This year the Jewish celebration of Yom Kippur begins at sunset on Tuesday 22nd September, and continues until the end of Wednesday 23rd September.
Yom Kippur means The Day of Atonement. Within the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur is the annual deadline for changing one’s ways and being forgiven for bad deeds. It is observed on the 10th day of the Hebrew month Tishrei and is the most sacred of all Jewish holidays.
A day of reflection and penitence, it is forbidden to eat and drink, to wash, to use perfumes and lotions, and to wear leather shoes. During this day Jews meet in the synagogue and say prayers.
In contrast, the day before Yom Kippur is filled with 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.
Yom Kippur gives the devout a chance to be inscribed in God’s Book of Life. Merely praying to be forgiven by God, however, is not enough. You must also make sure you’ve hurt no other people, broken no vows, and been forgiven by anyone who you may have accidentally upset or caused harm.
Yom Kippur ends with a prayer called Neila (locking). Throughout this prayer, the doors of the Ark (the chest in which the bible scrolls are housed), are kept open, symbolizing the belief that God is listening to our prayers, and that the gates of heaven are open. After the Neila, the command in Leviticus, 25, is read out: 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 Yom Kippur is officially over for the year.
Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.