29 And it shall be a statute for ever unto you: in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, ye shall afflict your souls, and shall do no manner of work, the home-born, or the stranger that sojourneth among you.
30 For on this day shall atonement be made for you, to cleanse you; from all your sins shall ye be clean before the LORD.
31 It is a Sabbath of solemn rest unto you, and ye shall afflict your souls; it is a statute for ever.
32 And the priest, who shall be anointed and who shall be consecrated to be priest in his father's stead, shall make the atonement, and shall put on the linen garments, even the holy garments.
33 And he shall make atonement for the most holy place, and he shall make atonement for the tent of meeting and for the altar; and he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly.
34 And this shall be an everlasting statute unto you, to make atonement for the children of Israel because of all their sins once in the year.' And he did as the LORD commanded Moses.
As it is the season, I have a confession to make. I like Yom Kippur.
I like the ritual the High Priest performed to enter the Holy of Holies. The Holy of Holies is a cave under a large rock. It was in this cave that Aaron placed the pieces of the Ten Commandment tablets when the Jews finished their journey from Egypt. It was from this rock that Mohammad ascended to heaven. It was on this rock that Abraham bound Isaac and was going to sacrifice him to G-d.
King Solomon built the Temple over the Holy of Holies. One day a year the High Priest would enter the inner sanctum of the Temple to pray for forgiveness for the sins of all of the people of Israel. It was and is today a fast day. The High Priest had small bells sown to his robes. If G-d did not accept his prayers, he would be struck down. His assistants would listen for the sound of the bells as the High Priest left the Holy of Holies and made his way out of the inner sanctum of the Temple.
The High Priest, the ritual sacrifices, and his other duties ended with the destruction of the Second Temple in 70CE. Today, the only part of the Temple still standing is a section of the western wall. Jews gather at this section of the wall for prayer.
Around 500CE Islam spread to Jerusalem. By some accounts, the Dome of the Rock (Qubbat aṣ-Ṣakhra) was built over the Holy of Holies, the rock where Mohammed assented to heaven, by the djin. The mosque was completed in 691CE. Christian armies of the Crusades occupied Jerusalem from 1069 until about 1187. Ottoman armies recaptured Jerusalem and rededicated the mosque.
Since 70CE, Jews have recited the ritual the High Priest made to pray for the forgiveness of our sins. Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like to be in the outer courtyard. To be waiting for the sign the Priest's prayers had been answered. To join in the celebration will all of Israel at sundown that the Priest's prayers, on our behalf had been granted?
Yom Kippur begins with Kol Nidre. The chanting of a legal contract. It begins, "All vows we are likely to make, all oaths and pledges we are likely to take between this Yom Kippur and the next Yom Kippur, we publicly renounce. Let them all be relinquished and abandoned, null and void, neither firm nor established. Let our vows, pledges and oaths be considered neither vows nor pledges nor oaths."
Kol Nidre is in Aramaic, not Hebrew. Aramaic, the language of everyday life in 800CE. The language of bills of sale and contracts. Hebrew was for prayers. Kol Nidre is a contract.
600-1000CE was the first period of mass forced conversion of Jews. As Christian and Muslim armies moved over the Middle East, Jews were given the choice of converting or death. Kol Nidre negated these vows to other religions made to save people's lives. It gained popularity again in Spain in the 1300 and 1400s as forced conversion grew again.
The sounds of Kol Nidre serve as a reminder of those Jews who had to hide their faith a thousand years ago. Who hid their faith and escaped Spain for the new world. The Caribbean pirate who only ate matzah to hide his faith. The Jews who hid their faith with false papers during WWII. Who wore NOT SPECIFIED dog tags in the two gulf wars.