Yom Kippur!

Technically Yom Kippur doesn’t begin until sundown, but we’re getting pretty close to sundown here on the west coast and I figure that many of you are already well past that. So, happy Yom Kippur! (Or, is it “merry” Yom Kippur? Blessed Yom Kippur? Yom Kippur greetings?) Anyway, Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) begins at sundown tonight (Sep 17) and ends at sundown on Saturday (Sep 18). So, it’s time to get your Yom Kippur on.

To be honest, I don’t normally notice when it’s Yom Kippur. But, the following article was sent to me by Dr. Carl Laney, one of our Bible professors. I thought the article was quite interesting in that it doesn’t focus on the theology of Yom Kippur, with which I’m already familiar (see esp. Lev. 16:1-34; 23:27-32), but it describes the traditional practices associated with its celebration. I found that quite fascinating. So, I’m passing it along to everyone else for your personal edification. The article was originally written by Professor Yagal Levin.

Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur is a complete Sabbath: no work can be performed on that day.  It is a complete, 25-hour fast from eating and drinking (even water) beginning before sunset on the evening before Yom Kippur and ending after nightfall on the day of Yom Kippur.  The Talmud also specifies additional restrictions: washing and bathing, anointing one’s body (with cosmetics, deodorants, etc.), wearing leather shoes (Orthodox Jews routinely wear canvas sneakers under their dress clothes on Yom Kippur), and engaging in sexual relations are all prohibited on Yom Kippur.

Most of the holiday is spent in the synagogue, in prayer.  It is customary to wear white on the holiday which symbolizes purity and calls to mind the promise that Israel’s sins shall be made as white as snow (Is. 1:18).

The liturgy for Yom Kippur is much more extensive than for any other day of the year.  The evening service that begins Yom Kippur is commonly known as Kol Nidre, named for the prayer that begins the service.  Perhaps the most important addition to the regular liturgy is the confession of the sins of the community.  All sins are confessed in the plural (we have done this, we have done that), emphasizing communal responsibility for sins.

It is interesting to note that these confessions do not specifically address ritual sins.  There is no “For the sin we have sinned before you by eating pork, and for the sin we have sinned against you by driving on Shabbat”.  The vast majority of the sins enumerated involve mistreatment of other people, most of them by speech (offensive speech, scoffing, slander, tale-bearing and swearing falsely, to name a few).

The concluding service of Yom Kippur, known as Ne’ilah, is one unique to the day.  The ark (a cabinet where the scrolls of the Torah are kept) is kept open and most people stand throughout this service.  There is a tone of desperation in the prayers of this service.  The service is sometimes referred to as “the closing of the gates”; think of it as the “last chance” to get in a good word before the holiday ends.  The service ends with a very long blast of the shofar.  After a festive (as we are sure that God has indeed forgiven our sins) “break-fast” meal, it is common to go out and immediately start constructing the sukkah, to show that we are serious about obeying all of God’s commandments.

About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

Posted on September 17, 2010, in Old Testament and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 33 Comments.

  1. I am not sure if you wrote this sarcastically or ironically – but it’s considered offensive to wish anyone a “happy” yom kippur.

    • No, I had no idea. Now that you mention it, I can totally see why this would not be the best expression for this particular feast. I’m not entirely sure why it would be viewed as offensive, but I can see that it definitely doesn’t fit. Thanks for the heads up.

  2. Thank you so very much for sharing this information. This Yom Kippur…May your new year be sealed in the highest grace and love!

  3. It’s a solemn day of atonement and repentance. It would be akin to telling someone to “have a great funeral!” on their way out to a funeral. It’s not a celebration, it’s not a holiday (like purim or passover), which is why it’s a “high holy day” instead.

    Most jews cringe when their well-meaning but clueless gentile friends with them a “happy yom kippur.” I am sure if you google the phrase “happy yom kippur,” you’ll see what I’m talking about.

    The appropriate way to pass along your good wishes on yom kippur is to with them an “easy fast.”

    Just FYI.

