Yonina Creditor, a Jewish chaplain leads sailors in prayer during a Yom Kippur service, Sept. 25, 2012. (U.S. Navy/William Pittman)

Must-Know Yom Kippur Words and Phrases

Key vocabulary for the Jewish Day of Atonement.

Al Chet (also Al Het)— Pronounced ahl-KHETT. Literally “for the sin.” The opening words of a confession of sin, this is the name of a prayer recited multiple times during the Yom Kippur service.

Avinu Malkeinu
 
— Pronounced ah-VEE-new mahl-KAY-new. Literally “Our Father, Our King,” this prayer is recited after the Amidah (the main prayer, said while standing) and before the Torah service. It is recited throughout the Ten Days of Repentance, from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur.


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Gmar Hatimah Tovah — Pronounced guh-MAHR khah-tee-MAH toe-VAH. Literally “A good signing/sealing.” This is a traditional greeting during the Ten Days of Repentance, referring to the belief that on Rosh Hashanah our fates are written, or inscribed, in the Book of Life, and on Yom Kippur we are sealed in it.

Kittel — Pronounced KITT-el. A Yiddish word for robe or coat. Here it refers to a white robe that men and some women wear during High Holiday services. White represents the purity we hope to achieve through our prayers on these holy days.

Kol Nidrei — Pronounced KOHL nee-DRAY or kohl NEE-dray. Literally “all vows,”  this is the name for the Yom Kippur evening service, as well as for a prayer said during this service.

Mahzor (also machzor) — Pronounced MAHKH-zohr. Literally “cycle” the mahzor is the special prayer book for the High Holidays, containing all the High Holiday liturgy. (The prayer book used during the rest of the year is called a siddur, which literally means “order.”)

Neilah — Pronounced NEE-lah or nuh-ee-LAH. Literally “locking,” this is the name for the final service on Yom Kippur, during which we make a final plea to God to accept our prayers and seal us in the Book of Life for the year to come.

Teshuvah — Pronounced tuh-SHOO-vah (oo as in boot). Literally “return,” this refers to our “return to God.” Teshuvah is often translated as “repentance,” one of the most significant themes and spiritual components of the High Holidays.

Viddui — Pronounced vee-DOO-ee (oo as in boot). Literally “confession,” this is a prayer recited just before Yom Kippur, and repeated many times during the holiday. During the Viddui we gently beat ourselves on the chest for each transgression listed. This action serves as a symbolic punishment for our hearts, which are ultimately responsible for leading us to sins of greed, lust and anger.

Yamim Noraim — Pronounced yah-MEEM nohr-ah-EEM. Literally “Days of Awe,” this term refers to the 10 days from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur.

Yizkor — Pronounced YIZZ-kohr. Literally “May God remember,” Yizkor is a prayer service in memory of the dead, which is held on Yom Kippur and on the last day of each of the three festivals, Passover, Shavuot, and Shemini Atzeret.

Yom Tov — Pronounced YOHM tohv. Literally “good day,” this means holiday.

Discover More

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