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yom kippur

Yom Kippur, Israel's annual national day of prayer and repentance, begins Wednesday at sunset

Israel observes Day of Atonement in which entire country shuts down

Jewish men pray on the light rail train tracks in Jerusalem on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, Sept. 28, 2020. (Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The nation of Israel will become remarkably quiet starting tonight at sundown, as the Jewish people observe their holiest day on the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement. 

Israel will come to a virtual stop, with public and private transportation (aircraft included) will shut down, as will restaurants, supermarkets, businesses and places of entertainment.

Apart from emergencies, people will not use their vehicles until the sunset the following day. The roads become an open playground, with the majority of the nation’s children taking over the streets after the sun goes down until the following day. 

Unlike the other biblical feasts, Yom Kippur is set apart – as seen in Leviticus – and is especially full of deep, prophetic significance. Leviticus 16 and 23 and Numbers 29 clearly state that Yom Kippur is to be a day of rest and of presenting an offering by fire to the Lord, as well as a time to humble one’s soul, as atonement is being made by the high priest for collective and individual sin.

On Yom Kippur, people greet each other with the words, G’mar Hatima Tova, an abbreviation for the phrase: “May you be sealed in the Book of Life.” This expression is based on the traditional belief that God judges on Rosh Hashanah (the new year) and that judgment is sealed on Yom Kippur. It further links the upcoming holiday of Sukkot by saying the judgment is sent out on the Hoshana Rabba (Great Hoshana or Great Supplication), which is the rabbinical name for the seventh day of Sukkot.

Most Israeli Jews, whether religious or not, will forgo food and drink for 25 hours (the fast includes two sunsets) and attend special Yom Kippur services at their synagogue for a solemn commemoration which emphasizes confession of sins, mercy, pardon, cleansing and forgiveness. For these services – opening with the Aramaic prayer called Kol Nidre or “all vows” – it is traditional to dress in white (for purity).

In addition, according to rabbinic instruction for this day, it is forbidden to brush teeth, bathe, apply lotions or oils to the body, wear leather or to engage in sexual relations. 

Most men will spend the whole day in the synagogues praying and reciting liturgy, but even more remarkable, secular Jewish Israelis will observe Yom Kippur even if they don’t believe in God because the tradition of fasting and quiet contemplation is deeply ingrained in the Jewish culture. 

This year, Messianic Jews and followers of Yeshua in Israel may once again gather at their congregations – or in small groups throughout the country – to fast and pray in solidarity for the nation, in contrast to last year’s observance in the shadow of a full lockdown and despite record numbers of new COVID cases.

Jewish believers in Yeshua will typically observe Yom Kippur as a dedicated day of prayer for the land and its people, as well as for personal reflection. Believers will commonly fast on this day as well, standing in the gap as intercessors for the sins of the nation – praying for peace, safety, protection, and above all for salvation for its people in accordance with 2 Chronicles 7:14: “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

For believers, the biblical concept of atonement on Yom Kippur points directly to the greatest atonement of all – the sacrifice of Messiah himself; this atonement is received only by faith in the finished work of our High Priest. God reconciled to His beloved children through the blood of the Lord, Yeshua haMashiach, Jesus the Messiah.  

On this special day, please pray for the nation and the salvation of all Israel (Gen. 18:18), so that she may be a blessing to all nations on earth. 

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