Days of Awe
Significance: A time of introspection
Length: 10 Days (including Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur)
Customs: Seeking reconciliation with people you have wronged; Kapparot
The ten days starting with Rosh Hashanah and ending
with Yom Kippur are commonly known as the Days
of Awe (Yamim Noraim) or the Days of Repentance. This is a time for serious
introspection, a time to consider the sins of the previous year and repent
before Yom Kippur.
One of the ongoing themes of the Days of Awe is the concept that
G-d has "books" that he writes our names in, writing
down who will live and who will die, who will have a good life and who will
have a bad life, for the next year. These books are written in on Rosh
Hashanah, but our actions during the Days of Awe can alter G-d's decree. The
actions that change the decree are "teshuvah,
tzedakah," repentance, prayer, good deeds
(usually, charity). These "books" are sealed on Yom Kippur. This concept of
writing in books is the source of the common greeting during this time is "May
you be inscribed and sealed for a good year."
Among the customs of this time, it is common to seek reconciliation with people
you may have wronged during the course of the year. The Talmud maintains that
Yom Kippur atones only for sins between man and G-d. To atone for sins against
another person, you must first seek reconciliation with that person, righting
the wrongs you committed against them if possible.
Another custom observed during this time is kapparot. This is rarely practiced
today, and is observed in its true form only by
Chasidic and occasionally
Orthodox Jews. Basically, you purchase a live
fowl, and on the morning before Yom Kippur you wave it over your head reciting
a prayer asking that the fowl be considered atonement for sins. The fowl is
then slaughtered and given to the poor (or its value is given). Some Jews today
simply use a bag of money instead of a fowl. Most Reform and Conservative Jews
have never even heard of this practice.
Work is permitted as usual during the intermediate Days of Awe, from Tishri 3
to Tishri 9, except of course for Shabbat during
Two lesser special occasions occur during the course of the Days of Awe.
Tishri 3, the day after the second day of Rosh Hashanah, is the Fast of
Gedaliah. This really has nothing to do with the Days of Awe, except that it
occurs in the middle of them. For more information, see
The Shabbat that occurs in this period is known
as Shabbat Shuvah (the Sabbath of Return). This is considered a rather
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