Kol Nidre. The Day of Atonement. Shabbat Shabbaton. Whatever you want to call it, we’re just days away from Yom Kippur. Such a holy day…but what exactly does it signify? No time to waste, the gates are closing. Without further ado, here is The Idiot’s Guide to Yom Kippur for both the hard-core repenters and the religious newbies. Let’s jump in, leather-less feet first.
Yom Kippur is the most solemn day of the Jewish year, which really says a lot when you consider what a gloomy people we are. The gravity of the day comes from the central themes of atonement and repentance, as our fates for the upcoming year are sealed. “Who will live and who will die, who by fire, who by water?” Hey, who’s ready for some fun? I just love an uplifting message to get me into the holiday spirit.
Like all Jewish festivals, Yom Kippur begins at sundown, entering this year on Friday, October 3rd and continuing until Saturday night. Interestingly enough, the Hebrew calendar is arranged so that the day of Yom Kippur never falls on a Friday, Sunday, or Rosh Hashana.
Unlike a normal day that has four prayer services, Yom Kippur has Maariv, Shacharit, Musaf, Mincha, Neila, Donner, and Blitzen. And let’s not forget the important vidui, the public confession of sins. Don’t be bashful – none of us are perfect. “Ashamnu…bagadnu…gazalnu….I unfriended my boss.” And what exactly is Hamasnu anyway? I’m more of a Fatahnu guy myself.
“Now, Dasher! Now, Mincha! Now, Neila, and Vixen!
On, Musaf! On, Cupid! On, Donner and Blitzen!”
Don’t wait till the vidui though to start the hard work of teshuva (repentance). It is customary during the Days of Awe to seek forgiveness for wrongs done against God and against other human beings. Those who do real teshuva will presumably be inscribed in the Book of Life. Those who publish general “if I did anything to hurt anyone, I’m sorry” non-apologies on social media will be inscribed in the Book of Suck.
During the afternoon service, we read the book of Jonah whose message is clear: avoid large man-eating fish at all costs. And if you do get swallowed up, make sure your smartphone has been configured for “In-Stomach Tweeting”.
Among the customs on this holiest of days are the prohibition of eating, drinking, bathing, wearing perfumes or lotions, or engaging in marital relations. Taking into account the absence of perfumes and bathing, this last one can probably go without saying.
Traditionally, Yom Kippur is considered the date when Moses received the second set of ten commandments, begging the question: “There was a problem with the first?” If there’s ever a time to be shlepping two large stone tablets, it’s probably when you’re not fasting. I can get behind the ‘Thou Shalt Not Murder’ thing but after not eating for 25 hours, I typically want to kill somebody.
And even if you don’t have the stamina to make it through the entire day, you won’t want to miss Neila, the final service before the proverbial “gates” are closed. The Neila service draws to a conclusion with the blowing of the shofar, a message that not only has the holiday ended but also that secular Jews are free to avoid synagogue for another year while complaining that services are boring.
While Yom Kippur is a holy day wherever you are, if you’ve never commemorated this day in Israel, it is highly recommended. Not only will you experience a higher level of spirituality, you’ll witness a near absence of vehicles on the road which is probably wise considering that six out of five doctors recommend not operating heavy machinery while starving.
This particular day will mark 41 years since the Yom Kippur War, the surprise attack launched on Israel by its Arab neighbors. While a war is nothing to joke about, it’s worth wondering why the Arabs didn’t have the foresight to attack us on Purim. On Yom Kippur? You suck it up, summon your strength, and fight. But on Purim, with the men dressed as women and heavily intoxicated? Take the Golan, I’m not fighting in heels.
Jokes aside, I am proud to say that in the footsteps of American Jewish sports legend Sandy Koufax, I too will not be working this year. Please, hold the accolades. It’s the least I can do for my religion. I hope my fellow Israelis will do the same.
To all of you wherever you are, may you be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life. Gmar chatima tova!