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The Day of Atonement: Karaite Perspectives

Updated on January 7, 2013

What a melancholy thing this Day of Atonement has become in the hands of the rabbis that now proscribe how all Jews must behave on this most holy of days. It is a day now of gloomy thoughts and dire thoughts upon which minds dwell on weighing in the balance of life and death. Stringent rest and rigorous fasting are enforced from the sundown of its start until the stars are seen the following eve. Neither food nor drink shall pass through a man's lips nor shall they wash or anoint themselves with perfumed oils. They shall not place sandals upon their feet for this is not a day of finery. Not a day of finery, you say? For any that have watched the parade of Rabbanites to their synagogues on such a day, one could easily mistake it for a Paris fashion show. Each family striving for the annual award of 'Look At Me; I am Here!' It is a sad state to which this day has been twisted by those that insist it is stated so in their book of oral traditions. The rabbis have turned it into a day of bargaining, a day when each member of their congregation negotiates with the Almighty of exactly what proportion of their sins they are willing to remit, how many they will take a hiatus of performing in the coming year, and what quantity should be suspended on the prospect of good behaviour. I cannot find any place in the Torah where God speaks of a free pass from one's sins, a get out of jail free card. More so, the Torah speaks of the punishments to be meted out for intentional sins and in may cases one would not see the next Day of Atonement if they were adhered to. Leviticus XVI:21 was not intended as a 'wipe the slate clean of everything' ordinance and yet those practicing Rabbanite Judaism are convinced on this one day of the year they can be exhonnerated for all their sins. No, that was not the intentions of such a day and even in the Mishnah of the rabbis they admit to such when they record that on the Day of Atonement the young maidens of Jerusalem would put on a simple white dress and enter into the vinyards where they would dance and sing. They even attribute the part of the song recorded to Rabbi Simeon and for those that wish to read it, it sounds more like Sadie Hawkins Day than a morose and solemn hymn, with the girls singing of finding a husband, in the way that Israel was chosen by God to be his bride. So how and why did this dark and gloomy durgeful day come about if not what had been originally practiced. Why would the rabbis have changed it so? To answer that one must first look at how the day was practiced prior to the rabbis laying hold of it.

In The Temple of Jerusalem

Unlike other holy days held in the Temple, the Day of Atonement was unique for on this day there was only one priest that officiated, and that was the High Priest. As we can see from Leviticus XVI:33 it was a busy day for the High Priest as he was "to make atonement for the Holy Sanctuary, he was to atone for the tabernacle of the congregation and for the altar, and he shall atone for the priests and for all the people of the congregation." One man, representing all of Judaism and upon him our future was weighed in the balance. Certainly, it was commanded that the people would fast and afflict their souls for the occasion but that was to lend their moral support to the man that represented all their hopes and aspiratons.

This was the one day of the year in which the High Priest would enter into the Holy of Holies to stand before the Almighty. Not in his usual glittering refinements but in a simple white linen garment that he put on only after he had completely washed his entire body. From Numbers XXIX:7-11 we can see that throughout the day the burnt offerings were continuous consisting of the usual morning, daily and evening sacrifices, a ram burnt offering for the priests, a young bullock, a ram and seven lambs of the first year for the people, and one goat (kid) for the sin offering. In addition was a further young bullock for the High Priest and the Mishpachat Aaron, and then another sin offering of two goats for the people, in which one was killed and its blood sprinkled while the other was released into the wilderness bearing all the iniquities of the children of Israel. All their confessions of sin were laid upon this goat by the High Priest. Of all the priestly sacrifices, the High Priest paid for these from his own purse but for the offering from the people, the funds for these were taken from the Temple treasury. In essence, this was a day of the High Priest, a day of the scion of Aaron.

