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Interfaith eLert – Yom Kippur

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Yom Kippur (yawm KIP-er), the Day of Atonement, is the most solemn and important of the Jewish holy days. The number of worshippers attending synagogue on this special day is often double or triple the normal attendance. Yom Kippur is a day of fasting, prayer and introspection with central themes of atonement and repentance.  
In Jewish tradition, God records each person’s fate in the “Book of Life” on Rosh Hashanah; however, that judgment is not “sealed” until Yom Kippur. During the “Days of Awe” (10 days starting on Rosh Hashanah and ending on Yom Kippur) Jewish people focus on those actions that can change an unfavorable decree: repentance, prayer and good deeds (usually charity).  

Yom Kippur is the tenth day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei. This year (2009 on the Gregorian calendar) Yom Kippur begins at sunset on September 27th and ends at nightfall September 28th.

Yom Kippur begins with Kol Nidre, a prayer asking for absolution from vows, and ends with the Neilah prayer. In between is an extensive liturgy that runs the emotional scale from the solemn to the celebratory.

Most of the work and other restrictions found on Shabbat also apply on Yom Kippur. In addition there are five other prohibitions specific to Yom Kippur: eating or drinking, washing and bathing, anointing one’s body, wearing leather shoes, and engaging in sexual relations.

Perhaps the best known of these restrictions is the practice of fasting. For a 25 hour period usually beginning 30 minutes before sunset on September 27th and ending after nightfall on the 28th, observant Jews refrain from eating and drinking (including water).


Following the conclusion of Yom Kippur families and friends gather for a light “break-fast” (not to be confused with breakfast) meal. Customs governing the first food and drink after the Yom Kippur fast vary.


Traditional Greeting(s)An appropriate greeting for Yom Kippur isG’mar Chatimah Tovah” – which is Hebrew and is usually translated as meaning “May you be sealed for a good year in the Book of Life.” In Israel it is common to wish "Tsom Kal" (easy fast) to everyone before Yom Kippur.


The American Jewish Year Book (published in 2007 by the American Jewish Committee) reports that the Jewish population in the United States is currently between 6.0 and 6.4 million and the world’s Jewish population is estimated at 13.155 million. 

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