Yom Kippur, the most solemn holiday in the Jewish calendar, is associated with services that many Jews consider traditional and longstanding. Yet Yom Kippur observances have evolved over the centuries in fascinating ways.
Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah have always been connected. In traditional Judaism the days between "Yamin Noraim" - translated as "the days of fear," or more commonly "the days of awe." Traditional Jews believe that during this period, God sits in judgment of humankind and decrees and seals individual and collective fates. Accordingly, the traditional greeting at this time of the year is: "L’shonoh tovah hikotevu: May you be inscribed for a good year."
For our congregation, Yom Kippur concludes the period of self-reflection begun on Rosh Hashanah. Early in our evening service the moving strains of the Kol Nidre melody are played, usually on cello and piano. Additional musical selections throughout the service afford us the opportunity to reflect upon our values and commitments, both as individuals and as a community. Our service aims to strike a balance between our connections to the broad stream of Judaism as well as our own humanistic and secular view of Jewish culture and customs.
On Yom Kippur Day we offer programs designed to cater to the interests of our members and to the community which attends our services. Programs for children address issues they can relate to, through skits and discussions.
Here are links to CHJ's 2010 Kol Nidre service and to the 2007 Memorial and Closing Yom Kippur Service in Word format for downloading.
Both holy days probably originated after the exile to Babylon (586 BCE) and superseded the agricultural festivals of Succot, Shavuot, and Passover in religious importance. The Babylonians had a holy day called "kippuru" (sound familiar?) on which the people purged themselves of sin before their god, Marduk, who also judged the world.
As one can imagine, such solemn occasions involved various rites, rituals and customs designed to appease the gods and to protect oneself.
Many of the faithful went to a body of water, to empty their pockets of crumbs and cast away their sins. This was thought to appease the evil spirits believed to inhabit the water. Many traditional congregations still go to a local waterway to symbolically cast off their sins by throwing pieces of bread in the water.
A very primitive concept of passing evil to another object, in this case a rooster. The fowl is swung around the head, destroyed, or given to the poor. In shtetl times, it often became the holiday dinner.
When the 2nd Temple was built (500 BCE), Yom Kippur was primarily a priestly holiday. Very elaborate rites were used by the Chief Priest of Zadok including that of the "azazel goat". It this instance, the sins of the congregation were symbolically placed as a red sash on a designated goat which was later driven out into the wilderness. A second goat was sacrificed to Yahweh. The commandment for the Day of Atonement is in Leviticus 24, which instructs the faithful "...and ye shall bring an offering made by fire unto the Lord." For good measure, the priests also sacrificed a young bull.
Hitting oneself with a short chain was popular until well into the Middle Ages. The custom of beating one’s breast during traditional services probably derives from this custom. After the destruction of the 2nd Temple by the Romans (70 CE), Judaism developed new forms. Synagogues replaced the Temple and Rabbis replaced the priests. Many of the old customs were re-interpreted to accommodate new circumstances, the practice which continues to this day.