The High Priest

Seven days before the Day of Atonement the High Priest would leave his home and take up residence in the Temple apartments. On the third and seventh days of his time in the Temple he would be sprinkled with the ashes of the red heifer to cleanse him of any accidental defilement. Also during the week, the High Priest had to partipate and perform the more humble tasks of the Levites so that he could prove himself fit for the office. On the eve of the Day of Atonement, the High Priest examanined all the sacrificial animals to reassure the people that they were suitable for the offering. He would then eat a small meal on the eve of the Day which would appear to be in direct contrast to the Rabbanite assertion that the fast was to begin with the setting of the sun. This might be explained by the fact that at midnight the ashes would be removed from the altar and then four fires would be set on the great altar, not the usual three. This would officially announce the start of the Day of Atonement and therefore it would appear that it was not until midnight that the Holy Day actually began.

At the first break of dawn the people would start streaming into the Temple. To ensure the High Priest was performing his duties properly even his ritual bath was only separated from view by a hung linen cloth. During the day he would wash his body fully five times and his hands and his feet another ten times. As the day began, the High Priest would bathe, put on his glittering garments and officiate the normal morning practices before the people as if it was any other day. After the morning services he would wash his hands and feet, take off his priestly vestment, wash his body fully and then put on the white linen garment. The High Priest then prepared to sacrifice the bullock, laying his hands upon the animal and reciting, "Yahweh, I have committed iniquity, I have transgressed, I have sinned, both myself and my House. Yahweh, I entreat thee,let me atone for my iniquities, the transgression and the sins which I have committed, transgressed and sinned before Thee, both I and my House as it is written according to the Laws of Moses, your servant, "For on that day He will atone for you and make you clean; From all your transgressions before Yahweh you shall be cleansed." During the day the High Priest would pronounce the name of Yahweh ten times in total and each time the priests standing close by would make themselve prone upon the ground and the congregation would shout out, "Blessed be the name of God, Holy is His name and may his Kingdom be for now and forever!"

Following the benediction over the bullock held at the place of the altar, the High Priest then moved to the eastern part of the Court of Priests, close to the people where there stood a large urn known as the calphi. Within the urn were two lots,one inscribed 'to Yahweh' the other 'for scape-goat' or la-Azazel. The two goats stood by and the High Priest withdrew the two lots placing one upon each head of the goats. A scarlet ribbon was tied around the horn of the one on which the lot saying la-Azazel rested. On the one which rested 'to Yahweh' the scarlet ribbon was tied around its neck. The High Priest then presented the scape-goat to the people upon which he placed their sins, then moved back to he bullock where he recited the same benediction over it but subtituting the 'seed of Aaron, they Holy people' for 'his House'. He then sacrificed the bullock catching its blood in a vessel and handing the bowl to a fellow priest, then filled the censer with burning coals, grabbed a small handful of frankincense , and took both censer and frankincense into the Holy of Holies disappearing behind the heavy curtain. Within the Holy of Holies the High Priest had two prayers to recite, the first being the Shema Koli, the second the Dichon. It has been said that the Holy of Holies was built to a certain standard that it resonated like an amplifier, thereby carrying the voice of the High Priest throughout the city. I can't say for certain but considering the words of both prayers it would make sense that they were heard by as many people as possible. He then put the frankincense into the censer and worshipped in silence. How long this may have lasted was determined by the length of time it took for the High Priest to hear that his prayers were accepted. Only then did he exit from the Holy of Holies. He would then take the bowl of collected blood and re-enter the Holy of Holies where he would then sprinkle the bullock's blood upon the mercy seat, once upwards and seven times downward, flicking the tip of his index finger. Emerging from he Holy of Holies once again, he would lay down the bowl at the veil, sacrifice the goat with the ribbon about its neck, collect its blood and then re-enter the Holy of Holies where he'd sprinkle the goat's blood exactly as he did before. Emerging once more, he lay down the goat's blood, picked up the bullock's blood and sprinkled it once upward and seven times downward on the outside of the veil. This was then repeated with the goat's blood. This was followed by mixing the bullock's blood with that of the goat and this combination was sprinkled on the horns of the altar of incense. What was left of the blood was poured out at the base of the altar of burnt offering. By performing these acts the High Priest had cleansed the Temple of any sin according to Leviticus XVI:33 but not the people. To do that required the scapegoat.

