviv are almost empty on Yom Kippur, as Jews spend most of the morning and evening in synagogue. Photo by brunswicksquare, courtesy of Flickr

TO INTRODUCE our coverage of Yom Kippur, ReadTheSpirit magazine welcomes back author and Jewish scholar Joe Lewis as well as our regular Holidays columnist Stephanie Fenton. In addition to this column, you’ll enjoy these other stories:

INTRODUCING YOM KIPPUR

By JOE LEWIS

SUNSET FRIDAY, OCTOBER 3: Although it’s a solemn day, Yom Kippur is really a celebration, the anniversary of God forgiving the Jewish people for worshiping a golden calf. By traditional calculation, Moses brought the second tablets to the people on Yom Kippur. God’s nature is revealed to Moses as a God of mercy and compassion, patience and kindness (Ex. 34:6), and this idea is central to the liturgy of the day.

The Torah prescribes self-denial for this day, most obviously fasting: Adults who are medically able will abstain from food and drink for about 25 hours, from sundown to sundown.

In the days of the Temple, there was an elaborate sacrificial ceremony during which the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies; confess his sins and those of his family and the whole community; and utter God’s four-letter name. The sacrificial animals included two goats; one was sacrificed and the other released (the original “scapegoat,”) to bear the community’s sins into the wilds. The mystery of the purpose and efficacy of this sacrifice prompt us to study its details in our prayer service. Without the Temple, all of this is denied us, and we ache with sorrow for our loss and lovingly recall the ancient ritual.

Relying on an interpretation of Hosea 14:2 that prayer replaces the sacrificial system, our liturgy is extensive and includes soaring poetry and abject confession. Our prayers take up most of the day.

We end the day with a blast on the shofar, eat our fill, and make plans for the festival of Sukkot (Tabernacles), which is only five days away.

LEARN MORE ABOUT THE HOLIDAY

By STEPHANIE FENTON

The High Holidays draw to a close tonight, as Jews embark on a 25-hour fast accompanied by prayers that will draw them close to God: it is Yom Kippur, known also as the Day of Atonement. Arguably the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur beckons even the most nonobservant Jews to the synagogue for earnest prayer and in hopes of forgiveness.

To understand more about this fasting—which is different than most traditional “fasts” in Catholic and Orthodox Christian traditions—read this week’s FeedTheSpirit column by Bobbie Lewis. (She’s Joe Lewis’s wife and a popular writer on many topics, including food.)

For families: Yom Kippur offers a unique opportunity for children to see their parents engaged in serious observance of their religious traditions, and the days leading up to the holiday allow families to examine and discuss their relationships. Families might want to write a themed letter each year; break fast together on Yom Kippur; and engage young members in the Yizkor memorial service, for parents who have passed away. Get more ideas here.

A different menu for Yom Kippur: Interested in what to eat to break the Yom Kippur fast in addition to Bobbie’s suggestions in FeedTheSpirit this week? You might also want to check out this article from the Washington Post, which examines traditions from Sephardic Jews—who dine on warm, sweet drinks, soups and a later meal of heavier curries and meats—to Indian Jews, who adapt dishes from the pies of Diwali.

Sports on Yom Kippur? Is one allowed to watch televised sports during the time of “afternoon nap” on Yom Kippur? This article contemplates that question.

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Categories: Jewish