“…on the tenth of the month, you shall afflict your souls and do no work at all…for on that day God will forgive you and cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before God” (Leviticus 16:29-30).

How does a person “afflict their soul?” The Oral Law enumerates the following five restrictions:

Fasting (No eating or drinking) – From sunset on the eve of Yom Kippur until nightfall the next day, it is forbidden to eat or drink. However, those who are ill should, and, in some cases, must, eat on Yom Kippur. If a doctor instructs a person not to fast, that person should discuss the situation with their rabbi, who should also be consulted about specific details of how much may be eaten during a specific time frame on Yom Kippur. Additionally, girls under the age of 12 and boys under the age of 13 are not required to fast.

Washing – During the fast, a person may not wash, shower or bathe for pleasure. It is customary for people to wash their hands only up to the finger knuckles. However, they may wash to get rid of dirt or when preparing food (e.g. for children). A baby may also be bathed.

Anointing – It is forbidden to anoint oneself with oil. Thus, the use of perfumes, liquid or cream make-up, suntan lotion and other such items are prohibited.

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.

Marital Relations – It is forbidden to have marital relations.

It may seem that refraining from the above actions would make a person focus on the body, due to hunger or thirst, or the discomfort of not washing. However, such discomforts are temporary, and, in fact, turn a person’s attention back to the importance of the day and the fact that physical discomfort may be transcended in order to connect with the spirit of the day.

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