Yom Kippur begins - Tuesday, October 11
Yom Kippur ends - Wednesday, October 12
Yom Kippur Background Judaism is the religion of the Jews. It is one of the oldest religions in the world dating back to more than 3000 years. Jewish history is one marked with strife and turmoil, as the Jews have suffered much persecution throughout the ages. In fact, they did not have an independent country for thousands of years. The ancient reference to their country was that of the “Land of Israel”, but it was not until 1948 that the official state of Israel was formed. Early Yom Kippur History As the Jews have a long and colorful history, they also have a wide range of festivals and holidays. Of all the Jewish festivals, one of the most well known is “Yom Kippur” (biblically known as “Yom Kippurium”) or the “Day of Atonement”. As the calendar of the Jews starts at sundown, Jewish holidays begin the night before the actual date of the holiday. Yom Kippur demarks a 25 hour period of fasting, abstinence and prayer and usually occurs during September or October each year.
The culmination of this festival was the sacrifice of an animal, usually a goat (discontinued today). First the priest would put his hands on the goat’s head and confess on behalf of the congregation. Then it would be taken 10 to 12 miles into the wilderness by the priest and then killed by pushing it backwards off a cliff. The whole process was said to be symbolic of ridding of the sins of the worshippers. This is also how the word “scapegoat” came into being, which is actually what this particular goat was called. The earliest reference to Yom Kippur can be found in the Old Testament in Leviticus chapter 23, Verse 27 where God is described as having spoken to Moses thus: “on the tenth day of the seventh month there shall be a day of atonement … ye shall not do work on that same day …”. Even though the actual word “Yom Kippur” is not mentioned in the Bible, this is probably due the fact that it is a Hebrew word which is the official language of the Jews. There are several mentions of this festival even before the writing of the Old Testament, but they are mostly hearsay. A well-known historical fact is however that every year when Yom Kippur was observed, a crimson ribbon would be tied to the door of the temple. It turned white after the sacrifice of an animal, usually a goat. This was believed to signify that God had approved of the sacrifice. From the year 30 A.D. the ribbon stopped turning white. The interpretation was that now that Jesus had given himself in sacrifice to cleanse the sins of Mankind, the sacrifice of an animal was no longer required, and from that time on, the practice of animal sacrifice was discontinued.
The Later Years of Yom Kippur Over the years, Yom Kippur had its champions and critics. It continued however, to be a major event in the Jewish religious calendar. In 1840, some rabbis stopped practicing it and in Germany it was even removed totally. The early part of 1900 brought about migration of Jews to the United States of America in large numbers from Jerusalem and also various Jewish Pockets throughout the world such as Poland and Russia. As the Jewish presence in the U.S. increased, Jewish customs and traditions came to be well known in America. Yom Kippur became a well known annual holiday along with other religious holidays in the U.S.
The Yom Kippur War This war is so named because it was started on the day of Yom Kippur. On 6th October 1973, Egypt and Syria combined forces and launched an attack on Israel thereby starting what came to be called the “Yom Kippur War”. The Arab nations relied on the fact that the Israeli Military would be off guard on the biggest day in the Jewish calendar, and the element of surprise worked. The actual result of this war was a mixed bag for both sides, but we will not go into the full details at this point. It is sufficient however to mention that commemoration of the Yom Kippur War is part of the observances of Yom Kippur today. Yom Kippur Today the population of Jews worldwide is 13.3 million and half of them live in the U.S. The remaining is spread over Israel, Europe and what is known as “Diaspora” which means the population of displaced people – those who do not have a permanent homeland where 8.35 million people live. So it is easy to imagine that Yom Kippur has a very strong global presence today. It is marked with rallies and events and millions of Jews all over the world unite in prayer and meditation, praying for the souls of the ones who have gone on ahead and atoning for the sins past and praying in hope of salvation in the days to come.