In modern Judaism, Yom Kippur represents the end of the Days of Awe, ten days of repentance and reflection starting with Rosh Hashanah and ending with Yom Kippur. This period of repentance culminates in Yom Kippur, when it is said that God makes His final judgment on the fate of each person for the coming year.
As a day of repentance and the most sacred day in the Jewish calendar, most observant Jewish people spend Yom Kippur at the synagogue. The Bible describes it as a day for the affliction of the soul (Lev. 23:27). Modern Judaism implements this affliction through certain forms of self-denial, such as fasting, as many Jewish people abstain from both eating and drinking for an entire twenty-five hours, beginning before sundown until after nightfall on the following day. The entire community has a special meal after sundown at the conclusion of Yom Kippur to break the fast.
In addition, Jewish law also prohibits washing and bathing, marital relations, and use of any type of lotions or perfume during Yom Kippur. As with most Jewish holidays, Yom Kippur is a day of rest, which means the Jewish community must also abstain from any type of creative work. The main theme of Yom Kippur is repentance. Jewish people express their repentance through prayer, confession and giving tzedakah (charity).
Yom Kippur has five separate synagogue services. Both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur utilize a special prayer book, called the Machzor, which simply means “cycle.” The Yom Kippur services add special prayers focusing on confession and repentance. Some Jewish men wear special white robes, called kittel, symbolizing both purity and mortality. It is also customary to wear a tallit, prayer shawl, during all prayer services. Yom Kippur is the only time in which Jewish men wear the tallit in the evening. The final synagogue service concludes with the blowing of the shofar (ram’s horn).