The Meaning of Yom Kippur: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know anyone who celebrates the holiday Yom Kippur? This article will teach you all about the meaning of Yom Kippur.

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If you have friends who are Jewish, they probably celebrate Yom Kippur. You may wonder about the significance of this holiday, how this holiday came to be, and what you should wish Jewish people on Yom Kippur.

This article will teach you all about Yom Kippur. To begin, you will learn about the meaning of the holiday Yom Kippur. Then, you will learn about the origin of Yom Kippur, how people celebrate Yom Kippur, and other Jewish holidays. You will be an expert on this Jewish holiday in no time!

What Does Yom Kippur Mean?

According to Britannica, Yom Kippur is a solemn Jewish religious holiday also known as the day of atonement. On this holiday, Jews seek to repent for their sins to reconcile with God. On Yom Kippur, people do not work and instead focus the day on repentance and forgiving the sins of others.

Yom Kippur occurs on the tenth day of Tishrei, during the first month of the civil year and the seventh month of the religious year. This holiday marks the end of the Days of Repentance, or Days of Awe, beginning with the Jewish New Year Rosh Hashanah. The Jewish year begins at the end of September, contrary to the standard new year on January 1st. 

Yom Kippur is a day of abstinence in many ways. People older than the age of thirteen and who are not pregnant or have a medical condition that makes them incapable of fasting will abstain from eating and drinking. People also abstain from having sex, and Orthodox Jews will avoid wearing leather shoes. 

Yom Kippur begins at sundown the day prior and continues through sundown the following day. It is thought that God will forgive those who repent and follow the rules of Yom Kippur. Furthermore, since this holiday takes place at the beginning of the Jewish year, it is thought to create a fresh, clean slate for the coming year.

What is the Origin of Yom Kippur?

This Jewish tradition began with the prophet Moses, who received the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai. After the Israelites left Egypt, Moses caught the people worshiping an idol, not God himself. After this scene, he shattered the Ten Commandments tablets out of anger. However, after the Israelites atoned, God forgave the people and gave Moses more tablets.

During biblical times, high priests entered the inner sanctum of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem to perform various ritual sacrifices to atone for the people of Israel. This tradition continued until 70 AD when the Romans destroyed the Second Temple.

How Do People Celebrate Yom Kippur?

The day of Yom Kippur is a day of fasting. Like Shabbat, people do not work on the eve of Yom Kippur. This is a day of repentance for people to reflect on the past year and celebrate the coming year. Many people take Yom Kippur as a day of reflection and atonement.

In addition to the standard daily prayer services Maariv (evening service), Mincha (afternoon service), and Shacharit (morning services), people attend additional Yom Kippur services for a total of five: Maariv, Shacharit, Mussaf, Minchah, and Neilah. 

Some attendees wear Kittel, a symbolic piece of white clothing, to the services. On Yom Kippur, many people read from the Torah in Hebrew, recite the Kol Nidrei, blow the Shofar trumpet made out of a ram’s horn, and say memorial prayers like Yizkor. 

It is not polite to wish someone a happy Yom Kippur since this high holiday is all about atonement and repentance. Instead, it is more appropriate to wish someone an easy fast or happy new year. In Hebrew, these are “Tsom Kal” and “Shanah Tovah,” respectively.

What Are Other Jewish Holidays?

There are several high holidays in Judaism. In addition, Jewish people celebrate many religious holidays specific to Judaism, unlike some Christian holidays that coincide with federal holidays or other branches of the Christian religion like Catholicism. To learn all about the holidays celebrated in Judaism, take a look at this Jewish calendar from the Jewish Federation of St. Louis

Many of these holidays begin at sundown on the night prior and continue through the following day. If you are Jewish or know Jewish people and want to be respectful of their holidays, you can research what each of these holidays means and the appropriate greeting on each holiday.

  • Tu B’shevat: January 17th, 2022
  • Purim: March 17th, 2022
  • Pesach / Passover: April 16-23, 2022
  • Yom Hashoah: April 28th, 2022
  • Yom Hazikaron: May 4th, 2022
  • Yom Ha’atzmaut: May 5th, 2022
  • Yom Yerushalayim: May 29th, 2022
  • Shavuot: June 5-6, 2022
  • Tisha B’av: August 7th, 2022
  • Rosh Hashanah: September 26-27, 2022
  • Yom Kippur: October 5th, 2022
  • Sukkot: October 10-11, 2022
  • Shemini Atzeret: October 17, 2022
  • Simchat Torah: October 18th, 2022
  • Chanukah / Hanukkah: December 19-26, 2022


For many Jewish people, Yom Kippur is the year’s holiest day. This day of repentance marks the end of Rosh Hashanah and the beginning of the Jewish year. This holiday is a day of repentance and atonement, and many people spend the sundown before Yom Kippur through the sundown on the day of Yom Kippur fasting, reflecting, and praying.

Yom Kippur is one of the most sacred Jewish holidays of the year, as it brings a fresh start to the year through deep reflection and repentance. Therefore, while it is not appropriate to wish someone a happy Yom Kippur, you can wish them an easy fast or a happy new year.  


  1. Yom Kippur 101 | My Jewish Learning 
  2. Jewish Holiday List | Jewish Federation of St. Louis
  3. Most Important Jewish Holidays Cheat Sheet | 18 Doors
  4. Yom Kippur | Holiday, Purpose, Meaning, & Facts | Britannica