Yom Kippur: A Halachic Guide

The following is meant as a convenient review of Halachos pertaining to Yom Kippur. The Piskei Din for the most part are based purely on the Sugyos, Shulchan Aruch and Rama, and the Mishna Berura, unless stated otherwise. They are based on my understanding of the aforementioned texts through the teachings of my Rebbeim. As individual circumstances are often important in determining the psak in specific cases, and as there may be different approaches to some of the issues, one should always check with one’s Rav first.



There is a prevalent Minhag to do Kaparos on Erev Yom Kippur. Kaparos are traditionally done with live chickens. There are those who are Noheg to do Kaparos with money instead of live chickens.The idea behind Kaparos is that the chickens/money is meant as a symbolic atonement (kaparah) for the person – should one be deserving of the death penalty (even Misa Beyedei Shamayim) the chicken (which is then shechted and given to Tzedaka), or the money, symbolically takes the place of the transgressor.

  • Men and boys use roosters while women and girls use hens. Expecting women take two – a rooster and a hen (even if they know that they are having a girl)
  • One must be careful, when doing Kaparos with chickens not to do it in a way that will cause excessive pain to the chicken, and one should try not to cause the chicken to become a treifa (injured in a way that would render the chicken non-kosher).
  • Most Jews of Hungarian or Polish descent do Kaparos on chickens, while Jews of German and Lithuanian origin either do it on money or not at all. Sephardim have varying Minhagim.
  • The Shulchan Aruch writes against doing Kaparos, and the Gra also is opposed to Kaparos. The Rama however strongly defends Kaparos, and explains that it is an ancient custom dating back to the Geonim (others say even before the time of the Geonim).
  • If one is not Noheg to do Kaparos then perhaps he shouldn’t start. Those who, however, are accustomed to do Kaparos certainly should not stop.
  • While doing the Kaparos there are various tefilos and psukim one should say, these are printed in most siddurim and machzorim.

Going to the mikvah on Erev Yom Kippur:

  • All adult men should dip in the mikvah.
  • As this is mostly for reasons of purity there is little reason for boys who have not physically matured yet to go to the mikvah.
  • There are those that maintain that the purpose for going to the mikvah isn’t only for purity reasons, but rather something one should do before doing Teshuva. According to this opinion, it then stands to reason that boys over nine should go to the mikvah.
  • There is an issur (prohibition) for a son to see his father undressed. This issur is for tznius reasons and not for Kibud Av reasons – thus a father cannot be mochel and allow his son to see him undressed
  • The aforementioned issur extends to brothers-in-law, fathers-in- law, and grandfathers
  • Since children who aren’t of age to understand the Teshuva process have no reason to go to the mikvah, and since there also an additional prohibition for them to see their fathers undressed, young boys should not be brought to the mikvah.
  • When getting undressed before immersing in the mikvah one should remove their underpants last unless they are wearing an undershirt (the bottom layer shirt) that covers their mila (see Meseches Derech Eretz Rabba and Zuta).
  • Aveilim even during Shiva go to the Mikvah Erev Yom Kippur.
  • There are those that maintain that women, and girls who already understand Teshuva (9+), should go to the mikvah as well.
  • In most Ashkenazi communities this is not commonly done, and one should therefore not start to do so on one’s own.
  • In some Chasidishe communities there are many that are Noheg that married women go to the Mikva.
  • The old minhag in Yerushalayim is for women and girls over nine to go to the mikva Erev Yom Kippur.
  • Amongst the Sephardim there are those that are noheg that women and girls (9+) go to the mikva.
  • The prevalent Minhag is to go after Chatzos, but before the Seuda Hamafsekes. One shouldn’t go before Chatzos, unless there is no other option. It is ok to go after the Seuda Hamafsekes.

The Mitzvah to eat Erev Yom Kippur:

  • The Mitzvah to eat Erev Yom Kippur exists during the entire day.
  • One may not fast on Erev-Yom Kippur.
  • One must eat at least the seudas Hamafsekes.
  • There is a largely accepted minhag to eat two seudos Erev Yom Kippur: one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
  • One should eat meat for the Seudas Hamafsekes.
  • There are those that eat Dairy for the morning meal, but many are noheg to eat meat for both.
  • If one ate the Seuda Hamafsekes and then wishes to eat or drink more after the Seuda, that person should make a stipulation to that effect before or while he is still eating the Seuda Hamafsekes. If one didn’t make a verbal stipulation, but did intend to eat after the Seuda Hamafsekes, then they may continue eating. If one didn’t stipulate or intend to eat (i.e. didn’t give any thought as to whether or not one wished to eat again) it is advisable not to eat. If, however, there is a significant reason for eating more, one can do so. If one thought that he was not going to eat more, then even if one didn’t verbally say so, one should refrain from eating. If there is a need to eat, one can do so. If one actually said that he was not going to eat again then one may not eat again until after the fast.
  • Although it is a Mitzva to eat Erev Yom Kippur, we must stop eating some time before the fast begins, as we are obligated to add onto the Kedushas Hayom.


