Yom Kippur

The Day of Atonement, one of the most important festival days in the Jewish calendar. It takes place during the tenth month of the Jewish lunar calendar, in the period dur ing September or October known in the United States as the High Holy Days, which also includes Rosh Hashanah. Yom Kippur is fundamentally a day of fasting for the purposes of purification and to show both forgiveness for the sins of others and contrition for one’s own sins. The festival commonly begins at sundown with a period of meditation and the reading of a special service of atonement known as the kol nidre. Then, for a twentyfive-hour period devotees abstain from eating, drinking, washing, and sexual activity. Many Orthodox Jews also avoid wearing leather shoes.

The wearing of white is encouraged. Yom Kippur services include prayers of repentance and readings from texts such as the Hebrew Bible book of Jonah. Family members and friends may also ritually ask one another for the forgiveness of their sins. The festival commonly ends with prayers and the blowing of the ram’s horn, the shofar. The modern Yom Kippur festival is an echo of a similar ceremony conducted during the period, over two thousand years ago, when the second Jerusalem Temple was the focal point of the Jewish faith. During that ceremony a high priest, wearing white, would enter the Holy of Holies and ask God not only for the forgiveness of his own sins but for those of the nation of Israel. He would also burn incense and offer the blood of a sacrificial goat, the scapegoat. The goat would then be driven away from the Temple, symbolically carrying away the sins of Israel.

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