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Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year in Judaism. This is what that means | CNN


Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, is considered the holiest day of the year for people who practice Judaism.

The holiday technically spans two calendar days, because the Jewish calendar is lunar. The days are marked from sunset to sunset. This year, it begins at sunset on October 4 and continues through the evening of October 5.

Yom Kippur concludes a 10-day period known as the “Days of Wonder” that begins with the Jewish New Year, which is called Rosh Hashanah.

Jews all over the world must face their misdeeds and sins during the year through worship and prayer so that they can atone for their misdeeds. In fear and awe at God’s judgment, the Jews seek forgiveness. In doing so, people are called to reflect on their faults and shortcomings.

No matter how you spend your day, it is a time to atone in your own way, whether in a synagogue or at home. Synagogues hold religious services throughout the day for observant Jews to come and pray introspectively, either asking for forgiveness or expressing regret for sins committed in the past year. Once you atone, it is believed that you begin the Jewish New Year with a “clean slate,” absolved of past transgressions.

According to tradition and lore, the origins of Yom Kippur can be traced back to Moses leading the ancient Israelites out of slavery, as described in the Book of Exodus. He led them to Mount Sinai, where Moses himself went up the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments from God. Returning with the tablets, he discovered that his people were worshiping a false idol, a golden calf. Moses destroyed the tablets in anger, but the people atoned for their sin, so God forgave them.

Most observant Jews also fast from sunset to sunset during the holiday, abstaining from food and water. The most observant members go beyond fasting and will also refrain from bathing, wearing leather shoes, indulging in perfumes or lotions, and having marital relations. Abstinence from material and earthly activities, to whatever degree performed, symbolizes the cleansing of the spirit so that one’s commitment to repentance is true and pure.

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. Children (usually under the age of 13) are not required to fast. The sick and elderly are also exempt. Pregnant and lactating women may also skip the fast if they wish, citing legitimate medical reasons. This is not a time for true punishment, but rather a time for uninterrupted reflection.

After a day of repentance and reflection, it is customary to have a “fast-breaking” meal. Families, parishioners, and friends gather for sunset meals together, marking the end of the holiday. In North America, typical quick breakfast cuisine is derived from Jewish gourmet fare: bagels, smoked salmon, schmears, and all the fixings. And don’t forget the coffee cake or the Jewish apple pie for dessert.

If you are not Jewish and want to send your best wishes to people celebrating Yom Kippur, the typical greeting is: “Have an easy fast.” Or you can say, “Have a good fast.”

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