  4. “with them” = “wish them”

  5. In case you don’t believe me, from http://www.jewfaq.org/express.htm (a website dealing with jewish culture):

    “Have an easy fast

    This is the proper way to wish someone well for Yom Kippur. Please, don’t wish people a Happy Yom Kippur; it’s not a happy holiday. “

    • Fenner,

      With no disrespect, akin to the “Christian (so called) Good Friday,” there is a “Good aspect” to the “Day of Atonement;” in fact it’s part of what the “Good News” is all about!

      I understand your point, and your cultural concern — and I’m sure you can understand where I’m coming from. W/o the “resurrection” Yom Kippur is a terrible day; with the resurrection creation is charged with purpose and life, something we all desire — thus the “Good News!” The Day of Atonement is a great day, it’s for all the “son’s of Abraham” (those before the circumcision and after).


    • Fenner,

      Let me reiterate, though, or really, clarify, I understand the gravity and solemnity that the “Day of Atonement” calls for; I mean no disrespect to you (I’m assuming you’re “Jewish”). But of course the Christian understanding reverses the “darkness” of this day with the “light” of salvation and rejoicing — with resurrection. Our rejoicing is grounded in the “Lamb who was slain” (Yeshua) . . . I hope you’ll consider the gravity of the Day of Atonement and its fulfillment in the promised Messiah — Jesus.

      Anyway, everything I’m saying is presumptuous; and I’m sure you didn’t visit the site here to be “evangelized,” but it can’t hurt!

      Shalom and Grace

  6. Uh, no. You’re really missing the point here. The “darkness” of Yom Kippur had nothing to do with has nothing to do with a “messiah.” It’s a day of deep introspection and to apologize to the people you’ve wronged the year before.

    Sometimes, i think Christians could use a similar day.

    And Bobby, don’t give this explanation to your Jewish friends as to why you wish them a “happy” yom kippur – you won’t have any jewish friends left. It only shows a complete lack of understanding of their religion and an offensive disregard for their beliefs. I assume you liver in some part of the country that doesn’t have many Jews.

  7. Fenner, thanks again for helping us understand this festival better. Bobby’s right that a Christian will view the meaning of this feast differently, but that doesn’t mean that we should forget, neglect, or (accidentally) denigrate what this feast means to Jewish people. Thanks for helping us think through this more carefully.

  8. Fenner,

    Like I said, us Christians have “Good Friday” . . . we do have the “Day of Atonement.” We have Lev. 16 in our Bibles too.

    In fact, outside of New York, I grew up in an area that had plenty of Jewish people (Southern California, Los Angeles). My problem, Fenner, is that I’m an “Evangelist,” so whether you’re a Jew or Gentile if you’re around me long enough you’re going to hear about the Good News of Jesus (or Yeshua, the Jew from Nazareth). Blogs, usually are no good for this kind of talk; face-to-face is much better, over the years though I’ve had plenty of Jewish friends. In fact I have one right now, I work with him; and we have great talks about the Messiah (Jesus), he just doesn’t “want” to believe right now.

    Btw, I never said I would wish my Jewish friends “Happy Yom Kippur,” I realize that’s the context of previous discussion on this thread; but I never said that I would say this to Jewish folks, nevertheless I would use this time as an occasion to explain why in fact Yom Kippur is in fact a time that looks forward to a day of hope and rejoicing because this day isn’t “it.” In fact it presupposes the “faithfulness” of Yahweh to keep His promise by sending the Messiah (Is 53, His Son Ps. 2) thus fulfilling the promise to Abraham (Gen. 12.1-3) and indeed making him the Father of many nations (including us Gentiles).

    I agree, with Marc, we need to be respectful of how we interact with our Jewish friends; I meant no disrespect by what I said previously (I tried to be clear about that); nevertheless, this is a Christian site (and a blog for that matter), and it would be even more disrespectful to not at least mention the “substance” of the Day of Atonement — that is Jesus Christ!


  9. Fennerb@gmail.com

    Marc – With all this being said, will you change the title of this page to something other than “Happy Yom Kippur”? That phrase itself is just wrong. You seem like a pretty thoughtful, reasonable guy.

