Yom Kippur, literally “the Day of Atonement,” is the holiest day on the Jewish calendar and is celebrated in Israel and throughout the Jewish world with great intensity. It is the culmination of “the Ten Days of Repentance” that begin on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
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Yom Kippur takes place on the 10th day of the month of Tishrei, usually in the early autumn. It begins at sundown and ends at the following sundown.
Most Israeli Jews are not especially religious and do not regularly attend synagogue, but even secular Jews will usually attend services for Yom Kippur and may even fast. Yom Kippur services continue all day long for Yom Kippur, including five separate times of prayer. A light meal is eaten just before the day begins, and all-day fasting is the rule, though some fast only partially.
During the synagogue services, the Biblical account of the High Priest offering a sacrifice for the sins of Israel in the Holy of Holies of Solomon’s Temple is often read. Since the destruction of the Temple, the actual sacrifice can no longer be done, but the Talmud instructs followers of Judaism to read and contemplate the Temple ritual in place of its actually being performed.
It is believed that confessing and regretting the sins of the past year between Rosh Hashanah and the Day of Atonement gains forgiveness for them and allows you to start the new year “clean.” Sins not forgiven before Yom Kippur ends, however, will be the basis of judgment on you for the year to come.
Also note that Yom Kippur is treated like a Sabbath, that is, a day of rest that usually falls on every Saturday. This means that Israeli businesses will be mostly closed down since no work is permitted to be done on the Sabbath.
Those visiting Israel during the highest of all Jewish holy days, Yom Kippur, may want to consider taking part in the following activities:
- Attend synagogue for all or part of the all-day, five-segment services. You will learn much about Judaism and Jewish culture, and some of the larger synagogues will have impressive architecture to admire as well.
- Buy a “Sabbath-style” Jewish meal in the local supermarket before Yom Kippur begins and eat it on Yom Kippur. It will be hard to find good cooked food during the holiday, but the Jewish people have developed Sabbath dishes that are very delicious and require no cooking during a holy day. Try cholent, a meat, bean, barley, and potato stew; braided sweet bread, called “challah;” kugel, a spiced, sweetened, noodle and raisin pudding; soup with Jewish long noodles called “lokshen” or square noodles called “farfel;” or a cream cheese and salmon “bagel sandwich.”
- Walk or bike around Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, the beautiful shores of Lake Galilee, the Golan heights, the arid Negev, or other parts of Israel. As public transport stops and most will not drive on Yom Kippur, the streets are full of bikers.
Being in Israel for Yom Kippur will give you insight into Jewish traditions, a chance to try “Sabbath dishes,” and a host of other unique opportunities, despite many businesses being shut down for the day.