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Day of Atonement: The Holy Day of Yom Kippur

Each year, Jews observe Yom Kippur—a holiday dedicated to sincere repentance and forgiveness, and sometimes referred to as the Day of Atonement. On this holy day, not only do Jews ask God for forgiveness, but they forgive the sins and hurts that others have done to them, and ask forgiveness from them as well. This is a solemn day, but one of joy in the abundance of forgiveness, and of peace. The most basic Yom Kippur meaning is that of repentance and atonement.

In this article, you’ll learn all about the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, including the most common traditions involving repentance and reflection. Learning about a Jewish observance as important as Yom Kippur is vital if you want to really see the culture and religion of Israel for what it is. And as any successful language-learner can tell you, this is an important step in mastering a country’s language.

At HebrewPod101.com, we hope to make every aspect of your learning journey both fun and informative. So let’s get started, and begin to discover the Yom Kippur significance in Israel.

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1. What is Yom Kippur?

Yom Hakippurim, also known as Yom Kippur, is considered one of the holiest days in the Jewish year. It’s a holiday of forgiveness and atonement for sins, when the Torah requires us to afflict our souls.

While Yom Kippur atonement is the basis of this holiday, it isn’t a sad day. For on Yom Kippur, forgiveness abounds; this repentance comes with the promise of forgiveness and absolution by God. On this day, we fast and ask God to forgive us for our sins.

2. When is the Day of Yom Kippur?

Days of Repentance

The date of Yom Kippur varies from year to year. For your convenience, here’s a list of when Yom Kippur is observed on the Gregorian calendar for the next ten years.

  • 2019: October 8
  • 2020: September 27
  • 2021: September 15
  • 2022: October 4
  • 2023: September 24
  • 2024: October 11
  • 2025: October 1
  • 2026: September 20
  • 2027: October 10
  • 2028: September 29

3. Yom Kippur Observances

Person Repenting

The best-known tradition is fasting. The goal is to afflict our bodies as a precondition for atonement, but it’s also meant to release people from their bodily constraints, so that they can focus on soul-searching. Special prayers are said on Yom Kippur. Those offering Yom Kippur prayers admit their sins and ask God for forgiveness. This is also a day we ask forgiveness from anyone we may have wronged throughout the year.

Most of the people in Israel aren’t religious, but on Yom Kippur, a special atmosphere permeates every part of the country. There are no radio or television broadcasts, stores and restaurants are closed, and most Jewish residents fast. The airports and seaports are closed, and there are no vehicles on the streets. The streets fill with people wearing holiday clothes, and children and young adults ride their bikes on the empty streets. All of Israel calms down for a day.

On Yom Kippur, there is nearly no vehicle or air traffic. Ships and trains don’t run, so the level of air pollution on Yom Kippur is significantly lower than any other time of year!

4. Yom Kippur & Shoes

What Yom Kippur custom involves shoes, and in what way?

The affliction of the soul required on Yom Kippur contains several prohibitions, including a prohibition on eating and drinking, a prohibition on washing oneself, and even a prohibition on wearing leather shoes. On Yom Kippur, observant Jews wear shoes made of rubber or cloth.

5. Essential Vocabulary for Yom Kippur

Man Deep in Thought

Here’s the essential vocabulary you need to know for Yom Kippur!

  • אופניים (ofanayim) — bicycle
  • יום כיפור (Yom Kippur) — Yom Kippur
  • תשובה (tshuva) — repentance
  • תפילה (tfilah) — prayer
  • כל נדרי (Kol Nidrei) — Kol Nidrei
  • צום (tsom) — fasting
  • שערי שמים (sha’arei shamayim) — gates of Heaven
  • סליחה (slikha) — forgiveness
  • השתקפות (hishtakfut) — reflection
  • עשרת ימי תשובה (Aseret Yemei Tshuva) — Ten Days of Repentance
  • שירה (shira) — singing
  • חטא (khet) — sin
  • אבינו מלכנו (Avinu Malkenu) — Our Father our King
  • עצירה מוחלטת (atsira mukhletet) — complete stop
  • קהילה (kehila) — community
  • ספר יונה (sefer yona) — Book of Jonah
  • תפילת העמידה (tfilat ha`amidah) — Amidah

To hear each of these vocabulary words pronounced, and alongside relevant images, check out our Yom Kippur vocabulary list!

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What are your thoughts on the Yom Kippur holiday in Israel? Do you have a similar holiday in your country, or another day where things slow down and become more peaceful? Let us know in the comments; we always look forward to hearing from you!

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