    Bobby – you dont understand nearly as much about Yom Kippur as you think you do. While Lev. 16 is certainly inthe old testament, Jews also have a few thousand years of Yom kippurs under our belts, which has generated a substantial body of traditions a doctrines that are far more extensive than Lev. 16. So, simply reading that doesn’t mean you “understand” it.

    Also, your proselytizing to Jews is pretty creepy. We’re fine the way we are, and quite committed to our beliefs and our religion. We have enough respect for other religions and self-awareness to not try and “convert” Christians to Judaism – why can’t you pay us the same respect?

    (PS – if you wonder why Jews are so touchy when you try and evangelize them, check out a history book about the last 600 years of attempts to “convert” the Jews to the “messiah” – i.e. the Spanish Inquisition. It didn’t go well.)

  10. Fenner,

    I’ve studied Jewish tradition, quite extensively (both formally and informally). I understand Rabbinic Judaism, and how it serves provisionally in lieu of the Temple and a sacrificial system. I understand that according to the Torah there is no forgiveness of sins w/o a sacrifice (which is problematic for the Jews who have no “Temple”). And in my conversations with a “conservative Rabbi,” he really stumbled in regard to explaining how he could make his Rabbinic Judaism jive with the stipulations set out in the Torah and the Levitic code; because he understands the tension I’m underscoring with you (in re. to sacrifice and atonement).

    Yeah, but, Fenner, I believe that you well end up in hell w/o receiving Jesus as the Messiah and Savior of the world. I would be remiss, at least, if I did not mention what Christians believe about Yom Kippur and how the “conditions” as set out in the Mosaic cod are actually met in Yeshua. I’m not a PoMo relativist. I’m not an ecumenist, and I believe “truth” is exclusively relative to who God has revealed Himself to be in Jesus Christ. In other words, I think it’s strange for anyone who believes anything — with any conviction — to not vociferously articulate those beliefs in the most persuasive way possible (like I said, this is a blog, and does not really work so well for our kind of discussion . . . but it’s all we got at the moment [and you keep coming back 😉 ]). Not only that, my Lord, commanded that I go out and proclaim His message of hope and salvation: to both Jew and Gentile. If that means that I offend someone’s sensibilities (whether they be Jew or Christian), I’m sorry about that; but not sorry enough to try (and also be obedient). I like to avoid being offensive in the way that I present the Gospel; all I hope is that the reason you’re offended is because of the message I’m presenting, and not because of the messenger delivering the message (me).

    I’ve read the history books. Just because somebody or group does something in the name of Jesus or Christianity does not mean that they are actually and truly representing what Christianity actually teaches (in principle).

    If you want to continue to discuss, just come back and let me know.

  11. Fenner, good point. I should have changed the title to the post way back when we first started talking about this. So, I’ve taken care of that.

    And, your comment about the long tradition behind Yom Kippur is also well taken. That’s actually what I appreciated most about the article that I posted. It helped me understand the traditional practices associated with Yom Kippur in addition to the biblical material.

    And, you definitely raise a good point about the sensitivity that we Christians need to have regarding the painful history of “conversion” that is part of our legacy. At the same time, though, telling everyone what we believe about what God has done in and through Jesus is a fundamental part of what it means to be Christian. We can’t set that aside without betraying our own core beliefs. So, our task is to face honestly a history of conversion that denigrated other people and betrayed the Gospel itself, communicate clearly that we respect other people and the importance of their beliefs, while still reserving the right of clearly communicating what we believe to be fundamentally true and important for all people. It’s quite the challenge.

  12. Bobby, obviously we’re on the same page about the importance of declaring the truth of the Gospel. That’s fundamental to being Christians and not something that we can (or should want to) simply set aside.

