Yom Kippur-The Day


Customs and Laws:

A. Yom Kippur is a Yom Tov, a festival day, which is observed like Shabbat.

B. Afflicting your soul – “…on the tenth of the month, you shall afflict your souls and do no work at all…for on that day will G-d forgive you and cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before G-d” (Leviticus 16:29-30). How does one afflict one’s soul and why? The oral law enumerates five prohibitions as the way to “afflict your soul” on Yom Kippur: eating and drinking, washing, anointing, wearing leather shoes and marital relations. By refraining from these actions, one is reminded that it is the spirit that must be the focus, not the body. It may seem the opposite is true, that a person would focus on being hungry or thirsty or uncomfortable from not washing, but such discomforts are temporary and on Yom Kippur one can transcend physical discomfort to connect with the spirit of the day.


1) Eating and Drinking – From sunset on the eve of Yom Kippur until nightfall the next day it is forbidden to eat or drink.
  • Pregnant and nursing women also fast. However, they should consult both a doctor and a rabbi about fasting, if they feel that fasting will create a dangerous situation.
  • One who is ill must consult a rabbi. If the rabbi says (s)he may eat, they should only eat that which is necessary and should refrain from delicacies.
  • Girls below the age of 12 and boys below the age of 13 are not required to fast.

2) Washing – During the fast, one may not wash for pleasure.


  • If one is dirty, one is permitted to wash away the dirt.
  • Upon rising in the morning and after using the bathroom, one should wash one’s hands, but only up to the knuckles.
  • One may wash one’s hands when preparing food.
  • One may bathe a baby.

3) Anointing – It is forbidden to anoint oneself with oil, thus the use of perfumes, make-up, suntan lotion, and other such items is prohibited.


4) Wearing Leather Shoes – During the fast it is forbidden to wear leather shoes. Some people wear only socks, but others wear shoes of canvas or other non-leather materials.


5) Marital Relations – It is forbidden to have marital relations during Yom Kippur.

C. Wearing White – Many people have the custom of wearing white on Yom Kippur. Some men, wear a kittel, a simple white robe, over their clothing. On Yom Kippur evening, men wear their tallit, prayer shawl, which is usually worn only during the day. Wearing white serves several purposes:


i) One’s burial shroud is white and one is therefore reminded of one’s mortality and the need to do teshuvah, repentance.


ii) On Yom Kippur one wishes to resemble an angel, and therefore one symbolically dresses in white.


The Yom Kippur Prayers




ii) For the sin that we have sinned before You with harsh speech…


The confession is recited standing up, head bowed in humility. As each confession is stated, one strikes the left side of his/her chest with his right fist.


Focusing on Vidui


* On first reading through the Vidui, one may think “I didn’t do that!” Each time one reviews the Vidui lines, however, one can gain a deeper insight into what is being said. For instance, one confession reads:For the sin that we have sinned before you by causing subservience through bribery.

“Subservience through bribery” does not necessarily mean giving a judge money to change a verdict. Every day people bribe each other with promises or flattery. When reading the Vidui, perhaps one may realize that they have coerced someone into doing something not quite right by promising them something or by encouraging the continuation of a negative character trait.

Reviewing the confession lines and reading them with a slightly different outlook will make the Yom Kippur experience all the more meaningful. Through this service, we realize how important our every action is.

After the Fast

After the Havdallah (separation of holy and weekday) ceremony, everyone returns home and partakes in a festive meal. Because one wishes to extend the holiness of the day, many begin preparing for the next holiday, Sukkot, by starting to build their sukkah right after Yom Kippur.