Backgrounder: Yom Kippur

This is a background file, designed to assist you in determining which elements you wish to emphasize in your programming and to enhance the activities in subsequent files.

These materials were adapted from "New Year and Day of Atonement: Program Material for Youth and Adults", published by the Jewish Center Division, National Jewish Welfare Board, New York, 1952, and from "Yom Kippur - Atoning for Sins", Dvora Waysman, World Zionist Press Service, Department of Information, WZO, 1986..

Introduction

The Ten Days of Penitence culminate on Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement. Observed on the tenth of Tishrei as the most sacred day in the Jewish calendar, it has come to be referred to as "SHABBAT SHABBATON" or "Sabbath of Sabbaths".

Origin

"And it shall be a statute forever unto you that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, ye shall afflict your souls, and shall do no manner of work.... For on this day shall atonement be made for you, to cleanse you from all you sins shall ye be clean before the Lord. It is a Sabbath of solemn rest unto you...."

(Leviticus 16:29- 31)

"Ye shall afflict your souls" is translated as an injunction to abstain from all food and drink by fasting on the Day of Atonement.

Observance

The eve of Yom Kippur, considered a semi-holiday, arouses mingled feelings of joy and solemnity.

The day is marked by generous giving. Money used in the Kaparot ceremony--reminiscent of the sacrificial offering made in Temple days-- is given to charitable causes. Ka'arot (plates) are set conspicuously in the synagogue as a reminder to the assembling congregants of the afternoon service, already and exceptionally covered in TALITOTH (prayer shawls).

At this time, forgiveness is sought from those who one may have insulted or injured either purposely or inadvertently, and peace is hopefully established between the contending parties.

The final meal before the fast is a festive one. At its conclusion, the father - or both parents - bless the children.

A memorial light, to burn throughout the twenty-four hours of the fast, is kindled to recall departed ones.

At the synagogue, it is deemed appropriate for men to wear a Kittel (long white garment) with the talit as a symbol of purity. Women generally wear white garments as well.

The Services

Kol Nidre

(translated as "All Vows") is chanted directly preceding the evening service of Yom Kippur. It is a formal abrogation of all unfulfilled vows--especially those made under great emotional strain--and is thus intended to release one from oaths that may have remained unfulfilled through either negligence or forgetfulness.

This absolution from vows refers only to those that the individual voluntarily took upon himself, and that concern his relation to his conscience and Heavenly Judge. No oath or promise involving another person, a community or court of justice is included in the Kol Nidre.

Prayers of penitence

Petitions for forgiveness regarding the particular commission of sins constitute a major portion of the day's ritual.

In the VIDUI ("Confessions"), sins that the individual may or may not have transgressed are enumerated, the point being that these prayers are uttered on the behalf of all Israel.

Furthermore, according to Jewish tradition, a person is not forgiven on the Day of Atonement for sins committed against his fellow man unless he makes direct overtures to the actual person or persons involved to rectify the situation.

Yizkor

Memorial services are conducted in memory of departed parents and relatives.

Neilah

constitutes the concluding service of the day and is invested with a special solemnity and power. The Holy Ark remains open throughout this service, and the day comes to its close with a final blowing of the Shofar.




Yom Kippur - Atoning for Sins

by Dvora Waysman
World Zionist Press Service

Yom Kippur is observed on the tenth day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, when the individual's fate for the coming year is allegorically "sealed" in the "Book of Life."

Only sins between man and God can be atoned for on Yom Kippur, and at the end of the day worshippers at the synagogue can but hope that they have successfully come to a rectification of their faults, and that they have indeed reached God with their prayers.

For on this day shall atonement be made for you, to cleanse you; from all your sins shall ye be clean before the Lord.

(Lev. 16:30)

Thus was instituted Yom Kippur--the Day of Atonement--the one Jewish festival, apart from Rosh Hashanah, that does not relate to any historical event or agricultural concept. The other holidays all possess a national significance that even secular Jews can relate to in some way.

Yom Kippur, however, deals exclusively with man's relationships with God and his fellow man, and involves much petitioning before God. The days directly preceding the Day of Atonement are intended for man to ask pardon from and make actual restitution to those he may have wronged in the course of the year.

The Nature of Sin

In Hebrew, there are about 20 different words denoting "sin," each connoting unique concepts and possessing only limited particular applications. The common rabbinic term for sin is "averah" from the root "avar"--meaning "to pass over" and interpreted as a loss of divine favor.

Jews believe that sin is caused by the evil inclination (the "Yetzer HaRa"), a force that drives one to gratify instincts irrespective of cost and consequences.

God said (Kid. 30b):

"My children? I created the evil inclination, but I created Torah as its antidote: If you occupy yourself with the Torah, you will not be delivered into its hand."

Rabbi Ishmael taught:

"My son, if this repulsive wretch (i.e., the Yetzer HaRa) attacks you, lead him to the house of learning; if he is stone, he will dissolve, and if iron, he will shiver into fragments" (Kid. 30b).

Freedom of Choice

is a basic Jewish doctrine, from the first story is Genesis in which Adam and Eve are given the option to either accept or reject God's commandment.

The great medieval Jewish scholar Maimonides wrote:

"Every man has the prospect of becoming as righteous as Moses our teacher, or as wiched as Jeroboam; wise or stupid; kind or cruel; miserly or generous..."

(Yad, Teshuva 5)

This contradicts a popular Yiddish expression that posits all of life's occurances as "beshert" or predestined.

Judaism teaches us that we are capable of directing our own lives, of choosing the path to righteousness or its counterpart and nemesis toward sin.

Fasting and Prayer

Yet during the High Holidays, we recite a prayer that apparently contradicts the above supposition:

"On the New Year it (i.e., our destiny) is written down and on the Day of Atonement it is sealed... who shall live and who shall die, who shall live out the full measure of his days and who shall pass away before it...."

Some rabbis claim this is a meditation rather than a prayer, designed to help the Jew understand that culminating and most inspirational of Yom Kippur's exhortations,

"But penitence, prayer and charity avert the severe decree!"

Though our deeds may warrant punishment, we can yet choose the path to repentance--up to our very last hour on earth, or so the Scriptures say.

In Israel

In Israel, Yom Kippur possesses an added spiritual dimension. In the city of Jerusalem in particular, no cars are to be seen on the streets for the entirety of the twenty-four hour fast. The most hardened secular Israeli respects the holiness of the day.

As darkness descends upon this long period of fasting and prayer, Jews continue to fill the synagogues while the streets throng with others making their way to Jerusalem's holiest site--the Western Wall. The final Shofar blast simultaneously rends both the night's darkness and the Jew's soul, and we in Israel are mindful of Isaiah's address to the exiles:

"And it shall come to pass in that day, that a great horn shall be blown; and they shall come that were lost in the land of Assyria."

(Isaiah 27:13)


 

 

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08 Jun 2005 / 1 Sivan 5765 0