A past rabbi of congregation B’nai Shalom offered this useful explanation of the practices of Yom Kippur. I am sharing them here with you. Don’t worry if you don’t do all these things. If one or more of them speaks to you, you can plan to include it next year.
Before sunset on the eve of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when the community has gathered in the synagogue, the Ark is opened and the Torah scrolls are removed from the Ark. The Hazzan chants the Aramaic text of Kol Nidrei. Kol Nidrei or Hatarat Nedarim, is a legal formula that in essence annuls all vows, obligations and oaths made by every member in the community. Therefore, Kol Nidrei should not take place during Shabbat or Yom Tov (a Festival) and that is why we gather together prior to sunset and the start of Yom Kippur.
Before Yom Kippur:
Last Meal Before The Fast:
The rabbis considered it a mitzvah to eat a festive meal, Seudah Mafseket (last meal before a fast) before Yom Kippur begins. Before the meal one is to do the ritual hand washing with blessing followed by a blessing over bread. Click here for the blessings for hand washing (netilat yadayim) and over bread prior to eating the meal (hamotzi).
Yizkor (Memorial) Candle or Ner Neshama (Soul Candle):
If a parent or other close relative has died, before lighting the holiday candles, light a Ner Neshama, soul candle, also known as a memorial candle, that will burn throughout Yom Kippur. There is no traditional blessing for lighting the memorial candle. Click here for private intentions to recite upon lighting the candle.
Before Yom Kippur begins, light a separate long-burning candle to be used at the conclusion of Yom Kippur – the Havdalah candle will be lit from this “Ner Sheshavat” – a candle that rested – meaning the flame was burning before Yom Kippur. One may also use the Yizkor (Memorial) Candle for this purpose. Ensure that this is a candle that will burn for at least 26 hours.
(If you don’t have such a candle, don’t worry. You can plan to have one next year.)
Candle Lighting for Yom Kippur:
One may light candles at home prior to coming to synagogue, here are instructions for doing so:
1) Light candles at least 18 minutes before sunset (candle lighting is at 6:47pm).
2) As one may light candles before going to services, and thus do so considerably earlier than the latest posted time, please remember as you light candles, to have in mind a proviso that you are not actually accepting the sanctity of the day until your arrival at synagogue.
3) Recite 2 brachot (blessings):
Yom Kippur Candle Lighting Blessing:
Ba-ruch a-tah Ado-nai E-lo-hei-nu me-lech ha-olam a-sher ki-de-sha-nu be-mitz-vo-tav ve-tzi-va-nu le-had-lik ner shel Yom Ha-kipurim.
Blessed are you, Lord our God, Sovereign of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and has commanded us to kindle the light of
the Day of Atonement.
The Shehechiyanu blessing:
Ba-ruch a-tah Ado-nai E-lo-hei-nu me-lech ha-olam
she-he-che-ya-nu vi-kee-yi-ma-nu vi-hi-gee-an-u liz-man ha-zeh.
Blessed are you, Lord our God, Sovereign of the universe, who has kept us alive and sustained us and let us reach this time.
Blessing the Children:
Before leaving for the synagogue, it is custom to bless the children, with the Priestly Benediction (Numbers 6:24-26):
יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה, וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ May God bless you and keep you
יָאֵר יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וִיחֻנֶּךָּ May God cause the divine light to shine upon you and be gracious to you
יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם May God turn toward you, and grant you peace
What to Wear? Wearing White & Tallitot Throughout Yom Kippur:
It is custom to wear white on Yom Kippur and to wear one’s tallit (prayer shawl) from the evening of Yom Kippur throughout all of Yom Kippur. In Rabbinic tradition the precept of tzitzit (the fringes on the tallit, the prayer shawl) applies only during the day. Consequently, the tallit is only worn during the morning prayers except on Yom Kippur when the tallit is worn, as a token of special reverence for the holy day, during the night service of Kol Nidrei and throughout the entirety of Yom Kippur. Therefore, when you arrive at the synagogue before sunset tonight, recite the blessing for tallit prior to putting on your tallit.
Yom Kippur Prohibitions & Practices:
The Torah (Leviticus 23:32) refers to Yom Kippur as Shabbat Shabbaton – a Sabbath of complete rest. Thus, even when Yom Kippur does not fall on Shabbat, cooking, use of fire, and carrying are not permitted. Unlike other Yom Tov (Festival) days, Yom Kippur always takes on all the restrictions of Shabbat.
In addition, the following are not permitted until dark after Yom Kippur has ended (Yom Kippur ends on Wednesday night, September 23rd @ 7:43pm)
Eating and drinking
Bathing or washing (except for minimal washing of hands to remove dirt after using the bathroom)
Using skin or bath oils
Wearing leather shoes
Wishing us all a meaningful and introspective Yom Kippur and an easy fast.
May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life for a good year!
Shana Tova and G’mar Chatima Tova,
Rabbi Aderet Drucker