Yom Kippur Observances
Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year -- the day on which we are closest to G-d and to the quintessential core of our own souls. It is the "Day of Atonement" -- "For on this day He will forgive you, to purify you, that you be cleansed from all your sins before G-d" (Leviticus 16:30).
For twenty-six hours, from several minutes before sunset on Tishrei 9 to after nightfall on Tishrei 10, we "afflict our souls": we abstain from food and drink, do not wash or anoint our bodies, do not wear leather shoes, and abstain from marital relations.
When the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem, the Yom Kippur service included the High Priest's entry into the "Holy of Holies" to offer the ketoret -- the only time that anyone entered the Temple's innermost chamber -- and the "casting of lots" over two goats, one to be offered to G-d and the other to carry off the sins of Israel to the wilderness. Today, we spend the day in the synagogue garbed in a white garment called a kittel to resemble the sin-free angels and to waken thoughts of repentance by reminding us of the day of our death. In the course of the day we hold five prayer services: Maariv, with its solemn Kol Nidrei service, on the eve of Yom Kippur;Shacharit; Musaf, which includes a detailed account of the Temple service;Minchah, which includes the reading of the Book of Jonah; and Ne'illah, the "closing of the gates" service at sunset. We say the Al Chet confession of sins ten times, and recite Psalms every available moment.
The day is the most solemn of the year, yet an undertone of joy suffuses it: a joy that revels in the spirituality of the day and expresses the confidence that G-d will accept our repentance, forgive our sins, and seal our verdict for a year of life, health and happiness. When the closing Ne'illah service climaxes in the resounding cries of "Hear O Israel... G-d is one" and a single blast of the shofar, the joy erupts in song and dance (a Chabad custom is to sing the lively niggun known as "Napoleon's March"), followed by the festive after-fast meal, making the evening following Yom Kippur a Yom Tov (festival) in its own right