Day of Atonement

Learn All About Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement

Day of Atonement
Andrew Penner / Getty Images

What Is the Day of Atonement?

Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement is the most solemn and important holy day of the Jewish calendar. In the Old Testament, the Day of Atonement was the day the High Priest made an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the people. This act of atonement brought reconciliation between the people and God. After the blood sacrifice was offered to the Lord, a goat was released into the wilderness to symbolically carry away the sins of the people.

This "scapegoat" was never to return.

Time of Observance

Yom Kippur is celebrated on the tenth day of the Hebrew month of Tishri (September or October).

Scripture Reference to the Day of Atonement

The observance of the Day of Atonement is recorded in the Old Testament book of Leviticus 16:8-34; 23:27-32.

About Yom Kippur or Day of Atonement

Yom Kippur was the only time during the year when the high priest would enter the Holy of Holies in the innermost chamber of the Temple (or Tabernacle) to make atonement for the sins of all Israel. Atonement literally means "covering." The purpose of the sacrifice was to bring reconciliation between man and God (or "at-onement" with God) by covering the sins of the people.

Today, the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are days of repentance, when Jews express remorse for their sins through prayer and fasting.

Yom Kippur is the final day of judgment, when each person's fate is sealed by God for the upcoming year.

Jewish tradition tells how God opens the Book of Life and studies the words, actions, and thoughts of every person whose name he has written there. If a person's good deeds outweigh or outnumber their sinful acts, his or her name will remain inscribed in the book for another year.

On Yom Kippur, the ram's horn (shofar) is blown at the end of evening prayer services for the first time since Rosh Hashanah.

Jesus and Yom Kippur

The Tabernacle and the Temple gave a clear picture of how sin separates us from the holiness of God. In Bible times, only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies by passing through the heavy veil that hung from ceiling to floor, creating a barrier between the people and the presence of God.

Once a year on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest would enter and offer a blood sacrifice to cover the sins of the people. However, at the very moment when Jesus died on the cross, Matthew 27:51 says, "the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split." (NKJV)

Hebrews chapters 8 and 9 beautifully explain how Jesus Christ became our High Priest and entered heaven (the Holy of Holies), once and for all, not by the blood of sacrificial animals, but by his own precious blood on the cross. Christ himself was the atoning sacrifice for our sins; thus, he obtained for us eternal redemption. As believers we accept the sacrifice of Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of Yom Kippur, the final atonement for sin.

More Facts About Yom Kippur

  • When the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D., the Jewish people could no longer present the required sacrifices on the Day of Atonement, so it came to be observed as a day of repentance, self-denial, charitable works, prayer and fasting.
  • Yom Kippur is a complete Sabbath. No work is done on this day.
  • Today, Orthodox Jews observe many restrictions and customs on Yom Kippur.
  • The book of Jonah is read on Yom Kippur in remembrance of God's forgiveness and mercy.
  • More about Yom Kippur in Judaism.
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Fairchild, Mary. "Day of Atonement." ThoughtCo, Oct. 3, 2016, Fairchild, Mary. (2016, October 3). Day of Atonement. Retrieved from Fairchild, Mary. "Day of Atonement." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 26, 2018).