Yom Kippur

What is Yom Kippur? How is it typically celebrated?

Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, begins Wednesday evening, September 15. It is considered the holiest and most solemn day of the Hebrew calendar. On this day, it is believed that God finalizes judgment of all people for the coming year, inscribing them in either the Book of Life or the Book of Death. Yom Kippur is a day of fasting and prayer, and its somber tone is also reflected in all white clothing and an avoidance of leather shoes or other leather accessories. The fast is typically broken at night with a festive meal shared with family and friends.

Can I wish my friends a Happy Yom Kippur?

As Yom Kippur is a grave day of repentance and inner reflection, it would strike observant Jews as odd if you were to wish them a Happy Yom Kippur. Rather, it is customary to wish either an easy or a meaningful fast. You can also say Gut Yontif, meaning, "a good holiday." Alternatively, you can also say, Gmar chatimah tovah, or, "Good final signature," referring to our hope that the other person be inscribed in God's Book of Life, meaning that God has forgiven his or her sins.

What prayers do you typically say on Yom Kippur?

The eve of Yom Kippur begins with Kol Nidre, made famous by the first non-silent film, The Jazz Singer, as well as by its transcription for cello and orchestra by composer Max Bruch. In it, we preemptively ask God to free us from all vows we make in the coming year in case we cannot fulfill them. Most Yom Kippur prayers focus on Teshuva, or asking God for forgiveness, particularly the acrostic Vidui. Yom Kippur prayers conclude with Ne'ilah, meaning "Closing," in reference to the notion that the gates of Heaven are closing as God prepares to pass final judgment.