Yom Kippur

One of the holiest days of the year, it is a time for introspection, self-correction, prayer, and repentance. The Torah instructs us to fast on the 10th day of the month of Tishrei and to refrain from work on that day like on Shabbat.

What does Yom Kippur mean?
It simply means "Day of Atonement".

What are the customs of Yom Kippur?
It is an ancient custom to perform Kaparot before Yom Kippur. Kaparot can be performed any time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but the preferred time is just after dawn on the day before Yom Kippur.

The Kaparot ritual involves taking a chicken (a rooster for a man and a hen for a woman) or money in your right hand and revolving it over your head while reciting a prayer.

The prayer finishes with the following declaration:
"This is my exchange, this is my substitute, this is my atonement. This chicken will go to its death (or, if using money, "this money will go to charity") while I will enter and proceed to a good long life, and peace."

The chicken is then slaughtered and it (or its cash value) is given to the poor. This ritual is meant to symbolically express our recognition that we have sinned and are no longer deserving of life. By killing the chicken we are stating that, in truth, this should be our fate but that God has given us the opportunity to return to Him through teshuva and Yom Kippur.

It is important to realise that Kaparot is not a magical means of removing your sins. Only teshuva, "repentance" can do this. Kaparot is a way of inspiring and expressing teshuva.

The fast
The Yom Kippur fast is the strictest of the entire year. The fast lasts for the entirety of the day, from sundown on the eve of Yom Kippur till nightfall the following night, over 24 hours. The fast involves five prohibitions:

* Eating and drinking.

* Washing one's body.

* Anointing oneself.

* Wearing leather shoes.

* Marital relations.

White garments
It is customary for men to wear a white tunic-like garment called a kittel during the prayers of Yom Kippur. The white kittel is reminiscent of the angels and symbolises purity. Furthermore, the kittel resembles burial shrouds and thus reminds us that we will die someday and thus humbles us to do teshuva.

The day of Yom Kippur is devoted entirely to prayer. While concentration on one's prayers and their meaning is important throughout the year, on Yom Kippur it carries even more significance.

The order of the services on this Festival are as follows:
Kol Nidrei
This is the evening service of the 10th of Tishri, the very first service of the fast. It is a prayer that is recited three times and is a formal abrogation of all vows made during the year between yourself and God, and not between yourself and other people.

This is quite a long service and involves many prayers of Viduee, "confession". During this part of the day we also read from the Torah. Just before Mussaf we say a special prayer called Yizkor, "remembrance", when we remember those close relatives that have passed away during our lifetime, those who have died for this country and for Israel, and a special prayer of thanks for us still being alive and for the relatives who are also still alive.

This prayer will take up to three hours, and usually ends at about 4.30/5pm. It includes many prayers of confession and various occasions where we prostrate ourselves on the floor.

This prayer is relative short and will only take about an hour. It involves, as with the rest of the services, numerous prayers of confession and remorse and also includes reading from the Torah.

Neilah - "Closure"
The end of the fast is drawing near and the heaven doors are about to close. It is our last opportunity to plead and pray to God for forgiveness and asking Him to inscribe us in the Book of Life for the coming year. The Ark remains open throughout this part of the service, and the shofar is blown at its termination and the termination of the fast.

This is the regular weekday evening prayer.