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    All dressed up & somewhere to go

    kittel white yom kippurWhite is the dominant colour on the High Holydays, because of a widely entrenched custom.

    The officiants wear white, as do many of the congregation, both males and females. The synagogue Ark has a white curtain, the reading desk and Torah scrolls have white covers, and in pre-war Frankfort even the carpet was white. Some people make sure they have white flowers in the house.

    Those who follow the custom of kapparot prefer a white chicken to wave over their heads.

    The dominance of white derives from the high priestly vestments in the sanctuary. We lay people emulate the kohanim since we are told we are “a kingdom of priests” (Ex. 19:6).

    Reasons ascribed to the wearing of white range from fear (white is the colour of shrouds, and who knows what the year has in store for us?) to confidence (we are certain that the Almighty Judge will acquit us).

    There is a spiritual aspect; on Yom Kippur we experience the exhilaration of the white-garbed angels.

    Though our sins might have been as staining as scarlet (Isa. 1:18), we believe God will let us start the year with a clean slate.

    From the mystical point of view, since white is the colour of wedding clothes, it symbolises the renewed at-one-ment between human beings and God.

    The white High Holyday robe is called kittel, a little coat, or sargenes from a Greek word for “silk” or because of a similar German word for a coffin.

    On Yom Kippur, Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum used to say to his congregation, “Children of Israel! Take to heart the white garments you are wearing. In these garments we will one day go to the world above to give an accounting before the Supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.

    “Let’s imagine that we are standing before His throne at this very moment. Let us repent now, for once our earthly life is at an end, repentance will be of no avail.

    “Let us resolve not to return to our sinful ways but seek pardon from Him who pardons and forgives.”

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