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Yom Kippur (Hebrew:יוֹם כִּפּוּר , IPA: also known in English as the Day of Atonement, is the most solemn of the Jewish Holidays. Its central themes are atonement and repentance. Jews have traditionally observed this holiday with a 25-hour period of fasting and intensive prayer.




Yom Kippur is the climax of the Yamim Noraim ("Days of Awe"), and with Rosh Hashanah forms the Jewish High Holy Days. The date is chosen based on Leviticus 23:27 which decrees a strict prohibition of work and affliction of the soul upon the tenth day of the seventh month, later known as Tishrei.
Yom Kippur Starts (at sundown) Ends (at night)
5768 2007-09-21 2007-09-22
5769 2008-10-08 2008-10-09
5770 2009-09-27 2009-09-28
5771 2010-09-17 2010-09-18


General observances

Five prohibitions are traditionally observed, as detailed in the Jewish oral tradition (Mishnah tractate Yoma 8:1):

1. Eating and drinking
2. Wearing leather shoes
3. Bathing/washing
4. Anointing oneself with perfumes or lotions
5. Marital relations

Total abstention from food and drink usually begins 30 minutes before sundown (called tosefet Yom Kippur lit. Addition to Yom Kippur ), and ends after nightfall the following day. Although the fast is required of all healthy adults it is waived in the case of certain medical conditions. Virtually all Jewish holidays involve a ritual feast, but since Yom Kippur involves fasting, Jewish law requires one to eat a large and festive meal on the afternoon before Yom Kippur, after the mincha prayer. Wearing white clothing is traditional to symbolize one's purity on this day. Many Orthodox men immerses themselves in a mikvah on the day before Yom Kippur.

Eve of Yom Kippur

See also: Kol Nidre

Erev Yom Kippur ( lit. yom kippur eve) is the day before the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement. It falls on the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei. The day is commemorated with a festive meal, giving of charity, and visiting others to seek or give forgiveness.

Before sunset on the eve of Yom Kippur ("Day of Atonement"), the congregation gathers in the synagogue. The Ark is opened and two people take from it two Torah scrolls. Then they take their places, one on each side of the cantor, and the three recite:

In the tribunal of Heaven and the tribunal of earth, by the permission of God praised be He and by the permission of this holy congregation, we hold it lawful to pray with transgressors."

The cantor then chants the Kol Nidre prayer (Hebrew: כל נדרי) in Aramaic, not Hebrew. Its name is taken from the opening words, meaning "All vows":

All personal vows we are likely to make, all personal oaths and pledges we are likely to take between this Yom Kippur and the next Yom Kippur, we publicly renounce. Let them all be relinquished and abandoned, null and void, neither firm nor established. Let our personal vows, pledges and oaths be considered neither vows nor pledges nor oaths.[1]

The leader and the congregation then say together three times "May all the people of Israel be forgiven, including all the strangers who live in their midst, for all the people are in fault." The Torah scrolls are then replaced, and the customary evening service begins.

Prayer services

Many married men wear a kittel, a white robe-like garment for evening prayers on Yom Kippur. They also wear a tallis, the only evening service of the year in which this is done. Prayer services begin with the prayer known as "Kol Nidre," which must be recited before sunset, and follows with the evening prayers (ma'ariv or arvith), which includes an extended Selichot service.

The morning prayer service is preceded by litanies and petitions of forgiveness called selichot; on Yom Kippur, many selichot are woven into the liturgy. The morning prayers are followed by an added prayer (musaf) as on all other holidays. It is followed by mincha (the afternoon prayer) which includes a reading (Haftarah) of the Book of Jonah. This is due to its story of God's willingness to forgive those who repent. The service concludes with the ne'ilah prayer, a prayer specifically for Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur comes to an end with a recitation of Shema Yisrael and the blowing of the shofar, which marks the conclusion of the fast.
This article is part of the
Repentance in Judaism
Confession in Judaism
Atonement in Judaism
Jewish services
Ten Days of Repentance
Yom Kippur
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The Avodah: Remembering the Temple service

A recitation of the sacrificial service of the Temple in Jerusalem traditionally features prominently in both the liturgy and the religious thought of the holiday. Specifically, the Avodah ("service") in the musaf prayer recounts the sacrificial ceremonies in great detail.

