Yom Kippur Tefillah: A Discussion Guide

  • 60 minutes
  • Grades: 7-12
  • Lesson Plan

This guide explores common feelings that are felt by children (and adults) during Yom Kippur davening in an open and non-judgmental way. Feelings include boredom, confidence, guilt, happiness, nervousness, and sadness.


Tefillah on Yom Kippur can be really, really long. Talking about how we tend to feel during Yom Kippur prayers and hearing how others feel might help to make the experience more meaningful.

Lesson objectives

The student will:

1. List common feelings that are felt during Yom Kippur services.

2. Identify (out loud or internally) his/her own feelings during Yom Kippur services.

3. Reflect on his/her own feelings during Yom Kippur services.


To pray – לְהִתְפַּלֵּל – to pray

Teshuvah – תְּשׁוּבָה – repentance

Machzor – מַחְזוֹר – High Holidays prayer book

Olam Habah – עוֹלָם הַבָּא – The World to Come


Ask the students how they feel in synagogue on Yom Kippur, in an in-class discussion using the list below, or by using this Padlet. Students click on the link and next to each possible feeling, click on the thumbs up or thumbs down icons in order to upvote or push down the item.

The possible feelings are:

  1. Feeling nervous because God might punish me for all my sins this year.
  2. Feeling nervous because God might punish me in olam haba עולם הבא (the next world).
  3. Feeling guilty because I’ve done a lot of sins.
  4. Feeling guilty because I’ve hurt a lot of other people.
  5. Feeling far away from God.
  6. Feeling close to God (because I’m fasting and ignoring my body.)
  7. Feeling sad because I realize that I’m not as good a person as I’d like to be.
  8. Feeling bored.
  9. Feeling frustrated because I don’t understand what I’m saying anyway.
  10. Feeling happy because I know God is going to forgive me.
  11. Feeling happy because I’m excited about being a better person this year.
  12. Feeling hungry.
  13. Feeling distracted because everyone’s breath smells.
  14. Feeling like this is stupid because I’m a pretty good person anyway.
  15. Feeling like this is stupid because I don’t think God really hears us anyway.
  16. Feeling like this is stupid because God doesn’t really care what we do anyway.

Allow students a few minutes to assess their feelings and vote each of the items up or down. When all students have completed the task, discuss the results. Once students have shared their reactions to these feelings, use these typical Yom Kippur emotions to get a few discussions going on the topic of Yom Kippur, prayer, the idea of Teshuvah, God forgiving us, etc.

Guided Discussion Ideas:

  • The purpose of numbers 8, 12, and 13 is simply to acknowledge to the students the fact that this is a part of what is going on in Shul on Yom Kippur. You could ask the students how much they are feeling these during davening and discuss how we can try to distract ourselves from these feelings so we can think about more important ones. It also could be used for a little bit of comic relief. It’s nice for students to see that we’re human sometimes.
  • Numbers 14, 15, and 16 should not be discussed with younger students. They are here for late elementary school and high school students who really are thinking in these terms. If students feel these feelings very strongly it should be discussed extensively to explain to them where the Torah stands on these issues (there is always room for growth; nobody is perfect, God does concern himself with the world, and God does care about our actions). Most importantly older students who are thinking through these issues should not be discouraged from thinking. Questions are good, and judgmental responses are bad.
  • Numbers 5 and 6 should be compared. Which students feel 5 more than 6? Who feels 6 more than 5? Talk about the idea of feeling close to God. Ask students to give an example of when they have felt close to God. Talk about the idea of specifically feeling far away from God. Ask students to give examples of times that they have felt very distant from God.
  • There are a few reasons for number 9’s inclusion. First of all, it’s important for students who feel this way to realize that there are other students who feel the same way and to share those feelings with each other. This could make students feel distanced from God and from Judaism in general. Giving them a chance to speak openly about that should help relieve those feelings of distance. Also, this one gives you an opportunity to explain to the students that it is okay to daven in English on Yom Kippur or any other time if it helps your kavvanah (intention)for that matter.
  • Numbers 1 and 2 can be presented together. Let the students discuss which of the two they feel more strongly. This should bring up the topic of whether or not we think in terms of olam haba.
  • Numbers 3 and 4 can also be presented together. Once again you can ask the students to talk about which one they feel more strongly about. This becomes a discussion about what motivates us more ethically. Is it the idea of obeying God and following the Torah or is it the idea of treating people well? Clearly the answer could be both, but this discussion allows each kid to think about which is personally more meaningful to him/her.
  • Number 7 comes into this same discussion. Some people think in terms of what they have done right or wrong. Others think more in terms of “What kind of person am I?” Those who think this way should find that number 7 resonates more than 3 or 4. Ask the students if they see a big difference between feeling guilty and feeling sad here.
  • Numbers 10 and 11 can be treated together as well. Talk about the difference between being confident and enthusiastic about your own growth and feeling confident in God’s forgiveness.
  • You could also compare 10 & 11 with 1 & 2 as well as 3 & 4. Some students have a more positive attitude. Others are more fearful in their relationship with God and others have a stronger sense of guilt. Students will be surprised at each other’s feelings and this should be a very interesting set of discussions for them