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10 Things You Might Not Know About Yom Kippur

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Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is on the 10th day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei. It is the second of the two "High Holy Days," following Rosh Hashanah at the beginning of that month.

It is the only major Jewish observance where those over the age of 13 are required to fast for an entire day. As with all Jewish holidays and observances, it begins in the evening and ends 25 hours later. The day is traditionally spent mostly in prayer, with sessions of Bible study and discussions. Pledges are made to each other, and to God, about being one’s best self.

1. JEWS ABSTAIN FROM MORE THAN FOOD.

The fast is not only from food and drink, but also from sexual relations, wearing leather, or using perfumes. In Biblical times, these last two items were marks of wealthier people, and so today humble dress, as well as humble attitudes, are part of the observance.

2. THE FULL NAME IS YOM HAKIPPURIM, THE DAY OF ATONEMENTS.

Technically, the name is plural. All the confessions are done as a community, and chanted in the first person plural: "We have sinned." This public ritual is said to create a supportive and bonding experience.

3. FORGIVENESS IS A BIG THEME.

In the days leading up to Yom Kippur, people have asked for forgiveness from all their loved ones. One cannot ask for God’s forgiveness, the main point of the day’s activities, until one has been forgiven by the humans involved.

4. THERE ARE SOME CREATIVE LISTS OF SINS.

There are several lists of sins, all in Hebrew alphabetical order, forming acrostics. In modernity, some very clever writers have translated them into English and largely kept the alphabetical order; for example, a recitation would go along the lines of "We have abused, betrayed, been cruel, destroyed, embittered others," etc. Almost all of these sins are about the ways people treat each other, not how they treat God: violence, rushing to judgment, lack of compassion, indifference to evil, etc.

5. IN ANCIENT TIMES, IT WASN'T A GREAT DAY FOR GOATS.

In the Biblical era, two goats were chosen by lotteries. One was ritually sacrificed to atone for the sins of the people, and the other, as an act of purification, was driven off into the wilderness, and some say over a cliff. This was, of course, the "scape-goat."

6. THERE ARE SOME LESS-EXPECTED REASONS FOR FASTING.

In addition to fasting as a display of true repentance and to create a less worldly focus, the experience of truly being hungry is supposed to arouse maximum compassion for the poor. It is traditional to make a charitable donation of at least the amount one would have spent for one’s family that day.

7. IT IS THE ONLY HOLIDAY WHERE THE EVENING SERVICE STARTS BEFORE SUNDOWN.

This evening service has a special name: Kol Nidrei, which is also the name of the most important Yom Kippur evening prayer. In it, God is asked to annul and forgive all oaths made under pressure. This is a reference to the religious oaths made in eras when Jews were forced to convert, usually to Christianity, or die.

8. THERE'S ALSO A MEMORIAL CANDLE-LIGHTING.

Since the Holocaust, Jews light a memorial candle for the six million who perished, as well as for departed relatives.

9. EVEN THE TORAH GETS A SPECIAL OUTFIT.

It is customary to wear all white as a symbol of purity and of a new start. Even the Torah scrolls have special white mantles (coverings) for the High Holy Days. Traditionally, men (and in modern times, women) wear a plain white robe over their clothing, called a kittel. This is worn again for the Passover seder, and is the garment in which they are later buried.

10. DANCING USED TO BE INVOLVED.

It is said that in the Biblical era, during the late afternoon of Yom Kippur, the unmarried maidens would dance in the forest clearings, and the unmarried young men would watch, hoping to know which was meant to be his bride.

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Yes, You Can Put Your Christmas Decorations Up Now—and Should, According to Psychologists
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We all know at least one of those people who's already placing an angel on top of his or her Christmas tree while everyone else on the block still has paper ghosts stuck to their windows and a rotting pumpkin on the stoop. Maybe it’s your neighbor; maybe it’s you. Jolliness aside, these early decorators tend to get a bad rap. For some people, the holidays provide more stress than splendor, so the sight of that first plastic reindeer on a neighbor's roof isn't exactly a welcome one.

But according to two psychoanalysts, these eager decorators aren’t eccentric—they’re simply happier. Psychoanalyst Steve McKeown told UNILAD:

“Although there could be a number of symptomatic reasons why someone would want to obsessively put up decorations early, most commonly for nostalgic reasons either to relive the magic or to compensate for past neglect.

In a world full of stress and anxiety people like to associate to things that make them happy and Christmas decorations evoke those strong feelings of the childhood.

Decorations are simply an anchor or pathway to those old childhood magical emotions of excitement. So putting up those Christmas decorations early extend the excitement!”

Amy Morin, another psychoanalyst, linked Christmas decorations with the pleasures of childhood, telling the site: “The holiday season stirs up a sense of nostalgia. Nostalgia helps link people to their personal past and it helps people understand their identity. For many, putting up Christmas decorations early is a way for them to reconnect with their childhoods.”

She also explained that these nostalgic memories can help remind people of spending the holidays with loved ones who have since passed away. As Morin remarked, “Decorating early may help them feel more connected with that individual.”

And that neighbor of yours who has already been decorated since Halloween? Well, according to a study in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, homes that have been warmly decorated for the holidays make the residents appear more “friendly and cohesive” compared to non-decorated homes when observed by strangers. Basically, a little wreath can go a long way.

So if you want to hang those stockings before you’ve digested your Thanksgiving dinner, go ahead. You might just find yourself happier for it.

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How Mammoth Poop Gave Us Pumpkin Pie
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When it’s time to express gratitude for the many privileges bestowed upon your family this Thanksgiving, don’t forget to be grateful for mammoth poop. The excrement of this long-extinct species is a big reason why holiday desserts taste so good.

Why? Because, as Smithsonian Insider reports, tens of thousands of years ago, mammoths, elephants, and mastodons had an affinity for wild gourds, the ancestors of squashes and pumpkin. In a 2015 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a Smithsonian researcher and colleagues found that wild gourds—which were much smaller than our modern-day butternuts—carried a bitter-tasting toxin in their flesh that acted as a deterrent to some animals. While small rodents would avoid eating the gourds, the huge mammals would not. Their taste buds wouldn't pick up the bitter flavor and the toxin had no effect on them. Mammoths would eat the gourds and pass the indigestible seeds out in their feces. The seeds would then be plopped into whatever habitat range the mammoth was roaming in, complete with fertilizer.

When the mammoths went extinct as recently as 4000 years ago, the gourds faced the same fate—until humans began to domesticate the plants, allowing for the rise of pumpkins. But had it not been for the dispersal of the seeds via mammoth crap, the gourd might not have survived long enough to arrive at our dinner tables.

So as you dig into your pumpkin pie this year, be sure to think of the heaping piles of dung that made the delicious treat possible.

[h/t Smithsonian Insider]

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