The Scape-Goat

The solemn part of the service was over. The High Priest had survived his meeting with God, never a guaranteed thing and now it was time for the people to be uplifted. The scapegoat stood before them, the scarlet tie on its horn and the High Priest recited a similar prayer to that repeated before but this time instead of referring to the House or the seed of Aaron his reference was to the people of Israel and their iniquities for his House had already been forgiven and he prayed only on their behalf. On conclusion of his prayer he would turn his back on the people and proclaim,"You shall be cleansed." And it was done to the rejoicing of the people. The priests would then lead the goat to Solomon's Porch out the Eastern Gate to the great bridge that spanned the valley. The goat was then handed over to a man that then took the goat into the wilderness where it was released. Often the people would accompany the goat into the wilderness, dancing and singing along the trail with great pomp and frivolity. This certainly wasn't the durgeful songs now practiced by the rabbanites in their synagogues. But in order to emphasize their belief that theirs is the correct way, the rabbanites have even rewritten the story of the scape-goat, claiming that it was not released into the wilderness as commanded but instead thrown over a cliff. Even this celebratory occasion of our Sadducee past has to be blighted by the rabbanite's dark shadow of death.

Rational of the Rabbanites

Why were the rabbis so determined to altar the practices and meaning of the Day of Atonement? Why say that the goat which was actually released was instead thrown over a cliff? The latter was because they wanted to make the people in their congregations believe that their sins could be fully expunged. That they had the authority to completely remove the people's guilt and sins, something which the High Priest could never fully do. Releasing the scapegoat into the wilderness meant that sins although forgiven could never be destroyed. Man was a sinful animal. He would repeat his mistakes and therefore should never believe that his slate could be wiped clean that easily. The goat would always still be out there, still waiting perhaps to return and bring back the sins it carried. No one was ever permitted to forget what evils they had perpetrated and God would only forgive but not forget. The High Priest's final comment was only that "You shall be cleansed," not that they were and therefore it had to be something earned and merited in the future. They could not fully escape their sinful past without full atonement.

As to the original question, it can be clearly seen that the Day of Atonement was really a Day of the High Priest. It was about the sons of Aaron and the authority that was invested in them. The entire day centred about the High Priest, a Sadducee and as I have written in the past, there were no people more despised by the Pharisees and their Rabbanite descendants than the Sadducees. Add to this the fact that the entire ceremony was a strict observance as advocated by Zadok and Boethus, the rabbis despised it even more. Therefore they had to change it. Just exactly how much they changed it can be read in my hub at They had to make it their day and in so doing remove every Sadducean trace from its practice. Even if that meant changing the commandments and ordinations of the Torah. But in so doing the Rabbis have earned Jews the world over the punishment and condemnation of many Christian nations throughout time. By providing a false story of how the scapegoat was killed at the end of the day, not released as was the authentic and actual practice, it provided Christian theologians with the misinformation that Jesus was in fact this scapegoat and killed so that he could eliminate the sins forever of all his followers. A fabrication built entirely upon another fabrication. Let it also be known that each time these rabbis have deemed themselves through their own arrogance of being worthy of altering the Torah we have suffered as a people. When will they learn their lesson?


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    • ramonalfonso profile image

      ramonalfonso 7 years ago

      Another piece of the puzzle becomes clear. Halping me to remove the shackles of the rabbnisum and Christianity.



    • BJBenson profile image

      BJBenson 7 years ago from USA

      Thank you I learned some things I didn't know.Very good hub.

    • IntimatEvolution profile image

      Julie Grimes 7 years ago from Columbia, MO USA

      Beautiful hub.