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 Yom Kippur

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Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur

The words יוֹם כִּפּוּר mean Day of Atonement. A remark for those who doesn't know: Yom Kippur is considered the most important prayer day in our religion, the day the God is judging the whole world and the Jewish people in particular for their sins during the year.

The name of the custom of Kapparot means "atonements", כַּפָּרוֹת, single form: כַּפָּרָה.

From grammar perspective, כיפור and כפרה are two different words; but the actually mean more or less the same, while the word כיפור is mainly reserved for the holiday name.

In this day the God is sealing the Book of Life. That's why we say to each other:

גְּמַר חֲתִימָה טוֹבִה [ gmar chatima tova ] "(Have a) good sealing (completion)!" kind of thing.

On Yom Kippur we pray a unique prayer called כָּל נִדְרֵי [ kol nidrei ] - "All vows" in Aramaic:

Now, the כָּל [ kol ] (=all) is a word familiar to everybody who ever looked in Hebrew book. The second word, although Aramaic, is used in modern Hebrew (mainly in singular form) as נֶדֶר [ neder ]. When somebody is saying בְּלִי נֶדֶר [ bli neder ], it means "I'll try (to do something), but cannot swear on that."

The history of Kol Nidrei is interesting though. Midieval Europe wasn't as tolerant to religious pluralism as, say, ancient Greece or modern Western world. The Jew were often forced to cross the lines of religious laws for different reasons, some were forced to convert, etc. That's when (the history tells us) the Kol Nidrei prayer (rather declaration) was introduced. In Kol Nidrei the we ask the God to forgive the intentional and unintentional sins we are committing. (More on Kol Nidrei in Wikipedia.)

You may ask, is this prayer still relevant? We live in the epoch of religious tolerance (well, if it's not Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia, all right), and almost half of world Jewish population live in Israel anyway, where everybody has freedom to do or not to do whatever they need. Well, we probably are too conservative in all related to our liturgy... or maybe people just understand that nobody is perfect.

We are also fasting all day in Yom Kippur. Fast day is יוֹם צוֹם [ yom tzom ] in Hebrew

and the verb to fast is: לָצוּם [ latzum ],  (is) fasting:  צָם [ tzam ].

The end of Yom Kippur fasting is marked with blowing Shofar again.

Wikipedia on Yom Kippur

Historical Remark 1: Yom Kippur War

Although not part of our religious tradition, it became an important part of modern Israeli history.

When the Arabs decided to start the war in Yom Kippur, it wasn't just Yom Kippur customs (when you fast and pray all day long) which failed Israel in the beginning of the war. It's the "concept" of the back-then government led by Golda Meir which was basically telling "Arabs won't ever attack us again, because they don't want to lose more land. It doesn't pay off". This "concept" was proven to be wrong, the government retired, Golda Meir wasn't re-elected, and Israel (although presumably won the battle) started the negotiations with Egypt, which led to giving up Sinai peninsula. That's why Egyptians consider they won this war: regardless of the battle, if at the end you give up your territory, you've probably lost the war.

It's another historical lesson: don't assume anything. At least, don't be too optimistic: you might assume the best, but still should be prepared to the worst.

Some relevant Hebrew vocabulary:

מִלְחֶמֶת יוֹם הִכִּפּוּרִים - [ milchemet yom ha-kippurim ] - Yom Kippur War

הֶסְכֵּם שָׁלוֹם - [ heskem shalom ] - Peace Treatment

הֶסְכֵּם - [ heskem ] means "treatment", rather "agreement".

הֶסְכֵּם שָׁלוֹם עִם מִצְרַיִם - [ heskem shalom `im Mitzrayim ] - Peace Agreement with Egypt

The word [ heskem ] is used quite often in everyday's life, like הֶסְכֵּם עֲבוֹדָה - [ heskem `avoda ] - employment agreement

הַפְסָקַת אֵשׁ - [ hafsakat esh ] - cease-fire


Historical Remark 2: Babi Yar

In my perception, one event is always connected to High Holidays, and that's WWII event: in September 1941 the German army entered Kiev (capital of Ukraine, and "the mother of all Russian cities"), a city with substantial Jewish population back then. It was September 28, 1941 - two days before Yom Kippur, when all the Jews of Kiev were ordered to leave they homes and go to concentration camp of Babiy Yar. Over 33,000 Jews were killed in a single operation on September 29-30, 1941, on the eve of Yom Kippur. It was possibly the largest two-day massacre during the Holocaust.

This event and the place are as famous as large concentration camps in Poland, because of smaller total number of victims. "Just" tens of thousands were murdered there (which is not a particularly big number on the scales of WWII), and the Soviets never rejected the fact, neither attempted to make it widely known. Hell, they even had put a monument saying "hundreds of thousands of innocent Soviet citizens were massacred here by the Nazis". The monument was erected in 1974 or 1975. No mention of the Jews though until the Perestroyka, when additional memorial table in Yiddish was added (not sure when exactly, I personally have seen it in 1990 or 1989.) However, the people of Kiev knew very well "where the Jews were killed". (After the massacre of Jews, and to the liberation of Kiev by Soviets in 1943, more local people, Gypsies, who were targeted to extermination like the Jews, as well as Ukrainians and Russians, mostly civilians were killed in the same place, with total number of victims about 100,000.)

Now you may wonder, if the history of Babi Yar is not as widely known as Maydanek or Treblinka, how I know all this... See, I grew up in that city. My grandmothers left the city in 1941 and fled to the East, while both of my grandfathers were in the Red Army. All of their family members who remained in Kiev were killed, as well as almost all other relatives in Odessa and Warsaw. Part of my family history, which I always recall during the High Holidays.

Sorry, no Hebrew teaching on this part.

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