    But, I’d disagree with your response to the historical question. I don’t think we can avoid the difficulty by taking all of the bad parts of Christian history and trying to make them part of someone else’s story (e.g. they weren’t “real” Christians). The simple truth is that those events are part of the story of the Christian church. Whether each individual involved in those actions was a true believer I can’t say. But the church itself was definitely involved. So, I think it’s better to acknowledge that God’s people have at times made some terrible decisions that had horrible consequences for a lot of people. That doesn’t change the reality that they remain God’s people any more than my own failings mean that I am no longer covered by God’s grace. Their history is part of our history and we should own it and commit to learning from it as we move forward in ways that are hopefully more faithful to the Gospel.

  13. Marc,

    I disagree. Would you then acknowledge that the actions of the Ku Klux Klan are part of “our” story? They claim to be part of the church, and they clothe their rhetoric — and actions — in Christian garb (and language). Or for that matter, what about the third reich and Hitler himself; they did all they they did in the name of Christ, and in fact with the “approval of the state church.”

    I don’t own any of that as being consistent with or part of the Church’s history. My point is, is that anyone or institution can claim to be doing something in the name of Christ; but then the next question is, are they?

    And of course what’s behind our discussion would get us into a discussion about a Reformation teaching on the visible/invisible church. I don’t believe the “church” has an address, in short 🙂 . So we disagree.

    As far as personal holiness, and God’s grace; sure, I agree with you.

    • Yes, apparently we’re going to need to disagree on this one. Although I think the visible/invisible distinction is perfectly acceptable in some contexts, I found it completely unhelpful here. In historical discussions it quickly begins to sound like special pleading. As long as you do good things, I’ll accept you as part of the “church,” but if you’ve done too many bad things, I’ll exclude you from the story. That way the story is protected, but only by throwing large swaths of God’s people under the bus.

      I think that the KKK and the Third Reich are great examples to discuss here. With both of these, I think we can safely reject the core of the movement as being part of the story of the church. You’re right, just claiming the name “Christian” does not give you the right to be part of the story. But, the church was complicit in both of these in how it responded to these movements. So, although I would reject either movement as itself being part of the story, I would say that the church’s complicated and often shameful racial history absolutely is a part of the story.

      • But, Marc,

        I think you’re missing the distinction or nuance I’m trying to highlight (and I’ll take the blame for you’re misunderstanding); and that is that relative to the teachings of Jesus Christ — and actions — there is no way that the Crusades, the Inquisition, the KKK, the Third Reich, The Peasant uprising (Luther), etc. can be construed as representative (objectively) of what Christian **teaching** advocates. There is no doubt that all of the examples above claim to be exemplifications of what Jesus has taught, but my point is that they are not (to one degree or another).

        Relative to the point that Fenner made (his reason for bringing this up in the first place), I certainly want to make a distinction between what Jesus taught and lived; and what those who claim to embody what Jesus taught lived actually live/practice. In other words, there is a categorical distinction between Jesus and His “imperfect” church (between the two advents). What Fenner was doing with his point was providing a caricature of Christianity in order to evade any further discussion of Christianity. I don’t think the caricature is accurate, relative to who and what Jesus was/is about; indeed it may be an accurate representation of those who have claimed to live out the principles of what Jesus taught and lived, but then that’s where the distinction I am trying to draw is grounded.

        The church, and all her hypocrites (me included) are certainly guilty; but our guilt doesn’t negate the pristine actions and character of Jesus Christ, and I’m afraid that this is how this is usually used (Fenner is case in point) — viz. that Christianity is a sham because the Third Reich existed (that seems nonsensical, it is nonsensical).

        So we might actually be more in agreement than it may appear at first blush. Although you do say:

        But, the church was complicit in both of these in how it responded to these movements.

        This takes us full circle in how we define “the church.” Both the KKK and the Third Reich would claim to be “the church;” what makes them fundamentally at odds with actually being aligned with “the church?” The answer to that question is what my point was in response to Fenner’s initial comment on the “history.”

      • Marc,

        You live in Vancouver, right? Me too. I think we’re going to have to meet at a Starbucks some time and hammer this all out 🙂 .