This traditional prominence is rooted in the Babylonian Talmud's description of how to attain atonement following the destruction of the Temple. According to Talmud tractate Yoma, in the absence of a Temple, Jews are obligated to study the High Priest's ritual on Yom Kippur, and this study helps achieve atonement for those who are unable to benefit from its actual performance. In Orthodox Judaism, accordingly, studying the Temple ritual on Yom Kippur represents a positive rabbinically-ordained obligation which Jews seeking atonement are required to fulfill.

In Orthodox, most Conservative, and some progressive[2] synagogues a detailed description of the Temple ritual is recited on the day. In most Orthodox and some Conservative synagogues, the entire congregation prostrates themselves at each point in the recitation where the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) would pronounce the Tetragrammaton (God's holiest name, according to Judaism).

The main section of the Avodah is a threefold recitation of the High Priest's actions regarding expiation in the Holy of Holies. Performing the sacrificial acts and reciting Leviticus 16:30, "for on this day atonement shall be made for you, to atone for you for all your sins, before God..." (he would recite the Tetragrammaton at this point, to which the people would prostrate to the ground) and after extending the Name, he would finish the verse "...you shall be purified." He would first ask for forgiveness for himself and his family ("Your pious man"), then for the priestly caste ("Your holy people"), and finally for all of Israel ("Your upright children"). (These three times, plus in some congregations the Alenu prayer during the Musaf Amidah on Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, are the only times in Jewish services when Jews engage in complete full-body prostration, with the exception of some Yemenite Jews and talmedhei haRambam who may prostrate themselves on other occasions during the year). A variety of liturgical poems are added, including a poem recounting the radiance of the countenance of the Kohen Gadol after exiting the Holy of Holies, traditionally believed to emit palpable light in a manner echoing the Bible's account of the countenance of Moses after descending from Mount Sinai, as well as prayers for the speedy rebuilding of the Temple and the restoration of sacrificial worship. There are a variety of other customs, such as hand gestures to mime the sprinkling of blood (one sprinkling upwards and seven downwards per set of eight).

Orthodox liturgies include prayers lamenting the inability to perform the Temple service and petitioning for its restoration, which Conservative synagogues generally omit. In some Conservative synagogues, only the Hazzan engages in full prostration. Some Conservative synagogues abridge the recitation of the Avodah service to varying degrees, and some omit it entirely. Many Reform and Reconstructionist services omit the entire service as inconsistent with modern sensibilities.

Observance among secular Jews

Yom Kippur is considered one of the holiest of Jewish holidays, and its observance is held even among the majority of secular Jews who may not strictly observe other holidays. Many secular Jews will fast and attend synagogue on Yom Kippur, where the number of worshippers attending is often double or triple the normal attendance.

Yom Kippur in Israel

By law, there are no radio or television broadcasts on Yom Kippur, airports are shut down, there is no public transportation, and all shops and businesses are closed.[3] In 1973, an air raid siren was sounded on the afternoon of Yom Kippur and radio broadcasts were resumed to alert the public to the surprise attack that launched the Yom Kippur War.
"Festival of Bicycles"
"Festival of Bicycles"

Beyond state-enforced restrictions, it is considered bad form to eat in public on Yom Kippur or drive a motor vehicle. Allowance is only made for ambulances and emergency vehicles. Over the last few decades, bicycle-riding on the empty streets has become a new "tradition" among secular Israeli youngsters, especially on the eve of Yom Kippur.[4] In consequence, Yom Kippur is jocularly referred to as the "Festival of Bicycles." [5] Bicycle sales rise in the weeks before Yom Kippur, and companies have taken to advertising children's bicycles as "Yom Kippur specials."

Religious themes
This short section requires expansion.

The central themes of atonement and repentance. Repentence includes both sins against God and one's fellow man.

