Yom Kippur is considered to be the most holy day of the year by the Jews and in Judaism; it is also the Day of Atonement. The main basic themes of this day are repentance and atonement.
It is a tradition among the Jews to observe this religious day by praying intensively and fasting for a period of 25 hours. They even spend this holy day in doing synagogue service.
Etymology of the name-
In Hebrew, Yom means a day and Kippur comes from a word that means to amend or to recompense. The word Kippur is also associated to the name of covering of Ark, as mentioned in the bible, kapporet. In English, The name of this particular day, Yom Kippur, means or translates to the Day of Atonement.
Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah-
In the Judaic calendar, Tishrei is the seventh month of the year and Yom Kippur is the 10th day of that month, whereas the first day of Tishrei is called the Rosh Hashanah. According to the Jewish belief, people ask God for forgiving all the sins they have done in their life on this holy day.
In Judaism, the annual period of Yamim Nora’im, which is known to be the High holy days, is completed by the day of Yom Kippur and is commenced by the day of Rosh Hashanah. The Jews believe that Lord puts down the fate of each and every person for the years to come in a book called the book of life on the day of Rosh Hashanah. After which he waits till the day of Yom Kippur to make the verdict final.
However the Jews try to alter their behavior and amend their wrong doings against their religion or his fellowmen in order to ask for forgiveness of the Lord during the days of Awe. Throughout the day of Yom Kippur, people make private and public petitions and also make confessions of sins and guilt in order to clear out their minds and hope for forgiveness. After this day comes to an end, the Jews hope that all their wrong doings have been forgiven by the God and hopes their sins would be washed away.
The prayer service on Yom Kippur-
The prayer service of this day has certain unique aspects like the number of prayer services. On the regular days, three prayer services called Ma’ariv, Shacharit and Mincha are held in the evening, morning and afternoon respectively. On Yom Tov or Shabbat, four prayer services are held and the additional one is called Mussaf. However on the day of Yom Kippur, five prayer services are held which includes Ma’ariv, Shacharit, Mincha, Mussaf and the closing and additional prayer, Ne’ilah. Vidui is as part of the prayer services in which a person confesses his sins and wrong doings and also includes a special prayer dedicated to the Yom Kippur service of the high priest, known as Kohen Gadol, in Holy Temple of Jerusalem.
Yom Kippur is culturally the most important holiday in Judaism and thus it is observed even by the secular Jews who might not take part in the other Jewish holidays. The Jews attend synagogue on the day of Yom Kippur. Moreover there are several secular Jews who attend the synagogue only during the period of High Holy Days making the number of people attending synagogue to soar high during this time of the year.
The 9th day of the month of Tishrei or the day before the day of Yom Kippur is called Erev Yom Kippur. On this day an additional morning prayer is held. Other practices and rituals like giving charity, asking other people for forgiveness, two meals, extended prayer service in the afternoon and performing the ritual of Kapparot are also carried out on this day. On the day of Yom Kippur the Jews are supposed to alter and change their nature for the better and it is a day of rest for all of them.
The Jews are however prohibited to do certain things on this day. They include eating and drinking, washing and bathing, wearing leather shoes, application of lotions and perfumes and the Jews also have to restrain from marital relation during this day. They believe that these activities are as offensive and punishable as the ones which restrain a person from entering Eden, the garden of heaven, as mentioned in Bible.
If an individual restrains from all these things of temptation, he can return to the purest state. According to Judaism, on refraining oneself from using the things prohibited, a person’s body is bound to feel uncomfortable but will still survive. Soul is the life force of the body and thus by making one’s body uncomfortable he will in turn make his soul uncomfortable and will feel the pain. This pain will make a person realize how others feel and what they go through when they are in pain. This is the very reason behind all these prohibitions and it makes a person learn how to be empathetic towards others feelings.
Restraining oneself from having food and drinks and carrying out other traditions starts at sundown and comes to an end on the following day after nightfall. All physically healthy men over the age of thirteen and women over the age of twelve are supposed to fast however people with severe heath condition doesn’t have to follow this tradition of fasting. It is customary for all the Jews to wear white on this special day as this is the color of purity. Several orthodox Jewish men might also immerse themselves in Mikveh, which is a bath for ritual immersion used in Judaism, on the day preceding Yom Kippur. Judaism says that in order to ask God for forgiveness one must repent, pray passionately and provide charity to the less fortunate.