The Day of Atonement

Yom Kippur

It is that time of year again. The celebrations of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, have come to an end. Cooler weather begins taking over the hot Israeli nights. Students prepare for the upcoming academic year and the popular beaches lose their allure. What follows is a holy holiday far less joyous than Rosh Hashanah. That day is Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur is the day of atonement in the Jewish religion. It is the holiest holiday in Judaism and is practiced by both secular and religious Jews. It is the day where Jews from all over the world ask God for forgiveness for the sins they have committed in the previous year. The holiday, like all Jewish holidays, begins at sundown and ends at sundown the following day. However, instead of the typical Jewish holiday routine of eating until your pant button pops, Yom Kippur tradition requires Jews to fast for the entire day. Therefore, any healthy Jew who is above Bar or Bat Mitzvah age (usually 12-13) has a large and filling meal the afternoon before Yom Kippur and does not break fast until the holiday ends the following sundown.

While there are many different degrees of practice, as with any religion, many Israelis take Yom Kippur especially seriously. Actually, the country literally shuts down. For instance, no one works, stores are closed, public transportation comes to a halt, and even television is not broadcasted. While there are no written laws prohibiting Israelis from driving or listening to loud music, it is considered rude and inconsiderate to do such things. As such, the streets are so desolate that kids who are too young to fast can be seen riding their bikes on the abandoned highways and roads. Those old enough to fast usually spend the day in synagogue, sleeping or playing board games waiting until that glorious moment when the concluding prayer ends with the sound of a shofar which signifies the end of the fast.

Yes, Yom Kippur differs greatly from most Jewish holidays where the main objective is eating and enjoying with family. However, it is important to remember why Jews adhere to the tradition. First and foremost, Jews are instructed by God to deny ones’ self in Numbers 29:7. As such, Jews are faced with a 25 hour long fast. The fast is supposed to cleanse the soul and body and prepare the being for repentance. In short, Jews believe if they deprive themselves on this holy day of remorse, their sins will be forgiven. Similarly to Christianity, Jews believe forgiveness comes with sacrifice and on Yom Kippur, that sacrifice is a hungry belly and a thirsty mouth.

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