What and when is Yom Kippur? Judaism's holiest day, the Day of Atonement, is coming soon

This Sunday at sunset, the holiest day of the year in Judaism begins. It's called Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, and it lasts about 26 hours or until nightfall on Monday.

Yom Kippur comes at the end of the Jewish High Holy Days or "10 Days of Awe," 10 days after Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year). The High Holy Days are a time for repentance and reflection, and the daylong fast of Yom Kippur is a time for Jews to reflect on sins or wrongdoings from the previous year, ask forgiveness and make amends. It is believed that on Yom Kippur, each person's fate is decided.

“Spiritually, they say on Rosh Hashanah it is written, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed, the idea being that everything that's going to happen in the year to come, the stage is set during this time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur,” Danielle Kranjec, associate vice president of Jewish education at Hillel International, told USA TODAY.

What is Yom Kippur?

Congregation Beth Israel members look at prayer books during Yom Kippur service at Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church in Phoenix on September 16, 2021.
Congregation Beth Israel members look at prayer books during Yom Kippur service at Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church in Phoenix on September 16, 2021.

Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, is when Jews reflect on sins or wrongdoings from the previous year, ask for forgiveness, and think about how to improve for the coming year. It is a day of fasting, and many Jews will attend services at synagogues or other congregations, reciting prayers and singing songs.

Yom Kippur was first observed during the Israelites' exodus from captivity in Egypt, according to Chabad.org. After Moses returned from Mount Sinai where he had spent 40 days and received the Ten Commandments, he returned to find the people of Israel worshipping a golden calf. Moses threw the sacred tablets to the ground and ascended again to pray for their forgiveness. After another 40 days, he returned with another set of tablets and the Day of Atonement began.

For hundreds of years and through the construction of two temples in Jerusalem, Yom Kippur was the only day the high priest exchanged his golden robes for simple white garments and was permitted to enter the inner sanctum where he would pray for forgiveness on behalf of all Jews. After the second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D., the service was adapted for use in individual synagogues all over the world.

During the 10 Days of Awe between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it is believed that all creatures are judged and the decision is made whether they will live or die in the coming year. The names of the righteous are inscribed in the "book of life" and the wicked are condemned to death. During those ten days Jews perform "teshuvah," or repentance.

Rosh Hashanah: What to know about Jewish New Year that leads to Yom Kippur

How is Yom Kippur observed?

The day before Yom Kippur, families will gather and eat two festive meals. A honey cake may be requested and received, children are blessed, and holiday candles are lit before sundown.

During Yom Kippur, no work may be done "until the stars come out in the evening of the next day," according to Chabad.org. For nearly 26 hours observant teen and healthy adult Jews will cleanse their bodies and souls by abstaining from:

  • Eating or drinking (except for the sick, elderly, or women who have just given birth)

  • Wearing leather shoes

  • Applying lotions or creams

  • Washing or bathing

  • Engaging in sexual relations

Five distinct prayer services take place on Yom Kippur, and rabbis read from a special prayer book known as the machzor. The day is devoted to introspection, prayer, and asking for forgiveness.

Yom Kippur is the most sacred day of the year in Judaism and even Jews who may not ordinarily observe other traditions often observe it.

When is Yom Kippur 2023? How long does Yom Kippur last?

Yom Kippur begins several minutes before sunset on Sunday, Sept. 24, and ends after nightfall on Monday, Sept. 25. In the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur begins on the 10th day of Tishrei.

What happens after Yom Kippur?

After night has fallen and the closing service is over, the solemn, introspective day ends with a joyous feeling. There is singing and dancing and a single blast blown on the shofar (a curved ram's horn), followed with the declaration, "Next year in Jerusalem."

Many Jews will gather to break their fast with a festive, comfort-food meal, usually consisting of breakfast food such as blintzes, bagels, honey cakes, eggs and smoked fish.

Can I wish someone a Happy Yom Kippur?

The holiday is a time for serious contemplation of the soul and one's actions, so a cheerful "happy Yom Kippur" isn't appropriate. Instead, try "have a good holy day" or "wishing you a god seal" or "have a meaningful Yom Kippur" or "have a good year."

Hebrew greetings include "shana tova" (good year), "tizku leshanim rabot" (may you merit many pleasant and good years) and "yom tov" (good day).

This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: Yom Kippur: The holiest day of the year for Jews begins sundown Sunday