Yom Kippur 2021
This year’s acknowledgment of Yom Kippur begins with sunset on 15 September and ends the next day, with nightfall. Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement – is the holiest day of the year in Judaism and it focuses on atonement and repentance. It is often observed with a 25-hour period of fasting and intense prayer.
Recall my post earlier dealing with Rosh Hashanah (the New Year). That was the first day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei. The New Year celebration also included the forgiveness of sins. Yom Kippur is the tenth day of the same month and it completes the High Holy Days in Judaism (Yamim Noraim or Days of Awe).
Yom Kippur is the culmination of that period where a Jew tries to amend their behaviour and seek forgiveness for wrongs done against God and other persons. At the end of Yom Kippur, people hope that God has forgiven them.
Secular Jews who don’t tend to observe other holidays usually celebrate Yom Kippur. Thus, synagogue attendance usually climbs on that day, in much the same way that Christian attendance at Christmas and Easter soars.
Yom Kippur was established in the Book of Leviticus (Lev 16:29), as the Sabbath of Sabbaths. Chapter 23 decrees that Yom Kippur is a strict day of rest. The Jewish oral tradition (Mishnah) details other prohibitions for that day. The Talmud is the central text of Rabbinic Judaism and it is the primary source of Jewish religious law and theology.
It states, Yom Kippur atones for those who repent and does not atone for those who do not repent. Repentance in Judaism is carried out through the process of Teshuva (regretting having committed the sin, resolving not to commit that sin in the future, and confessing that sin before God). That confession is what makes Yom Kippur unique in Jewish celebrations.
Traditionally, Yom Kippur is considered the date on which Moses received the second set of the Ten Commandments. The Israelites were granted atonement for the idolatrous sin of the Golden Calf.
Yom Kippur is a legal holiday in Israel. The nation practically shuts down: silent airwaves, empty highways, and so on. In 1973, an air raid siren was sounded on the afternoon of Yom Kippur and radio broadcasts were resumed to alert the public about the surprise attack on Israel by Egypt and Syria. That day was the opening day of what became known as the Yom Kippur War.
Jonathan Sacks, author and former Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, offers this summary: Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the holy of holies of Jewish time. It is that rarest of phenomena, a Jewish festival without food. Instead it is a day of fasting and prayer, introspection and self-judgment when, collectively and repeatedly, we confess our sins and pray to be written into God’s Book of Life. Let’s keep our Jewish brothers and sisters in prayer today.