Yom Kippur, the culmination of the Ten Days of Repentance that begin with Rosh Hashanah, is the holiest day of the Jewish year. It is a day when Jews feel closest to God and atone for their sins. On Yom Kippur, eating and drinking, washing, anointing, wearing leather shoes, and engaging in marital relations are prohibited. These prohibitions are derived from the verse in Leviticus referring to Yom Kippur, which reads, “You shall afflict yourselves.” The Yom Kippur fast begins before sundown and finishes after nightfall on the following day. Fasting on Yom Kippur enables individuals to transcend the physical and focus on matters of the spirit.
According to tradition, after the Jewish people left Egypt, they arrived at Mount Sinai, where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. The people, not knowing when Moses would return, built and worshipped a golden calf. Moses broke the Ten Commandments and prayed for the people’s forgiveness. On Yom Kippur, God forgave the people and gave Moses a second set of tablets. In Temple times, on Yom Kippur, the high priest performed an elaborate ritual in the Temple, confessing his sins, the sins of the priests, and the sins of the Jewish people. During the service, he entered the Holy of Holies – the only day of the year that the High Priest was permitted to enter.