Quick! What the Hell is Yom Kippur?

By Wendy Thomas Russell | September 12, 2013 | 3 comments

I read a fascinating article in the Los Angeles Times this morning about local protests against the sacrificial slaughter of chickens being conducted this week in Jewish enclaves throughout Los Angeles — and, indeed, throughout the world. The ritual, as kaparotkapparot or kaparos, is supposed to help “cleanse” people of their sins. It’s an orthodox Jewish thing.

More progressive Jews are calling the ritual archaic and meaningless, and point to the treatment of the chickens before their deaths as further reason to stop the killings. Faith leaders have joined with animal-rights activists in the protest.

So, here’s the deal: The sacrifices all tie into the Jewish High Holy Days leading up to Yom Kippur. This period is meant to be a period of “atonement” — asking God to forgive your sins. The chicken is supposed to “accept” all the sins of those present and then be killed (knife to the throat) in one, big, bloody symbolic gesture.

Anyhoo…. in anticipation of Yom Kippur, which lasts exactly 25 hours beginning tomorrow evening, here is the latest addition to your friendly neighborhood Holiday Cheat Sheet.

Holiday: Yom Kippur (pronounced Yom Ki-POOR)

AKA: The Day of Atonement

Religion Represented: Judaism

Date: The 10th day of Tishrei in the Hebrew calendar. In 2013, Yom Kippur lasts from from Sept. 13 at sunset to Sept. 14 at nightfall.

Not To Be Confused With: Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

On a Scale of 1 to 10: Yom Kippur is a heavy 10.

What It Is: Yom Kippur is the last and most important of Judaism’s 10 High Holy Days, which begin on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. As you might recall, the New Year is a time to reflect on one’s life and resolve to be a better person in the coming year. On Yom Kippur, God is said to take a look at the deeds of the Jewish people and to seal each person’s fate in the “Book of Life.” More than anything, Yom Kippur is a day of seeking forgiveness and giving to charity. (And, um, slaughtering chickens.)

Associated Literary Passages: Leviticus 16:29 and 23:27; Numbers 29:7-11 and Mishnah Tract Yomah 8:1

The Sabbath of All Sabbaths: Saturday (“the sabbath”) is to Jews what Sunday is to Christians; it is the “day of rest” when synagogues hold their weekly worship services. Yom Kippur is considered the “Sabbath of all Sabbaths” because, not only is it a day of complete rest (no work, no driving, etc.) but it’s a day of fasting and other restrictions: no washing or bathing, no perfumes or deodorants, no wearing leather shoes, and no sex. Services run all day on Yom Kippur — from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. — with a break around 3 p.m. People wear white, and services generally end with a long blow from the shofar.

Coolest Thing about Yom Kippur: During their ever-so-long day of synagogue services (decidedly NOT the coolest thing about Yom Kippur, given the no-deodorant rule), participants take part in a “group confession.” They confess to being aggressive, slanderous, acting callously, and a number of other things — usually involving behaving badly toward others in speech or deed. The cool thing is that the sins are confessed in the plural — “we” have done this, “we” have done that — emphasizing “communal responsibility for sins.” Now, I don’t believe in “sins,” AT ALL, and I know that, in this sense, they are only talking about the Jewish people. But I think if more human beings could adopt even a little of this attitude, “we” could kick up the world’s compassion level a notch or two. Minus the chickens, of course.

Appropriate Greeting: ”Have an easy fast.” (“Happy Yom Kippur” is not considered appropriate, as Yom Kippur is not a “happy” holiday.)


3 comments

  1. Jamie says:

    I think another cool thing about Yom Kippur is the tale of the two goats. Two goats where selected and lots thrown. One goat was chosen to be sacrificed by the High Priest for the sins of the people. With the other, the Priest laid his hands on the goat’s head and transferred all the confessed sins of the people. This goat was then turned out into the desert to wander away and become the scapegoat for all their sin — never to return.

Leave a Reply