Yom Kippur in the Bible

The Torah calls the day Yom HaKippurim (יוֹם הַכִּפּוּרִים) and in Leviticus 23:27 decrees a strict prohibition of work and affliction of the soul upon the tenth day of the seventh month, later known as Tishrei. The rites for Yom Kippur are set forth in the sixteenth chapter of Leviticus (cf. Exodus 30:10; Leviticus 23:27-31, 25:9; Numbers 29:7-11). It is described as a solemn fast, on which no food or drink could be consumed, and on which all work is forbidden.

Midrashic interpretation

The midrashim described in this section need sources cited from Midrashic literature

Traditionally, Yom Kippur is considered the date on which Moses received the second set of Ten Commandments. It occurred following the completion of the second 40 days of instructions from God. At this same time, the Israelites were granted atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf, hence its designation as the Day of Atonement.[6]

View of contemporary Biblical scholarship

According to textual scholars, the biblical regulations covering Yom Kippur are spliced together from multiple source texts,[7][8] as indicated by evidence such as with the duplication of the confession over the bullock,[9] and the incongruity in one verse stating that the high priest shouldn't enter the Holy of Holies (with the inference that there are exceptions for certain explicitly identified festivals),[10] and the next verse indicating that they can enter whenever they wish (as long as a specific ritual is carried out first).[11] Although Rashi tried to find a harmonistic explanation for this incongruity, the Leviticus Rabbah maintains that it was indeed the case that the high priest could enter at any time if these rituals were carried out.[12] Textual scholars argue that the ritual is composed from three sources, and a couple of redactional additions[13][14]:

* prerequisite rituals before the high priest can enter the Holy of Holies (on any occasion), namely a sin offering and a whole offering, followed by the filling of the Holy of Holies with a cloud of incense while wearing linen garments[15]
* regulations which establish an annual day of fasting and rest, during which the sanctuary and people are purified, without stating the ritual for doing so[16]; this regulation is very similar to the one in the Holiness Code[17]
* later elaborations of the ceremony,[18] which include the sprinkling of the blood on the mercy seat, and the use of a scapegoat sent to Azazel; the same source also being responsible for small alterations to related regulations[19]
* the redactional additions[20]

According to biblical scholars, the original ceremony was simply the ritual purification of the sanctuary from any accidental ritual impurity, at the start of each new year, as seen in the Book of Ezekiel,[21] which textual scholars date to before the priestly source, but after JE.[22][23] According to the Book of Ezekiel, the sanctuary was to be cleansed by the sprinkling of bullock's blood, on the first day of the first and of the seventh months[24] - near the start of the Civil year and of the Ecclesiastical year, respectively; although the masoretic text of the Book of Ezekiel has the second of these cleansings on the seventh of the first month, biblical scholars regard the Septuagint, which has the second cleaning as being the first of the seventh month, as being more accurate here.[25] It appears that during the period that the Holiness Code and the Book of Ezekiel were written, the new year began on the tenth day of the seventh month,[26][27] and thus biblical scholars believe that by the time the Priestly Code was compiled, the date of the new year and of the day of atonement had swapped around.[28]

Yom Kippur in Mishnaic and Talmudic Literature

The Temple service

The following summary of the Temple service is based on the traditional Jewish religious account described in Mishnah tractate Yoma, appearing in contemporary traditional Jewish prayerbooks for Yom Kippur, and studied as part of a traditional Jewish Yom Kippur worship service. [29]

While the Temple was standing in Jerusalem (from Biblical times through 70 C.E.), the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) performed a complex set of special services and sacrifices for Yom Kippur. These services were considered to be the most important parts of Yom Kippur, as through them the Kohen Gadol made atonement for all Jews in the world. During the service, the Kohen Gadol entered the Holy of Holies in the center of the Temple, the only time of the year that anyone went inside. Doing so required special purification and preparation, including five immersions in a mikvah (ritual bath), and four changes of clothing.

