The Almighty provided us one awesome day each year for forgiveness and atonement, the tenth day from the Day of Judgement, because He doesn't want the death of the wicked, neither physically nor spiritually, but their repenting and living. He doesn't want the destruction of the world but its flourishing. He wants us to cease our unethical and immoral behavior and return to Him. The prohibitions of the day, the fasting and other hardships, and the prayers, help us recognize the deep truth that we have sinned; that we have not sufficiently thought about our actions; that there is great need for improvement. Virtually all our waking hours during the twenty four hours of Yom Kippur should be devoted to prayer, introspection and repentance.
II. EREV YOM KIPPUR
It is a misvah to eat well Erev Yom Kippur. There is a special obligation Erev Yom Kippur to mend one's ways especially in regard to sins one has committed against his fellow man. Therefore, on this day each person should ask forgiveness from anyone he may have wronged and from whom he has not received forgiveness. Kaparot: Some have a custom to make symbolic "kaparah" on Erev Yom Kippur with chickens. The chicken is swung over the head of the person for whom kaparah is being made while he recites "this should be for me", and then ritually slaughtered. Some use money in place of a chicken which is then given to charity. Some, following Shulhan Aruch, don't have the custom at all, based on the fear that it may be mistaken for a pagan custom. Minha is prayed early so that there should be sufficient time for all to eat and get ready for the Holy Day before sunset. Talit and tefillin are worn at minha. It is customary to light a remembrance candle in or about the synagogue for departed members of the family. At the conclusion of the individual's amida of minha, Viduy (acknowledgment and confession of sins) is recited. It is not repeated in hazara.
It is customary for men to immerse in a mikvah Erev Yom Kippur. Seuda Hamafseket: The final meal before Kippur must be completed before sunset at which time the fast and all halakhot of the day begin. If one completes this meal early it is considered an early acceptance of the fast unless the person specifically says (or at least thinks) that he does not yet wish to accept the fast upon himself. When one accepts the fast early, it is understood that all the laws of Yom Kippur take effect for him at that time. Holiday candles are lit before sunset. Some communities have the custom to say the beracha `Lehadlik Ner Shel Yom Kippur', and some have the custom not to say a beracha. Men wear a talit for all Yom Kippur prayers including arbit. One should try to arrive at the synagogue before sunset so as to be able to say the beracha on donning the talit.
The evening service is begun with the chanting of Lecha Keli. Although there is no reading from the Torah during the evening, the aron hakodesh is opened and the Torah is shown to the congregation to increase the feeling of sanctity. Seven sifre Torah are brought out and Kal Nidre is recited three times, preferably before nightfall. The beracha of Shehehiyanu (for the coming of the holiday) is recited before arbit.
III. YOM KIPPUR AND TESHUVA
Yom Kippur is the time of Teshuva for every individual as well as for the community, and is the culmination of atonement for Israel. Therefore all are responsible to repent and confess their wrongdoing on Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur secures atonement only for those who have faith in its power of atonement. Teshuva and Yom Kippur secure atonement for sins between man and G-D only. If one sins against his fellow man there is no atonement until the penitent has duly compensated the injured party and gained his forgiveness. One must seek forgiveness from his fellow man even if he had only angered him with words. One being asked for forgiveness should not be hard to appease. On the contrary, one should be quick to forgive with a sincere heart. If the injured party is confident that the person requesting forgiveness is insincere, he is not obliged to grant forgiveness.
One does not have to forgive monetary debts. It is proper that every individual specifically state at the beginning of the evening of Yom Kippur that he forgives everyone (excluding monetary debts).
IV. PROHIBITIONS OF YOM KIPPUR
All work that is forbidden on Shabbat is forbidden on Yom Kippur. Prohibitions specific to Yom Kippur are:
a) eating and drinking
c) application of ointments to the body
d) wearing leather shoes
e) marital relations.
Sick people and pregnant and nursing women are not automatically exempt from fasting on Yom Kippur as is the case with the minor fasts. Exemption is based on there being at least a remote possibility that fasting would endanger life. Medical experts have stated that in normal pregnancies there is no danger in fasting, although in the later months it may induce labor. A halachic authority should be consulted in individual cases. One who must eat or drink on Yom Kippur for medical or health reasons should do so in as limited a fashion as possible. If it does not increase the danger to do so, it is proper to take less than an ounce of food and less than an ounce of drink in any ten minute period and repeat this process as often as necessary. Washing any part of the body, besides the fingers, whether in hot or cold water, is forbidden. Netilat Yadayim is up to the knuckles. It is permitted to wipe away the sediment from one's eyes in the morning. After using the bathroom, or if one has touched a covered part of the body, one should wash up to the knuckles. If somehow a part of the body became dirty or very sweaty, it is permitted to wash in a limited way, for the essential prohibition of washing is when done for pleasure. Application of spray and solid deodorant to prevent body odor is permitted.
Non-leather sneakers that have non-structural leather ornamentation are permitted. Leather garments other than shoes are permitted.
V. PRAYERS OF YOM KIPPUR
On both the night and day of Yom Kippur, the phrase "Baruch Shem Kevod Malchuto Leolam Vaed" is recited out loud upon reciting Shema. In Bircot Hashahar, the beracha "Sheasah Li Kol Sorchi" is omitted. Although the appreciation expressed in this beracha is general, it was specifically established to be recited in conjunction with the putting on of leather shoes. Since we don't wear such shoes on Yom Kippur we omit it. On other days, if one doesn't wear leather shoes, he still recites this beracha as he could wear them and as others are wearing them. The shahrit Torah reading is the portion that describes the Yom Kippur service in the sanctuary. Another portion about Yom Kippur is read from a second Sefer Torah. The haftarah is the portion from the prophet Yeshaya criticizing superficial repentance on a fast day, describing true repentance and calling on the Jewish Nation to conduct ethically. During hazara (repetition) of musaf, the hazan says the
"Avoda," a description of the Yom Kippur Service by the Cohen Gadol (high priest) in the days of the Bet Hamikdash. The aron hakodesh is opened for this prayer. The Torah reading at minha is the portion exhorting the Jewish Nation to refrain from immoral conduct, particularly sexual misbehavior. The haftarah reading is Sefer Yona, which deals in depth with the subject of repentance.
The shofar is not blown during Yom Kippur, but only after sunset toward the conclusion of the day. There are 5 amidot on Yom Kippur. In addition to musaf, a special extra prayer "Neila" is said after minha. Neila is the closing prayer, the word referring to the "closing" of the Heavenly Gates which are especially opened on Yom Kippur. The aron hakodesh is opened at the beginning of neila and is kept open for the duration of this important prayer. Birkat Kohanim is not said in minha, but is said in neila. It must be said before sunset.
It is customary to say "Viduy Hagadol" during Yom Kippur. Although this "acknowledgement and confession" includes transgressions that one undoubtedly did not commit, it is permitted to be recited by all, as it is considered a communal owning up. Also, one may be responsible for a transgression due to having caused another to violate it. There is a version for the positive misvot and a version for the negative misvot. Some have the custom to recite Viduy Hagadol with each prayer.
At the conclusion of Yom Kippur havdala is recited. The havdala candle must be lit from a flame which was burning all of Yom Kippur and "rested". When Kippur occurs on Shabbat, havdala may be recited on a candle lit from a fire produced at the moment. The beracha on besamim (fragrant spices) is not recited in the havdala concluding Yom Kippur.