This is a Shana Tova card with an illustration depicting the giving of tzedakah (charity) at the synagogue before Yom Kippur. In the centre of the illustration is a table covered in a red tablecloth with men sitting or standing next to it. There are five bowls on the table, each labelled with a different charitable fund: Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel), Chazan (cantor), Hachnasat Kalah (bridal fund) Talmud Torah (religious school) and another with an unclear label. The men are putting coins into the bowls of their choice. One of the seated men is presumably the gabbai (warden or general caretaker) of the synagogue who would be supervising the ritual. At the top of the card is an inscription for the New Year – “May you be written for a good year” – and on the left is a caption explaining the illustration – “ ‘bowls’ on the eve of Yom Kippur.” On the front of the table there is a short poem in Yiddish, connecting between giving charity and being written in the Book of Life.
In the days before Yom Kippur, the kapparot ceremony is performed whereby a person symbolically transfers their sins to a chicken or to money. If a chicken is used, the animal is ritually slaughtered and then donated to a poor family; if money, then the monetary equivalent is donated. The illustration shows how the money was distributed to the various funds in the community. A central prayer in the Yom Kippur liturgy states that God decides the fate of each individual but that repentance, prayer, and tzedakah avert the severity of God’s decree. It is therefore common to give tzedakah during the High Holy Days.
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Yom Kippur – Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the holiest day of the Jewish year. The date of Yom Kippur is 10 Tishrei, and it marks the end of the ten-day period beginning with Rosh Hashanah which is called the High Holy Days and the Ten Days of Repentance. According to tradition, God evaluates each person’s life and writes their name in either the Book of Life or the Book of Death during the Ten Days of Repentance; on Yom Kippur, the books are sealed. While reflection and prayer take place throughout the ten days, Yom Kippur is the most solemn day, and it is traditional to pray, fast, and refrain from bathing and wearing leather shoes. It is also traditional to give tzedakah (charity), during this time period. Another unusual custom is wearing a tallit for all of the prayers, when it is usually only worn during the day, and in some communities men wear a special white robe named a kittel. There are five services on Yom Kippur, beginning with the Kol Nidrei prayer and the Maariv service in the evening. Prayers are resumed the following day with Shacharit (morning service) and the Musaf (additional service) which includes a description of the special ceremonies that took place in the Temple on Yom Kippur. Later in the day is the Mincha service, during which the Book of Jonah is read, and the day comes to close with the Neilah service, considered to be the final opportunity to ask God to be written in the Book of Life, which ends with the congregation saying the Shema and the blowing of the shofar.
Kapparot – This ceremony takes place in the days leading up to Yom Kippur in some Jewish communities and involves the custom of swinging a chicken over one’s head to symbolically transfer one’s sins to the chicken. The chicken is then slaughtered, and the meat is donated to a needy family. An alternative option is to use coins wrapped in a handkerchief instead of a chicken and to then donate the money to charity. Over the years there has been much rabbinical discussion about to the performance of this ritual. There are those who object due to concern for the suffering of the animals; others worry that people will not truly repent if they know they can simply transfer their sins to an animal. While performing kapparot is not mentioned in the Torah or the Talmud, giving tzedakah (charity), especially during the ten days of repentance, is one of the three ways of doing teshuvah (repentance) along with prayer and fasting.