Know Your Neighbour: Yom Kippur

Know Your Neighbour: Yom Kippur

This week sees a bumper edition of our Know Your Neighbour series as three major faith festivals take place in four days. Both Eid-al-Adha and Yom Kippur are taking place on 23rd September before Sukkot starts on 27th September.

This Know Your Neighbour blog will be focusing on Yom Kippur.

What is Yom Kippur?

Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement for the Jewish faith and is the holiest and most solemn day in the Jewish calendar.

When is Yom Kippur?

Yom Kippur follows on from the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, bringing an end to the Days of Repentance.

This year, Yom Kippur will be celebrated on 23rd September.

Why is Yom Kippur commemorated?

On Yom Kippur, God makes the final decision on what the next year will be like for each person.

The Book of Life is closed and sealed, and those who have properly repented for their sins will be granted a happy New Year.

This originates from Leviticus 23 vs26-28:

“The Lord said to Moses, "The tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement.

Hold a sacred assembly and deny yourselves, and present an offering made to the LORD by fire.

Do no work on that day, because it is the Day of Atonement, when atonement is made for you before the LORD your God."

How is Yom Kippur commemorated?

For Yom Kippur Jews will abstain from food and drink for 25 hours, they will not wear perfume, they won’t have sex, they won’t wash, and they won’t wear leather shoes.

The most important part of Yom Kippur is to attend the synagogue. Yom Kippur is the only day of the year when five services will take place.The first service will take place in the evening and begins with the Kol Nidre prayer.

Kol Nidre's words and music have a transforming effect on every Jew—it's probably the most powerful single item in the Jewish liturgy. The purpose of Kol Nidre the annulment of all vows and promises made in the previous year; it is essentially a legal declaration made to the "Court on High" (God) and to the Bet Din.

The book of Jonah is read during the afternoon service as an example of repentance that could be followed by the community (as Jonah returned to God even though he turned away so dramatically, repentance is equally open to anyone). For Jews, reading the book of Jonah is one of the more familiar and well known parts of the Yom Kippur service. 

Another element in the liturgy for Yom Kippur is the confession of sins (vidui). Sins are confessed aloud by the congregation and in the plural.

The fifth service is "Neilah", and brings the day to a close as God's judgement is finally sealed.

The service beseeches God to hear the prayers of the community. For this service the whole congregation stands throughout, as the doors of the Ark are open.

The focal point for the Yom Kippur daytime prayers is the “Additional Service” in the early afternoon which more than any other service in the Jewish calendar imitates the ancient Temple services, explaining what would have gone on during Yom Kippur in Temple times, recounting the Sin offering made by the High Priest using God’s Name directly and is the only service (other than Rosh Hashanah in some communities) that prostration happens widely in the synagogue, in awe at the recitation of this Name.

Author: Mr Tim Burton-Jones

Date: 18 September 2015