Yom Kippur

During the ten days between Rosh Hashanah from Yom Kippur, God decides on what human fate will be. This period when the future is under consideration is known as the Days of Awe (Yamim Noraim). In synagogues, prayers of repentance are said, to which are added appeals for one�s sins to be forgiven and acts of penance.

True, deep religious repentance, teshuvah, is simultaneously an admission of one's own guilt and sins, as well as complete awareness of the moral collapse that led to this reprehensible behavior. The only path to ethical renewal is to ask for forgiveness. For sins committed against God, one asks Him directly for His forgiveness in prayer. For wrongs committed against people, one should ask those who were wronged directly for forgiveness. If the person forgives, then so does God.

Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement, the peak of penance, repentance, contrition, and taking account of one's life up to this time. On this day, washing oneself is banned, as is wearing leather shoes, anointing oneself and engaging in sexual relations. There is also a strict, twenty-four hour fast, during which one may not eat any food in bites larger than the size of a date, and may not drink more than a single draft of water. For this reason, the evening when the holiday begins one should eat enough so that one�s body does not grow too weak during the next day's fast.
Yom Kippur is also a day to remember the dead. In the evening, just before the holiday begins, memorial candles are lit for the souls of the closest family members.

The service in the synagogue begins with the transferring of the Torah scrolls from the Ark (Aron Kodesh) to the bimah. Men, in addition to talliths, also wear a white kittel symbolizing the death shroud. A special prayer is sung, the Kol Nidre, which is usually repeated three times in the culture of the Ashkenazim. After Kol Nidre, beating their breasts, Asahmnu is said (Hebrew, "We Have Sinned"). This is a public confession, a listing of all the kinds of sins that a person may commit. This is followed by prayers praising God's mercy and expressing the hope that God will be merciful towards the weak sinners.

Prayers for the souls of the dead, Izkor (Hebrew, "Remember") also takes place during this service.
On the next day, the service lasts from dawn until dusk and consists of reading the chapter of the Talmud about the temple service held on this day. When the passage describing when the priest speaks the name of God, all those present in the synagogue fall prone to the ground. This is the only moment in the liturgical year when people fall to their knees-all other prayers are said while sitting or standing. The service concludes with the Neila prayer (Hebrew, "Closing of the Gates"). This is the last moment to express one's contrition and repentance. After the words: "Our Father, Our King, inscribe us into the Book of Life and forgive us", the shofar sounds and people call for the gates of mercy be opened.
Yom Kippur ends when the first star appears. Then one can return home and eat the first meal after the day's fast-comprised of cake (usually a spice cake sweetened with honey), fruit and fish prepared in a sweet way, with nuts and dried fruits.

The Ashkenazim maintain a lively tradition of kapparot, or symbolic atonement. It alludes to the holiday service, during which the rabbi transferred the sins of the entire Jewish people to the sacrificial goat meant for Azazel. When the ritual has ended, the animal is taken beyond the city walls and chased into the desert. As part of kapparot, men hold a white rooster above their heads (women hold a white hen) and recite the formula: "This is my substitute, this is my penance. This bird will go to its death, I will be granted life in peace." The bird is then killed or given to the poor, or later becomes a meal after Yom Kippur, and the amount of money it represents is given to the poor.

It should be added that the Day of Atonement is so emotionally charged that even people who do not normally follow religious laws will go to synagogue on that day. For many people, participating in the day-long, contemplative service makes such a strong impression that they begin the new year with the awareness of having purified their souls and an earnest desire to improve and make changes in one's life.

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