Thursday, September 23rd | 17 Tishri 5782

September 13, 2021 11:48 am

A Yom Kippur Guide for the Perplexed

avatar by Yoram Ettinger


Ultra-Orthodox Jews perform the Kaparot ritual, where white chickens are slaughtered as a symbolic gesture of atonement, ahead of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement in Mea Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem September 16, 2018. Photo: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun.

Here are some facts about the upcoming holiday of Yom Kippur:

1. Yom Kippur is considered to be a Super Sabbath (Shabbat Shabbaton in Hebrew) — a soul-searching opportunity for pious and evil people alike.

2. Yom Kippur is observed on the 10th day of the Jewish month of Tishrei (September 16, 2021). Tishrei’s astrological sign is Libra, which symbolizes the key themes of Yom Kippur: optimism, truth, justice, scales, humility, and tolerance. Libra is ruled by the planet Venus, which represents divine light and compassion.

3. Yom Kippur dates back to the Biblical Exodus (Leviticus 23:26-32): “The Lord said to Moses, that the tenth day of this seventh month [Tishrei] is the day of Atonement. … Do not do any work on that day. … This is a lasting ordinance for generations to come…”

4. Yom Kippur (the 10th day of the Jewish year) concludes 10 days of soul-searching, atonement and repentance, which begins on Rosh Hashanah.

Ten has a special significance in Jewish history: God’s abbreviation is the 10th Hebrew letter; the 10 Commandments; the 10 Plagues of Egypt; the 10 spheres of the spiritual universe, which were highlighted during the Biblical Creation; 10 reasons for blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur; the 10% Biblical gift to God (tithe); the 10 Martyrs (Jewish leaders), who were tortured/murdered by the Roman Empire; the 10 generations between Adam and Noah and between Noah and Abraham; the 10 divine tests passed by Abraham; the 10-person-quorum (Minyan in Hebrew), which is required for a collective Jewish prayer service; the 10 sons of Haman, etc.

5. The Hebrew word Kippur, כיפור (atonement/repentance), is a derivative of the Biblical word Kaporetכפורת ,, which was the cover of the Holy Ark in the Sanctuary, and Kopher, כופר, the cover of Noah’s Ark and the Holy Altar in the Temple. The day of Yom Kippur resembles a spiritual cover (dome), which separates the holy (Yom Kippur) from the mundane (the rest of the year), between spiritualism and materialism. The kippah, כיפה (skullcap, yarmulke), which covers one’s head during prayers, reflects a spiritual dome.

6. Asking forgiveness of fellow human-beings — and not only of God — is a major feature of Yom Kippur. Asking forgiveness is consistent with Leviticus 19:18 (“Love thy neighbor as yourself”), and with the philosophy of Hillel the Elder: “Do not do unto your fellow person that which is hateful to you. That is the essence of the Torah; the rest is commentary….”

7. Fasting is a key feature of Yom Kippur, reducing material pleasure (for spiritual cleansing), in order to focus on one’s soul-searching, examining, and enhancing one’s behavioral track record toward fellow human beings, and enhancing empathy with the needy. The Hebrew spelling of fasting is צומ, which is the root of the Hebrew word ((צמצומ for reducing/focusing.

8. There are six annual Jewish fasting days:

(a) Yom Kippur.

(b) The 10th day of the Jewish month of Tevet commemorates the beginning of the 586-589 BCE siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar.

(c) The 17th day of the month of Tammuz commemorates the 586 BCE and 69 CE breaching of Jerusalem’s walls by the Babylonian and Roman Empires, as well as the breaking of the Tablets by Moses upon confronting the Golden Calf lapse of faith.

(d) The ninth day of the month of Av is the most calamitous day in Jewish history, commemorating the destruction of the first (586 BCE) and second (70 CE) Jewish Jerusalem Temples, by the Babylonian and Roman Empires respectively; the beginning of the Jewish exile from the Land of Israel; the Ten Spies’ bankruptcy of faith; the crushing of the 132-135 CE Bar Kokhbah Revolt by the Roman Emperor Adrianus (600,000 Jewish fatalities); the pogroms of the First Crusade (1096-1099) in Germany, France, Italy and Britain; the expulsion of the Jews from Britain (1290) and Spain (1492); the eruption of the First World War (1914); and the beginning of the 1942 deportation of Warsaw Ghetto Jews to the Treblinka extermination camp.

(e) The third day of the month of Tishrei commemorates the murder of the Jewish Governor of Jerusalem, Gedalyah Ben Achikam, by another Jew, Yishmael Ben Netanyah (586 BCE).

(f) The 13th day of the month of Adar is the Fast of Queen Esther — one day before the Purim holiday — which commemorates Queen Esther’s three-day-fast prior to her appeal to the Persian King Ahasuerus to refrain from exterminating the Jews (around 480 BCE).

9.  Yom Kippur is concluded by blowing the shofar (a ritual ram’s horn), ten days following the blowing of the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah. It represents a moral wake-up call, optimism, determination, humility, and peace-through-strength. It commemorates the saving of Isaac by a ram, the receipt of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai, the conquest of Jericho by Joshua, and Gideon’s victory over the 135,000 strong Midianite army.

10. A Memorial Candle in memory of one’s parents is lit on Yom Kippur, reaffirming “Honor Thy Father and Mother,” providing an opportunity to ask forgiveness of one’s parent(s), and asking forgiveness on their behalf.

Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of “Second Thought: a U.S.-Israel initiative.”

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