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Yom Kippur

At its core, Yom Kippur is the happiest day of the Jewish calendar: It is the day of reconciliation with God.

In the days of the Temple, when the High Priest served God with sacrifices, Yom Kippur was the day when the holiest name of God was pronounced anda scarlet thread would miraculously turn white, indicating that people's sins were forgiven.

Today, the work of reconciliation must be done by each individual, and there is no actual proof that our prayers have been accepted or even heard. But Yom Kippur still holds the promise that the seemingly infinite gap between God and ourselves can indeed be bridged.


In the Torah, Yom Kippur has two aspects.

The first is the elaborate Temple ritual, in which the High Priest donned garments he wore on no other day.

The second is a simple command to the people: Afflict your spirits.

This is interpreted as a five-fold abstinence: from food, from drink, from sex, from wearing leather shoes, and from anointing oneself with oil. Combined with longest prayer service of the year, the result is an attempt at pure spirituality. For one day we seek to escape the bonds of the flesh and, like the angels, engage ourselves solely in the worship of God. Just as Yom Kippur was the only day when the High Priest was permitted to enter the Holy of Holies, it remains is the one day where we are permitted to experience intense ascetism in the pursuit of oneness with God.

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Observance of the Day of Atonement commences with a festive meal (se'udah ha-mafseket), prior to the start of the fast at sunset. After the meal, festival candles are lit at sunset ; the Shehe'heyanu prayer, is then recited, thanking God for the gift of life and for having brought us to this season. It is customary to wear non-leather shoes to the synagogue and to dress in white.


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