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October 3, 2014 12:05 am

Quotes on the Meaning of Yom Kippur

avatar by Ronn Torossian

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All illustration of Jews praying in synagogue on Yom Kippur. Photo: Maurycy Gottlieb.

Friday night marks the holiest day on the Jewish calendar – Yom Kippur, which means the “Day of Atonement.” In Judaism, we believe it is the last chance to change God’s judgment of one’s deeds in the previous year, and his decisions on one’s fate in the coming year.

Here are some quotes on the meaning of this holy day:

  • “At the beginning of the period of judgment – on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – all the world’s inhabitants pass in individual review before G-d. During the Festival of Sukkot, the entire world is judged concerning water, fruit, and produce.” – Eliyahu Kitov
  • “Yom Kippur is the supreme day of forgiveness.” – Jonathan Sacks
  • “The purpose of Yom Kippur is to bring about reconciliation between people and between individuals and God. According to Jewish tradition, it is also the day when God decides the fate of each human being.” – Ariela Pelaia
  • “Fasting on Yom Kippur is a Biblical requirement, while praying the entire day is, at most, a long-standing custom, albeit one with a lot of significance.” – Rabbi Dr. Ari Zivotofsky
  • “On Yom Kippur, the ritual trial reaches its conclusion. The people finally drop all their defenses and excuses and throw themselves on the mercy of the court, yet the same people never lose the conviction that they will be pardoned. This atonement is by divine grace; it is above and beyond the individual effort or merit.” – Rabbi Irving Greenberg
  • “The moral effectiveness of Yom Kippur was greatly enhanced, for the focal point of its observance was shifted from Jerusalem to every town and hamlet, wherever synagogues existed.” – Abraham Bloch
  • “Throughout the centuries the ritual of Yom Kippur has cast its magic spell even over the most indifferent Jews. Its promise of cleansing, reconciliation, and restoration to a new relationship with God, still meets a basic need of the human heart.” – Samuele Bacchiocchi
  • “We have been functioning in the realm of belief that our prayers will lead to certain outcomes; that is, after all, the purpose of Yom Kippur.” – Maya Bernstein
  • “Yom Kippur is thought of as the holiest day of the year and the fact that we fast as always even when Yom Kippur falls on Shabbat (as it does this year) would bear this conclusion out.” – Rabbi Yehuda Susman
  • “Remember an alternate name for Yom Kippur is Yom Ha-Din…the Day of Judgment. This night is meant to be a time for severity.” – Kol Nidre
  • “Yom Kippur is the idea that we get a second chance before God forgives us for the mistakes that we’ve made. And we all get a second chance in life.” – Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld
  • “Yom Kippur is Gods way of allowing us to “recalculate” the course of our lives.” – Shimon Apisdorf
  • “Yom Kippur  – or the Day of Atonement, as it’s sometimes called  –  isn’t supposed to be a fun holiday. It’s meant to be meaningful and a way to think about how to be a better person for the coming year.” – Eric Levenson
  • “Yom Kippur is a day of reconciliation, when Jews strive to make amends with people and to draw closer to God through prayer and fasting.” – Ariela Pelaia
  • “And this shall be a statute for ever unto you: that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, ye shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all, whether it be one of your own country, or a stranger that sojourns among you… It shall be a sabbath of rest unto you, and ye shall afflict your souls, by a statute forever.” – Leviticus 16:29,31
  • “On Yom Kippur, we are reminded that what we do for a living has no correlation to our worthiness before G-d. Everyone is equal. The only thing that matters is our behavior to our friends, our spouses, our parents, our children, and our community.” – Amy J. Kramer
  • “Yom Kippur goes beyond the elimination of sin to the renewal of the individual. Habit and conditioning often combine with the structure of individual life to keep the person torn between evil and ethic, between apathy and ideal, between inertia and desire for improvement.” – Rabbi Irving Greenberg
  • “Yom Kippur can to this day be the regenerator of our lives, making us at-one with our Creator and bringing us nearer to the ideal from which we have departed.” – Rabbi S.M. Lehrman
  • “Yom Kippur reminds me of my responsibility to give back, that I must always work at becoming a better person. It’s a day full of gratitude and hope for the future.” – Tori Avey
  • “Yom Kippur is an affirmation of the value of life, of each day and of every aspect of each day, and of every choice that we make. We all know: that which we truly cherish is that which we carefully scrutinize. The more significant the whole, the more precious are its details.” – Shimon Apisdorf

And no matter where you are or what you do, Shana Tova to the people of Israel.

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