Yom Kippur 2017: What you need to know about the holiest day of the Jewish year

A day of repentance and reflection that always falls 10 days after new year

Yom Kippur, also known as the Day of Atonement, has been preceded by increasing violence in the West Bank
Yom Kippur, also known as the Day of Atonement, has been preceded by increasing violence in the West Bank

Yom Kippur, otherwise known as the Day of Atonement, is the holiest day of the Jewish calendar.

Although it falls on a different date ever year, it always comes 10 days after Jewish new year – known as Rosh Hashanah – and is usually in September. This year it starts on 29 September and ends the following day.

Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning on of Ten Days of Repentance where Jews are given the chance to reflect on and apologise for their sins, culminating in a 25-hour day of fast and prayer on Yom Kippur.

So what happens on Yom Kippur?

Yom Kippur itself is a fast day and day of prayer where Jews are supposed to abstain from both food and drink for 25 hours. It starts at sunset and ends 25 hours later when three stars can be seen in the sky.

What are you allowed to do on it?

Outside of praying and repenting, very little. The idea is to put aside the physical to focus on the spiritual and atone for our sins to focus on the New Year with a clean slate – which in practice means Jewish people follow the same rules as the Sabbath in which they do not ‘work’. Depending on levels of observance, that can mean anything from not going into the office to not carrying and using electricity such as light-switches, smartphones and TVs. As well as that, Jewish practice forbids wearing leather shoes, washing or have sex. Some very observant Jews stand all day and avoid sleeping.

And what’s this about a chicken?

The most famous – and admittedly peculiar – custom that has developed around Yom Kippur involves swinging a chicken over your head three times to absolve yourself of sin. Known as Kapparot, this is usually done the day before Yom. As well as eccentric and quite possibly pagan in its origin, it’s also controversial – this year it is the subject of two lawsuits.

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