What Is Yom Kippur?

The Jewish calendar abounds with auspicious times for different things. Atonement is one of man’s greatest spiritual endeavors, but it is especially favorable on Yom Kippur day. Throughout the year we can be forgiven for sins if we repent with a sincere heart, but on Yom Kippur the gates of repentance are flung wide open and Hashem eagerly awaits to forgive us, if only we take the initiative.

When the Temple stood, Yom Kippur was a particularly special day that included many unique practices, as recorded at length in Vayikra. These activities brought down atonement from on high, but today we are left without the aid of a Temple. Rambam stresses that nowadays there is nothing other than repentance, however, the day of Yom Kippur also provides forgiveness. This is based on the verse, “…for on this day He will atone for you to purify you all, from all your sins before Hashem you shall be purified.” We learn that it is the day that provides attornment. Still, that additional injection of atonement requires a repentant heart. If Yom Kippur is utilized for introspection and repentance, the result of that soul-searching, combined with the cleansing agent of Yom Kippur, will produce an exceptionally clean slate.

The previously mentioned verse teaches another important element of repentance. Note the words from all your sins before Hashem. Sins that are before Hashem are those that are between man and G-d. These are cleansed through repentance and the day of Yom Kippur. However, sins between man and man require something else. First, the offended party must forgive, then the sinner can expect attornment from on high.

In Jewish history, Yom Kippur was the day when G-d announced to Moshe Salachtei – I forgive you. Moshe had ascended the mountain and pleaded for the Jewish nation for forty days because of the sin of the Golden Calf. On Yom Kippur the Jewish nation received forgiveness then, and on Yom Kippur they receive forgiveness anew every single year.

Preparing For The Holy Day

Yom Kippur is designated for forgiveness, and is the climax of the Ten Days of Repentance. It is cause for confident joy in G-d’s mercy and forgiveness, but it also requires reflective preparation. The books will be sealed on Yom Kippur, and our destiny confirmed. If we ready ourselves properly, we can rest assured that Hashem will be there by our side. Traditionally, there are many activities that we engage in during the days leading up to Yom Kippur. Selichos are recited throughout the Aseres Yemei Teshuva, and charity is distributed to the poor.

In general, it is important to add good deeds between the days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. In heaven, everyone’s good and bad deeds are weighed, determining which book they will be inscribed in. All mitzvos, but particularly repentance, prayer, and charity, have the potential to tip the scales.

Aseres Yemei Teshuva

The first day of Rosh Hashana is the first of the Ten Days of Repentance, and Yom Kippur is the last. The ancients taught that during these ten days, Teshuvah (repentance), Tefilah (prayer) and Tzedakah (charity) are especially effective and more readily accepted in heaven. It behooves every one of us to take these precious days seriously and to maximize them for their full worth.


Charity is one of the three activities mentioned in the davening of Yom Kippur that removes an evil decree. In fact, halachic sources discuss the custom of giving charity to the poor on both Erev Rosh Hashanah and Erev Yom Kippur. Throughout the Ten Days of Repentance we strive to add good deeds, and Tzedakah is one of the greatest mitzvos a Jew can do. If we come to the aid of the destitute, Hashem will surely take note.


Kaparos is an ancient custom which can be performed anytime between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but which some people delay until Erev Yom Kippur. This ancient ritual is accomplished by revolving a chicken around one’s head while reciting a text that says that the rooster will be slaughtered and the individual will proceed to a good long life.

The concept is akin to Tashlich, where sins are symbolically thrown into the watery depths. Here to, we symbolically remove our sins and place it elsewhere, as a form of urging ourselves toward repentance.

While many people use a chicken, others use money. These people wave charity money around their heads and recite a text stating that this money will go to charity and they will enter into a good long life. There is also a custom to use a fish.

Erev Yom Kippur

Erev Yom Kippur is a particularly special day. Not only is it a day of preparation for a holiday, it is a holiday itself. There is a special requirement to partake of a festive meal. While the Torah requires us to fast, it also wants us to celebrate this holy day, and to prepare ourselves physically for the fast day. Just as fasting on Yom Kippur is a Mitzvah, so is eating on Erev Yom Kippur. It is a fearful time, due to the impending day of Yom Kippur, but also a pleasurable one, due to our anticipation for forgiveness.

There is a custom to eat two meals on Erev Yom Kippur. At the first meal, it is customary to eat fish and some people put “kreplach” in their soup. Kreplach is a dough dumpling filled with meat and it symbolizes our desire to be granted a year filled with good things. The second meal is called the Seudah Hamafsekes which is when the last food is eaten before the onset of Yom Kippur. It is customary to serve light rather than heavy foods. Also, salty and spicy foods are generally avoided.

This time of year, the Heavenly Court stands in judgment.


What We Do On Yom Kippur?

Yom Kippur is the only day entirely dedicated to prayer. For one day, we emulate the angels, abstaining from bodily desires, which gives way to spiritual introspection. We reflect on our imperfections, and resolve to mend our ways. Traditionally Yom Kippur has been one of the happiest days of the year because it is when we are forgiven, and when we begin anew with a clean slate.


