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Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur is the Jewish festival of the Day of Atonement. It is one of the Yamim Noraim (Hebrew, "Days of Awe"). The Yamim Noraim consist of Rosh Hashanah, the ten days of repentance and culminate with Yom Kipur. In the Hebrew calendar Erev Yom Kippur begins at nightfall on the ninth day of Tishri[?], and Yom Kippur continues into the next day, until nightfall.

Yom Kippur is the Jewish day of repentance, considered to be the holiest and most solemn day of the year. Its central theme is atonement and reconciliation. Eating, drinking, bathing, and conjugal relations are prohibited. Fasting begins at sundown, and ends after nightfall the following day. Yom Kippur prayer services begin with the prayer known as "Kol Nidre", which must be recited before sunset. Kol Nidrei, Aramaic for "all vows," is a public annullment of religious vows made by Jews during the preceding year. It only concerns unfilled vows made between a person and God, and does not cancel or nullify vows made between people.

A Tallit (four-cornered prayer garment) is donned for evening prayers - the only evening service of the year in which this is done. The Ne'ilah service is a special service held only on the day of Yom Kippur, and deals with the closing of the holiday. Yom Kippur comes to an end with the blowing of the shofar, which marks the conclusion of the fast. It is always observed as a one day holiday, both inside and outside the boundaries of the land of Israel.

Contrary to popular belief, Yom Kippur is not a sad day. Sephardic Jews (Jews of Spanish, Portuguese and North African descent) refer to this holiday as "the White Fast".

Biblical origin

The rites for Yom Kippur are set forth in the sixteenth chapter of Leviticus (cf. Exodus 30:10; Leviticus 23:27-31, 25:9; Numbers 29:7-11). It was a most solemn fast, on which no food could be taken throughout the whole the day, and servile works were forbidden. It was kept on nineteenth day of Tishri, which falls in September/October. Sacrifices were offered in the Temple in Jerusalem

The most distinctive ceremony of the day was the offering of the two goats. The general meaning of the ceremony is sufficiently shown in the text. But the details present some difficulty. The Vulgate caper emissarius, "emissary goat", represents the obscure Hebrew word Azazel, which occurs nowhere else in the Hebrew Bible. Various attempts have been made to interpret its meaning. Some have taken it for the name of a place where the man who took the goat away used to throw it over a precipice, since its return was thought to forbode evil. Others, with better reason, take it for the name of an evil spirit; and in fact a spirit of this name is mentioned in the Apocryphal Book of Henoch[?], and later in Jewish literature. On this interpretation the idea of the ceremony would seem to be that the sins were sent back to the evil spirit to whose influence they owed their origin. It has been noted that somewhat similar rites of expiation have prevailed among heathen nations. Modern biblical critics, who refer the above passages to the Priestly code, and to a post-Exilic date, are disposed to regard the sending of the goat to Azazel as an adaptation of a pre-existing ceremony.

See also: Kol Nidre, Rosh Hashanah, Jewish holidays

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