Times, origins, rituals… The mysteries of the great Jewish holiday


YOM KIPPUR. The great Jewish holiday Yom Kippur takes place on Tuesday and Wednesday 4th and 5th October 2022. Date, time, origin, meaning or rituals… Here are the mysteries of the great Jewish festival.

[Mis à jour le 5 octobre 2022 à 12h35] Yom Kippur 2022 began at sunset on Tuesday, October 4th and will end at dusk this Wednesday, October 5th. The holiest and most solemn event of the Hebrew calendar, the Jewish festival of “Great Forgiveness” is based on specific dates and times (more information on this point here). These dates change every year in our Gregorian calendar. As for schedules, all you have to do is check with the synagogue attached to your home to know them on the spot. The celebration takes place exactly ten days after the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, which corresponds to the 10th day of the month of Tishri (September or October depending on the year). A date that is not a holiday but a non-working day.

Yom Kippur commemorates a very special biblical episode from the Old Testament: God forgives the Hebrews for making a golden calf after fleeing Egypt and then worshiping it. God would then have bestowed perfect grace on the Prophet Moses after two forty days’ prayers on Mount Sinai to attempt to atone for that sin on behalf of the Jewish people. The bracket of Yom Kippur, therefore, represents a time for believers to atone for the mistakes made during the year through fasting, introspection, and prayer.

Yom Kippur, a strict holiday like Rosh Hashanah

Like Rosh Hashanah, another very important holiday on the Hebrew calendar, Yom Kippur is a strict holiday. The holiday known as the “Shabbat of Shabbats” ends with an XXL family and a festive break of the fast. Note, however, that Yom Kippur observance may vary slightly by community. For Sephardic Jews, it is the “white fast.” They therefore dress in white to symbolize their desire for purity and deliverance from sins. In their liturgy we find more upbeat music compared to that of the Ashkenazi Jews. In the latter, the attitude is more solemn. The original joy of the day is admitted, but the commemoration of the martyrs and the deceased holds an important place.

Here are the mysteries 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 with it Tuesday evening, October 4 at 7:07 p.m (Paris time). Yom Kippur and its austerities must then end Wednesday October 5 at 8:08 p.m exactly (always Paris time). The religious celebration is therefore partly taking place outside of the weekend this year, while Saturday and Sunday are a more “convenient” time for working believers in Judaism. This year, Yom Kippur comes about two months before Hanukkah, the eight-day Jewish winter “festival of lights.” And about three months after Eid el-Kebir, this time a high point of the Muslim calendar.

► Consult Yom Kippur times by city on a specialized website

Lent dates and times actually change every year. If Yom Kippur is not celebrated on the same day from year to year, that is because it depends on the Hebrew calendar, which relates to the Bible’s Genesis. Depending on the year, it consists of 12 or 13 lunar months and seven-day weeks beginning on Sunday and ending on the day of Shabbat, i.e. Saturday. The lunar months are shorter than the Gregorian calendar months (alternatively 29 or 30 days): for this reason the 10th of the month of Tishrei is a fluctuating date when we refer to the usage calendar. In 2014, Yom Kippur and Eid el-Kebir, two of the most important holidays in Judaism and Islam, coincided for the first time in 33 years.

Yom Kippur is actually celebrated shortly after Rosh Hashanah (aka Shana Tova), the holiday that marks a new calendar year in the Hebrew calendar and opens 10 Days of Atonement: The Day of Atonement always occurs 10 days after the first day of Rosh Hashanah ( see why here) and starts the evening before these +10 days. It is a day off but not a holiday, considered by the faithful to be the holiest festival of the year.

“The Day of Atonement” is a religious holiday. It reminds the day when God forgave the Jewish people the debt of the golden calf reported in the biblical book of Exodus. According to these scriptures, when Moses climbed Mount Sinai to obtain the Tablets of the Law, the Hebrews created an idol in the form of a calf from the molten ornaments of women and children. The prophet, discovering the idolatry that the third commandment forbids, would then have broken the Tablets of the Law in anger. Moses then spent 40 days twice on the top of the mountain to seek forgiveness from God for his people. It was granted on the tenth day of the month of Tishrei.

