Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement. It is the day upon which the fate of every person, which was written in either the "Book of Life" or the "Book of Death" during Rosh Hashannah is finally "sealed." As such, Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year for Jews.
During the ten days between Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur, the "Days of Awe", a Jew has the opportunity to review his or her behavior during the past year, and to seek forgiveness from God. During the evening and day of Yom Kippur, petitions and confessions of guilt are made in public and in private in order to receive absolution from God.
There are five prayer services conducted during Yom Kippur, as compared to three on a regular day. They consist of Maariv, Shacharit, Musaf, Minchah, and Neilah.
Maariv, conducted on the eve of Yom Kippur, includes the Kol Nidrei service regarding the annulment of vows and promises.
Shacharit, conducted on the morning of Yom Kippur, includes the reading from Leviticus and the yizkor memorial service that recalls the deceased and pays homage to our forbears.
Musaf, includes an account of the yom Kippur temple service.
Minchah, includes the reading of the Book of Jonah.
Neilah, conducted at sunset, includes the "closing of the gates" service.
The Bible, in the book of Leviticus, Chapter twenty-three and Verse twenty-seven, issues a decree that the Day of Atonement is to be observed strictly as a day of rest. In addition, Jewish tradition calls for the following: 1.) No eating or drinking, 2.) No washing or bathing, 3.) No applying of perfumes or lotions upon one's body, 4.) No wearing of leather shoes, and 5.) No engaging in marital relations.
Jewish men and women participate in the mikveh, or ritual immersion in flowing water on the days before Yom Kippur in order to cleanse themselves completely. (See explanation of the mikveh in the page on Rosh Hashannah.)
Since there will be fasting during Yom Kippur, two meals are usually eaten in the morning and on the afternoon before the holiday. Although these meals may be festive and larger than normal, they should consist of easily digestible foods, including fish and poultry. The meals often include challah, a braided bread, pieces of which are dipped in honey, and kreplach, small squares of pasta dough folded over ground meat and either boiled or fried.
The final meal before Yom Kippur is partaken of just before sunset. It is called the seudah hamafseket, or meal of separation. This meal usually includes challah, chicken and soup. As the meal draws to a close and immediately before the fasting begins, the parents will bless the children.