So, you’re feeling a little in the dark about what your Jewish friends are up to today. You’re wondering what exactly is Yom Kippur. My marriage to a nice Jewish boy has taught me a thing or two about the traditions. This Tuesday, October 11th at sunset Yom Kippur begins. Allow me explain what I’ve learned from my Jewish in-laws about the highest of High Holidays.
Yom means “day,” kippur means “atone”. Day of atonement. With me so far?
Save yourself the trouble of sounding like an uncultured fool; Yom Kippur is pronounced yum kip-POUR not yaahm kippER. If you grew up in New England like me, you dropped the ‘r’ altogether. Or if you grew up in, say, South Dakota you didn’t pronounce it at all since there are literally no Jews living there.*
Not unlike how Ash Wednesday precedes Easter, Rosh Hashanah is the pre-requisite to Yom Kippur, which falls after The 10 Days of Repentance. However judging by my reform in-laws: repent, don’t repent, who’s keeping track?
This is the holiest day of the year. The Sabbath of all Sabbaths. And speaking of the Sabbath, it begins each Friday at sundown until the following sundown on Saturday evening. In fact, Jewish traditions are really into dusk. If you lost your invitation, chances are the party starts when the streetlights turn on.
Jewish tradition states that beginning on Rosh Hashanah, God determines the person’s fate for the coming year in The Book of Life, and “seals” the deal on Yom Kippur, vis-à-vis you better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why.
Folks, Yom Kippur is not for the faint of heart. Or stomach for that matter. At sundown (catching on?), practicing Jews begin fasting for 25 hours. That’s right, no food, no snacks, no Cheetos, no vodka sodas, no nothing. It’s like Lent, but crammed into one day. While Christians skip red meat and abstain from chocolate or booze for six weeks, Yom Kippur is the fast-track (see what I did there?) to atoning and making amends. During that time you’re meant to reflect upon the year; really put some thought into those times you were an unpleasant inconsiderate asshole to others and, of course, to God. Impatient with your mother, unbearable to your employees, screwed your next-door neighbor; whatever your sins, stew in it for a full day, think of how to improve, and hope to be forgiven. It’s also a day of a hefty amount of prayer, five prayer services for those serious about their high holiday.
If you’re going to skip meals for a full rotation of the Earth there must be a silver lining. As I mentioned in my Guide to Rosh Hashanah, Jewish holidays are all about the food and the cuisine for Yom Kippur is stellar. Who likes bagels? Because you break your fast with breakfast for dinner!
Be kind to the fasters in your life on this Yom Kippur. Atoning on an empty stomach is hard. Pro tip: Shiksa Ladies, if you’re engaged to a Jewish guy, mazel tov, but don’t get married in early-October. Sure, the autumn leaves are beautiful and the weather is just right so you don’t sweat in your wedding dress. But trust me, every few years, Yom Kippur will land on your anniversary and you’ll question why you ever married this low blood-sugared hangry monster. Same goes for the fellas.
Thus concludes your primer to Yom Kippur. Now, excuse me while I toast my poppy seed bagel.
*According to the Jewish Virtual Library, as of 2012 South Dakota is home to only 345 Jewish people.