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Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur, also known as the Day of Atonement, marks the end of the Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe) and falls on the 10th day of Tishrei (Tishri), the seventh month in the Jewish calendar. Many Jewish communities engage in intense prayer and fasting.
The shofar, an instrument used to blow sound, is pictured with a Jewish holy book.

Prayer time is part of the Yom Kippur traditions.

©iStockphoto.com/Robert Pears

What do people do?

Many Jewish people around the world observe Yom Kippur each year. Many Jewish people prepare and eat a festive meal on the day before the holiday starts. They also give to charity and visit people to seek or give forgiveness. Many also gather in a synagogue before sunset for a prayer service. Particular customs are associated with this service in some communities. Men may wear a kittel or sargenes (a white robe) and a tallit (prayer shawl).

Many people of Jewish faith do not eat or drink, wear leather shoes, wash themselves, or use perfumes for about 25 hours. Many choose to wear white clothes as a symbol of ritual purity. Outside of Israel, some Jewish people may take some of their annual leave at this time to allow them to mark Yom Kippur.

Public life

Yom Kippur is a public holiday in Israel, in which stores, post offices and other businesses are closed. Public transit services do not run and there are no radio or television broadcasts in Israel on this day. It is considered impolite to eat in public or drive a motor vehicle, although secular Jews may ride bicycles, particularly on the eve of Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur is not a nationwide public holiday in countries such as Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. However, many Jewish businesses, organizations and schools may be closed on this holiday and the streets around synagogues may be busy.

Background

Yom Kippur is often considered the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. Yom Kippur’s origins lie in a ritual purification of the Temple in Jerusalem from any accidental ritual impurities that had occurred in the past year. The Kohen Gadol (high priest) entered the Holy of Holies at the center of the temple on Yom Kippur. It was important that he was spiritually and physically as pure as possible.

Many rituals were carried out to ensure that the Kohen Gadol was pure and that he did not carry any ritual impurities into the Holy of Holies. Yom Kippur became a more somber holiday after the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. The Torah calls the day Yom HaKippurim and Leviticus 23:27 decrees a strict prohibition of work and affliction of the soul upon the 10th day of the seventh month, known as Tishrei.

Symbols

Many Jewish men wear a kittel or sargenes and a tallit on Yom Kippur. A kittel is a simple white robe that is also used as a shroud and is worn by bridegrooms in some Jewish communities. A tallit (tallis, taleysm) is a prayer shawl with tzitzis strings tied through each of the four corners. The strings are tied in different ways in accordance with the wearer’s tradition. One or more of the strings were traditionally dyed using a blue dye known as tekhelet, which may come from the murex trunculus, a type of sea snail.

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