Seven days prior to Yom Kippur, the Kohen Gadol was sequestered in the Parhedrin chamber in the Temple, where he reviewed the service with the Temple sages, and was sprinkled with spring water containing ashes of the Red Heifer as purification. The Talmud (Tractate Yoma) also reports that he practiced the incense offering ritual in the Avitnas chamber.

On the day of Yom Kippur, the Kohen Gadol had to follow a precise order of services, sacrifices, and purifications:
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* Morning (Tamid) Offering The Kohen Gadol first performed the regular daily (Tamid) offering - usually performed by ordinary priests - in special golden garments, after immersing in a mikvah and washing his hands and feet.
* Garment Change 1 The Kohen Gadol immersed in a special mikvah in the Temple courtyard and changed into special linen garments, and washed his hands and feet twice, once after removing the golden garments and once before putting on the linen garments.
* Lottery of the goats At the Eastern (Nikanor) gate, the Kohen Gadol drew lots from a lottery box over two goats. One was selected "for the Lord," and one "for Azazzel." The Kohen Gadol tied a red band to the goat "for Azazzel."
* Bull as Personal Sin-Offering The Kohen Gadol leaned (performed Semikha) and made a confession over the goat on behalf of himself and his household, pronouncing the Tetragrammaton. The people prostrated themselves when they heard. He then slaughtered the bull as a chatat (sin-offering) and received its blood in a bowl.
* Incense Preparation The Kohen Gadol ascended the mizbeach (altar) and took a shovel full of embers with a special shovel. He was brought incense. He filled his hands and placed it in a vessel. (The Talmud considered this the most physically difficult part of the service, as the Kohen Gadol had to keep the shovelful of glowing coals balanced and prevent its contents from dropping, using his armpit or teeth, while filling his hands with the incense).
* Incense Offering Holding the shovel and the vessel, he entered the Kadosh Hakadashim, the Temple's Holy of Holies. In the days of the First Temple, he placed the shovel between the poles of the Ark of the Covenant. In the days of the Second Temple, he put the shovel where the Ark would have been. He waited until the chamber filled with smoke and left.
* Sprinkling of Blood in the Holy of Holies The Kohen Gadol took the bowl with the bull's blood and entered the Most Holy Place again. He sprinkled the bull's blood with his finger eight times, before the Ark in the days of the First Temple, where it would have been in the days of the Second. The Kohen Gadol then left the Holy of Holies, putting the bowl on a stand in front of the Parochet (curtain separating the Holy from the Holy of Holies).
* Goat for the Lord as Sin-Offering for Kohanim The Kohen Gadol went to the eastern end of the Israelite courtyard near the Nikanor Gate, laid his hands (semikha) on the goat "for the Lord," and pronounced confession on behalf of the Kohanim (priests). The people prostrated themselves when he pronounced the Tetragrammaton. He then slaughtered the goat, and received its blood in another bowl.
* Sprinkling of blood in the Holy Standing in the Hekhal (Holy), on the other side of the Parochet from the Holy of Holies, the Kohen Gadol took the bull's blood from the stand and sprinkled it with his finger eight times in the direction of the Parochet. He then took the bowl with the goat's blood and sprinkled it eight times in the same manner, putting it back on the stand.
* Smearing of blood on the Golden (Incense) Altar The Kohen Gadol removed the goat's blood from the stand and mixed it with the bull's blood. Starting at the northeast corner, he then smeared the mixture of blood on each of the four corners of the Golden (Incense) altar in the Haichal. He then sprinkled the blood eight times on the altar.
* Goat for Azazzel The Kohen Gadol left the Haichal and walked to the east side of the Azarah (Israelite courtyard). Near the Nikanor Gate, he leaned his hands (Semikha) on the goat "for Azazel" and confessed the sins of the entire people of Israel. The people prostrated themselves when he pronounced the Tetragrammaton. While he made a general confession, individuals in the crowd at the Temple would confess privately. The Kohen Gadol then sent the goat off "to the wilderness." In practice, to prevent its return to human habitation, the goat was led to a cliff outside Jerusalem and pushed off its edge.
* Preparation of sacrificial animals While the goat "for Azazzel" was being led to the cliff, the Kohen Gadol removed the insides of the bull, and intertwined the bodies of the bull and goat. Other people took the bodies to the Beit HaDeshen (place of the ashes). They were burned there after it was confirmed that the goat "for Azazzel" had reached the wilderness.
* Reading the Torah After it was confirmed that the goat "for Azazzel" had been pushed off the cliff, the Kohen Gadol passed through the Nikanor Gate into the Ezrat Nashim (Women's Courtyard) and read sections of the Torah describing Yom Kippur and its sacrifices.
* Garment change 2 The Kohen Gadol removed his linen garments, immersed in the mikvah in the Temple courtyard, and changed into a second set of special golden garments. He washed his hands and feet both before removing the linen garments and after putting on the golden ones.
* Offering of Rams The Kohen Gadol offered two rams as an olah offering, slaughtering them on the north side of the mizbeach (outer altar), receiving their blood in a bowl, carrying the bowl to the outer altar, and dashing the blood on the northeast and southwest corners of the Outer Altar. He dismembered the rams and burned the parts entirely on the outer altar. He then offered the accompanying mincha (grain) offerings and nesachim (wine-libations).
* Musaf Offering The Kohen Gadol then offered the Musaf offering.
* Burning of Innards The Kohen Gadol placed the insides of the bull and goat on the outer altar and burned them entirely.
* *Garment change 3 The Kohen Gadol removed his golden garments, immersed in the mikvah, and changed to a new set of linen garments, again washing his hands and feet twice.
* Removal of Incense from the Holy of Holies The Kohen Gadol returned to the Holy of Holies and removed the bowl of incense and the shovel.
* Garment Change 4 The Kohen Gadol removed his linen garments, immersed in the mikvah, and changed into a third set of golden garments, again washing his hands and feet twice.
* Evening (Tamid) Offering The Kohen Gadol completed the afternoon portion of the regular (tamid) daily offering in the special golden garments. He washed his hands and feet a tenth time.

