Yom Kippur Guide - 2009
Editor's NoteYom Kippur begins this year on Sunday evening, September 27, 2009, and continues through nightfall of Monday, September 28, 2009. What follows is a how-to guide to the basics of Yom Kippur observance.
Out of respect for the sanctity of the holiday, please print out this holiday guide before the onset of the holiday (sundown Sunday, September 27), and keep handy throughout the holiday for reference purposes. The Chabad.org staff wishes you and yours a happy and healthy New Year, and an easy fast!
How is Yom Kippur Observed?
From that moment on, this date, henceforth known as the Day of Atonement, is annually observed as a commemoration of our special relationship with G‑d, a relationship that is strong enough to survive any rocky bumps it might encounter. This is a day when we connect with the very essence of our being, which remains faithful to G‑d regardless of our outward behavior.
And while it is the most solemn day of the year, we are also joyful, confident that G‑d will forgive our sins and seal our verdict for a year of life, health, and happiness.
For nearly twenty-six hours – from several minutes before sunset on Tishrei 9 until after nightfall on Tishrei 10 – we "afflict our souls": we abstain from food and drink, do not wash or anoint our bodies, do not wear leather footwear, and abstain from spousal intimacy. We are likened to the angels, who have no physical needs. Instead of focusing on the physical, we spend much of our day in the synagogue, engaged in repentance and prayer.
The Day Before Yom Kippur
In between the prayer services and preparing and eating the two meals, there is a lot to squeeze in:
- Yom Kippur erases all the sins we have committed "before G‑d"—but not the sins we may have committed against our fellow man. So we need to approach anyone whom we may have wronged and beg their forgiveness before Yom Kippur. Click here to read more about this.
- All immerse in a mikvah (ritual pool) on the day before Yom Kippur. See here for more information.
- At some point during the day it is customary to ask for and receive lekach (sweet cake). See here for the reasons behind this.
Then we partake of the final meal. One must stop eating prior to candle-lighting time. Immediately before the fast begins, it is customary for parents to bless their children. Click here for more about the final meal and the traditional text for blessing the children.
Then, 18 minutes before sunset, women and girls light candles, and the fast begins. Click here for more details.
Step-by-Step Through Yom Kippur
Before sunset (click here to for exact time in your location), women and girls light holiday candles, and everyone changes into non-leather shoes and holiday finery.
Kol NidreiOn Yom Kippur, the tallit (prayer shawl) is worn for all the prayer services. In preparation for Kol Nidrei, the tallit should preferably be donned before sunset. (If donning the tallit after sunset, the traditional blessing is not recited.)
Ideally, Kol Nidrei should begin shortly before sunset. The Torah scrolls are all removed from the Ark – it is a great mitzvah to purchase the honor of holding the first Torah scroll – and the procession of scrolls moves towards the bimah (reading table) while everyone kisses and embraces the passing Torahs.
After requesting permission, from both the heavenly and earthly courts, to "pray with the transgressors," the cantor begins the Kol Nidrei. He chants the Kol Nidrei three times, each time on a slightly higher octave. The congregation reads along with the cantor, in an undertone.
The Kol Nidrei is followed by a few brief verses and prayers and culminates with the Shehecheyanu blessing, in which we thank G‑d for "granting us life, sustaining us, and allowing us to reach this occasion." This blessing is recited in honor of every holiday, but usually following the night's kiddush. On Yom Kippur, because there is no kiddush, the blessing was incorporated as part of the prayers. Women and girls do not recite this blessing with the congregation—as they have already recited it after lighting the holiday candles.
In most congregations, at this point the rabbi delivers a sermon. In many congregations, this sermon is accompanied by an appeal—for charity has the power to evoke heavenly mercy.
The evening prayer service then commences.
During Yom Kippur, every time we say the second verse of the Shema, the Baruch Shem verse – "Blessed is the Name of the glory of your kingship forever and ever" – it is proclaimed out loud. Throughout the year, this blessing is recited in an undertone, as it was "stolen" from the angels. On Yom Kippur, however, we are likened to angels, so we too, like the angels, can recite it out loud.
The special Yom Kippur Amidah (standing prayer) incorporates a lengthy confession of sins. This confession is recited silently, and with each sin that we confess we lightly knock our chest – the domicile of the heart, the seat of our passions and impulses – with our fist. The confession is later repeated, after the Amidah, together with the entire congregation. This double confession is repeated during all the day's prayers, with the exception of the final Neilah prayer.
The Amidah is followed by liturgy interspersed with the recitation of the verse (Exodus 34:6-7) that alludes to G‑d's Thirteen Attributes of Compassion: "L‑rd, L‑rd, benevolent G‑d, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in kindness and truth; He preserves kindness for two thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin, and He cleanses."
