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Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur 2018 is on 18-19 September

by Helen Bryant (revised, originally published in 2009)

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To examine the concept of atonement in the context of Yom Kippur.

Preparation and materials

  • Yom Kippur 2018 begins in the evening of 18 September and ends in the evening of 19 September.

  • Optional: if you wish to use some music that is suitable for Yom Kippur, have available the YouTube video ‘Yom Kippur Primer - Seven Songs from the Yom Kippur Prayers’ and the means to show it during the assembly. It is 14.29 minutes long (although you can choose particular songs rather than playing it all) and is available at:

  • Note: the Ten Commandments are in Exodus 20.1–17, the command to love your neighbour as yourself is in Leviticus 19.18 and teaching about the Day of Atonement is in Leviticus 16.


  1. Yom Kippur is the most blessed and serious day of the Jewish year. It brings to a close the Ten Days of Repentance (or Ten Days of Awe), which began on Rosh Hashanah. During this time, believers have had the opportunity to put things right with God and with other people. Yom Kippur means ‘Day of Atonement’.

  2. For Jewish people, Rosh Hashanah is New Year’s Day. Traditionally, this is a day when God opens the Book of Life, in which is written all that a person has done, both right and wrong, in the previous year.

    A wrong against God might be considered to be the breaking of one of the Ten Commandments, which are commandments about loving God and other people. They include commandments not to steal, not to tell lies about others and not to blaspheme. There are others, but most of us will identify with breaking at least one of these three.

    Wrongs against others could include being cruel or two-faced. They could also include failing to help those in need – things that we wish we had done, but didn’t do because we were too busy to make the time. All wrongs against others go against God’s command to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’.

  3. The ten days before Yom Kippur are used by members of the Jewish faith to repent and try to make amends for the wrongs that they have committed during the past year. They attempt to put right what they did wrong. The idea is that in this way, they will ‘atone’ for the wrong that they have done. They will show that they are sorry and will ask for forgiveness from people, believing that God will grant that forgiveness.

  4. If you split the word ‘atone’ into two, you get ‘at one’. The meaning of atonement is being ‘at one’ with God by having wrongs forgiven by God and being made whole. Part of forgiving others is not holding on to any grudges and resentment, and allowing someone to say sorry and be made whole again.

  5. Yom Kippur begins at sunset on one day and lasts until sunset the next day (25 hours). During Yom Kippur, there are five services in the synagogue. Except for old people, ill people and children, nobody is allowed to eat or drink anything during this time. The day is set aside for petitions and confessions of guilt in public (in the synagogue, in front of everyone) and in private (at home, on your own).

    At the end of Yom Kippur, each person considers himself or herself absolved, forgiven and given another chance by God. All can start the year afresh and try to be better people.

  6. Jewish people believe that the fresh start isn’t all down to each person, however. They believe that God is the one who makes the final decision on what will happen in the coming year and what it will be like. An important element in the teaching of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is that all people reap what they sow, and actions have consequences. But God’s forgiven people will know God’s help, whatever the year may hold.

  7. At the end of Yom Kippur, the Book of Life is closed and sealed, and those who have properly repented for their wrongs will be granted a happy New Year.

Time for reflection

The festival of Yom Kippur emphasizes that we should be aware of how we treat people and how that affects our lives: an important lesson for everyone.

Let’s consider the following questions.

- Are there people to whom we need to say sorry?

Pause to allow time for thought.

- Are we willing to forgive people who apologize to us?

Pause to allow time for thought.

- Are we willing to turn over a new leaf and move on in our relationship with that person, no matter how hard that is?

Pause to allow time for thought.


You may wish to play excerpts from the YouTube video ‘Jewish Music Collection’, which is available at:

Alternatively, you may wish to play some of the music from the YouTube video ‘Yom Kippur Primer - Seven Songs from the Yom Kippur Prayers’, which is available at:

Publication date: September 2018   (Vol.20 No.9)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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