Yom Kippur is the day of repentance in the Jewish holidays. It is held ten days after the beginning of the Jewish new year on Rosh Hashanah, and marks the end of a forty day period called Elul which are also considered the forty days of repentance.
Yom Kippur allows for no work, and much of the day spent attending temple. Many Jews also practice a ritual fasting for the day, which ends at sunset. This is essentially the last day in which to ask God’s pardon for sins against him.
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In the days prior to Yom Kippur, people may ask pardon of others against whom they may have sinned. This is essential because many believe that God does not forgive sins committed against others, but does forgive sins against himself. Thus the person attending Yom Kippur must reflect on personal sins against God and ask forgiveness.
This is unlike the solitary Catholic form of confession, as sins against God are asked to be forgiven in a group during the Yom Kippur service. In a way it recognizes that all are sinners and all state “We have sinned,” together.
Other aspects of the Yom Kippur service include the cantor of the temple singing the Kol Nidre three times. The prayer includes the statement that all in the temple have repented of vows, especially any lies, and are thus forgiven.
Following the sung Kol Nidre, Jews together make their confession. This is followed by a last hour in the temple called Neilah. This is essentially the last time prior to the next beginning of Elul for Jews to consider their sins against God and ask forgiveness.
During the Temple service of Rosh Hashanah, the ark, which holds the Torah, remains open. This is symbolic of the gates of heaven being open throughout the service. Thus all prayers and supplications are heard in heaven and forgiveness can be granted.
The Yom Kippur service comes to an end with the statement by all: “Next year, in Jerusalem.” Jerusalem represents the place of peace, where souls are at rest. It also refers to the time when Jews were slaves to the Egyptians. Thus the statement can be taken as a yearning for spiritual oneness, peace, and freedom.
Yom Kippur ends with this final statement. Jews who have made true atonement to God are considered now to have a clean slate for sins against God. Since the service is at night, one may eat after the service ends. However, no food can have been prepared on that day. It is acceptable to prepare food after the end of the service.