Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur (Hebrew yom hakippurim, “day of atonement”), the most sacred and solemn holy day in Judaism. It falls on the tenth day of the Hebrew month of Tishri, in September or the first half of October in the Western calendar. The day is observed by fasting and prayer and by rededication to a religious life. Like any other day in the Hebrew calendar, it is reckoned from sundown to sundown.
Yom Kippur marks the culmination of the Ten Penitential Days, which begin with Rosh Hashanah, or the Jewish New Year. With Rosh Hashanah it constitutes the so-called High Holy Days. Yom Kippur is a day of confession, repentance, and prayers for forgiveness of sins committed during the year against the laws and covenant of God.
Although Yom Kippur is solemn and is regarded as a day of judgment, it is not mournful in character because it offers an opportunity for forgiveness for sins against God. In the case of sins committed against individuals, one must first ask forgiveness from the person who has been wronged. It is also the day on which an individual’s fate for the ensuing year is thought to be sealed. Those who find repentance during Yom Kippur look forward to a joyful year of health and happiness.
Fasting is a way for those observing Yom Kippur to practice self-discipline, engage in spiritual contemplation, and increase compassion for others. Most followers of Judaism do not eat or drink during this time, and many observe additional restrictions outlined in the Torah. Such restrictions include refraining from sexual relations, from bathing, from using cosmetics, and from wearing leather shoes. White clothing worn during Yom Kippur symbolizes spiritual purity and repentance.
The liturgy for Yom Kippur is elaborate. The service on the eve of Yom Kippur begins with the chanting of the Kol Nidre. This prayer is a plea for absolution from vows made between humans and God that cannot or should not be kept. Prayers are offered throughout the whole of the following day. Portions of the Torah (first five books of the Bible) are read aloud, and Yizkor, the memorial prayer for the dead, is recited. The blowing of the shofar, or ram’s horn, marks the end of Yom Kippur.
The laws relating to Yom Kippur are found in Leviticus 16, 23:26-32, 25:9 and Numbers 29:7-11. In the days of the Temple in Jerusalem—that is, before ad 70—the high priest offered sacrifices for the expiation of sin. During the ritual the high priest placed his hands upon a goat as he confessed the people’s sins; the goat was then taken into the wilderness. This act was symbolic of expiation and God’s forgiveness. The concept of the scapegoat, that is, someone who bears the blame for others, originated in this ceremony.

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