Judaica Guide: A Complete Guide to Essential Judaica & Hebrew

Yom Kippur

Starting on the first day of the month "Elul" ("Rosh Chodesh Elul"), many Jews get up every night and go to the synagogue, a custom which is known as Selichot. There they pray for forgiveness until morning comes, and then go to work? The custom becomes more and more intense, and reaches a peak on the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, known as the "Yamim Nora'im" ("The Days of Awe"). During these days Jews ask God and each other for forgiveness, and greet each other with the blessing "May you be inscribed in the Book of Life".

According to the Jewish religion, Yom Kippur is the "dead-line" for changing one's ways and being forgiven for bad deeds. The meaning of the name "Yom Kippur" is "The Day of Atonement". In order to be inscribed in God's "Book of Life" (and be granted a happy new year), it is not enough to pray and be forgiven by God, but a person must also make sure he hurt no other people, broke no vows, and was forgiven by others for any sorrow he accidentally caused them. One cannot be forgiven by God for hurting other people, and therefore it is customary to do soul-searching at this time of the year, and apologize to others for anything that may have caused them pain. At the end of Yom Kippur, God's "Book of Life" is closed and sealed until the next year.

Yom Kippur, which is observed on the 10th day of the the Hebrew month "Tishrei", is the most sacred of all Jewish holidays. It is a day of reflection and penitence. In practice one may say that Yom Kippur is a day of NOT doing things: It is forbidden to eat and drink, to wash, to use perfumes and lotions, to have intercourse, and to wear leather shoes. During this day Jews meet in the synagogue and say prayers from the Machzor.

In contrast to the fasting and praying on Yom Kippur, the day before Yom Kippur is a day of eating and asking other people for forgiveness. Before sunset each family usually has a big meal, and then the fast begins. That evening, at the synagogue, a prayer named "Kol Nidre" ("all the vows") is said three times, which signifies the importance of keeping vows in the Jewish tradition.

Yom Kippur ends with a prayer called "Neila" ("locking"). Throughout this prayer, the doors of the Ark (in which the bible scrolls are kept) remain open all the time. This symbolizes the belief that God is listening to our prayers, and that the gates of heaven are open. Then the Shofar is blown, as the command in Leviticus, 25, says: "In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, the day of Yom Kippur, you shall have the horn sounded throughout the land". The congregation then says a traditional blessing "Next year in Jerusalem", and this indicates that Yom Kippur is over.

Selichot

This is a religious custom among Jews all over the world, in which people go to the synagogue and pray there every night in the period of year before Yom Kippur. In some communities this is done for 40 days- starting at the beginning of the Hebrew month "Elul", whereas in others it is only done in the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. People who do this attend their synagogues during of the third part of the night (the Morning Watch), and pray for forgiveness until it is time for them to go to work.

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