With Yom Kippur approaching, some might be thinking about how to get right with God. And over time a vast compendium of traditions have built up around the holy day in pursuit of just that. As we gear up for the big fast next Wednesday, here’s a selection of six of those customs, none of them to do with chest-beating. May we all be sealed into the Book of Life!
In a familiar ritual known as taslisch, many congregations will gather their members at the shore of a local body of water to cast bread into the deep, an act intended to represent the washing-away of sin. Such events typically occur on the second day of Rosh Hashanah.
In addition to fasting, Jews are supposed to abstain from all the pleasures of the body—donning leather items, taking showers—and not making whoopee. That’s different than on Shabbat, when observant Jews are encouraged to be intimate with one another in order to “be fruitful and multiply.”
Swinging A Chicken
Some Hasidic Jews still perform the kapparot ritual, a controversial practice that involves swinging a chicken over one’s head while reciting prayers of atonement. Like taslisch, this ceremony displaces sin out of the worshiper. After it’s done, the chicken is slaughtered and donated as meat to charity.
Wearing All White
Many Jews put on white clothing for Yom Kippur, which is meant to demonstrate purity and mercy, according to Chabad. Some even wear a large white robe, known as a kittel, which resembles a funeral shroud and also serves to remind us of our own mortality. Yom Kippur is the only day when people dress in tallit in the evening.
It’s become customary to apologize to those one has wronged in the past year ahead of Yom Kippur. Many folks will simply post a blanket ‘sorry’ on Facebook, while others will track down former lovers, ex-friends, and the like to make amends for previous actions.
Kneeling before the Ark
On the afternoon of Yom Kippur, during the Musaf service, Jews prostrate themselves before the Ark that contains the Torah scrolls. This recalls the ancient priests of Israel’s entrance into the Temple’s most sacred precincts, which contained the Holy of Holies.