Yom Kippur Time for Jews to Emphasize the Spiritual


No eating or drinking. No washing past your knuckles. No leather shoes. No sex.

These are five laws that many observant Jews follow on Yom Kippur--the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. The holiday, which translates from Hebrew into Day of Atonement, began at sundown Friday and continues past sundown today.

On one level, these ascetic rules are "to teach us to pay no attention to the body," said Yakov Latowicz, a Hasidic rabbi at the Chabad of Ventura Jewish Community Center. "Yom Kippur is a day to move away from the physical world and turn inward. It's a day for the soul, when God is close to you. Abstaining from the pleasures of food and sex can help you transcend into a more spiritual place."

While fasting and abstaining from sex are obvious physical denials, the explanation for not washing the body is that observant Jews believe it is an act that shows too much concern for the outward appearance as opposed to the inner self. Allowing people to wash up to their knuckles is a practical measure.

Leather shoes are considered a sign of luxury and comfort. Most religious Jews wear canvas sneakers on Yom Kippur.

"All these [practices] add up to what inspires us," said Rabbi Yitzchak Sapochkinsky, another Hasidic rabbi of the Chabad of Westlake Village. "Let's face it: Do I really think that if I don't eat apples and honey [on Rosh Hashana] I won't have a sweet year, or if I don't follow these other [rituals] something bad will happen? No. But it's these little things that [help] remind us it's a specific season."


On another, more mystical level, many Jews believe Yom Kippur is a day to become angelic. That is why it is a custom to wear white.

"And angels don't eat or have sex," Latowicz said with a laugh.

Yom Kippur is described in Leviticus, but its more complex rules are derived from the Talmud, a book of oral traditions written by rabbis and scholars during the first through seventh centuries.

The main belief of the holiday is that Jews have a 10-day period from Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur to get sealed in what is referred to as the Book of Life.

While this is mostly symbolic--Jews believe they can repent and return to God at any time during the year--this season is especially receptive to a Jewish concept called "tshuvah," or sincere regret.

Not only do Jews have to atone for their wrongdoings to God, they are also commanded to make up with their friends and family members and repair their human relationships.

"We don't have it that easy," Latowicz said. "We can't just ask God for forgiveness and that's that. There is a catch: We must approach our family and friends to settle the score with them before we ask God to settle with us."

To demonstrate that they are willing to help others and keep a social commitment throughout the year, many Jews are asked on Yom Kippur to get involved with charity. At Temple Etz Chaim in Thousand Oaks, for example, Jews will bring cans of food today to donate to the needy, Rabbi Shimon Paskow said.


Since Orthodox Jews follow even stricter laws on Yom Kippur, the Hasidic-oriented Jews of Chabad are celebrating slightly differently this year.

Latowicz has made arrangements for Jewish people to stay at the Ramada Inn in Ventura this Yom Kippur. By Friday morning, more than 100 Jews had registered.

Staying at a hotel will make it easier for observant Jews to keep the laws of Yom Kippur as well as the laws of the Sabbath, which falls on Saturday.

One of those rules is that no work shall be done on the Sabbath. The rabbis, who translate this very specifically, have determined that pushing a baby in a stroller is work. By staying in the same place where they will both sleep and pray, Latowicz hoped the hotel would "make it easier for the ladies," many of whom stay home on the Sabbath with their babies, as the youngsters ordinarily would need to be pushed in strollers or carried to synagogue.

But Latowicz said that not all of the holiday is stoical.

"It's just as important to have a feast before the start of the holiday as it is to fast on Yom Kippur," he said, adding that his family usually eats the braided egg bread called challah, chicken or fish, and soup with kreplach, or ground beef dumplings.

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