Yom Kippur in a Nutshell By Chabad.org
Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year–the day on which we are closest to G‑d and to the quintessence of our own souls. It is the Day of Atonement — “For on this day He will forgive you, to purify you, that you be cleansed from all your sins before G‑d” (Leviticus 16:30).
For twenty-six hours–from several minutes before sunset on Tishrei 9 to after nightfall on Tishrei 10–we “afflict our souls”: we abstain from food and drink, do not wash or anoint our bodies, do not wear leather footware, and abstain from marital relations.
In the course of Yom Kippur we hold five prayer services: Maariv, with its solemn Kol Nidrei service, on the eve of Yom Kippur; Shacharit–the morning prayer; Musaf, which includes a detailed account of the Yom Kippur Temple service; Minchah, which includes the reading of the Book of Jonah; and Ne’illah, the “closing of the gates” service at sunset. We say the Al Chet confession of sins eight times in the course of Yom Kippur, and recite Psalms every available moment.
The day is the most solemn of the year, yet an undertone of joy suffuses it: a joy that revels in the spirituality of the day and expresses the confidence that G-d will accept our repentance, forgive our sins, and seal our verdict for a year of life, health and happiness. The closing Neilah service climaxes in the resounding cries of “Hear O Israel… G-d is one” and a single blast of the shofar, followed by the proclamation, “Next year in Jerusalem.” Then joy erupts in song and dance (a Chabad custom is to sing the lively “Napoleon’s March”), followed by the festive after-fast meal, making the evening after Yom Kippur a Yom Tov (festival) in its own right.
Preparing for Yom Kippur
On Wednesday, October 8, 2008
The Kaparot (atonement) service is performed early morning with a live chicken (or alternatively with money) which is then donated to charity.
Take Honey Cake
It is customary to ask for and receive lekach (sweet cake — signifying a sweet year) from someone (usually one’s mentor or parent) on this day. One of the reasons given for this custom is that if it had been decreed, G-d forbid, that during the year we should need to resort to a handout from others, the decree should be satisfied with this asking for food.
It is a mitzvah to eat and drink in abundance on the eve of Yom Kippur. Two meals are eaten, one in the morning, and one just prior to the onset of Yom Kippur. One should eat only light foods such as chicken and fish.
In many communities it is customary to eat kreplach on the day before Yom Kippur. Kreplach are small squares of rolled pasta dough filled with ground beef and folded into triangles. They can be boiled and served in soup or fried and served as a side dish. The red beef symbolizes severity, the white dough is an allusion to kindness. In preparation for the Day of Judgement we “cover” the severity with kindness. (Click here for a recipe.)
It is proper to immerse in the mikvah on this day.
It is customary to give charity generously and liberally on the day before Yom Kippur, for tzedakah is a great source of merit and serves as protection against harsh decrees.
During the afternoon prayers, the Al Chet confession prayer is recited before the conclusion of the Amidah prayer. This central Yom Kippur prayer will be later recited eight times in the course of the holy day.
Eat the Final Meal
Prior to sunset, one should eat the final meal. Again, one should eat only light foods such as chicken and soup. One should not drink intoxicating beverages, and it is also customary not to eat fish at this meal.
One should stop eating at candle lighting time. Click here to find out what time this is in your location.
Bless the Children
It is customary to bless one’s children after the meal, although there is no required formula for this blessing, it is customary to say:
[for a son:] May G-d make you like Ephraim and Manasseh;
[for a daughter:] May G-d make you like Sarah, Rebbeca, Rachel, and Leah.
Change Your Shoes
On Yom Kippur we do not wear leather footware. Before candle lighting change your shoes to plastic or canvas shoes or slippers.
Girls and all women that are in the house (or if there isn’t a woman in the house, the head of the household), should light candles 18 minutes before sunset – see this link for the exact time – and recite the following blessings:
1) Blessed are You, L-rd, our G-d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and has commanded us to kindle the light of Yom Kippur.
Ba-ruch a-tah ado-nai e-lo-hei-nu me-lech ha-olam asher ki-deshanu be-mitzvo-tav ve-tzvi-vanu le-hadlik ner shel Yom HaKipurim.
2) Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.
Ba-ruch a-tah ado-nai e-lo-hei-nu me-lech ha-olam she-heche-ya-nu ve-ki-yi-ma-nu ve-higi-a-nu liz-man ha-zeh.
On Yom Kippur
The following applies for the duration of Yom Kippur, this year from sundown, October 8 until nightfall, October 9.
On Yom Kippur, women over 12 years old and men over 13 must fast.
In addition, the biblical commandment to “afflict” ourselves during Yom Kippur includes abstention from the following: eating, drinking, bathing, wearing of leather footware, marital relations and personal “anointing” (use of body lotions etc.). If unable to fast for health reasons, consult your Rabbi.