  • Mincha occurs prior to the Seuda Hamafsekes.
  • It is preferable that one daven Mincha in Yom-Tov garb.
  • It is brought down in the Shulchan Aruch that one should get tapped lightly (symbolic ‘‘lashes’’) 39 times with a belt after Mincha. Many people do not put this into practice. These ‘‘lashes’’ don’t have a din of Makos (halachic ‘lashes’). While one is receiving these ‘lashes’ one should say viduy. The person giving the ‘lashes’ should say Vehu Rachum etc. three times. The person giving the ‘lashes’ should be extra careful not to hurt the person receiving the ‘lashes’. Prior to receiving ‘lashes’ Mechila should be given for the humiliation involved in receiving the ‘lashes’. As these ‘lashes’ should be a far cry from anything that would hurt the one receiving them, there is no need to be mochel one for one’s potentially getting hurt.

Seudah Hamafsekes:

  • Seudah Hamafsekes is eaten after Mincha, and should be a lavish Yom-Tov style meal.
  • One should refrain from eating nuts at this Seuda (particularly almonds)
  • We don’t eat foods with garlic, nor do we eat dairy products.
  • There are those that have a minhag to eat stuffed cabbage and/or Creplach.
  • If one has these Minhagim it is good to keep to them, but they are not of importance and there is no reason to start.
  • All foods eaten during the Seuda should be foods that are easy on the stomach and digestive system.

Candle Lighting:

  • We are noheg to light a yahrzeit-size candle for all married adult men.
  • A yartzeit-size candle should be placed in the bedroom when a husband and wife will be sleeping in the same room.
  • In reality an electric night-light would suffice, but since the minhag is a yahrzeit candle it is best not to veer from the minhag.
  • If there is danger in using a candle then a night-light may be used.
  • We are also noheg that a yartzeit candle should be lit for each deceased parent.
  • The yahrzeit candle for a deceased parent shouldn’t be used for Havdala nor should another candle be lit from it.
  • We light candles as on Shabbos and we recite the bracha of lehadlik ner shel yom-hakippurim, and
  • A woman who lights candles and then goes to shul should not make Shehechiyanu together with everyone else as she already did so when lighting.
  • On years that Yom Kippur falls out on Shabbos – we say shel Shabbos v’yom hakippurim.
  • We are noheg to cover the table as on Shabbos – with Shabbos table-cloths.



On Yom Kippur it is forbidden to eat and drink, to wash, to anoint, to wear leather shoes, and to be intimate. In this section we will discuss the particulars of the aforementioned.

Eating & Drinking:

  • It is forbidden to eat or drink even the smallest amount; however, while eating a very small amount is only a prohibition, to eat more than a shiur (minimum halachicamount) is a Chiyuv Karres. Therefore, under extenuating circumstances we are more lenient to allow eating and drinking in small amounts (less than the halachic minimum amount) at halachically stipulated intervals.
  • Someone who might need to eat or drink on Yom Kippur should discuss these exact measured amounts (Shiurim) and time intervals with a competent Rov.
  • If one wasn’t planning on doing Shiurim, or wasn’t able to ask a Rov then one should try to wait nine minutes between each eating, or between each drinking.
  • Each eating should be a similar volume. Many Rabbonim recommend eating three or four Cheerios every nine minutes for those eating (for health reasons) in increments.
  • Each drinking should be about a small shot glass (like the disposable kind).
  • Each time a person eats is still an issur therefore one shouldn’t use more Shiurim than necessary.
  • Any type of food may be eaten or drunk when one is doing Shiurim; however, as the number of times one eats or drinks in this manner should be minimized, it’s best that the substance being drunk be hydrating, and the food satiating.
  • Different types of foods can be combined to form a shiur, and so too are different types of drinks. Drinks and food, however, cannot be combined to form a shiur together.
  • One doing Shiurim (or who ate/drank less than a shiur) shouldn’t be a shliach tzibur in any capacity. This includes getting an Aliyah. If one received an Aliya, the Aliya counts and it is OK to accept it.


  • According to the Shulchan Aruch and the traditional Poskim all non-leather shoes may be worn no matter the comfort or style of the shoe; this includes non-leather sneakers and crocks.
  • Originally some Poskim were opposed to synthetic leather shoes for reasons of Maras Ayin (because people will think that they are wearing leather shoes). Since nowadays people are used to the fact that there are many shoes made of synthetic leathers, it seems that it is permissible to wear such shoes.
  • There is a machlokes Harishonim regarding real shoes fabricated from non-leather substances (see Rosh and Rambam). Some of the Rishonim maintain that all shoes that are commonly worn outdoors are considered shoes regarding the prohibition of shoe wearing on Yom Kippur. According to these opinions the only footwear permitted would be flip-flop-like sandals or flimsy house slippers etc. This is not the view of the Shulchan Aruch nor is it the common Mesorah.
  • If one only has leather shoes and needs to walk somewhere that would require him to wear such shoes, he may do so on his way there but must remove them immediately upon arrival at his destination.
  • Young children that are old enough to realize that Yom Kippur is a unique day should not wear leather shoes. This age may vary depending on the child (somewhere between age 3 and 5).
  • There are many Chasidim and Anshei Maaseh who refrain from wearing any footwear. Some people only wear more substantial footwear outside, but inside refrain from almost all footwear.