The entire Kol Nidrei and evening service should take approximately two hours.
Many have the custom to recite the entire Book of Psalms after the evening service.
Yom Kippur Morning and Early AfternoonThe joint morning and Musaf service occupies the bulk of the day (approximately 6 hours). The morning service pretty much follows the order of the traditional Shabbat and holiday service. The special Yom Kippur Amidah and confession is recited, followed again by songs and special Yom Kippur liturgy.
Two Torah scrolls are taken from the Ark, and from them we read about the special Yom Kippur service in the Holy Temple—may it soon be rebuilt. The haftorah discusses the concepts of repentance and fasting, the theme du jour of Yom Kippur.
In many communities, the aliyahs – whose supply don't meet the demand, due to the large crowd and the auspiciousness of the day – are auctioned off to the highest bidders, with the monies raised earmarked for a charitable cause.
The Torah reading is followed by the Yizkor service—traditionally preceded by the rabbi's homily. In the Yizkor prayer, we beseech G‑d to kindly remember the souls of our dear departed ones; traditionally, all those who do not recite Yizkor (i.e., those whose parents are both still alive) leave the synagogue for the duration of the brief prayer.
The Yizkor service is followed by the Musaf service. The most prominent feature of this is the Avodah, a rather lengthy and detailed recounting of the Yom Kippur service in the Holy Temple, whose highlight was the High Priest's entry into the Holy of Holies. During the course of the Avodah, on three occasions we relate how the High Priest would pronounce G‑d's ineffable name, and in response the assembled Jews would prostrate themselves on the ground. When reaching these passages, we too prostrate ourselves on our hands and knees.
The Avodah concludes with a series of prayers wherein we beseech G‑d to restore the Temple service with the coming of Moshiach. We also recount the tragic story of the cold-blooded murder of the "Ten Martyrs" by the Roman regime.
Towards the end of the Musaf, the kohanim (priests) administer the Priestly Blessing.
In most synagogues, the Musaf prayer is followed by a break, lasting between one to three hours.
Late AfternoonMinchah, the afternoon prayer, is called for 1-1½ hours before sunset.
The service commences with the Torah reading, which speaks of the purity of Jewish life and warns us not to engage in immoral practices. For the haftorah we read the entire Book of Jonah, which contains a timely message on the importance of repentance and prayer.
The Yom Kippur Amidah is then followed by a few brief prayers. The entire Minchah service lasts approximately one hour.
Now, moments before sunset, in the waning hours of Yom Kippur, we reach the climax of the holiest day of the year, and we recite the Neilah prayer. "Neilah" means locked. The gates of Heaven, which were open all day, will now be closed—with us on the inside. During this prayer we have the ability to access the most essential level of our soul, the level that is in a state of absolute oneness with her creator. The Holy Ark remains open for the duration of the entire prayer.
The Neilah Amidah is somewhat abbreviated—it does not contain the lengthy version of the confession. The Amidah is followed by a selection of prayers and culminates with the cantor emphatically proclaiming the words of the Shema – "Hear, O Israel, the L‑rd is our G‑d, the L‑rd is one!" With intense concentration, the congregation repeats the verse. The cantor than recites the Baruch Shem three times, again followed by the congregation. Finally, with all his night the cantor proclaims seven times, "The L‑rd is G‑d!" and again, the congregation repeats. This is followed by the joyous proclamation, "Next Year in Jerusalem!"
The shofar is then sounded—one triumphant, long blast, signifying the end of the holy day. In Chabad synagogues, the shofar blast is preceded by the euphoric singing of "Napoleon's March." At this point we are ecstatically confident that G‑d has sealed us all for a wonderful year: a year of happiness, prosperity, and health; the year when we will finally experience the long-awaited Redemption.
An Overview of Yom Kippur Laws
Instead of focusing on the physical, the majority of the day is spent in the synagogue, devoted to repentance and prayer.
There are five areas of pleasure that we avoid on Yom Kippur—from sundown on the eve of the holiday until the following nightfall (click here to find out when Yom Kippur starts and ends in your location):
- Eating or drinking.
- Wearing leather footwear.
- Bathing or washing.
- Applying ointment, lotions, or creams.
- Engaging in any form of spousal intimacy.
It is also customary not to wear gold jewelry on Yom Kippur, as gold is reminiscent of the sin of the Golden Calf, and on the Day of Atonement – the day when we were forgiven for that egregious sin – we do not want to "remind" the Prosecutor (Satan) of our past sins.