Jewish people are about to mark Yom Kippur, a day of forgiveness and cleansing to end Rosh Hashana, the High Holy Days.
Rabbi Shalom Bochner and Congregation Beth Shalom, the only Jewish congregation in Stanislaus County, have been marking the High Holy Days since they began last week. They end Wednesday with Yom Kippur.
Those outside of the Jewish community may not fully understand the holy day. As part of our Monday feature that delves into the minds of the region’s movers and shakers, Bochner offers the Top 10 Things most people don’t know about Yom Kippur:
▪ 1. The name Yom Kippur means “Day of Atonement” and is a solemn but festive day of spiritual cleansing and gaining forgiveness. It is understood as the holiest day in the Hebrew lunar calendar and can fall on the Gregorian calendar between mid-September and mid-October. On the Hebrew calendar it is always the 10th day of the lunar month of Tishrei, exactly one week after Rosh Hashana (“Head of the Year,” “New Year”) ends.
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▪ 2. The main ritual of Yom Kippur is 25 hours of complete fasting, meaning no food or drink. This is a sign of people’s desire to be forgiven and to have a clean slate for the new year. The fast begins 18 minutes before sunset the night before Yom Kippur and ends when stars come out the following evening; all Jewish holidays begin at sunset.
Rosh Hashana marks the Jewish new year.
▪ 3. There is a custom to dress in white, symbolizing purity. The Chazan (prayer leader) and Rabbi often wear a long white robe called a Kitel, which is also worn at a Passover Seder and at traditional Jewish weddings.
▪ 4. Among the restrictions of the fast day is the practice of not wearing leather shoes as they represent pride and the taking of an animal’s life to create the leather. Some people wear canvas sneakers instead of leather shoes on Yom Kippur. An older tradition was to spend the day in socks or bare feet.
▪ 5. Unique to Yom Kippur are five prayer services; in Jewish liturgy a weekday has three daily prayer services and Shabbat (sabbath) and other holidays have four. The Yom Kippur prayer times are evening, morning, noon, afternoon and sunset, and these times were the inspiration for the five daily prayers of Islam. On Yom Kippur, traditional Jews do full body prostrations four times as a symbol of humility.
▪ 6. Today Yom Kippur is one of the most famous and observed Jewish holidays. In the days of the Temple in Jerusalem more than 2,000 years ago, this holiday was eclipsed by Sukkot (Tabernacles), the harvest holiday that starts four days after Yom Kippur on the full moon. Sukkot is still observed with the construction of harvest huts and the waving of the lulav and etrog, four plant species used to celebrate the start of the rainy season. It is also known as “HeChag, meaning THE Holiday.”
▪ 7. According to the Midrash (ancient explanations of the early Rabbis), the date of Yom Kippur is the anniversary of when the Israelites were forgiven for their sin of creating a golden calf and worshiping it. This biblical story represents the “proof” that all mistakes can be forgiven when the perpetrators engage in Teshuvah (spiritual return) through admitting their errors, making amends, and creating a new plan for going forward.
▪ 8. According to Jewish belief, Yom Kippur only makes amends between people and God. Damages caused in relationships between people can only be repaired when forgiveness is offered and accepted between the people and past hurts are addressed and healed.
▪ 9. Some very traditional Jews maintain the practice of Kaparot on the day before Yom Kippur: swinging a live chicken over one’s head and then donating it as food to those in need or a charitable organization. In many communities this is done with money instead of an actual chicken. It represents a form of atonement similar to the ancient sacrificial offerings commanded in the Bible.
▪ 10. In the days of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, Yom Kippur was the only day when the High Priest would enter the central shrine of the building, the Holy of Holies built over the spot where Abraham was willing to offer his son. When the priest would emerge from this sacred chamber, he would pray aloud using a divine name whose pronunciation has become lost in history. Today only Hebrew consonants without the vowels remain of this most sacred divine name which now is pronounced with a word that means “Master.”
Pat Clark: 209-578-2312
Yom Kippur Services
Kol Nidre Service Tuesday, Sept. 22, 6:30 p.m.
Yom Kippur Daytime Services, Wednesday, Sept. 23, starting at 9:30 a.m.
Neilah Service and Break-the-Fast Meal, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 6 p.m.
Where: Congregation Beth Shalom, 1705 Sherwood Ave., Modesto 95350