times, origins, rites … The secrets of the great Jewish holiday

YOM KIPPUR. The great Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur takes place on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 4 and 5 October 2022. Date, times, origin, meaning or rituals … Here are the secrets of the great Jewish holiday.

[Mis à jour le 5 octobre 2022 à 12h35] Yom Kippur 2022 started on Tuesday 4 October at sunset and will end on Wednesday 5 October at sunset. The holiest and most solemn event on the Jewish calendar, the Jewish holiday of the “Great Forgiveness” is based on specific dates and times (more on this point here). These dates change every year in our Gregorian calendar. As for the timetables, you just have to check with the synagogue attached to your home to get to know them locally. The celebration takes place exactly ten days after the Jewish New Year of Rosh Hashanah, which corresponds to the tenth day of the month of Tishri (September or October, depending on the year). A date that does not involve a public holiday, but a non-working day.

Yom Kippur commemorates a very special biblical episode from the Old Testament: God forgives the Jews for fashioning and then worshiping a golden calf after their escape from Egypt. God would then have granted total grace to the prophet Moses after two forty days of praying on Mount Sinai to try to atone for this sin on behalf of the Jewish people. The Yom Kippur parenthesis therefore represents for believers a moment of atonement for the sins committed during the year, through fasting, introspection and prayer.

Yom Kippur, an austere holiday like Rosh Hashanah

Like Rosh Hashanah, another very important holiday in the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur is an austere holiday. Called “the Shabbat of the Shabbat”, the holy day ends with an XXL family and a festive meal to break the fast. Note, however, that Yom Kippur observance may vary slightly by community. For Sephardi Jews, it is the “white fast”. They dress in white to symbolize their desire for purity and deliverance from sins. In their liturgy we find rather joyful music, compared to that of the Ashkenazi Jews. For the latter the attitude is more solemn. The original joy of the day is admitted, but the memory of the martyrs and the dead occupies an important place.

Here are the secrets of the date, origin and meaning of Yom Kippur.

Each year, Yom Kippur is based on specific dates and times. In 2022 the Jewish celebration of Yom Kippur begins Tuesday evening, October 4th, at 7:07 pm (Paris time). Yom Kippur and his privations must then end Wednesday 5 October at 8:08 pm precise (always Paris time). The religious celebration therefore takes place partly outside this year’s weekend, while Saturdays and Sundays are a “more convenient” time for active believers of Judaism. Yom Kippur this year takes place about two months before Hanukkah, the eight-day winter Jewish “festival of lights”. And about three months after Eid el-Kebir, this time a highlight of the Muslim calendar.

► Consult the timetables of Yom Kippur by city on a specialized site

The dates and times of the fast actually change every year. If Yom Kippur is not celebrated on the same date from one year to the next, it is because it depends on the Hebrew calendar, which refers to the Genesis of the Bible. It is made up of 12 or 13 lunar months depending on the year and seven-day weeks starting on Sunday and ending on the day of shabbat, that is Saturday. The lunar months are shorter than the months of the Gregorian calendar (alternatively 29 or 30 days): this is why the 10th of the month of Tishri is a floating date if we refer to the calendar of use. In 2014, Yom Kippur and Eid el-Kebir, two of the most important holidays in Judaism and Islam, took place simultaneously, for the first time in 33 years.

Yom Kippur is in fact celebrated shortly after Rosh Hashanah (aka Shana Tova), the holiday that marks a new solar year in the Jewish calendar and opens 10 days of penance: the Day of Atonement always occurs 10 days after the first day of Rosh Hashanah (see why here) and start the evening before these +10 days. It is a day off but not a holiday, seen by believers as the holiest holiday of the year.

“The Day of Atonement” is a religious holiday. It commemorates the day God forgave the Jewish people for the guilt of the golden calf, told in the biblical book of Exodus. According to these writings, when Moses ascended Mount Sinai to receive the Tablets of the Law, the Jews created a calf-shaped idol from the casted jewels of women and children. The prophet, discovering the cult of the idol, which the third commandment forbids, would then have broken the Tablets of the Law with anger. Moses then spent 40 days on top of the mountain twice to obtain the forgiveness of his people from God. The tenth day of the month of Tishri was granted.

