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A Helpful Guide to the Yom Kippur Prayers and Services

Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, is considered the holiest day of the year in Judaism. It takes place nine days after Rosh Hashanah, the other Jewish High Holiday. For practicing Jews, these "Ten Days of Repentance" are a time for prayer and reflection. This year, Yom Kippur begins at sundown on Sunday, September 24, 2023 and ends at nightfall on Monday, September 25, 2023.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur prayers are found in a special prayer book for the High Holidays, called a Machzor. You can find all the Yom Kippur prayers in English and in English and Hebrew online.

Yom Kippur is a solemn day dedicated to prayer and fasting — so much so that it "contains the greatest volume of prayer of any single day in the Jewish year," according to My Jewish Learning. There are five services that are traditionally held on Yom Kippur: Kol Nidrei and Ma'ariv, Shachrit, Musaf, Mincha, and Ne'ilah.

There are also a few prayers that are commonly recited at home, before families leave to attend services at synagogue.

Yom Kippur prayers

Blessing over the challah

For many families and communities, it's customary to eat a large, "last" meal before the fast begins. This is called a Se'udat Ha'Mafseket, which means "meal of cutting off." Including challah with this meal is common, and before enjoying the bread, the traditional hamotzi blessing is said.

Hebrew:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה׳ אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם הַמּוֹצִיא לֶחֶם מִן הָאָרֶץ

Transliteration:

Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha'olam hamotzi lechem min ha'aretz.

English:

Blessed are you, Lord our God, ruler of the universe who brings forth bread from the earth.

Blessing over the candles

After the meal, when it comes time to light the candles to usher in Yom Kippur, the customary blessing over the candles is changed slightly for the holiday.

Hebrew:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָֽׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָּֽנוּ לְהַדְלִיק נֵר שֶׁל (שַׁבָּת וְשֶׁל) יוֹם הַכִּפּוּרִים

Transliteration:

Baruch ata Adonai, eloheinu melech ha-olam asher kiddishanu
b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu l'hadlik ner shel (shabbat v'shel) yom ha-kippurim.

English:

Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe who has sanctified us with his commandments and commanded us to light the (Shabbat and) Yom Kippur candles.

*The words in parentheses are only included only when Yom Kippur begins on a Friday night, meaning it's at the same time as Shabbat.

Shehecheyanu

Immediately after the candles are lit, it is also traditional to recite the Shehecheyanu blessing, a prayer of thanks to God on special occasions.

Hebrew:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה, יְיָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ, מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִּיעָנוּ לַזְּמַן הַזֶּה

Transliteration:

Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech Haolam, shehecheyanu, v'kiy'manu, v'higiyanu laz'man hazeh.

English:

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.

The Priestly Blessing

Finally, many parents bless their children with the Birkat Konahim before leaving for the Kol Nidre service that begins the holiday.

Hebrew:

יְבָרֶכְךָ֥ יְהוָ֖ה וְיִשְׁמְרֶֽךָ

יָאֵ֨ר יְהוָ֧ה פָּנָ֛יו אֵלֶ֖יךָ וִֽיחֻנֶּֽךָּ

יִשָּׂ֨א יְהוָ֤ה פָּנָיו֙ אֵלֶ֔יךָ וְיָשֵׂ֥ם לְךָ֖ שָׁלֽוֹם

Transliteration:

Yivarechecha Adonai viyishmirecha

Ya'er Adonai panav elecha veechuneka

Yeesa Adonai panav elecha viyasem lecha shalom

English:

May the L-rd bless you and watch over you.

May the L-rd shine His countenance to you and favor you.

May the L-rd raise His countenance toward you and grant you peace.

Yom Kippur services

The first service of Yom Kippur actually takes place just before the holiday starts at sundown, on the evening of Yom Kippur, or Erev Yom Kippur. This Yom Kippur evening service is called Kol Nidrei.

The next day, there are the Yom Kippur daytime services of Shachrit, Musaf (additional service), and Mincha.

The Viddui, which means "confession," is a unique prayer repeated many times during Yom Kippur services. The opening portion is known as the Ashamnu.

The final Yom Kippur service is the Ne'ilah service, which literally means "closing." The service ends with a final Tekiah Gedolah, a long blast of the Shofar (ram’s horn), to signal the conclusion of the Day of Atonement.

Many congregants will then recite Ma'ariv, or the first evening prayer after Yom Kippur, before heading off to their break-fast meals.

To those observing Yom Kippur this year, we wish you an easy fast and yom tov.

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