Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement)

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Yom Kippur has a special significance for Humanistic Jews. It is the culmination of our examination of our behavior begun on Rosh Hashanah. Yom Kippur is a time to reflect on the moral quality of our values and behavior.

Introspection and goal setting are traditional behaviors on the High Holidays. There are three key elements to the Humanistic and rabbinic liturgies for Yom Kippur: teshuva, tefilla, and tzedakah

Teshuva is a Hebrew word, usually translated as “repentance,” but which actually means “return.” For Humanistic Jews teshuva is the action of returning to our values and ideals, renewing our commitment to the highest standards of our ethics.

Tefilla is traditionally translated as “prayer,” but comes from a word that means self-reflection. For Humanistic Jews tefilla directs us toward self-evaluation.

Tzedaka usually means “charity,” but the deeper meaning tells about what kind of human beings we wish to be: or people who embody the highest ideals of the Jewish people.

This return to our ideals, self-reflection, and putting our ethics into action are the cornerstones of the Humanistic celebration of Yom Kippur.

Kol Nidre is often sung at a Humanistic Yom Kippur evening celebration. For Humanistic Jews, as for other Jews, Kol Nidre serves as a reminder of our humanness, our fallibility, our menschlichkeit, and our connection to all humanity.

Many Humanistic Jewish communities hold a memorial service on Yom Kippur, called a nizkor (“we will remember”) service. This offers each of us a time to remember our traditions and our ancestors. It reinforces the belief that it is through our actions that our loved ones and our heritage will be remembered and preserved.