Other Prohibitions:

  • It is forbidden to wash oneself whatsoever. This includes washing any part of one’s body – whether in cold or hot water. Since the main prohibition is washing in a way that provides a certain pleasure, exceptions to the rule are made during Yom Kippur in the following situations in which washing is allowed:

1. Netilas Yadayim in the morning – until the knuckles.

2. To wash one’s hands after touching a body part generally covered, or scratching one’s scalp etc. One should also wash hands after using the bathroom even if one’s hands remained clean. In these situations one may only wash till their knuckles.

3. If any body part became dirty. If one requires soap to wash off the dirt one may use a watered down liquid soap to do so.

  • Even if a women’s Leil Tevilah comes out on Yom Kippur she may not be Tovel until after Yom Kippur. One cannot anoint oneself whenever this is done so for the sake of pleasure. This includes cosmetic or minor topical health issues. One can apply ointment to an infection.
  • Although some maintain that it is permissible to put on aerosol deodorants on Yom Kippur, one should avoid doing so by applying a good deodorant on Erev-Yom Kippur.
  • One cannot apply perfume or cologne on Yom Kippur, even according to Poskim who may allow it on Shabbos. Likewise no form of makeup may be applied on Yom Kippur.
  • The prohibition of intimacy on Yom Kippur extends even to touching one’s wife or sleeping in the same bed. This includes other Harchakos as well.

Who must fast?

  • As Yom Kippur is the only Biblical fast, and as not fasting on Yom Kippur renders one guilty of Karres, there are far fewer leniencies as to who doesn’t need to fast, and as to when a fast may be broken.
  • All adults above Bar/Bas Mitzva are obligated to fast; this includes lactating and expecting mothers.
  • Women within three days from birth shouldn’t fast. From three days after until seven days after birth it is the new mother who is central in determining: if she feels she needs to eat she can eat; if she feels she can fast she then should.
  • Obviously anybody for whom not eating on Yom Kippur is life-threatening should not fast. However if one can get away with Shiurim then one should not eat in any other fashion.
  • Anyone who would be dangerously affected by not eating should discuss the predicament with a physician and a Rov.
  • Minors over age nine should not eat on Yom Kippur night, and should put off their first eating to an hour or two later than their usual first meal. They should not delay eating by more than an hour or two. Minors over the age of eleven, whether boy or girl, are rabbinically obligated to fast the whole day. Children below age nine should not fast at all.As fasting on Yom Kippur is the most integral part of the day, and the most important element in achieving atonement, it is important to make one’s ability to fast the main focus. Therefore lactating and expectant mothers, and likewise all sick or weak people should stay in bed as much as they can – even at the expense of Tefilla B’tzibur, or even davening altogether.

Other Minhagim of Yom Kippur:

  • There is a minhag to stay up all night Yom Kippur. As for most people this would make the fast considerably harder, it is not advisable to do so.
  • There is a Minhag to finish the entire Sefer Tehilim on Yom Kippur.
  • There are those who are careful even if they sleep at night, not go to sleep during the entire day. This is more important than not sleeping at night. Therefore if by not sleeping at night someone will need to take a nap during the day, it is then far better to sleep at night and to stay awake all day.
  • There is a minhag to stand the whole day. There is yet a slightly more prevalent minhag to stand throughout the entire davening.
  • These aforementioned minhagim are Midas Chassidus and are not Halacha. One is not required to do any of them.



  • On Motzei Yom Kippur we make Havdala on a cup of wine (or grape juice, beer etc.), and we make a bracha of Aish. We do not use Besamim. When Yom Kippur falls out on Shabbos there are those who do use besamim. One should not change their Minhag either way. If one’s Minhag is to use Besamim they should continue to do so. And if one’s minhag is not to use besamim they should not start to use besamim.
  • The fire should be from a flame that existed before Yom Kippur or that was lit from a candle that was lit before Yom Kippur. If one doesn’t have such a flame some of the Gedolei Acharonim (Reb Chaim Ozer, and Avodas Hamelech) say one can make it on an electric light – on an incandescent light bulb (that was lit from before Yom Kippur – it is debatable whether one can use light from a light bulb that was lit after). It is questionable whether one can use fluorescent light bulbs.
  • On Motzai Yom Kippur we do not extinguish any candles lit before Yom Kippur. It is ok to turn off all types of electric lights.
  • If a Yahrtzeit candle blew out during Yom Kippur one should rekindle it after Yom Kippur and allow it to burn out.
  • Right after Yom Kippur we are noheg to do something towards building the Succah. Since the purpose of this is to go straight from Yom Kippur to busying ourselves with Mitzvos, some people busy themselves with Arba Minim.
  • Many are noheg to make a Seudah on Motzei Yom Kippur.


by Rabbi Y. Dov Krakowski
Director, OU Kosher Israel

OU Kosher Staff