The Day of Atonement : Yom Kippur
The Grand Finale of the Days of Awe
Yom Kippur 2013 starts at sundown on Friday, 13 September 2013. (Kol Nidre) , and lasts all day Saturday 14 September, 2013 until sundown. This day marks the culmination of the Days of Awe, the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The Day of Atonement is described by Maimonides as "the universal time of repentance" (z'man teshuva lakol). It is spent praying and fasting.
Yom Kippur is mentioned biblically in Leviticus 23: 26-32. A whole tractate of the Babylonian Talmud is dedicated to Yom Kippur (Yoma). In the Code of Jewish Law (Shulhan Aruch), the laws of Yom Kippur begin in Orach Chaim chapter 604.
The Machzor or High Holyday Prayer Book
The special prayers of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are long, and many different poems are added by different congregations. Having a good set of High Holiday Prayer Books, or Machzorim, can make a huge difference in one's experience of the holy day. There are many prayers set to the Hebrew alphabet, many long poetic prayers, and long inserts into the regular holiday prayers special to Yom Kippur only. It's worth having a prayer book which explains these prayers and helps keep you focused.
JewishByte.com's favorite set of machzorim are the Artscroll series. You can find them, plus others including an interlinear translation and a Nusach Ari machzor, at Judaism.com. The Artscroll machzor includes an in depth translation and explanation of the Viduy, the confessional prayers. The explanation is a great aid in meditating on the deeper meaning of each statement made, helping one realize new potential areas of self-improvement. When the fast wears on, the Overview and commentary make enlightening reading during the afternoon hours heading towards evening.
The tradition of wearing white on Yom Kippur
There is a tradition to wear white on both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, though today you will find many only adhering to the tradition on Yom Kippur. The tradition stems from several concepts.
- White signifies the color of mercy, and on Yom Kippur we pray for mercy.
- The angels "wear white" figuratively, and on Yom Kippur the congregation of Israel fasts and prays like the angels.
- White is the color of purity, and the Day of Atonement itself brings spiritual purification.
Men commonly wear a "kittel", a special white garment used for the wedding ceremony, Yom Kippur, the Passover seder night, and burial shrouds. You can find kittels online, even. At Judaism.com, they start at about $40.
Click here for Kittels Online
It is also a custom at the end of Yom Kippur to begin construction of the Sukkah immediately for the holiday of Sukkot / Sukkos, the Festival of Booths.