Jews worldwide end their observance of the High Holy Days tonight (Sept. 13) and tomorrow (Sept. 14) with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The Ten Days of Repentance, as they are also called, began at sundown Sept. 4 with Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year.
The days are an interim period during which the faithful examine their lives not only for sins committed but for good deeds undone. Traditional Jews call the period Yamim Noraim, or the Days of Awe, believing that God judges each soul to determine what kind of year each will have, and even if they live or die. Less traditional Jews use the time for introspection and resolving to live as better persons for the coming year.
Observant Jews fast from sundown through the following sundown. Yom Kippur Eve has its own distinct service: Kol Nidre, meaning All Vows. The prayer, set to sad, medieval music, is a plea to be released from promises left unkept during the year. Anti-Semites used to point to Kol Nidre as proof that the word of a Jew could not be trusted; however, rabbinic authorities have said the prayer refers only to vows made to God.
Congregants say other prayers in all-day services on Yom Kippur. They include:
Al Het, an alphabetical list of sins to recite — including cruelty, dishonesty and disrespect for parents — in case the worshiper may have forgotten some or committed them unknowingly. Each time a sin is mentioned, the worshiper strikes a fist on his or her chest.
Yizkor, a memorial prayer for the dead. Yizkor prayers are said also during three other holy days: Passover, Shavuot and Shemini Azteret.
Neilah, a chant at the end of Yom Kippur pleading that the gates of mercy may be held open for the last repentant souls.
At the end of the Yom Kippur service, the shofar, or ram's horn, is sounded in a long, steady note, as long as the blower's breath holds out. For, according to Jewish belief, the judgment is complete, and the fate of each person has been sealed for the coming year.
James D. Davis