Yom Kippur (CK-1)
What is Yom Kippur and why should we care?
Many americans are unaware of the holiday Yom Kippur and I was one of them until my curiosity led me to research what it was. This holiday is one of the most important holidays to the Jewish community and it’s actually a matter of life or death to them. On this day it is believed that God decides whether they live or die the next year. This decision is made in a span of 10 days called the “10 Days of Awe” and on Yom Kippur the decision is sealed. Imagine a holiday that decided whether you would die or live; wouldn’t this holiday be important to you? Wouldn’t you want people to at least know what the holiday was and why you cared so much about it? This is why I’m going to explain what it is.
So where did this holiday come from?
The first celebration took place after the Israelites’ emigration from Egypt to Mount Sinai. Moses went up to the mountains to speak to God and left his brother Aaron in charge of the Israelites’. While Moses was gone the people grew impatient and thought Moses wasn’t going to return. The people then asked Aaron for another God to worship, so Aaron told them to give him their golden jewelry; from this jewelry he constructed the golden calf. God told Moses that his people had become corrupt and started worshipping a golden calf and God threatened to destroy Moses’s people. Moses then calmed God down and convinced him not to destroy them. Moses returned from the mountain and in a fit of anger he shattered the Ten Commandments that were given to him by God. Moses then threw the golden calf into the fire and turned the calf to dust. He then put this dust in water and forced them to drink it. The Israelites’ eventually made up for worshiping these idols and gained God's forgiveness, which in turn lead God to offer to replace the tablets for Moses. Even though the people started worshipping an idol instead of him, God forgave them for their sins, hence the holiday being about seeking atonement.
Does the story of someone throwing a fit when finding their people worshipping some idol sound familiar?
In the Qur’an, 37:83-113, Abraham sees his people worshiping idols instead of Allah and begins to mock his people. He says "What do you worship? Is it falsehood gods other than Allah you desire?” It is shown that Abraham believes that the idols they’re worshipping are wrong through the phrase “Is it falsehood gods other than Allah you desire?” It shows that Abraham believes that these idols don’t mean anything and that the person they should be worshipping is Allah. Just like how Moses told his people that the only god they should be worshiping is God and not some golden calf, Abraham tells his people that the “gods” they’re worshipping mean nothing and the only god they should be worshipping is Allah. Abraham then says, “Indeed, I am ill,” showing that his people worshipping these idols upsets him so much he feels like throwing up. Abraham then “turned upon them a blow with right hand,” “them” being the idols. This means that he destroys the meaningless idols, just like when moses destroys the golden calf. In both the golden calf story and this story, the leaders return to find their people worshipping an idol other than their respective deity. In both stories after finding their people doing this the leaders smash things in a fit of rage. Doesn’t this make you wonder how many other important religious figures have smashed things in a fit of rage?
Now that we know where this holiday comes from, how do we celebrate it?
Since on the day of Yom kippur God decides the jewish communities fate and their fate is sealed, during the 10 Days of Awe they try to rid their sins and gain forgiveness. One of the ways they try to rid their sins is through the Kapparot, which is the process of transferring one’s sins to something else. It is preferred that this is done with a white chicken, but if that is not available a chicken of any color, a fish, or a goose will do.The first step of the Kapparot is to read excerpts from Isaiah 11:9, Psalms 107:10, 14, and 17-21, and Job 33:23-24. After these are read a, chicken -hen if they’re female and rooster if they’re male- is spun above the person's head three times while they say “This is my exchange, my substitute, my atonement; this rooster (or hen) shall go to its death, but I shall go to a good, long life, and to peace.” This is done in the hopes that the person's sins will transfer onto the chicken. The chicken is then given to the poor to eat, so at least the chicken doesn’t go to waste. This process hasn’t always been done with these animals though. It use to be done with a ram because of Abraham offering a ram instead of his son Isaac. It was performed with rams or plants until the destruction of the Temple. The destruction of the Temple meant that no animals in sacrificial rite could be used for similar purposes outside of the Temple.
Another way of celebrating this holiday is to fast for 25 hours, although if you are pregnant or are a child you do not have to fast. This is done to prove that one is able to control themselves so that they can please God. Most of Yom Kippur is spent in synagogue. For the more religious people the end of Yom kippur is marked with the blow of the shofar. A shofar is a horn of a ram, or some other kosher animal, made into an instrument. The use of a ram is due to Abraham sacrificing a ram instead of his son.
Does fasting because of religion sound familiar?
If you’ve taken a world history class you’ve most likely heard of the Five Pillars of Islam. The Five Pillars of Islam are the five things, if possible, a Muslim must do in their lifetime. The first pillar is called Shahada, which is the belief that there is only one god: Allah. Second is Salat, which is to pray five times a day facing the holy city of Mecca. Third is Zakāt, the act of being charitable. Fourth is Sawm, the act of fasting during the month of Ramadan. The final one is called Hajj, where the goal is to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. I connected Yom Kippur to the Five Pillars of Islam because of the fourth pillar. In both the fourth pillar and Yom Kippur the goal is to fast to seek forgiveness from their God.
What does Yom Kippur suggest about the beliefs of the jewish community?
Yom Kippur suggests that the Jewish community has a spiritual belief connected to animals. A lot of the celebrations, such as the Kapparot or the blowing of the shofar, require animals. This shows that without animals it may not be possible for them to achieve atonement.
Finally, what should be remembered about Yom Kippur?
What should be remembered about Yom Kippur is the reason it’s celebrated. The fasting, Kapparots, synagogues, and all the other celebrations are all done in the hopes of being forgiven for sins. Finally, the goal when celebrating Yom Kippur is to gain forgiveness from God.