Clothing and Jewelry
Many communities have a custom of wearing white clothes on Yom Kippur, as on this day we are compared to angels.
It is also customary not to wear gold jewelry, as gold is reminiscent of the sin of the Golden Calf, and on the Day of Judgment we do not want to “remind” the Prosecutor of our past sins.
Prayer Services at a Glance
Kol Nidrei – Yom Kippur Eve
The opening prayer of Yom Kippur is the Kol Nidrei “annulment of vows” recited at sundown of Yom Kippur eve.
The Kol Nidrei service consists of the opening of the Ark and taking out the Torah scrolls, reciting the Kol Nidrei and returning the Torah scrolls to the Ark.
Kol Nidrei, the prayer which ushers in the holy day of Yom Kippur, is perhaps the most famous one in our liturgy. Ironically, it is not really a prayer at all, but rather a statement. A statement that deals with promises, vows and other sorts of verbal commitments commonly made in the course of the year. Kol Nidrei, which means “all vows”, nullifies the binding nature of such promises in advance.
On Yom Kippur when the essence of the soul is fully revealed, we express our real attitude towards the imperfections which might slip into our behavior, in the coming year. They are thus denied and declared insignificant.
The evening service which follows Kol Nidrei consists of the Half-Kaddish, the Shema, the Amidah, the Al Chet confession of sins, and special additional prayers (piyyutim) which are said only on the night of Yom Kippur.
Many have the custom to recite the entire Book of Psalms after the evening service.
The morning service (“Shacharit”) consists of the following: the morning prayers, the Shema, the Amidah, the reading of the Torah, the Yizkor service, the Musaf service, the priestly blessing.
The reading of the Torah is about the solemn service in the Holy Temple on the Day of Atonement, conducted by the High Priest himself. This was the only day of the year on which the High Priest was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies to offer incense and pray on behalf of the Jewish people.
The Yizkor service is recited by those who have lost either one or both of their parents. Others leave the synagogue until the completion of the Yizkor service.
The Yizkor is more than a service of remembrance, but rather it is a time for the relatives of the departed to connect with the souls of their loved ones on a deeper level; tradition has it that during the Yizkor service, the souls of the departed descend from heaven and are joined with those who are close to them.
The Musaf Service–which is held immediately following the Morning Service) consists of the Musaf Amidah, the cantor’s repetition of the Amidah, the avodah — a recounting of the Yom Kippur service in the Holy Temple — and the priestly blessing.
The priests, or kohanim, direct descendants of Aaron, the High Priest, are commanded to bless the Jewish people with a three-fold blessing. It is customary to perform this duty during the Musaf service on festival days. In preparation for the blessing, the priests remove their shoes and the Levites ritually wash their hands, they then gather at the front or by the eastern wall of the synagogue.
During the blessing, one must not gaze at the Priests directly, as the Divine Presence rests upon them. It is customary for men to cover their eyes with their prayer shawls, and for women to gaze into their prayer books.
The afternoon service consists of the Torah reading, the Amidah prayer, the cantor’s repetition of the Amidah, the recital of Avinu Malkenu (“Our Father, Our King”).
Torah Reading: The Torah reading speaks of the purity of Jewish life. The Torah warns us not to follow in the immoral ways of Egyptians and native Canaanites.
The Haftorah: We read the entire Book of Jonah. It contains a timely message on the importance of repentance and prayer. One should never despair, prayer and repentance lead from darkness to light, from the shadow of death to a new life.
Neilah: The Closing Services
The concluding service consists of the opening prayers, the Amidah prayer, the cantor’s repetition of the Amidah, Avinu Malkenu (Our Father, Our King), declaration of our faith and the sounding of the shofar and the closing prayers.
Neilah means “closing the gate.” As the awesome day of Yom Kippur comes to a close, and our future is being sealed, we turn to G-d to accept our sincere repentance and new resolutions, and that He seal us in the Book of Life, granting us a new year replete with goodness and happiness. In many communities, the Ark remains open for the entire Neilah service, signifying that the Gates of Heaven are wide open to our prayers and entreaties.
The apex of the service, the emotional peak, is when we pronounce three verses proclaiming G-d as our G-d, all together. It is written that when we recite the first of these verses, the Shema, everyone should have the intention of giving up their soul for the sanctification of G-d’s name, this intention will be considered as if we had indeed withstood the test to sanctify the Divine Name.
This is followed by the declaration of G-d’s unity, “G-d – He is the Only G-d” — First recited at Mt. Carmel by the prophet Elijah. This last verse is repeated seven times in the most ardent way. The shofar is then sounded one long sound and the Neilah service ends with the prayer:
“Next Year may we be in Jerusalem!”
End of Fast
After evening services, we perform the Havdalah ceremony, and then we may break our fast.