Yom Kippur is the tenth day of the ten days of repentance for the Jews.. This period from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, “Teshuva,” is devoted to introspection and repentance. During these ten days it is recommended to do everything possible to right the wrongs done to others.

There are several ways to wish Yom Kippur. You can say “Gmar H’atima tova” (pronouncing the “H” like the Spanish “j”) or even, and it’s much easier to remember, “Bon Kippur”. If you want to offer your best wishes to a loved one of the Jewish faith after Yom Kippur, after the sound of the shofar, an ancient wind instrument played to break the fast, you can also say “Hag Same’h.” . This formula, which the believing Jews also exchange among themselves, designates a holiday called Sukkot, which is celebrated a few days later. A Hebrew term, “Sukkot,” refers to a pilgrimage festival whose prescription appears in the Torah, the holy book of the Jews. During Sukkot, what believers see as divine support during the “exodus of the children of Israel” is celebrated. Sukkot takes place over seven days, punctuated by memorial rites.

Sunset over the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. © Maria Dubova_123RF

Yom Kippur means “Day of Atonement”. On this day of fervour, the Jews give up work and force themselves to fast. The deprivation of food and drink begins the day before Yom Kippur, half an hour before sunset (“tossfet Yom Kippur”) and ends after sunset the following day. The fast lasts a total of 25 hours, and it is compulsory for all Jews, for men from the age of 13 and for women from the age of 12. However, fasting is not allowed for people who are affected, such as the sick, people with diabetes or women who have just given birth in the last three days. In general, five prohibitions must be observed in order to detach from the material world:

  • Food and drink ban
  • Prohibition of Marital Relations
  • washing ban
  • the ban on anointing the body with oils and lotions (which symbolize superficial pleasures)
  • the ban on wearing leather shoes (which symbolize material goods and comfort)

It is also forbidden to work, the Jews have to go to the synagogue for a long time to pray and ask God for forgiveness for their mistakes and those of the community. Believers individually seek forgiveness from anyone they may have offended and apologize for crimes committed against them. Yom Kippur requires five obligatory prayers spread throughout the day. The celebration of Yom Kippur varies by community. The Sephardim, for example, dress in white to affirm their desire to rid themselves of their sins.

The end of the fast is announced in synagogues by the sounding of the shofar, a wind instrument made of ram’s horn. Believers then come together as families or within their community to “break the fast.” The dishes prepared to celebrate the festival differ according to tradition: the Sephardim usually eat biscuits with lemonade, while the Ashkenazim 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 practiced by many Muslims. They are following, reminds the specialized site Saphir News, a prophetic tradition that urges believers to refrain from eating and drinking on the 9th and 10th days of the lunar month of Muharram (first month of the Muslim calendar). “Ashura” (“ten” in Arabic) is an Islamic holiday commemorating various prophetic episodes that would have taken place on that day, according to the hadits referred to, historian Kamel Meziti specifies: “the expiation of Adam and Eve , after her ‘fall’ to earth, (…) the docking of Noah’s ark (Nûh), the salvation of Abraham (Ibrahim), saved from the fire of Nimrod, or even that of Jonah (Yûnus), saved from the entrails of the whale…”

Why talk about Ashura on a Yom Kippur page? Because this festival is a link between Judaism and Islam. According to the Sunna (prophetic tradition), in the year 622, the Prophet Muhammad visited the Jews of Medina on Yom Kippur as a commemoration of the Atonement Festival, on which they fasted. Mohammed asks them why they are doing this, and they reply that they are “commemorating the day when God gave Moses and the sons of Israel victory over Pharaoh and his men.” Muhammad replies that he himself is connected to the ancient biblical prophets and that he is therefore “more entitled” to fast on that day. From there, the Prophet will command the Muslim believers to fast on that day, regarding Moses as “closer” to them, thereby incorporating Ashura into Islam.

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

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