The Atonement Day

The Atonement Day, or Yom Kippur, is the holiest day in Jewish tradition. It is celebrated on the 10th day of Tishrei, the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar. Yom Kippur occurs right after the celebration of the Jewish New Year (Rosh Ha-Shana) which is the first and second day of Tishrei. 


For Jewish people who observe Atonement Day, the occasion lasts about 26 hours. During this time, they abstain from food and drink, work and marital relations. The observant do not wash themselves, apply lotions or cosmetics. Leather footwear is avoided. Many people spend this day in the synagogue where they pray and ask forgiveness from God and others for their transgressions. 


The history of Atonement Day dates to the Books of Moses. After the people of Israel were brought out of captivity in Egypt, they wandered in the desert and sinned against God by creating and worshipping the Golden Calf. Moses went up Mount Sinai and interceded for the Israelites. Forgiveness was obtained from God and Moses returned down the mountain on the 10th of Tishrei. Forevermore, this day became the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur (Exodus 32). 


After this event, the people of Israel built the Tabernacle where they worshipped God, prayed and offered sacrifices for their sins. On Yom Kippur, the High Priest performed a special service including offering incense in the Holy of Holies and the lottery of the two goats. One of the goats was brought as a sacrifice, while the other was sent out to the wilderness


These practices continued through the times of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem and the second Temple, built by Ezra. 


After the Temple was destroyed, the Jews continued to observe this sacred day. Now they celebrate it in the real Temple where God's presence should always be found - in their hearts.

The Day of Atonement in Israel Today

At sunset on Yom Kippur, all public transport stops, including flights, buses and trains. Although there is no official ban on driving, there are no cars on the roads so children and teenagers pour out to ride bicycles, scooters and roller skates. The duty to fast is imposed only on those who have reached the age of maturity; that is, the age of bar and bat mitzvah (13 years old for boys and 12 years old for girls).


However, not everyone spends this day in prayer and fasting or in the synagogue. About 40% of Israel's population is secular and non-religious.

Another 14% are from different religions and ethnicities such as Druze, Muslims, Christians, etc. For them, this day becomes a day of rest from worries and work along with relief from the ever-noisy public transport and street traffic.


On Yom Kippur, it is customary to seek forgiveness from each other and repay debts. On this day, in their own way, people can rest, dream of their futures and reflect on the losses, accomplishments, mistakes and achievements over the past year.