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Yom Kippur in the United States

Yom Kippur is a Jewish holiday known as the Day of Atonement. Many people of Jewish faith in the United States spend the day fasting and praying. Its theme centers on atonement and repentance. Yom Kippur is on the 10th day of the month of Tishrei (or Tishri) in the Jewish calendar.

Is Yom Kippur a Public Holiday?

Yom Kippur is a public holiday in some areas (see list below), where it is a day off and schools and most businesses are closed. In other areas, Yom Kippur is a normal working day.

The shofar, an instrument used to blow sound, is pictured with a Jewish holy book.

Prayers are an important part of the Yom Kippur observance.

©iStockphoto.com/Robert Pears

What Do People Do?

Many Jewish Americans believe that God seals their fate for the coming year on Yom Kippur. This holiday involves activities such as fasting and praying. It is believed that those who repent from their sins will be granted a happy New Year. Many Jewish people spend time in the synagogue at this time of the year.

The fasting lasts for 25 hours and begins on the evening before Yom Kippur. It ends after nightfall on Yom Kippur. Some restrictions can be lifted when a threat of health or life is involved. Many Jewish Americans perform the Havdalah ceremony at the evening services, and then break the fast. The holiday ends on a joyous note, and many Jewish people take part in a festive after-fast meal.

Jewish leaders give lectures at Jewish community centers on Yom Kippur. Some centers in states such as New York have interactive beginners’ services in Russian. Yom Kippur also includes a remembrance service, called Yizkor, during which people read the names of the dead, reflect on their lives and their legacies, honor them through memory. Some Jewish Americans may take the day off work or organize time off during this time of the year, to observe the belief that no work is permitted on Yom Kippur.

Public Life

Yom Kippur is not a federal public holiday in the United States. However, many Jewish businesses, organizations and schools may be closed on this holiday and the streets around synagogues may be busy.

It is an optional holiday for state government employees in Texas. A chief judge of any judicial circuit in Florida can designate Yom Kippur as a legal holiday for court employees within the state’s judicial circuit. Some states, such as North Carolina, try to accommodate a government employee's request to be away from work for certain religious holiday observances, such as Yom Kippur.

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 month of Tishrei.

Symbols

It is customary to wear white on Yom Kippur, which symbolizes purity and calls to mind the promise that one’s sins should be wiped away. Some people of Jewish faith also believe that humans are compared to angels on this day. It is customary to not wear gold jewelry as gold serves as a reminder of sins associated with the golden calf, a story passed down among the Jewish community.

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.

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 TypeArea
2010SatSep 18Yom KippurJewish holiday 
2010SatSep 18Yom KippurState holidayTexas*
2011SatOct 8Yom KippurJewish holiday 
2011SatOct 8Yom KippurState holidayTexas*
2012WedSep 26Yom KippurState holidayTexas*
2012WedSep 26Yom KippurJewish holiday 
2013SatSep 14Yom KippurState holidayTexas*
2013SatSep 14Yom KippurJewish holiday 
2014SatOct 4Yom KippurState holidayTexas*
2014SatOct 4Yom KippurJewish holiday 
2015WedSep 23Yom KippurState holidayTexas*
2015WedSep 23Yom KippurJewish holiday 
2016WedOct 12Yom KippurJewish holiday 
2016WedOct 12Yom KippurState holidayTexas*
2017SatSep 30Yom KippurJewish holiday 
2017SatSep 30Yom KippurState holidayTexas*
2018WedSep 19Yom KippurJewish holiday 
2018WedSep 19Yom KippurState holidayTexas*
2019WedOct 9Yom KippurState holidayTexas*
2019WedOct 9Yom KippurJewish holiday 
2020MonSep 28Yom KippurJewish holiday 
2020MonSep 28Yom KippurState holidayTexas*
* Holiday is optional in Texas.

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