Why Isn't My Jewish Friend Eating Today? A Helpful Guide to Yom Kippur

Today, September 19th, marks the most important holiday of the Jewish year. Yom Kippur, also known as the Day of Atonement, comes ten days after Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year. Though an incredibly important holiday in Judaism, across the general population, the details are often unknown. Today, I am breaking down the five biggest misconceptions and confusions about Yom Kippur.

 

1. What is Yom Kippur even about?

The belief in Judaism is that on Rosh Hashanah, the new year, we celebrate the new year and the Book of Life is opened. The next ten days, known as the Ten Days of Repentance, are when one can make their case to find forgiveness from those they may have hurt over the past year, and most importantly, in the eyes of God. On Yom Kippur, one makes a final plea by apologizing for any wrongdoings for wrongdoings in the past year and the Book of Life is closed, sealing one’s fate for the next year.

 

2. Wait, I thought Yom Kippur started yesterday?

The Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar, unlike the Gregorian calendar, which is a solar calendar. Because each day starts with the moon rising, holidays start at sunset. The official start is when one can see three stars in the sky - that is when you can start the celebration, or in Yom Kippur’s case, break the fast.

 

3. I thought Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur were in October?

Because the Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar, it has 13 total months. As the Gregorian calendar only has 12, they do not exactly match up, and therefore while Jewish holidays are always the same date on the Jewish calendar, they will change dates on the Gregorian. Rosh Hashanah marks the first day of Tishrei, and Yom Kippur marks the 10th.

 

4. So… why is nobody eating?

The tradition of fasting on Yom Kippur comes from two verses in the book of Leviticus. In more recent times, it is believed that fasting allows one to focus more on atoning for mistakes of the past year. This year, fasting begins at sundown on Tuesday, September 18 when the holiday ends and many celebrate a breaking of the fast on Wednesday evening.

 

5. Does everyone fast?

Not at all! Fasting is not expected until one becomes a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, or a Son or Daughter of the Commandments. This coming of age ceremony comes when a child turns 12 or 13, so before that children are allowed to eat. Additionally, Judaism requires that no one put themselves in harm’s way for the sake of religion. So, if one’s health makes it unwise to fast for the day, one is actually obligated to put their health first.

 

6. How can I support my Jewish friend who is observing?

Be aware that it can be hard to be around others that are eating during the day, and that it is a solemn holiday. If a friend is missing work or class to honor the holiday, perhaps you can take notes for them or cover a shift. Overall, it is most important to understand the significance of the holiday and just be there if your friend wants to talk.

 

G'mar Hatima Tova - may you have a good inscription in the Book of Life - to all observing, and may you have an easy fast!

 

All GIFs courtesy of Giphy.