The setting sun tonight ushers in Yom Kippur, the awesome Day of Atonement for Jews. Yom Kippur is the last of the High Holy Days, which began at sundown Sept. 24 with Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year.
The holy days are a time to examine one's life, repent of shortcomings and resolve to correct them. Tradition says that God holds people's lives in the balance during these ‘‘10 Days of Repentance'' before determining their fate for the coming year.
Tonight's service features the Kol Nidre, a prayer set to sad medieval music. The prayer asks for release from ‘‘all vows'' — the translation of Kol Nidre — to God that have not been kept.
All day tomorrow, the faithful will fast and attend a succession of synagogue services, including Yizkor memorial prayers for the dead. Traditional prayers include Al Het, a list of sins whose initials form the Hebrew alphabet. As the worshiper recites the list, he strikes his chest to emphasize repentance.
Last service of the day is Neilah, signaling the closing of heaven's gates and the sealing of everyone's fate for another year.
Although non-Jews might view the High Holy Days as guilt-ridden, rabbis say the observance actually shows divine mercy. They point out that het, usually translated "sin," is an archery term that means to miss the mark. And shuva, repentance, is almost identical to teshuva, to turn — as in returning to right living.
— James D. Davis