Sep 23, 2009

Day Of Atonement

Yom Kippur is one of the most widely observed holidays on the Jewish calendar. It marks the highest synagogue attendance rate of any other day in the year. Despite its widespread observance and long hours spent in synagogue, Yom Kippur is a difficult day to understand.

The major theme of Yom Kippur, as its name implies, is atonement. The source for much of our observance of Yom Kippur is Leviticus 23:26-28 - "God spoke to Moses, saying: Mark, the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. It shall be a sacred occasion for you: you shall practice self-denial, and you shall do no work throughout that day for it is a Day of Atonement, on which expiation is made on your behalf before the Lord your God."

In Biblical and Rabbinic times, Temple rituals and sacrifices were the focus of the holiday. Among the highlights of the day was the scapegoat ceremony during which lots would be placed on two goats. One goat would be offered as a sacrifice in the Temple, in the Holy of Holies; and the second would be thrown into the wilderness. Once the Temples were destroyed, prayer and return, i.e. repentance, are the focus while the Temple ritual is recounted as part of the Yom Kippur liturgy.

The day of Yom Kippur itself is said to have the power to expiate some sins, while our renunciation of sins and our confession of them is said to be essential for a new year of life with a proverbial clean slate. Maimonides writes that today, when there is no Temple or sacrificial system, "all that is available is repentance." We are required to repent for sins between ourselves and God and for sins between ourselves and other people.

The Yom Kippur service builds in intensity throughout the day culminating with the final Ne’ila service. During the final hour of the day, all who have fasted and prayed gather strength from their friends and cry out for the gates of forgiveness to remain open as they are about to close. The cathartic moment when night time has descended is punctuated by the blowing of the Shofar, as all congregations of Israel exclaim, "Next year in Jerusalem."

It's difficult for me to understand sometimes because of my western religious upbringing (before paganism found me) but it's good to look at other cultures and their traditions and history...we are all connected and it helps us to develop tolerance rather than focus on our differences.

1 comment:

Rue said...

Thanks for the insight into this holiday - I never knew what it was!