Yom Kippur, which translates to Day of Atonement, is the holiest day for Jews and occurs on the tenth day of the month of Tishrei. It marks the end of the period of High Holy Days or Days of Awe in Judaism. This day is solemnly dedicated to atonement and repentance. It is also the day on which the fate of Jews is sealed after being evaluated on Rosh Hashanah.
Yom Kippur is a day for severe prayer and seeking forgiveness so that the soul is cleansed.
Sealing of fates -
As the Days of Awe begin on Rosh Hashanah, people have time till Yom Kippur to repent their wrong deeds and ask for forgiveness. In the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Jews amend their wrong acts and seek to clean their souls. They ask for pardon for the wrongs against God (bein adam leMakom) and against other human beings (bein adam lechavero).
According to Judaism, the 'Book of Life' is opened on Rosh Hashanah by God and each life is reviewed. After 10 days, on Yom Kippur, the fate of each person is inscribed in it with either life or death depending upon the deeds. This is known as the sealing of fates.
This holiday is traditionally observed by Jews by fasting for a period of twenty-five hours and praying intensively all day long. This fast begins one hour before the day of Yom Kippur and is observed till midnight. Most of the prayers on this day are said collectively in synagogues. Even the less religious Jews attend Yom Kippur prayers and services.
The day preceding Yom Kippur (Erev Yom Kippur) is celebrated with two festive meals and involve giving charity (tzedakah) and seeking forgiveness through prayers (tfiloh) .
Leviticus 23:27 mandates Yom Kippur to be a day of strict rest. The five traditional prohibitions that abstain from pleasure observed on this day are -
1)No eating and drinking
2)No wearing of leather shoes
3)No bathing or washing
4)No use of perfumes or lotions
5)No marital relations
Another integral part of Yom Kippur is 'Teshuvah' (Repentance). Through repentance people seek to draw closer to God through prayer and fasting. During the period of Days of Awe (also known as Days of Repentance), Jews are encouraged to ask for pardon from anyone and everyone they may have wronged deliberately or in deliberately.
The person from whom forgiveness is sought is supposed to grant it after being asked thrice.
An excerpt from Al Khet, a Jewish prayer goes -
For the sin that we have committed under stress or through choice;
For the sin that we have committed in stubbornness or in error;
For the sin that we have committed in the evil meditations of the heart;
For the sin that we have committed by word of mouth;
For the sin that we have committed through abuse of power;
For the sin that we have committed by exploitation of neighbors;
For all these sins, O God of forgiveness, bear with us, pardon us, forgive us!
Children over the age of 13 are allowed to keep the fast on this day along with adults. Exceptions are made in the case of pregnant women or those who have recently given birth and those suffering from severe illness.
Kapparot is a ritual observed by some orthodox Jews. It involves swinging a live chicken and some coins over the head of a person thrice on the eve of Kapparot. The chicken is then slaughtered and coins given in charity. This practice is symbolic to transferring one's sins to the chicken and coin and becoming clean.