By Jared Beinart
Jewish people all around the world have welcomed in the new year and have had their fair share of apples and honey, but now comes the time to round up the high holidays with Yom Kippur and reflect on the past year.
The second of the two Jewish high holidays, Yom Kippur, begins at sunset this Friday, Sept. 29 and ends sundown the following day. Yom Kippur is a time for introspection and marks the end of the annual period known as Yamim Noraim, meaning “Days of Awe,” which begins with Rosh Hashanah.
Also known as the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur is considered the holiest day of the entire Jewish year. Rabbi Zalman Goldstein, an educator at MEOR Maryland, said fasting and self-affliction are not typical Jewish exercises and Yom Kippur is the only time of year when the Torah calls for it.
“The sages brought many textual clues that establish Yom Kippur as a singularity in Jewish life,” Zalman said. “The Talmud said that there are 364 days in the year, and there is Yom Kippur.”
For those observant of the holiday, the most common form of atonement is fasting for the duration of Yom Kippur. This includes avoiding food and drink for an entire 24 hours because it is believed to help one better reflect upon the year.
“I’ve found fasting definitely helps bring about a state of mind that is helpful for reflection, so in that sense, I think it’s useful,” junior computer engineering major Alex Danoff said. “Without fasting, the break-fast becomes meaningless.”
For some students, while the holiday remains important to them, it can become difficult to fully commit to both fasting and attending services.
“Since coming to college I have not gone to services as much for Yom Kippur, but I still use the time of reflection to think about the past year,” Danoff said. “Even though I do not go to services much anymore, it’s still important to me because of the memories it holds from my childhood.”
In addition to fasting, people usually attend synagogue services during Yom Kippur. Hillel will offer services for students on campus. The prayers that are read during these services encourage people to repent for their sins. For many Jewish students on campus, it is hard to find the time out of their busy schedules to fast and find time to attend services. This year, however, the holiday falls on a weekend, which allows for more students to go home and be with their families.
“I’m excited to go home for [Yom Kippur] and spend time with family that are coming into town,” junior computer science major Linowes said. “That’s really important to me.”
Yom Kippur observances are meant to help Jews feel spiritually liberated and ready to become a better member of the society, according to Jewish scholars. While many focus on their past year’s sins, the ultimate goal of this holiday is to allow for a hopeful start to the new year.
“The Talmud goes so far as to call [Yom Kippur] the happiest day of the year,” Zalman said. “We are not fasting as an act of mourning.”