The High Holy Days of Judaism begin with Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and end ten days later with Yom Kippur, also known as the Day of Atonement. Jews consider Yom Kippur to be the holiest day of the year.

In Hebrew, Yom means “day” and Kippur comes from a root word that means “to cover” or “to hide.” In this way, Yom Kippur has come to mean the day when Jews atone for (make up for) their sins of the past year.

Jews believe that God forgives those who repent (feel sorry) and atone for their sins (wrongdoings) against God and others. They believe that repenting and atoning for their sins, and being forgiven by God, allow them to prosper in the new year to come.

During the High Holy Days, Jews take time to evaluate their behavior over the past year. They look for times when they’ve wronged God or others. Yom Kippur is a special day to confess one’s sins and seek forgiveness from God and others.

To help block out the distractions of the world and focus their energies on self-assessment, Jews traditionally observe Yom Kippur with a 25-hour period of fasting and intense prayer. From sundown the night before until an hour after nightfall on the day of Yom Kippur, all adult Jews (except for those who are ill or pregnant) must go without food or drink.

Although fasting can be uncomfortable, it helps Jews appreciate all the gifts they receive from God every day. Fasting also helps them understand that, in the new year to come, they can master their desires and control their impulses. Fasting focuses Jews on spiritual, rather than bodily, desires for a day.

In addition to fasting, Jews also avoid a few other things on Yom Kippur, including work, leather shoes or clothing, bathing and wearing perfumes or lotions. Refraining from these luxuries symbolizes a return to a clean, sinless state.

Because Yom Kippur is considered the holiest day of the Jewish year, it is observed by many secular Jews (those who are of Jewish descent, but who do not practice the religion of Judaism strictly). For many secular Jews, Yom Kippur may be the only day of the year they attend prayer services at a synagogue.

Yom Kippur prayer services, in addition to being well-attended, are unique in another way. Unlike any other religious holiday, Yom Kippur services consist of five prayer services. This reflects the holiday’s focus on atonement and repentance.

49 Join the Discussion

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    • Hi, Gracie! Thank you so much for sharing your point of view after exploring this Wonder of the Day®!

      What we learned from today’s Wonder is that you can reflect on why you made the mistakes in the first place, try not to make them again, and ask people to forgive you if you’ve treated them in a negative way. We liked learning about Yom Kippur!

      We really appreciate your comment today! Thanks for being a GREAT Wonder Friend! :-)

    • You may not be able to erase your mistakes but you can be forgiven and forgiveness is key to joy just think if you forgave everyone in your life again weight would be lifted. Matthew West a Christian song writer wrote a song call forgiveness it’s about a women whose daughter was killed by a drunk driver. He was sentenced to 3 years in prison the women spent months of mourning and praying when she realized she needed to forgive him or she would never get over the loss of her daughter she did and told the juge to set him free because in those past months of mourning he apologized.

      • Thank you so much for sharing your very kind comment, Kennedy! What an excellent connection to forgiveness! We think the world is full of WONDERful people like you who help everyone else remember the importance of forgiveness and kindness! :)

    • We’re glad you liked it, THE BEACH! It was interesting to see all the different ways people can (but choose not to) say they’re sorry! Thank YOU for leaving us a comment today! :-)

    • What an AWESOME comment, cherigurl555! You made us smile by letting us know you liked today’s Wonder of the Day®! :-)

  1. There are things (mistakes) in life where we have to learn, and these are our own mistakes… Today is a good day to reflect on what’s going on in my life..

    • Hi, Scooby! Thanks so much for visiting Wonderopolis today and for leaving us this comment! Everyone makes mistakes…it’s part of life. Reflecting on our mistakes and learning from them helps us become better people! We hope you have an AWESOME day! :-)

    • Saying you’re sorry is always a very good thing to do, Connor! We’re glad you visited Wonderopolis today and left us this comment! :-)

    • Hi, David! Thanks for sharing which mistakes you would erase if you could. We think sometimes being grounded helps us, because it gives us some time to focus and makes it easier to remember not to repeat the actions that got us grounded in the first place! :-)

  2. You can say you’re sorry, but that doesn’t always make it better. Sometimes you can hurt someone’s feelings really bad.

    • Thanks for sharing your comment with us today, Jonathan! It would be a really good thing if we tried not to ever hurt people’s feelings, but we all make mistakes sometimes. When we hurt someone’s feelings, the best thing to do is realize what we did, and say we’re sorry as soon as we can. It might take a little while for the other person to see that we are truly sorry, but hopefully, they will forgive us. :-)

  3. People do mistakes but it’s cool to hear that they will repent on it later. Of course, it may be hard to say sorry but it will help us in tightening our relationship. Am I right, wonderopolis???

    • We agree, Amoolya! Sometimes “I’m sorry” is difficult to say, but it is the right thing to do and it strengthens relationships! :-)

    • We like your positive attitude, Garrett! Thanks so much for sharing your views with everyone in Wonderopolis today! :-)

  4. I have 3 younger brothers, so if you were to add up all their mistakes you would have enough to do one bad thing a day.

