Following Rosh Hashanah and ending the period of repentance and atonement is Yom Kippur.

We assume that you have read the introduction to this section and have followed up in books or on-line learning about Yom Kippur, its history, traditions, customs, themes, etc. You should then be familiar with the traditional services – Kol Nidrei, Ma’ariv, Shahrit, Musaf, Minhah, Neilah.


We do believe that this is the time for each of us to reflect on our personal lives, the community around us and the situation in the Middle East as we decide how to observe Yom Kippur.


For the past few years we have developed our own service and celebrated along with another couple at a beach on the Atlantic Ocean. The core of the service is Yom Kippur prayers and writings, many of which are reprinted below. We found them to be relevant to the issues facing us as unaffiliated members of the Jewish community committed to Judaism. Because of the escalation of the conflict in Israel/Palestine, we also added current articles which allowed us to carry on a discussion about the themes of the holiday as they related to this situation.


While you are certainly welcome to use this material, we encourage you to explore any other resources that address the themes of repentance and atonement and would be pleased to help you create a meaningful observance.


What have we learned about Yom Kippur?    


“And it shall be a statute for ever unto you: In the seventh month (Tishri), on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and shall do no manner of work ... For on this day shall atonement be made for you, to cleanse you; from all your sins shall you be clean before the Lord ... to make atonement for the children of Israel because of all their sins once in the year.”  Leviticus XVI, 29-34.


On Yom Kippur we are encouraged to atone for our sins. The Haftarah read on Yom Kippur is called Acharey Mos and includes the following from Ezekiel XXII, 3-8


“O city that sheddest blood in the midst of thee, that thy time may come and that makest idols unto thyself to defile thee. …therefore have I made thee a reproach unto the nations, and a mocking to all the countries.  Those that are near and those that are far from thee, shall mock thee, thou defiled of name and full of tumult. Behold the princes of Israel, every one according to his might, have been in thee to shed blood.  In  thee have they made light of father and mother; in the midst of thee have they dealt by oppression with the stranger; in thee have they wronged the fatherless and the widow.  Thou hast despised My holy things and hast profaned My sabbaths…. In thee have they taken gifts to shed blood; thou hast taken interest and increase, and thou hast greedily gained of thy neighbors by oppression, and hast forgotten Me, saith the Lord God.  Behold, therefore, I have smitten My hand at thy dishonest gain which thou hast made and at thy blood which hath been in the midst of thee.  And I will scatter thee among the nations, and disperse thee through the countries; and I will consume thy filthiness out of three. And thou shalt be profaned in thyself in the sight of the nations and thou shalt know that I am the Lord.”  


What is likely to happen if we don’t repent? This prayer is K’riat Sh’ma and is read after the V’ohavtah:


“If you will earnestly heed the commandments I give you this day, to love the Lord your God and to serve him with all your heart and all your soul, then I will favor your land with rain at the proper searson – rain in autumn and rain in spring – and you will have an ample harvest of grain and wine and oil.  I will assure abundance in the fields for your cattle.  You will eat to contentment.  Take care lest you be tempted to forsake God and turn to false gods in worship.  For then the wrath of the Lord will be directed against you.  He will close the heavens and hold back the rain: the earth will not yield its produce.  You will soon disappear from the good land which the Lord gives you.


What will happen if we do repent?


In traditional Jewish places of worship on Yom Kippur, the Book of Jonah is read. The story is about the people of Nineveh. God judged them to be wicked and asked Jonah to go there and tell them to preach the path of goodness.  Jonah was unwilling and only changed his mind when he found himself in the belly of a whale.  He then went to Nineveh and in response to his words, the residents repented and God not only did not lay waste to the city but forgave them.     


