Yom Kippur In the Community

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The Musaf service also repeats the main themes of the Shaharit service and includes many ancient and medieval religious poems. After the afternoon Torah reading, the Haftarah is the book of Jonah, whose well-known story of the prophet swallowed by a huge fish deals entirely with the theme of repentance.

The final service of Yom Kippur is unique to the day. Called Neilah (“closing”), it refers to the symbolic closing of the gates of heaven and the book of life, in which God inscribes the fate of each person for the coming year. There is a sense of spiritual urgency that characterizes this service, as the sun is beginning to set and most people are light-headed and exhausted from the fast and prolonged prayers. For a lengthy portion of Neilah, the doors of the Ark are opened, revealing the Torahs inside. It is customary to stand whenever these doors are opened.

Neilah builds in intensity until it concludes with a final tekiah gedolah, a “great blast” of the Shofar, the ram’s horn. This awe-inspiring sound signals the conclusion of the Day of Atonement, after which it is customary to prepare or attend a festive break-the-fast meal. 

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