  5. Thanks!! I use to be a really bad person doing illegal things and now because of God and becoming a Christian I am a totally different person.

    • Thanks for leaving us another comment, Kaitlyne! We appreciate your enthusiasm and positive attitude! Have a WONDERful day! :-)

  6. It’s good to know that we can take a self inventory and say “I’m Sorry”. I have made a lot of mistakes, but I feel that I’m human, and to ere is human but to forgive is divine.

    • What a WONDERful and important thing to say, Jeff! We know that apologizing, and meaning it, is important when we have made mistakes. We all make them and we’re glad to know that you appreciate forgiveness! Thank you for posting and providing such great words of wisdom for all our Wonder Friends to enjoy! :)

    • Hi there, Wonder Friend Kendra M! We are glad you shared your comment with us! In many religions, mistakes, or sins, can be “erased” or forgiven with a penance. Sometimes this is speaking to a religious leader and then saying a few prayers to ask for forgiveness. Thanks for sharing this with us! :)

  7. We studied about Yom Kippur in class last year. :D I guess… we can’t erase our mistakes, and we can’t turn time around, but we’re always free to start fresh and make up for it… right. ^_^

    Interesting Wonder btw. :)

    • What a great comment to share, Wonder Friend Ran! We think you have a great point of view about how to think about our mistakes (and how we can improve in the future). Thanks for sharing your awesome comments, Ran! :)

  8. I just read the article on The High Holy Days of Judaism begin with Rosh Hashanah. I cannot wait to share this article with one of my students. One of my students has been absent from school in observance of this day. My student asked me if I practiced his religion. I told him that I did not but was excited to hear all that he wanted to tell me about his. I am in love! My buddy is well aware of our physical differences and religious beliefs. Friday, my buddy told me all about what he would do in preparation for Yom Kippur. He asked if he could pray for me when he attends his services and he wanted to pray for our classroom. Yes, I am in love! I had to hold back my tears of joy as he spoke so sweetly to me.

    • How WONDERful, Sheila! Thank you for sharing your personal connection to this Wonder with us! It’s really great when we are able to learn about different cultures and beliefs. It expands our realm of WONDERing! :D We hope you have an awesome day! :)

  9. I cant forgive all my mistakes. If I do something wrong there is no going back. Wonderopolis, has this happend to you before?

    • That’s true, Breven, once you make a mistake, like saying or doing something hurtful to someone, you can’t take it back. We’ve made mistakes before and we’ve found that it’s best to apologize and learn from those mistakes. :)

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Brook! You’re right, some mistakes can’t be erased. That’s why it’s best to think carefully about what we say and do towards others, so that we don’t hurt them. We hope you’re having an awesome day, Wonder Friend! :)

  10. Nice article! I’m pleased to knew that yom Kippur is a Holly day for Jewish and they atone, repent and do five prayer services to erase sins..
    Muslims also have 365 day, every day they have five prayer services and they repent after each one … in addition, they have a holly month(Ramadan) to Fasting and repenting and many other days for this purpose

    • That’s a good point, Ashton! Pencils can erase mistakes we make on paper, but mistakes we make with people can result in loss of trust — and those mistakes are much harder to erase. We’re glad you’re WONDERing with us today! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Can you erase all of your mistakes?
  • What is fasting?
  • How do Jews observe Yom Kippur?

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We hope you enjoyed today’s Wonder of the Day! Keep learning by checking out the following activities with a friend or family member:

  • Have you ever heard or seen the shofar blown at a Jewish service? If not, now you can! Just jump online to watch How To Blow a Shofar. What do you think? Could you do it? What instrument does it remind you of?
  • Ready for some introspection? Take a closer look at yourself in the mirror! No, we don’t mean an actual, physical mirror. We mean a spiritual mirror. We want you to take a look inside, not a look at the outside. Although Jews are not supposed to work on Yom Kippur, the holiday does actually require them to do some hard work. Taking a personal inventory of their behavior over the past year is hard mental work. Have you let someone down? Did you act in ways you knew you should not? Have you done things you regret? Have you failed to live up to your own expectations or those of your friends and family? Have there been times when you haven’t been a good friend? If you’re honest, the answer to most, if not all, of these questions is probably “yes.” Does that make you a bad person? Of course not! It just makes you human. Part of being a human, though, is reflecting on your life and making changes to become a better person over time.
  • Up for a challenge? Based upon your introspection, what changes do you need to make over the course of the next year? Are there people you need to apologize to for things you’ve done in the past year? It can be hard to say you’re sorry, but it can also mend friendships and bring you closer to being the person you want to be. Talk about these things with your friends and family. Don’t be afraid to tell others you’re sorry for how you’ve acted in the past. Write down some things you want to change in the next year. Set your notes aside and revisit them periodically to see how well you are doing at making those changes. And don’t worry if you’re not able to change everything you want to change overnight. Some things take time. Think about how you want to change and then put your thoughts into action over the course of the next year!


Still Wondering

Visit Smithsonian’s History Explorer to learn more about the Shofar, an ancient musical instrument usually made from a ram’s horn that is sounded once to conclude Yom Kippur.


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