Beit Midrash

  • Shabbat and Holidays
  • Yom Kippur
To dedicate this lesson

Yom Kippur - Some Lore and Some Law

Whenever the Holy Rabbi Yechezkel of Kozmir met his good friend the Maggid of Koznitz, he would say to him, "Your father was amiable and God-fearing, but he was a simple Jew. What did he do to deserve such a righteous and learned son as yourself?"


Rabbi Shmuel Holshtein

Tuesday, 6 Tishrei 5768
Absorbed in Prayer
Whenever the great Hasidic Master, the Holy Rabbi Yechezkel of Kozmir, met his good friend, Rabbi Yisrael, the Maggid of Koznitz, he would say to him, "Your father, Reb Shabtai, was an amiable Jew, God-fearing, etc., etc., but, after all, he was a simple Jew. What did he do to deserve such a righteous and learned son as yourself?"

Each time he was asked, the Maggid would relate some virtuous deed practiced by his father, yet none of these explanations satisfied Rabbi Yechezkel. Finally, the Maggid told Rabbi Yechezkel the following story:

In the Maggid's town there was an apostate Jew who was hated by all because he would denounce his fellow Jews to the local overlord. One day, this apostate approached the overlord and told him that he would only continue cooperating with him if he, the overlord, saw to it that he, the apostate, be allowed to serve as cantor (prayer leader) in the approaching Yom Kippur services. He explained that despite his excellent voice, the Jews refused to let him be their cantor because of the animosity they felt toward him.

The overlord wasted no time. He summoned the synagogue leaders and told them that if the said apostate was denied the cantor position, he would promptly expel all of the Jews from the town as soon as Yom Kippur was over.

When the Jews heard this they became very frightened. How could this miscreant be permitted to act as prayer leader for their holy congregation on this most holy of days!? They tried to convince the overlord to change his mind, but he drove them out of his house without listening to a word they had to say.

The closer Yom Kippur got, the more worried the Jews became, for they could find no way to escape the terrible decree. Finally, the day arrived. The entire congregation gathered in the synagogue for the Kol Nidrei prayer. A cloud of distress hung over the faces of all present, for they knew who their cantor would be. There was complete silence when the apostate entered the gates of the synagogue. The congregants looked at one another with dread; the unconceivable was about to take place.

The scoundrel positioned himself before the Holy Ark and was about to begin the service. The congregation felt completely helpless. He had already begun to pray when, suddenly, a woman cried out from the woman's section at the top of her lungs, "How can you people let this man pray for us?! Start yelling so that we won't have to hear him!" The congregants heeded her cry enthusiastically, and the resulting clamor was so deafening that the apostate's voice could not be made out at all.

The apostate returned again for the morning services, and once again the congregation overpowered him with their shouting. The same thing happened at the Mussaf and Mincha (afternoon) services.

The apostate was thoroughly embarrassed. Nevertheless, he would not be broken. He made one last attempt - the closing Neilah prayer. The congregants again tried to shout him down, but by now they were hoarse, and it was difficult for them to make much noise.

For the first time, the apostate's voice could be heard. The congregants were about to give up when suddenly one of them took his prayer book and began to slam it against his stand. Pleased with the idea, the rest of the worshipers, too, began slamming their prayer books on their stands until the apostate finally threw off his prayer shawl and ran out of the synagogue.

After the service, one of the congregants approached Reb Shabtai the Bookbinder and said to him, "Well, it seems that you will certainly have a Shana Tova (good new year). After all, you've got plenty of work in store for you rebinding all these Yom Kippur prayer books."

Reb Shabtai looked puzzled. "Why will I be rebinding all of the prayer books?" he asked.

"Why, because of the beating they've just taken" answered the surprised congregant.

"What beating?" asked Reb Shabtai. "What are you talking about?" Reb Shabtai had been so absorbed in his prayers that he had not heard a thing.

When Rabbi Yechezkel of Kozmir heard this story, he said, "That's why your father merited having such a son as you. A person who, when standing in prayer before his Creator, thinks of nothing else and lets nothing distract him - such a person deserves a son as great as you!"

Some Yom Kippur Laws
Hasidic Jews were accustomed to saying that so great a day is Yom Kippur that if it were to fall only once every seventy years, people would wish one another, "May God give you the privilege of experiencing Yom Kippur." And because of this holy day's great importance, one must adequately prepare himself in advance so that the day is not wasted. As Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Charlap explains (Ori Ve-Yishi, ch. 23), what one gets out of the Days of Awe depends upon how much one puts into them.

Five "afflictions" (Inuyim) are observed on Yom Kippur: It is forbidden to eat, drink, bathe, anoint, wear (leather) shoes, or have sexual relations.

If a person must eat on Yom Kippur due to illness, he must first ask his doctor for details regarding his condition as well as the doctor's opinion as far as fasting is concerned. He must then bring all of this information to a rabbi who can render rulings in Jewish law in order to find out how to behave in practice on the fast.

It is forbidden to wear shoes or sandals made from leather on Yom Kippur. Torah authorities are at odds regarding shoes made from other materials that are just as comfortable as any leather shoes (i.e., where the wearer does not feel as if he's barefoot). In practice, it is permissible to wear such shoes. However, it is praiseworthy to be stringent in this matter and wear only thin thongs, slippers, etc.

Washing for pleasure is forbidden on Yom Kippur. It is permissible, however, to wash in order to remove any sort of filth from one's body, but one should be careful not to wash more than is actually necessary. When it is necessary to wash hands (netilat yadayim), one must wash no more than the fingers.

Children under the age of nine do not fast at all. However, they are not allowed to wear leather shoes because such abstinence endangers them in no way. From the age of nine, children begin fasting for a number of hours, and from the age of eleven, they should fast for the entire day, like adults, in order to accustom themselves to fasting. This applies to both boys and girls.

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