The Jewish Federation describes Yom Kippur as a Day of Atonement, the holiest of holy days of the Jewish faith. It is the culmination of the High Holy Days that begin with Rosh Hashanah, continue through 10 days of repentance, and come to a close through the five services of Yom Kippur. It is a day to ask God for forgiveness for sins committed against Him throughout the year, and to pledge not to commit them again. Through this atonement, God will determine your fate for the coming year. If you wish to atone for sins committed against people, you must make things right with the individuals before Yom Kippur to have the sins absolved, as Yom Kippur is primarily between you and God.
Yom Kippur has its origins in Leviticus 16:29, that mandates a Sabbath of Sabbaths, and establishes the timeline for when this should occur. Leviticus 23:27 establishes that Yom Kippur is to be a day of rest. Some scholars draw a connection between the fasting of Jews on Yom Kippur and the biblical expulsion from the Garden of Eden. According to Rabbi Yehudah Prero, however, the fasting of the holy day has its origins in the Sefer HaChinuch, that establishes Yom Kippur as a kindness of God, to allow us to repent of our sins.
Yom Kippur is marked by people in a number of ways, but there are some generalities that are observed by most:
The wearing of white, a symbol of purity and the promise that your sins will be wiped clean;
Fasting for the entire 25 hours of Yom Kippur unless pregnant, very young or ill;
Prayer-Jews that do not go to synagogue any other time of the year usually will go for Yom Kippur;
Abstaining from work, wearing makeup or perfume, bathing, wearing leather shoes, and sexual relations, as mandated by the Talmud.
Yom Kippur is the only Jewish holy day with five services. The Jewish Virtual Library explains that the High Holy Days come to a close at the end of the fifth service with the blowing at nightfall of the tekiah gedolah, a particular blast on the shofar, an instrument made from a ram’s horn or that of another kosher animal. The shofar has historical significance in the Bible as a symbol of the sacrifice of Abraham, who gave up a ram in place of his son.
As Yom Kippur draws the High Holy days to a close, Jews can look forward to starting a new year with an entirely clean slate. It is up to them to maintain the lessons of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur throughout the coming months.
JewishFederation.org, “History of Yom Kippur.”
Rabbi Yehudah Prero, “Yom Kippur.” Torah.org
JewishVirtualLibrary.org, “Yom Kippur.”