Beginning at sundown tonight, Jews around the world will begin reflecting on the nature of their sins and seeking redemption. Yom Kippur, the “day of atonement,” will last 25 hours, during which time Jews are expected to refrain from eating, drinking, working, wearing makeup or engaging in sexual activities.
For many Jews, Yom Kippur is considered the holiest day of the year, which perhaps explains the traditionally large increase in attendance at services. While 20 to 40 people typically attend the weekly Shabbat at Congregation Beth Shalom, anywhere from 250 and 400 are expected for tonight’s service, which will be held at 7:30 at First Baptist Church, 1112 E. Broadway.
“People who usually don’t take off to observe the Sabbath or to observe other holy days, all of the sudden when the High Holy Days come they fill up the place,” said Rabbi Yossi Feintuch of Congregation Beth Shalom.
Most of the Yom Kippur holiday is spent in temple confessing one’s sins. Yom Kippur begins with a prayer called Kol Nidrei, meaning “all vows.” The congregants ask that any compulsive promises made over the next year between themselves and God be nullified. Ritual transgressions, such as not observing the Sabbath, are kept privately between an individual and God. Worshippers also participate in the Viddui, an open and public confession read together during the services.
Feintuch said that, unlike most days at temple, Jews are more deeply moved on Yom Kippur. The physical afflictions felt during rituals of public confession and fasting are meant to remind worshippers of their sins.
“Why would anyone go through the rituals if they didn’t feel that there is something there, an inspiration in them to drive them to (be) in a higher or better religious state than before?” he said.
Though Jews make a day of it once a year, the tradition of ritualistic confession of sin is not unique to Judaism. Islam also asks that worshippers admit any transgressions and ask God for forgiveness five times each day.
“We don’t have (any) hierarchy, we don’t answer to any humans, we answer only to God,” said Yunos Yusof, a member of the Islamic Center of Central Missouri. “Even in the Bible it says you have to answer to God, you don’t answer to (any) humans.”
God is the sole judge of whether or not Muslims’ sins are absolved. If at the end of a person’s life he or she has not been forgiven, it is believed that God will send that person to hell to be purified before accepting the worshipper into heaven, Yusof said.
“It’s up to God. If he wants to forgive us, he will forgive us,” he said.
Christians do not have a day of redemption similar to Yom Kippur, nor are they required to appeal directly to God through prayer for redemption. Roman Catholics, for instance, seek forgiveness by confessing transgressions through the sacrament of penance to a priest or mediator.
“For us, we have the priest standing in sacramentally for Christ himself,” said Phillip Miekamp, an associate pastor at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church. “It is not we who forgive the sins; it is God, the father, who forgives the sins.”
Catholicism, like Judaism, only requires people to confess their sins once a year, but Catholics are encouraged to do it as often as necessary.
“All of us sin,” Miekamp said. “And any time that our relationship with God is damaged there is need for healing, and if one feels that they have sinned against God or neighbor, then they need to make that right.”
Unlike Catholics, many Baptists do not believe that forgiveness is gained through a mortal mediator. Rather, they appeal to Jesus Christ to help absolve them of their sins in the eyes of God.
“God is infinite and eternal; therefore, the gifts he offers are both infinite and eternal, including his forgiveness,” said Michael Burt, senior pastor for Grace Bible Church. “That’s why a mere mortal cannot absolve sin, because whatever I offer would be finite and temporal.”
Feintuch said he believes that “people vote with their feet” in believing Yom Kippur to be the holiest day, shown by the turnout at services.
“That might be similar to what we see in the Christian world at the times of Christmas and Easter,” he said. “The sense that this is something special.”