      • I’m actually up in Battle Ground, but we can definitely get together some time. That would probably be easier than discussing this through blog comments. I agree with your distinction between Jesus (and his teachings) and the church. And, I agree that any caricature that reduces the church to the most troubling aspects of its history is inappropriate. (I actually don’t think that’s what Fenner was doing, though. He wasn’t attempting to discredit the truth of Christianity through appeal to its history, but was pointing to history to explain Jewish reservations about “conversion” language.) And, we’re agreed that at least some groups can be clearly identified as non-Christian despite their claims. But, it sounds like we’d differ significantly in the practical application of that last principle. I guess that’s what we’ll get to talk about sometime.

      • I suppose this discussion could run on and on. I don’t understand the distinction you’re drawing between the validity of Christianity and the issue of “conversion language,” per Christianities’ long history — per what Fenner was doing. Somehow Fenner was trying to parallel my “verbal” attempt to discuss the claims of Christianity with the Inquisition . . . say what?

        Certainly, again, in the name of Christ, “Christians” have tried to convert at the point of the sword (much like Muslims i.e. the “Sword verse” — of course the difference there is that Muslims who engage in this kind of “conversion” tactic are being faithful to the teachings and actions of Muhammed; while Christians who do this are not being consistent with Jesus or His teachings); again, this is my point, and gets us back to what Fenner was trying to do (I think) with his comment. He was trying to marginalize the Christian voice by caricaturing her through “her apparent history.” And I was trying to say, “wait” aspects of the “history” are NOT consistent with what Christianity is actually about.

        Until we meet, then 🙂 .

  14. Btw,

    I should clarify, I realize that Christians have done bad things; there is no doubt about that! But I don’t accept the inquisition charge in an unqualified way (for starters I’m not Catholic).

    • Of course, the inquisition was established as an institution long before the Reformation. So, you seem to be setting yourself up for a “story” that has a huge gap in it from the early church to the Reformation, or you’re faced with the nearly impossible task of deciding who does and doesn’t get to be a part of that story. Are you going to reject Augustine for his complicity in the persecution of the Donatists? What about Bernard of Clairvaux and his involvement in the Second Crusade? I could go on, of course. So which is it? Are you going to reject that entire part of the Christian story, or do you have some way of deciding who is in and who is out?

      And, of course, the problem isn’t any easier once we get beyond the Reformation. Does Luther get to be a part of the story despite his virulent rhetoric against the Jews? Do the other magisterial reformers stay in despite their persecution of the Anabaptists? What about the early American Christians and their treatment of the Native Americans?

      You may have an easier way of making these distinctions than I do. There are times when I think such distinctions can be made with relative safety, but in general I’m pretty cautious. So, I usually prefer just to acknowledge that God’s people can sometimes do horrible things, confess that we are equally capable of falling short of the Gospel today, and pray that God protects us from falling into such error.

  15. Fennerb@gmail.com

    Thanks, Marc. It’s a gracious gesture to change the title. I apologize if I was unnecessarily harsh in my initial comments.

  16. Fennerb@gmail.com

    Bobby said: “What Fenner was doing with his point was providing a caricature of Christianity in order to evade any further discussion of Christianity.”

    Marc said: “He wasn’t attempting to discredit the truth of Christianity through appeal to its history, but was pointing to history to explain Jewish reservations about “conversion” language.)”

    Bobby, that’s not true. Marc, you’re exactly right.

    It’s about your attempt to convert jews to your religion. (Putting aside for the second the fact that we already have a religion we are deeply committed to – we respect your religious beliefs enough, even though I don’t agree with them and don’t believe at all what you believe, to not try and “convert” you to my religion. I’m not going to try and “convert” you to judaism because I respect your religion. Why can’t you pay me the same respect?)

    Particularly, you can’t have a conversation with a jew trying to “convert” them without evoking a very long, and violent history of attempt to “convert” Jews to Chsitianity. The jewish resistance to cultural and religious assimiliation (as we’ve typically lived in populations with other religions) is woven into our culture.

    When you try and “convert” us, simply put, you’ll have to deal with an extremely vigorous resistance to any “conversion” – a cultural defense that has been developed over thousands of years, with hundreds of years of resisting conversion attempts (some extremely violent attempts) by various flavors of Christianity.

