A Halachic Guide to Yom Kippur
As Yom Kippur approaches, Rabbi Baruch Efrati of the Zayit neighbourhood in Efrat presents an overview of the main halachot (jewish laws) relevant to the holiest day in the Jewish year.
Before Yom Kippur
Ahead of Yom Kippur it is a positive commandment in the Torah return to Hashem, through confessing and regretting one's sins as well as pledging not to repeat them in the future.
For sins between a person and Hashem the proper course is to confess the sin and ask for forgiveness privately and not disclose it to others.
If one has sinned against a friend, even if the friend isn't aware, he should nevertheless ask forgiveness from him. However if a person thinks the friend will respond angrily once he knows, he should refrain from asking for forgiveness in such a case.
Erev Yom Kippur
There is a custom on the eve of Yom Kippur to perform the kaparot ceremony, on either a chicken or money, it is even permitted to do kaparot with a credit card after making a donation. Kaparot, meaning atonement, is done by waving the said chicken, money or credit card around one's head whilst making the appropriate declaration that the chicken or money should achieve atonement.
Immersion in a Mikveh
there is also a custom to immerse in a mikveh (spiritual pool) although this is done without making a blessing.
It is a positive mitzvah to eat plenty of food on the eve of Yom Kippur with some explanations saying this comes to make the actual fast easier.
Candles are lit with a blessing, as well as the blessing 'sheheheyanu.' A memorial candle should also be lit as well, which will be used to make havdalah, the ceremony which ends the day. A father should then bless his children.
A man should wrap himself in a tallit, (prayer shawl) before sunset reciting the appropriate blessing. It is also a custom to wear a kittle (white robe) or white clothes to appear like angels and to remind ourselves of the day of death which should awaken us to a spirit of repentance.
One should not forget that this Yom Kippur is also a Shabbat and should remember to insert the appropriate additions to the order of the service.
Laws relating to the fast
The fast begins in the evening.
On Yom Kippur one should refrain from five things: eating and drinking, washing, applying ointment, wearing leather shoes and engaging in marital relations.
New mothers, pregnant women and people who are sick and find it hard to stand are permitted to wash as usual but only for reasons of health and hygiene and not for pleasure.
For those who find it difficult to fast, it is permitted to chew gum that has no taste however it is preferable to avoid this.
For all people washing for health reasons is permitted.
It is preferable to abstain from applying deodorant on Yom Kippur, however for a person who finds this difficult can apply a spray but may not apply any kind of ointment.
One should refrain from touching his husband or wife at night however during the day one can be more lenient.
It is permissible to wash children on the day of Yom Kippur if there is a need, but not using hot water. Children until the age of Bar Mitzvah are exempt from the fast, however we are accustomed to introduced boys and girls to a partial fast at ages 12 and 11 respectively.
Exemptions from the fast
A woman with a normal pregnancy must fast.
A pregnant woman at any stage who feels a headache or noxious is permitted to drink a small amount from her hand in small measurements. If this does not help, she is permitted to drink as much as she needs.
A pregnant woman having contractions or whose water has broken, or who does not feel movement in her womb for over half an hour should drink in small measurements even without suffering a headache.
A woman who has given birth within 72 hours is forbidden to fast.
A woman who has given birth within a week of Yom Kippur whose doctors urge her to eat, must do so in small measurements, if this does not suffice she may eat us usual.
A woman breastfeeding a child, who is concerned that her milk will dry up she fasts, is permitted to drink in small measurements. Some authorities are strict in cases where the baby is able to drink synthetic milk.
A sick person whose life is in danger should eat and drink immediately, this is also the law for a sick person in doubt whether their life is in danger. In such a situation this person does not need to ask a halachic authority and is permitted to eat immediately.
An ill person not in danger who thinks that the fast will worsen their condition to the point of potential danger may eat in small measurements.
Someone eating or drinking in small measurements is permitted to eat according to the size of a matchbox (30 cm) every seven minute and drink less than a cheek full of water every seven minutes. It is preferable to eat or drink nourishing food. In a time of emergency where these measurements do not suffice it is permitted to every minute, this is preferable to drinking continuously.
A sick person not in danger is permitted to swallow pain relief pills without water if there is a great need.
A sick person with no danger must fast as usual. This includes headaches, foot ache and general weakness . In a case of doubt one should consult with a doctor in the community.
Someone who eats on Yom Kippur does not make the kiddush blessing, but should add the prayer 'yaaleh vyaavoh' and 'rtzei vhahlitzainu' to the blessing he makes after eating the food.
On the day of Yom Kippur
In the morning, one should wash their hands until the finger line.
Kohanim (priests) should was their hands as usual for the morning service. If they have kept their hands clean they should refrain from an additional washing for the Musaf, (additional) service. However at the Neilah service which closes the day, Kohanim should wash once again.
We are promised by God that Yom Kippur itself atones those repenting, therefore it is advised to concentrate ones energies and focus on this even if it is difficult.
One who sees the fast as difficult and who cannot pray as a result, should lie down but should not break the fast. This is true for one who cannot pray with a quorum of ten men or doesn't even pray at all.
The husband of a woman who finds the fast unbearable, should return home from the synagogue so that his wife can lie down and not expend her energy on other matters.
The end of the fast
At the maariv (evening prayers) one should add the prayer 'ata honantanu' to the Amida service.
Havdalah is made on a candle lit from a flame that has been alight throughout Yom Kippur.
After Yom Kippur, the blessing Kiddush Levanah is made over the moon.
After the festival has finished, it is accustomed to engage with building the sukkah even if it is only a symbolic gesture. After this, one is accustomed to eat and drink in a spirit of happiness.
The day following Yom Kippur, one should wake up a little earlier than the usual time.
We should all be blessed for days of happiness and joy and the re building of the Temple speedily.