Why do we fast?  In another Haftarah read on Yom Kippur we find the words of ISAIAH 57:14-58:14


“Why, when we fasted, did you not see? When we starved our bodies, did you pay no heed?” Because on your fast day you see to your business and oppress your workers. Because you fast in strife and contention, and you strike with a wicked fist! Your fasting today is not such as to make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast I desire, a day for men to starve their bodies? Is it bowing the head like a bullrush and lying in sackcloth and ashes? Do you call that a fast, a day when the Lord is favorable? No, this is My chosen fast: to loosen all the bonds that bind men unfairly, to let the oppressed go free, to break every yoke.  Share your bread with the hungry, take the homeless into your home. Clothe the naked when you see him, do not turn away from people in need. Then cleansing light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wounds shall soon be healed. Your triumph shall go before you and the Lord’s glory shall be your rearguard.  They you shall call and the Lord will answer: you shall cry out and he will say ‘Here I am’


“If you remove from your midst the yoke of oppression, the finder of scorn and the tongue of malice, if you put yourself out for the hungry and relieve the wretched, then shall your light shine in the darkness and your gloom shall be as noonday.  And the Lord will guide you continually. He will refresh you in dry places, renewing your strength.  And you shall be like a watered garden, like a never-failing spring.  And you shall rebuild ancient ruins, restoring old foundations. You shall be known as the rebuilders of broken wells, the restorer of dwellings places.”


Michael Strassfeld comments on this portion, in Jewish Holidays, p. 119, as follows:


“Personal change is to lead us to work for social justice in the world, not to an ascetic withdrawal from the impurities of the world. Projects in support of tzedakah and social justice should be given extra attention at this time of year.”


An advantage of participating in an observance with others is that not only the individual but the entire group atones for the wrongs it has committed during the previous year and, hopefully, will consider making positive changes in the way it operates.


In fact, the Viddui, or confessional, is a good example of this.  (Note that the individual reciting the prayer says “we” to make it clear that each of us is responsible for not only our own acts but also for those of the entire Jewish community.)    


“We abuse, we betray, we are cruel.

We destroy, we embitter, we falsify.

We gossip, we hate, we insult.

We jeer, we kill, we lie.

We mock, we neglect, we oppress.

We pervert, we quarrel, we rebel.

We steal, we transgress, we are unkind.,

We are violent, we are wicked, we are xenophobic.

We yield to evil, we are zealots for bad causes.”


We have ignored your commandments and statutes, and it has not profited us. You are just, we have stumbled,. You have acted faithfully, we have been unrighteous.  We have sinned, we have transgressed.  Therefore we have not been saved.  Endow us with the will to forsake evil; save us soon.  Thus Your prophet Isaiah declared: “Let the wicked forsake his path and the unrighteous man his plottings.  Let him return to the Lord who will show him compassion. Let him return to our God who will surely forgive him.”


Our God and God of our fathers and mothers, forgive and pardon our sins on this Yom Kippur.”


Here’s something we found in a Yom Kippur prayer book.




Our God and God of our fathers: We ask Your blessing for our country, for its government, for its leader and advisors, and for all who exercise just and rightful authority.  Teach them insights of Your Torah, that they may administer all affairs of state fairly, that peace and security, happiness and prosperity, justice and freedom may forever abide in our midst.


Creator of all flesh, bless all the inhabitants of our country with your spirit.  Then citizens of all races and creeds will forge a common bond in true brotherhood, to banish all hatred and bigotry, and to safeguard the ideals and free institutions which are our country’s pride and glory.


May this land under Your Providence be an influence for good throughout the world, uniting all men in peace and freedom, and helping them to fulfill the vision of Your prophet: “Nation shall not life up sword against nation, neither shall men learn war any more.” And let us say: Amen”


And another Yom Kippur prayer with which one might want to end the observance.




May we see the day when war and bloodshed cease

When a great peace will embrace the whole world

Then nation will not threaten nation,

And mankind will not again know war.

For all who live on earth shall realize

We have not come into being to hate or destroy

We have come into being

To praise to labor and to love

Compassionate God, bless the leaders of all nations

With the power of compassion

Fulfill the promise conveyed in Scripture

I will bring peace to the land

And you shall lie down and no one shall terrify you

I will rid the land of vicious beasts

And it shall not be ravaged by war

Let love and justice flow like a mighty stream

Let peace fill the earth as the waters fill the sea.

And let us say: Amen




©CJA 2006




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