Yom Kippur is the 10th day of the ten days of penance for Jews.. This period from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, “Teshuva”, is dedicated to introspection and repentance. During these ten days, it is recommended that you do everything possible to rectify the wrongs committed against others.

There are several ways to wish Yom Kippur. You can say “Gmar H’atima tova” (pronouncing the “H” as the Spanish “j”), or even, and it is much easier to remember, “Bon Kippur”. If you want to assure a loved one of the Jewish faith your best wishes after Yom Kippur, after the sound of the Shofar, an ancestral wind instrument that is played to break the fast, then you can also say “Hag Samea’h”. This formula, which the Jewish faithful also exchange among themselves, designates a feast called Sukkot, and celebrated a few days later. A Hebrew term, “Sukkot” refers to a pilgrimage festival, the prescription of which appears in the Torah, the holy book for the Jews. It is during Sukkot that what believers consider divine support during the “Exodus of the Children of Israel” is celebrated. Sukkot takes place over seven days, punctuated by commemorative rites.

Sunset on the Western Wall in Jerusalem. © Maria Dubova_123RF

Yom Kippur means “day of atonement”. During this day of fervor, Jews refrain from work and fast themselves. The deprivation of food and drink begins the day before Yom Kippur, half an hour before sunset (“tossefet Yom Kippur”) and ends after sunset the next day. Fasting lasts a total of 25 hours, and it is mandatory for all Jews, for men from 13 years of age and for women from 12 years of age. However, fasting is not allowed for people who may suffer from it, such as sick people, people with diabetes, or women who have just given birth in the past three days. More generally, five prohibitions must be observed to detach oneself from the material world:

  • ban on food and drink
  • prohibition of having marital relations
  • washing prohibition
  • a ban on greasing the body with oils and lotions (symbolizing superficial pleasures)
  • a ban on wearing leather shoes (symbolizing material goods and comfort)

It is also forbidden to work, Jews having to go to the synagogue for a long time to pray and ask God’s forgiveness for their sins and those of the community. Believers individually ask for forgiveness from whomever they have hurt and apologize for the offenses committed against them. Yom Kippur requires five obligatory prayers during the day. The celebration of Yom Kippur varies by community. Sephardi, for example, dress in white to affirm their desire to free themselves from their sins.

The end of fasting is indicated in the synagogues by the sound of the shofar, a wind musical instrument made from a ram’s horn. Believers then come together as a family or within their community to “break the fast”. The dishes prepared to celebrate the end of the festival differ according to tradition: Sephardi usually eat biscuits accompanied by lemonade, while Ashkenazis generally prefer a hot drink and cheese or smoked fish. After a light meal, a chicken dish or broth is served.

Ashura is a fast performed by many Muslims. Thus, recalls the specialized site Saphir News, they follow a prophetic tradition that enjoins believers to refrain from eating and drinking during the 9th and 10th day of the lunar month of Muharram (first month of the Muslim calendar). “Ashura” (“ten” in Arabic) is an Islamic festival that commemorates various prophetic episodes that would have occurred on that day, according to the hadit referred to, explains Kamel Meziti, historian: “the atonement of Adam and Eve, after their ‘fall’ on Earth, (…) the docking of Noah’s ark (Nûh); the salvation of Abraham (Ibrahim) saved from the fire of Nimrod or even that of Jonas (Yûnus) saved from the bowels of the whale…”

Why talk about Ashura on a page on Yom Kippur? Because this celebration is a link between Judaism and Islam. According to the Sunna (prophetic tradition), in 622 the Prophet Muhammad went to meet the Jews of Medina during Yom Kippur, in memory of the feast of atonement during which they fasted. Muhammad asks them why they do it and they reply that they commemorate “the day when God gave the victory to Moses and the children of Israel over Pharaoh and his men of him”. Muhammad replies that he himself is linked to the ancient biblical prophets and therefore has “more right” to fast on that day. From there, the Prophet will order Muslim believers to fast that day, considering Moses as “closest” to them, and thus incorporating Ashura into Islam.

In Islamic tradition, a hadith refers to Ashura’s fasting recommendation: “As for fasting on the day of ‘Ashura’, I hope Allah will accept it as an atonement for the year that preceded it.” (Muslim Sahih)

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