Yom Kippur at Home

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empty placeThe spiritual work of repentance also demands a turning away from bodily pleasures, hence the following activities are prohibited by traditional Jewish law on Yom Kippur: eating and drinking, washing, anointing with perfumes or lotions, sexual intercourse, and wearing leather shoes. The reason for not wearing leather is that it represents material and financial comfort, which is contrary to the humility of spirit required for repentance.

Before Yom Kippur begins, every Jew is urged to undertake one other action that is not merely preparatory to repentance, but integral to the process: requesting forgiveness from human beings against whom one has committed transgressions. This is necessary in order to wipe the slate of interpersonal relationships clean before the start of the holiday, since only sins human beings and God are addressed during Yom Kippur itself.

A good place to request forgiveness from family members is at the seudah hamafseket, the concluding meal before the Yom Kippur fast. The meal should be substantial, following the talmudic dictum that it is a mitzvah to eat on Erev Yom Kippur, just as it is a mitzvah to fast on Yom Kippur itself. The meal begins with the traditional hamotzi blessing over a challah (ritual bread); because Yom Kippur has not actually started yet when the meal is eaten, there is no Kiddush--sanctification over wine--recited.

After the meal, candles are lit to usher in Yom Kippur. Then the Shehecheyanu-blessing, thanking God for enabling us to reach this season, is recited and the fast begins. Many parents bless their children with the priestly blessing before leaving for the Kol Nidre service with which the holiday begins, and people wish each other "an easy fast."

To symbolically connect Yom Kippur to the holiday of Sukkot that begins five days later, it is traditional after the havdalah service at the end of Yom Kippur to go immediately and pound the first nail into the sukkah, the temporary shelter that serves as the central symbol of the latter holiday.

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