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Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is arguably the holiest of the Jewish holidays. Many Jewish people in the United Kingdom spend the day fasting and praying.
Yom Kippur in the Jewish Calendar
Is Yom Kippur a Public Holiday?
Yom Kippur is not a bank holiday in the United Kingdom. However, many Jewish businesses, organizations, and schools may be closed and the streets around synagogues may be busy.
How Is Yom Kippur Celebrated in the UK?
Yom Kippur is a day of repentance and atonement. Following the commandment in the Book of Leviticus to “inflict your souls” on Yom Kippur, Jewish people in the United Kingdom and around the world spend the day fasting, praying, and resting. It is also customary to refrain from using perfume, lotions, or creams, from washing, and from wearing leather shoes. This period of abstinence and prayer lasts from sundown on the day before Yom Kippur until nightfall on Yom Kippur. It is followed by a festive meal.
Preparing for Yom Kippur
Yom Kippur is a highlight in the Jewish festive calendar, and it involves an elaborate preparation period. In the 40 days before the big day, the shofar, an ancient wind instrument traditionally made of a ram's horn, is blown during prayer times in synagogues all around the UK. During the week before Yom Kippur, specific passages are added to the prayers.
The day before Yom Kippur involves a number of traditions, including the Kaparot ritual, which is performed early in the morning. It involves taking a chicken or money in one’s right hand and revolving it over one’s head three times while reciting a prayer. The chicken is then killed and given to a charitable cause.
On this day, two festive meals are prepared. The Seudat Mafseket or Meal of Cessation is served in the evening, just before the beginning of the fast.
Yom Kippur History
Yom Kippur commemorates an event detailed in Exodus, the second book of the Torah. After the Israelites had committed the sin of worshipping a golden calf, Moses returned to Mount Sinai twice to ask for God's forgiveness. Yom Kippur marks the day when he finally returned to his people with God's favor restored.
Following this event, Yom Kippur was the day dedicated to the ritual purification of the Temple in Jerusalem. It became a more somber occasion after the temple was destroyed.
Who Celebrates Yom Kippur in the UK?
The United Kingdom is estimated to have the 5th largest Jewish population in the world, with just under 300,000 people practicing the Jewish faith in the country. By far the largest British Jewish community is found in London, followed by those in Manchester and Leeds.
History of Jews in the UK
Jewish settlement in England can be traced as far back as the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066. The Jewish community outnumbered the Spanish and Portuguese communities in England by the 18th century.
Many Jewish families in Eastern Europe moved to England to escape persecution and hardship between 1881 and 1914. About 150,000 Jewish people settled in England, with large numbers staying at London's East End during that time. England continued to receive Jewish immigrants escaping persecution around the time of World War II (1939-1945).
About Yom Kippur in other countriesRead more about Yom Kippur.
Yom Kippur Observances
Note: Jewish holidays begin at sundown the day before the date specified for the holiday.
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