Yom Kippur: A Gentile’s Guide

By Samantha Plotner

What is Yom Kippur?

Yom Kippur is the second High Holy Day (the first being Rosh Hashanah), and it is considered the “Day of Atonement.” It is believed that this day is the day God inscribes people into the Book of Life, where it is said the names of the people who will go to heaven are written. The days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are to be used for repenting for one’s sins during the year, and apologizing to anyone you have wronged. Your final repentance occurs during prayer on Yom Kippur.

What do you say to someone on Yom Kippur?
Most of us have been in that situation where you want to wish well, but don’t have the correct religious vocabulary. While no one would judge you for trying, “Merry Yom Kippur” just doesn’t seem to cut the chase. You could instead say “Happy Yom Kippur,” “L’shanna tova,” or “Have an easy fast.”

What is prohibited on Yom Kippur?
Many Jews fast on Yom Kippur. Jewish law requires adults to fast, however, one is considered an adult once one has reached the age of a Bar or Bat Mitzvah (usually around 13). Children, and those for whom fasting could be medically harmful, are exempt from fasting. Many Jews refrain from bathing or wearing leather as well.

When does fasting stop?
You stop at sundown, when three stars are visible in the sky. Many Jews celebrate with family and friends at a party to “break the fast.”

What is Yizkor?
Yizkor is the memorial service held on Yom Kippur (as well as on several other holidays throughout the year). This service is a time to remember those you have lost and those that came before you. It is considered bad luck by some Jews for children to stay in the synagogue during Yizkor, or if both of your parents are still living.

Samantha is a junior at Barnard College and Editor-in-Chief for The Nine Ways of Knowing.

Photo courtesy of Park Way Rest Stop.

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