What is Yom Kippur? When is the Jewish holy day and what are the fasting rules?

Yom Kippur is the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. (Reuters)

Jewish people around the world will fast from sundown today to mark the religion's most holy day: Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement.

It's a time where Jews come together to pray while fasting, seeking forgiveness for their sins.

Here's what you need to know about Yom Kippur.

What is Yom Kippur? When is it held?

Yom Kippur roughly translates to "Day of Atonement", and is a period where Jews abstain from certain things and pray, seeking forgiveness for their sins.

It's considered the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, and comes 10 days after Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year.

Jews traditionally spend Yom Kippur in prayer. (ABC RN: Jess Pace)

That means this year it begins on the evening of September 15 and ends at nightfall on September 16.

According to The Great Synagogue in Sydney, Jews traditionally abstain from the following during Yom Kippur:

  • Food and drink
  • Wearing leather shoes
  • Bathing or washing
  • Using creams, perfumes or lotions
  • Having sex

Traditionally, Jews commune at synagogues on Yom Kippur, and its end is marked with a celebration with family.

But with COVID-19 lockdowns affecting much of Australia, some synagogues are holding virtual services.

Jews believe Yom Kippur is a time to atone for their sins.  (Pixabay: Nelly Altenburger)

Yom Kippur stems from the story of Moses, who Jews (and other followers of Abrahamic religions) believe received commandments from God, only to smash the stone tablets after seeing his people worshipping a false idol.

The Israelites then atoned for their transgression, and were granted another set of commandments.

Can you eat or drink water on Yom Kippur?

Jews fasting during Yom Kippur traditionally go without food or drink, even water.

However, exceptions are made for children and those who could jeopardise their health by fasting. 

What do you say to someone during Yom Kippur? 

The traditional greeting for someone observing Yom Kippur is "g'mar chatima tova".

The Hebrew phrase wishes the person's fate be sealed in the book of life. 

It references the belief that God seals people's fate for the coming year on Yom Kippur, having written it on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year.

You can also tell someone observing Yom Kippur to "have an easy fast".


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