The Kohen Gadol wore five sets of garments (three golden and two white linen), immersed in the mikvah five times, and washed his hands and feet ten times. Sacrifices included two (daily) lambs, one bull, two goats, and two rams, with accompanying mincha (meal) offerings, wine libations, and three incense offerings (the regular two daily and an additional one for Yom Kippur). The Kohen Gadol entered the Holy of Holies three times. The Tetragrammaton was pronounced three times, once for each confession.[30]

Yom Kippur and other religions

Christians and Yom Kippur

Main article: Day of Atonement (Christian holiday)

In Christianity the phrase Day of Atonement is usually taken to refer to a more singular eschatological event also known as Judgment Day, and most Christians ignore Yom Kippur as they do not consider it to be part of the New Covenant. However, many Christian theologians and scholars acknowledge that there is a strong connection between the two days; for example, one Christian theologian argues that Yom Kippur is the foreshadowing pre-text of Christ's future judgment of mankind.[31]

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Fast Day of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross is observed on September 14 in the Julian Calendar, roughly coinciding with Yom Kippur (which oscillates with respect to the Julian and Gregorian Calendars). One Orthodox priest Rev. Patrick Reardon argues that it is obviously derived from Yom Kippur, and that everyone realizes this.[32] The Amish Christians also observe a Fast Day on October 11 in the Gregorian Calendar, which similarly coincides roughly with Yom Kippur.[33]

However, Yom Kippur is most comparative with the Christian holy day of Good Friday. As Yom Kippur is seen as the day for atonement of sins, so is Good Friday depicted as the event which Christ granted humanity atonement through his blood.

Muslim connection

According to Sunni tradition, Muhammad observed the Day of Ashura fast in Mecca, as did the local population where it was a common practice from pre-Muslim times. When Muhammad led his followers to Medina, he found the Jews of that area fasting on the day of Ashura - or Yom Kippur. At this juncture, the fast of that day became recommended for the Muslims.