    This resistance is central to the jewish character. It’s impossible to have a “conversation” trying to convert a jew to “believe in Jesus” with evoking that cultural defense mechanism built by hundreds of years of prosecution at Christian hands.

    Your understanding of Jewish history is lacking.

    • Fenner said:

      Your understanding of Jewish history is lacking.

      I’m sadly aware of Jewish history, it is a very difficult one indeed.

      But that’s not the issue; in the end everyone has a “history,” and the next question must be, “now what?” So your history is true, one marked by resistance and woven into the very fabric of who you are as a people; does this mean that you cannot critically engage whether something is true or false?

      This is where I disagreed with, Marc; and now, again, you’re illustrating my point. You’re using your “people’s history” to relativize any points of Christianity that might be made to you; i.e. so you don’t have to deal with the “substance” and “objective” weight associated with the “truth claims” that Christianity makes. This is called normative relativism, and operates out of a view of reality that is self-refuting; since you have to appeal to something outside of the Jewish sub-culture in order to maintain your Jewish identity, which itself is not particular to the Jewish identity. Anyway, your strategy to avoid discussing issues surrounding the “truth” is pretty apparent, Fenner. But the reality is, is that we’re all human beings (notwithstanding our particular cultural characteristics); and we’re all accountable to the same standards of veracity and falsity.

      I am sincerely sorry for all that the Jewish people have had to endure, and still are enduring; which is why, of course, I would want to introduce you to the Messiah. I know who Jewish scholars appeal to — ironically higher critics — in order to discredit or undercut the claims and person of Jesus Christ. But again, the method they appeal to is not sound.

      I hope someday the “veil” will be removed for you, Fenner!

      Peace in Christ.

      • Fennerb@gmail.com

        “So your history is true, one marked by resistance and woven into the very fabric of who you are as a people; does this mean that you cannot critically engage whether something is true or false?”

        What, exactly, are we debating the truth or falsity of? Are you claiming my beliefs and religion aren’t “true”?

        “I know who Jewish scholars appeal to — ironically higher critics — in order to discredit or undercut the claims and person of Jesus Christ.”

        Oh, yes, you just hit the nail on the head – all of those “Jewish scholars” sitting around, wringing their hands (with hook noses and beady eyes, right?), scheming and plotting some way to “undercut” Jesus Christ.

        Your entire point of view is clouded with anti-semitism caricatures and stereotypes that are actually more ancient than your religion.

        Do you want to debate the truth or falsity in that?

      • Fennerb@gmail.com

        And, finally, let me point this out to you:

        I believe in the ultimate “truth” of my religion (of which I am 100%, unshakably sure of) as passionately as you believe in yours.

        I’m not going to convince you to convert to Judaism, even though I’m Jewish and believe in Judaism, and am entirely committed to my faith.

        I know you’re entirely committed to your faith. The difference is that I have enough respect for your religion that I don’t see it as my job to try and “convince” you to convert to Judaism.

        The idea of posting on this thread (which was about a jewish high holy-day, FYI) means that I have to “prove” to you the “truth” of my religion and beliefs are absurd.

        Aside from the impossibility of anyone “proving” to you anything you don’t already think you know, this kind of attitude is ominous and indicative of many problems in the world now.

        I can live with you. I can co-exist with you and your beliefs, even though they’re not my beliefs and I believe something entirely different.

        You, however, can’t co-exist with me. You can’t get outside of your own tiny, skull-sized kingdom.

        And, in doing so, you prove true the worst fears woven into Jewish culture – that you won’t let us practice our religion in peace, you have to “convert” all of us and prove the “falsity” of our religion. This is, ironically, exactly the “history” of your religion that makes us so wary. Congratulations!

  17. I’m going to suggest respectfully that we’ve taken this discussion about as far as we can through blog comments. Thank you both very much for the interaction. I’ve enjoyed the dialog and the different perspectives. But, I think it’s time to call it a night.

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