Yom Kippur FAQs

Earlier this month, this pre-Rosh HaShanah post answered some common questions about the Jewish new year. Now, as we approach Yom Kippur, we present you with the continuation of our High Holy Days FAQ!

When does the repentance process conclude?
That cleansing comes on the 10th day, Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), when our prayers lead us through a recitation of many of the sins to which we, as human beings, are subject. Those prayers also reassure us, however, that we can start again – that it is within our power to do better.

Are there special foods on Yom Kippur?
Starting at sundown on the 9th day, it is customary to render ourselves less comfortable through a variety of means, including fasting. Therefore, the family meal is traditionally eaten before sundown, with the candle lighting happening at the end of the meal, as a way of marking the entrance of Yom Kippur into the home. With that blessing, the fast begins for all who have attained their religious majority (age 13 and above).

Do we go to services on Yom Kippur?
And how! On the eve, we attend a service called “Kol Nidrei”. The name comes from  a prayer chanted in that service, which asks God to release us from vows and commitment into which we were wrong to have entered. The haunting melody is chanted or played three times, with the Torah scrolls removed from the ark and held by leaders of the community as the congregation stands together in silence.  Traditionally, the entirety of the next day is spent in synagogue as well.

What are other highlights of Yom Kippur in the synagogue?
Central pieces of the worship include the recitations mentioned above, as well as powerful readings from the Torah – the core of Jewish teaching and practice, and time taken to remember our dead  – perhaps to draw inspiration from their memories to be the best of what we could yet be.

What happens at the end of Yom Kippur?
At the end of the day, we gather to break our fast as the sun sets, and wish one another a good seal on the next chapter in our Book of Life. And the, the work  of living up to our promises to ourselves, to one another and to God begins. These are ten days which can, in fact, change our lives by calling upon us to change ourselves. They are, in the best of ways, a true “do-over”!

Do you have other questions about Rosh HaShanah or Yom Kippur? Leave them in the comments and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can!

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Rabbi Rex D. Perlmeter

About Rabbi Rex D. Perlmeter

Rabbi Rex Perlmeter was ordained at HUC-JIR in 1985 and went on to serve as spiritual leader of Temple Israel of Greater Miami and the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation. After serving on staff at the Union for Reform Judaism for five years, he has gone on to found the Jewish Wellness Center of North Jersey, a practice dedicated to supporting all engaged in "seeking Oneness in body, heart, mind and soul."

One Response to “Yom Kippur FAQs”

  1. avatar

    Actually, most forms of Kol Nidre including the Ashkenazic Kol Nidre format that appears in the current Reform machzor deal with the nullification of future vows “between this Yom Kippur and next Yom Kippur”, not with the nullification or revocation of past vows we may have entered during the year just concluded.

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