The Ashura is commemorated for the following occasions which Muslims believe happened on the 10th Day of Muharram:

* The deliverance of Noah from the flood
* Abraham was saved from Nimrod's fire
* Jacob's blindness was healed and he was brought to Joseph on this day
* Job was healed from his illness
* Moses was saved from the impeding Pharaoh's army

In the Shia tradition it is also the anniversary of the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali, Muhammed's grandson, whom Shia consider to be his rightful heir.

However, numerous Sunni traditions in Sahih Muslim and Sahih Bukhari confirm that fasting on Ashura was abandoned by Muhammad when the fasting of Ramadan was mandated. Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, in his commentary on Bukhari's collection, says that the obligatoriness of the fast was superseded by fasting in Ramadan, a year after his migration to Medina. Today, Sunnis regard fasting on the 10th of Muharram as recommended, though not obligatory. Conversely, Shias regard fasting on that day as undesirable though not strictly forbidden.

Ashura and Yom Kippur no longer generally coincide, since the Quran prohibited intercalation into the lunar calendar,[34] resulting in the gradual shift of the start of the 354 day Islamic year with respect to the solar year, while the Hebrew Calendar retains intercalation.


1. ^ Translation of Philip Birnbaum, from High Holyday Prayer Book, Hebrew Publishing Company, NY, 1951
2. ^ An abbreviated version of the Seder Avodah is used in Yom Kippur services at the Hebrew Union College Jerusalem campus
3. ^ "Sounds of The City", article from Israel Insider, October 14, 2005
4. ^ Yom Kippur: Nearly 2,000 injured. Ynetnews (2006). Retrieved on 2006-10-02.
5. ^ See for instance uses at [1], [2]
6. ^ Spiro, Rabbi Ken. Crash Course in Jewish History Part 12 - The Golden Calf. Aish HaTorah. accessed April 29, 2007
7. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia
8. ^ Cheyne and Black, Encyclopedia Biblica
9. ^ Leviticus 16:6 and Leviticus 16:6
10. ^ Leviticus 16:2
11. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia
12. ^ Leviticus Rabbah 21
13. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia
14. ^ Cheyne and Black, Encyclopedia Biblica
15. ^ Leviticus 16:1, 16:3-4, 16:12-13, 16:34 (b)
16. ^ Leviticus 16:29-34 (a)
17. ^ Leviticus 23:27-31
18. ^ Leviticus 16:5, 16:7-10, 16:14-28
19. ^ Exodus 30:10, Leviticus 25:9
20. ^ Leviticus 16:2, 16:6, 16:11
21. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia, Day of Atonement
22. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia, Priestly Source
23. ^ Richard Elliott Friedman, Who wrote the Bible
24. ^ Ezekiel 45:18-20
25. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia, Day of Atonement
26. ^ Leviticus 25:9
27. ^ Ezekiel 40:1
28. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia
29. ^ Arnold Lustiger, Michael Taubes, Menachem Genach, and Hershel Schacter, Kasirer Edition Yom Kippur Machzor With Commentary Adapted from the Teachings of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. New York: K'hal Publishing, 2006. pp. 588-589 (summary); 590-618.
30. ^ Arnold Lustiger, Michael Taubes, Menachem Genach, and Hershel Schacter, Kasirer Edition Yom Kippur Machzor With Commentary Adapted from the Teachings of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. New York: K'hal Publishing, 2006 pp. 588-589 (summary); 590-618.
31. ^ Sausa, Diego D. Kippur - the Final Judgment: Apocalyptic Secrets of the Hebrew Sanctuary, Fort Myers, FL: The Vision Press, 2006. ISBN 0-9788346-1-5.
32. ^ http://www.ancientfaithradio.com/specials/allsaints/
33. ^ http://www.dutchcrafters.com/aboutamish.aspx
34. ^ Qu'ran 9:36

* Talmud Bavli, The Schottenstein Edition of the Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Yoma, Volume I. Mesorah Publications Ltd. ISBN 0-89906-719-0
* Talmud Bavli, The Schottenstein Edition of the Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Yoma, Volume II. Mesorah Publications Ltd. ISBN 1-57819-001-0

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