Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, is a holiday observed by people of the Jewish faith. Yom Kippur takes place nine days after the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year; it is a time for introspection and making promises for the coming year. Jewish people reflect on the past year, asking for forgiveness regarding any sins that they might have committed. However, there is some flexibility within this. A part of Judaism is recognizing that people are fallible, and that sin is an inevitable part of life. The only classified “sins” in Judaism are stealing, committing murder, injuring someone, and committing sexual transgressions. While most people have not engaged in such severe crimes, they often tend to ask for forgiveness for any wrongdoings they deem important. This could be lying, or something as simple as being unkind to others.
In addition, Yom Kippur is observed with a fast around 25 hours long, free of food and drink. This is meant to create a higher connection with one’s mind, as fasting allows people to move beyond physicality and instead focus on emotional self reflection. Additionally, fasting connects those to other Jewish people who have suffered and lived lives of deprivation. Fasting is both an act of solidarity and a way to elevate to a higher mental state and focus on bettering oneself. However, it is important to acknowledge that fasting does not define Yom Kippur: those who are not able or willing to engage can continue to observe the holiday and focus on introspection, just like anyone else.
Yom Kippur is said to have first taken place after the people of Israel were liberated from slavery in Egypt. According to the tale, these people sinned by worshiping a golden calf. The calf represents a rejection in faith, or the abandonment of Judaism. Moses became upset and shattered sacred tablets out of anger. Moses climbed up Mount Sinai to pray for forgiveness, while the Israelites atoned for worshiping the calf. God eventually forgave all of them, and Moses climbed back down the mountain. The day he reached the base of the mountain was established as Yom Kippur.
According to Jewish texts, the High Priest could enter the Holy Temple only on Yom Kippur. Services would be performed there, and the priest would ask for forgiveness on behalf of the people of Israel. This was said to continue until the Second Temple was destroyed by Romans in 70 A.D. Instead of having a High Priest perform services, it is said that every Jewish person performs the service of Yom Kippur in their hearts. However, in the present, Yom Kippur services are still conducted and encouraged to attend.
This year, Yom Kippur took place from September 15 to September 16. When anyone of Jewish faith is observing this holiday, know that it is not one of leisure and partying. So, instead of saying “Happy Yom Kippur!” to a Jewish friend, try saying “Have an easy fast!” or “Have a good holy day!” Lastly, one does not need to follow the Jewish faith to self-reflect. Even if you are not Jewish, you can try reflecting on your past and come up with ways to become a more thoughtful and caring individual in the future.