A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

10 things you need to know about Yom Kippur


Flash 90

Children ride their bicycles along the empty Jerusalem roads, on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and the holiest of Jewish holidays. Israel came to a standstill for 25-hours during the high holiday of Yom Kippur when observant Jews fast and Israelis are prohibited from driving. September 16, 2021. Photo by Jamal Awad/Flash 90 *** Local Caption *** יום כיפור כיפורים רחוב ריק רחובות ריקים אופניים ירושלים כביש

By Abigail Klein Leichman , Israel21c

The Bible calls Yom Kippur the “Sabbath of Sabbaths,” the holiest day of the Jewish calendar and the pinnacle of the High Holy Days starting with Rosh Hashana.

For believers, it’s a day of atonement devoted to fasting, introspection and prayer intended to inspire forgiveness of the past year’s mistakes and positive changes for the year ahead.

Just like on any Sabbath or biblically mandated Jewish holiday, religious Jews refrain from using electronic devices and do not drive on Yom Kippur.

What makes the national holiday unique in Israel, however, is that regardless of beliefs, virtually nobody drives a motor vehicle, unless responding to an emergency.

It’s not illegal to drive on Yom Kippur, it’s just how Israelis agree to acknowledge the holiday.

And without cars, buses, trucks, planes or trains, air pollution levels in Israel drop to near zero on Yom Kippur. This is enhanced by the fact that stores, businesses, schools, tourist sites, public buildings and restaurants are closed.

People use their feet to go places — either to walk to synagogues or to ride bicycles, skateboards and scooters in the country’s empty streets and highways.

Find out more about this most unusual holiday below.

  1. There’s a special holiday greeting

On Yom Kippur, instead of the usual shalom (peace) or boker tov (good morning), people wish one another g’mar chatima tova, to be sealed in the Book of Life for a year of goodness.

  1. A majority of adult Israeli Jews fast for 25 hours

An estimated 60.5 percent of Israeli Jews fast on Yom Kippur (above the age of 12 for girls and 13 for boys). Another 5% drink liquids but don’t eat food.

Fasting on Yom Kippur is not a sign of mourning as it is on Judaism’s other (less widely observed) 25-hour fast on the 9th of Av commemorating the ancient destruction of Jerusalem and exile of the Jewish people.

Rather, fasting on the Day of Atonement “makes us more like angels who are higher beings without physical needs,” explains Rabbi Zev Shandalov, author of The 3 Images: True Stories and Lessons for Introspection, a new book geared to the High Holidays.

  1. There’s a special holiday color

People wear white to represent purity on Yom Kippur. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

It is traditional on Yom Kippur to dress in white, and to cover the Torah scrolls and Torah ark in white to represent purity. Many men wear a white robe under their prayer shawl.

  1. There’s special holiday footwear

Religious Jews don’t wear leather shoes on Yom Kippur. That means you’ll see synagogue goers wearing their finest white clothing while shod in decidedly unfancy rubber clogs, plastic flipflops or canvas footwear.

  1. People leave their phones off

According to World Data info from 2020, Israelis own 12.27 million mobile phones, or an average of 1.3 per person (more than the 1.1 phones per person in the United States).

Nevertheless, most Israeli switch them off during Yom Kippur – religious Jews because it’s prohibited, and secular Jews because a phone ban enhances the day’s unique aura of peace and quiet.

  1. Yom Kippur never falls on a Sunday or Friday

The holiday is always on the 10th of the Jewish month of Tishrei but the modern Jewish calendar is arranged so that this date never falls on a Sunday or Friday.

However, because the Jewish calendar is lunar and the secular calendar is solar, the 10th of Tishrei can correspond to a secular date anywhere between September 14 and October 14.

This year, Yom Kippur starts at sunset on September 24, through nightfall on September 25.

Cyclists stop by an outdoor Yom Kippur prayer in Israel’s Hefer Valley, September 15, 2021. Photo by Chen Leopold/Flash90
  1. The end of the holiday is signaled with a shofar blast

A shofar blast marks the end of Yom Kippur in Moshav Haniel, September 28, 2020. Photo by Chen Leopold/Flash90

While blowing a ram’s horn (shofar) is mandated on Rosh Hashana, on Yom Kippur it is customary for a designated shofar-blower to sound the horn in the synagogue to announce the end of the long day of fasting, prayer and introspection.

According to a 2019 survey, 12% of Jewish Israelis go to synagogue only to hear the shofar. Nearly a quarter planned to attend the entire synagogue service and another 19% planned on attending some of it.

  1. Bike sales soar before the holiday

Everyone goes crazy for bikes on Yom Kippur. Tel Aviv, 2021. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90

Informal surveys show that bicycle sales in Israel go up anywhere from 20 percent to 100% in the days before Yom Kippur, with children’s bikes the hottest commodity. Bike shops often run “Tishrei holidays” promotions.

In Tel Aviv, Yom Kippur is the one day of the whole year that the public Tel-O-Fun bike-rental service does not operate. You can rent a cycle just before the holiday begins but you’ll have to keep the bike for 25 hours.

  1. Births soar after the holiday

Newborns at Shaare Zedek Medical Center, Jerusalem. Photo courtesy of SZMC

A study published by physicians at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center in 1983 confirmed scientifically what everybody already knew: the Yom Kippur fast can trigger labor in the advanced stages of pregnancy.

In 2021, Shaare Zedek – which has the busiest maternity wards in Israel — recorded 64 births on Yom Kippur and 89 births the next day, compared to a daily average of 50 to 60 at its two campuses.

  1. Water and fruit best for break-fast

Although many American Jews break the fast with bagels and lox, there’s no required menu for either meal.

The Israeli Ministry of Health’s guidelines to “smart and healthy nutrition before and after for a milder Yom Kippur fast” recommend avoiding salty foods and caffeinated drinks beforehand, and breaking the fast gradually (as Muslims do after Ramadan) with a cup of water and a date or other fruit, then waiting half an hour before eating a light meal.

Navigate Left
  • Natural materials like palm fronds, tree branches or reeds typically create the top of the sukkah.

    Jewish Holidays

    On Sukkot, the Jewish ‘Festival of booths,’ each sukkah is as unique as the person who builds it

  • David Meyer Wald, may his memory be a blessing, and the prayer mahzor dedicated to his memory

    Jewish Holidays

    The mystery of the Jewish soldier who fell on Yom Kippur, 1944

  • Why Yom Kippur is my favorite Jewish holiday

    Jewish Holidays

    Why Yom Kippur is my favorite Jewish holiday

  • This German star cookie is perfect  for your Yom Kippur break-fast

    Jewish Food

    This German star cookie is perfect for your Yom Kippur break-fast

  • Three alternative ways to fast that aren’t about food

    Jewish Holidays

    Three alternative ways to fast that aren’t about food

  • Watch: Shaare Emeths Tashlich service by the water

    Jewish Holidays

    Watch: Shaare Emeth’s Tashlich service by the water

  • Recipe: Homemade gravlax for Yom Kippur break-fast

    Jewish Food

    Recipe: Homemade gravlax for Yom Kippur break-fast

  • The Thing, Peter Parker and Miles Morales in “An UnBEElievable Rosh Hashanah.”

    Jewish Holidays

    Spider-Man is about to dip apples in honey with The Thing

  • High Holiday prayers not working for you? Try remixing metaphors.

    Jewish Holidays

    High Holiday prayers not working for you? Try remixing metaphors.

  • Apple and Honey Ruffle Milk Pie Recipe

    Jewish Food

    Apple and Honey Ruffle Milk Pie Recipe

Navigate Right