Yom Kippur is the only fast that is biblically mandated. Due to its severity, only the most urgent circumstances allow for its violation. A competent halachic authority should be consulted in all such matters. The other four injunctions are rabbinic.

Unlike Tisha B’av, these restrictions are not due to mournful national experiences. In fact, Yom Kippur has historically been one of the happiest days of the year due to the atonement it provides. Rather, the inuyim, or afflictions, are prohibitions that keep us in the right frame of mind. They allow us to repent most effectively so that we can receive complete forgiveness from on high.

On Yom Kippur we may not:



Wear Shoes

Bathe or Anoint

Marital Relations

Yom Kippur is the one day a year on which we strive to be like angels. For a short time, we separate ourselves from our physical needs, focusing only on spiritual and lofty matters. This is one reason why married men wear a Kittel – a special white garment – on Yom Kippur day. To remind us that today we are pure like angels. Many women also wear a white garment for the same reason. We also refrain from wearing gold because it recalls the sin of the golden calf. We want to put our best foot forward, and anything that is remindful of sin is to be avoided.

The Prayers Of Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur centers around atonement, and as such, we spend a lot of time praying for repentance, as well as listing off the actual sins that we performed. In the Alcoholics Anonymous program, the first step toward recovery is admission. If a person won’t admit to the fact that they have an addictive problem, they can’t possibly be helped. No matter what actions are taken, the individual will remain in denial. The same is true of Teshuva (repentance). The first step toward atonement is admission. We must own up to our problems, and to the fact that we messed up. Once we make that declaration and enumerate our sins, the next step is resolve. We need to commit to not repeating the offense. Once that is complete, we can expect atonement.

Yom Kippur and repentance are cleansing agents that wipe our slates clean – but this only applies to sins that are between man and G-d. Yom Kippur does not erase sins between man and man so long as that person does not receive forgiveness. Therefore, it is very important to ask “mechila” forgiveness from people who we wronged during the Ten Days of Repentance.

It is a very good idea to forgive others for their sins, even if they do not ask us for forgiveness. In fact, Tefillah Zakkah, which is a prayer that is customarily recited before Kol Nidrei includes a paragraph that states that one forgives others. One who finds it within themselves to forgive and forget can expect forgiveness from on high, while one who holds onto feelings of resentment and hate is less likely to receive forgiveness.









Children’s Video

Yom Kippur In Belz

Take a journey to Belz with a collection of images from some of the most memorable moments with the Rebbe during these holy days.


In the early morning hours of Erev Yom Kippur, after saying Selichos, the Rebbe does the minhag of Kaparos in the courtyard of his house The Rebbe then stands by, deep in concentration, as the shochet slaughters his kaparos and thereafter does the mitzvah of Kisui Hadam. The Rebbe’s family members also do Kaparos at the same time. The slaughtered birds are then prepared for the upcoming Erev Yom Kippur Tish.

August 3, 2021


Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev’s Prayers

Something was amiss. Although it was Tishrei, this was different. The Rebbe was crying and sighing. The townspeople were worried. Several days before Yom Kippur, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak summoned his gabbai. Much to the gabbai’s amazement, the Rebbe had business on his mind. “It’s time we set a fixed price for kvitlach” said the Rebbe. “I think we should ask for two groschen per name written in a kvitel.” Soon the townspeople heard about the new rule: Rather than leaving it up to each person’s discretion, the Rebbe was setting a price.
Erev Yom Kippur, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak began receiving kvitlach. People were tense – the Rebbe’s behavior indicated that it was especially important to be included in the Rebbe’s list. Two groschen wasn’t a lot, but for a poor man with many children, it was no small expense. Still, no one refused. Nobody was taking any chances. All day the Rebbe received kvitlach. Here and there some people tried to bargain with the gabbai, but no exceptions were made.
Around midday, a woman approached the gabbai and begged for an exemption. “I’m a poor widow with an only child and I don’t have four groschen. Please, talk to the Rebbe.” The gabbai agreed, but the Rebbe was unyielding. “I’m sorry,” he said to the woman, “It’s two groschen per name.” The widow left, heartbroken, but committed to obtaining the money.
Nightfall came. Everyone was already in the synagogue for Kol Nidrei, but Rabbi Levi Yitzchak lingered at home, staring out his window. Then, the widow was seen hurrying along the street clutching coins in her hand. “Here’s my kvitel” she cried. “Please pray for me and my child to be inscribed in the book of life.” “But there are just two groschen here,” protested Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, “You can only write one name in your kvitel.” “Holy Rebbe!” cried the woman, “This is all I have. I promise to pay the rest within a week.” “I’m sorry,” insisted the Rebbe, “It’s two groschen per name. Which name do you want in your kvitel?” Trembling, the woman crossed out her name. “Pray for my Shloimehleh, Rebbe,” she said, her voice shaking, “that he should have a year of life, health and happiness.”
Hearing these words, the Rebbe’s eyes flashed wildly. Grasping the two groschen, he raised his hands heavenward and cried: “Father in Heaven! Look what a mother does for her child! And shall it be said that You are less caring to Your children? Will You refuse to grant Your own children a year of life, health and happiness?!” “Come,” said Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, “I’m ready for Kol Nidrei.”