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Yom Kippur


Brief Summary


"Yom Kippur means "Day of Atonement" and refers to the annual Jewish observance of fasting, prayer, and repentance. Part of the High Holidays, which also includes Rosh HaShanah (the Jewish New Year), Yom Kippur is considered the holiest day on the Jewish calendar.

Yom Kippur is the moment in Jewish time when we dedicate our mind, body, and soul to reconciliation with our fellow human beings, ourselves, and God. As the [Jewish] New Year begins, we commit to self-reflection and inner change. As both seekers and givers of pardon, we turn first to those whom we have wronged, acknowledging our sins and the pain we have caused them.

We are also commanded to forgive, to be willing to let go of any resentment we feel towards those who have committed offenses against us. Only then can we turn to God and ask for forgiveness. As we read in the Yom Kippur liturgy, “And for all these, God of forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us, and grant us atonement."


  • Fasting: 25-hour fast to focus on repentance, purification, and spiritual health

  • Prayer: a focus on synagogue and prayer

  • Forgiveness: to ask others for their forgiveness for perceived wrongs, in the days before Yom Kippur


Autumn, date varies.  In 2023, Yom Kippur begins on Sept 23 and finishes at sunset on Sept 25 in the United States.

Stories and Figures

Common Customs​

  • No bathing, lotions, makeup, deodorant, touching, or wearing leather

  • Wearing white 

  • Spending time in prayer/ synagogue

  • Breaking the fast with family

  • Hearing the call of the shofur

  • Chanting Kol Nidrei three times during the services. 

Learn More

A Primer for Nonpractitioners

Respectful Engagement through a UU Lens

Explore further and engage in respectful ways with the wisdom found in this holy day.​

UU Deep Dive

This beautiful performance of Kol Nidrei was shared during the pandemic by Joel Chapman, the UU San Mateo music director at the time. He was accompanied by UUSM accompanist, Paul Zawilski.

Resonant UU Beliefs

UU Principles

  • 2) Justice, equity and compassion in human relations

  • 3) Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth

  • 5) The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process

UU Shared Values

  • Transformation

  • Generosity

UU Connections


These suggestions are intended for use by nonpractitioner UUs to learn from and appreciate this day. It is not meant to suggest what active practitioners would do, as they obviously have their own spiritual and cultural knowledge. It is also not meant to suggest that by trying these activities that one is celebrating the holiday or its traditions. We should approach any exploration with respect and humility, looking for teaching moments shared with us by our friends and neighbors that show us wisdom and enrich our lives. 

Wish for a Sweet Year

It is traditional to ask for a piece of honey cake (lekach) from a rabbi, parent or mentor the evening before Yom Kippur. It symbolizes hope for a sweet year. One recipe can be viewed here. With family and friends, discuss foods you associate with other holidays, and/or talk about what hope for a sweet year would look like. You might try making the honey cake, or offer a snack of apples and honey which are traditional foods during Rosh HaShannah. What do you appreciate about these culinary customs?

Get to Know Your Neighbors Better

Learn more about the synagogues in your community. Practice the greeting for Yom Kippur: "shana tova" (shaw-na' toe-va') emphasis on the second syllables.

Embrace the Spiritual Lesson of Repentance

A key lesson we can all learn is to embrace repentance and forgiveness. Send one or more emails to people you wish to offer an apology to for real or perceived harm. 

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