Jewish high holy day, or ‘day of awe’, held on the tenth day of Tishri (September–October), the first month of the Jewish year. It is a day of fasting, penitence, and cleansing from sin, ending the ten days of penitence that follow Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
On the afternoon of the previous day, men will go to the mikveh, an immersion pool containing natural water for cleansing. The family will have a festive meal before commencing a 25-hour total fast. Fasting shows their sincerity, and helps to concentrate their attention beyond their daily needs. Children, the elderly, and the sick are not expected to fast. People will go modestly dressed or wearing white to synagogue for an evening service, where the Kol Nidre prayer is said to annul any vows that people might have been forced to make. It recalls the time when Jews were forced by the Spanish Inquisition to practise Christianity or die, and enables Jews to be free to worship God even if they had been forced to deny their religion.
During the five-part service, which concludes at dusk on the following day, people will quietly and privately confess their wrongdoings and ask for forgiveness from God. The service includes a reading of the rituals once undertaken at the Temple in Jerusalem, to help release people from feeling guilty for their sins. Leviticus 18 is read, and the book of Jonah, which is about repentance. The services end with ‘the closing of the gates’ when the congregation stands before the open ark (the enclosure housing the Torah scrolls); the first line of the Shema is recited and the shofar (a ceremonial ram's-horn trumpet) is blown a final time, signifying that the Book of Judgement has shut, and the fast is over. An ordinary meal breaks the fast.
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