(Lev. 23: 26-32; see Lev. 16: 29-34; Num. 29: 7-11).
Yom Kippur is observed on the tenth day of Tishri and puts an end to the ten days of repentance (teshuvah) that began in Rosh Hashanah, a long process of introspection and an opportunity to re-think our lives.
On Yom Kippur, the shofar or ram’s horn is played in an atmosphere of recollection. It is a calling to repent, a powerful symbol that reminds us that we are in the most solemn day of the Jewish year, the Shabbat Shabaton.
In his book Vivir como judío [Living as a Jew], Rifat Sonsino writes:
“In Yom Kippur, communitarian confession of sins is read aloud with the faithful asking forgiveness to one another for their collective flaws as human beings, considered sins against the fellow man”
“According to ancient rabbis, there are two kinds of sins: the ones that we commit against God, and the ones that we commit against other human beings. The contrition expressed in Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), during the time of the Second Temple by means of the appropriate sacrifice, cleans the sins against God. On the other hand, in the second case, the sins can only be cleansed with the forgiveness of the person who took offense. (M Yoma, 8:9). Only with the confession of the sin is not enough. One have to follow the rule of the three C’s:
a) Confession: after the honest search in our own souls, we must verbalize the wrong.
b) Contrition: we must feel repentant and finally.
c) Change: the offender must ask for forgiveness, make an appropriate retribution and promise not doing it again.
In Judaism the idea of entrusting the expiation to another person is not acceptable. Each of us is responsible of his/her own actions, and, if that is the case, to make expiation and proper restitution”.
Yom Kippur’s fasting
Yom Kippur’s fasting helps us to fully concentrate on the meaning of the day. Not to ingest food or water during more than 24 hours can be a compelling physical and spiritual experience. Fasting also facilitates our capacities to reach discipline and resistance. If we are able to control the urge to eat for one day, maybe we will be able to have a better control over our behaviour throughout the year.
But as Progressive Jews, there is another reason to observe Yom Kippur’s fasting: compassion.
The rabbi Mary Zamore, editor of “The sacred Table: Creating a Jewish Food Ethic" writes:
“As we face our own discomfort with hunger, remember the number of people worldwide who suffer from true involuntary hunger and lack of food. Our hunger should compel us help the hungry in our communities and beyond. We know that our fasting is finite, while others do not have that luxury. As Isaiah (58:5-6) rebukes as: “Is this the fast I look for? A day of self-affliction? Is not rather this the fast I look for: to unlock the shackles of injustice, to undo the fetters of bondage, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every cruel chain?” Our fasting should enrich us, make us better people and make us do things better. "
Fasting is only permitted to those who have good health and are over 13 years-old. It is not permitted to those who are sick or those who put their health at risk (pregnant women, for example).
Prohibition of working:
In Yom Kippur, also named Shabbat Shabbaton, (Day of Complete Rest), it is forbidden to work (See Lev 23:32)
Other prohibitions in Yom Kippur
The Sages also established that we must refrain from having sexual intercourse, going to the bathroom, wearing sandals (leather sole) and doing anointment (M Yoma 8: 1).
Reform movement allows the free will of its members on this matter.
In Yom Kippur we celebrate the following religious services:
- Kol Nidrei: the afternoon service of Erev Yom Kippur receives its name from the prayer Kol Nidre (All vows) and calls to the annulment of all promises to God:
“(…) Our vows are no longer vows, and our prohibitions are no longer prohibitions, and our oaths are no longer oaths...”
- Shacharit: morning service.
- Musaf: additional service after Shacharit.
- Yzcor: special service of remembrance.
- Mincha: afternoon service that includes the reading of the book of Jonah.
- Neilah: unique service in the liturgical calendar and end Yom Kippur.
A progressive view of Yom Kippur
Bet Shalom sees Yom Kippur as an opportunity for bringing thought into action, for looking to ourselves and changing the way we do things. Personal change should also impel us to work harder and better for world’s social justice, not to an ascetic retirement that isolates us from it.
Yom Kippur means assuming our personal responsibility; convince ourselves that we should take our duties as human beings and Jews seriously, although at times it may seem difficult to accomplish them. Yom Kippur means never to give up.
Yom Kippur is a day of hope.