How Yom Kippur Works

By: Katherine Neer  | 

The Day of Atonement

As the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur recalls the story of when Moses came down from Mt. Sinai to find Aaron and the Israelites making merry and worshipping the golden calf. Moses was furious that instead of praising God, his people were glorifying an idol. In the heat of anger, he hurled the Ten Commandments to the ground, breaking the tablets. Moses went back to Mt. Sinai seeking God's forgiveness for the Israelites' folly and requested another set of tablets. God forgave the sins of the people and, with a new set of tablets in hand, Moses returned to the Israelites on the 10th of Tishri with this to say:

And this shall be an eternal law for you. Each year on the tenth day of the seventh month you must fast and do no work. This is true of the native born and of the convert to Judaism who comes to join you. This is because on this day you shall have all your sins atoned, so that you will be cleansed. Before God you will be cleansed of your sins. It is a Sabbath of Sabbaths to you, and a day upon which you must fast. This is a law for all time. (Leviticus 16:29-31)

A Jew's life depends on whether or not he or she makes the decision to make amends during the High Holiday period through the means of teshuvah (repentance), tzedakah (charity), and tfiloh (prayer).