Belief in brief: Yom Kippur

Friday, September 25, 2009 | 9:49 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Synagogues across the world will likely be filled to capacity as Jewish people seek peace and pardon during Yom Kippur, the holiest holiday in Judaism.

Ten days after Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, Yom Kippur brings the High Holy Days to a solemn yet joyful close.

This year, Yom Kippur begins at sundown on Sunday and ends one hour after sundown on Monday. This sacred 25-hour period is devoted to prayer and fasting — a time for reconciliation among people and between God and individuals.

Day of Atonement

Yom Kippur, as translated from Hebrew, means Day of Atonement. According to, Yom Kippur is first mentioned in Leviticus 23:27, where it is described as a day of atonement when no work should be done.

The holiday provides a scared prompt for people to make amends to those they've sinned against in the past year. In the days leading up to Yom Kippur, Jewish people often seek out those they've offended and ask for forgiveness.

On Yom Kippur, the Book of Life is closed and sealed, according to Those who have repented for their sins have a clean slate for the new year.


Traditionally, Yom Kippur calls for a daylong fast, which consists of going without food and water. In preparation for the fast, many people begin slowly to decrease their food intake the week before.

In addition to a fast from food and water, many people also refrain from bathing, using oils or lotions on the skin, having sexual relations and wearing leather shoes. By refraining from these worldly activities, Jews believe they can better focus on God.

Sounding of the Shofar

At the end of Yom Kippur, the shofar, an instrument made of a ram's horn, is blown, signaling the end of the fast and the beginning of the new year. Traditional post-fast meals include breakfast foods such as eggs, cheese and bagels.

Sources:,, Jewish Outreach Institute,,

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