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What is Yom Kippur?

The Jewish Day of Atonement is marked by reflection, fasting, and solemn prayers for forgiveness.

Prayer time at Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur offers worshippers a chance to reflect and make amends.

© iStockphoto.com/coldsnowstorm

Is Yom Kippur a Public Holiday?

While Yom Kippur is not a public holiday in the United States, many Jewish-run organizations are closed on this day.

When Is Yom Kippur?

The Day of Atonement (or Repentance) is observed on the tenth day of the month of Tishrei in the Hebrew calendar, which usually falls between mid-September and mid-October in the Gregorian calendar.

It marks the end of the ten-day period known as the High Holy Days, (also referred to as Yamim Noraim or Days of Awe) that begin with the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanna.

A Time To Right Wrongs

Yom Kippur is considered the ideal time in the Jewish calendar to repent and start the new year cleansed of sin.

The traditional belief is that God writes one´s fate into the Book of Life on the Jewish New Year and worshipers have the ten day period between that day, known as Rosh Hashana, and Yom Kippur to atone for sins and pray for forgiveness.

At the end of Yom Kippur, it is said that God seals the Book of Life and one's fate is set for the coming year.

Fasting, Self-Denial, and Charity

In the Book of Leviticus, the Torah (Jewish Bible) states that Yom Kippur should be a day of “self-denial.” Many Jews honor that principle by fasting on the holiday to cleanse the spirit and build empathy for those who suffer from hunger.

Some religious Jews take the self-denial principle further, refraining from bathing, using cosmetics, wearing leather shoes, and having sexual relations on Yom Kippur.

Another act of repentance is making donations to charity in the week before the holy day. Kapparot is an ancient giving tradition followed by some Orthodox Jews that involves swinging a bag of coins or even a live chicken overhead while praying, then donating those items to the poor.

Bagels and Boundaries

After the final Yom Kippur service, hungry worshippers often gather for a break-fast meal. In the United States, bagels with lax (smoked salmon), blintzes (crepes with filling), and sweet kugel (noodle pudding) are particular favorites for the occasion.

Some Jewish Americans can find themselves caught in a conflict between their jobs and the sacred status of Yom Kippur. In 1965, the great baseball player Sandy Koufax refused to pitch in a World Series game because it fell on the holiday. His replacement that day failed miserably and told the manager after the game: “I bet you wish I was Jewish too.

Five Prayer Services

Ordinary days for religious Jews include three prayer services, but Yom Kippur is celebrated with five, and some ceremonies feature confessions of sins.

On the first night, the ancient prayer Kol Nidre is recited. Much of the next day is usually spent at the synagogue with special ceremonies including Yizkor, a remembrance of loved ones who have passed on.

At dusk, services conclude with the Ne ila (closing) prayer and the ritual blowing of a hollow ram´s horn to mark the time when the Gates of Prayer will be closed.

From the Time of Moses

Yom Kippur´s biblical roots stretch all the way back to the time of Moses. The narrative says that after wandering in the desert for years following their flight from Egypt, the tribes of Israel famously strayed from monotheism and started worshiping a golden calf while Moses was receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai.

The Torah says that Moses smashed the stone tablets in anger when he returned and discovered the religious betrayal. So he climbed back to the top of the peak to ask for divine forgiveness for the people, finally returning with a new set of commandments on the day that is now marked as Yom Kippur.

About Yom Kippur in Other Countries

Read more about Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur Observances

Note: Jewish holidays begin at sundown the day before the date specified for the holiday.

YearWeekdayDateNameHoliday Type
2019WedOct 9Yom KippurJewish holiday
2020MonSep 28Yom KippurJewish holiday
2021ThuSep 16Yom KippurJewish holiday
2022WedOct 5Yom KippurJewish holiday
2023MonSep 25Yom KippurJewish holiday
2024SatOct 12Yom KippurJewish holiday
2025ThuOct 2Yom KippurJewish holiday
2026MonSep 21Yom KippurJewish holiday
2027MonOct 11Yom KippurJewish holiday
2028SatSep 30Yom KippurJewish holiday
2029WedSep 19Yom KippurJewish holiday

While we diligently research and update our holiday dates, some of the information in the table above may be preliminary. If you find an error, please let us know.