Yom Kippur, Part 1: Traditions and Blood

Jews Praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur
Image via Wikipedia

In my first article on the Fall High Holy Days, we saw that the Feast of Trumpets is intimately linked by both Yeshua and Sha’ul with Yeshua’s Second Coming on the clouds of heaven, and saw that this corresponded with the expectations of the rabbis. Now we come to the second of the Fall Feastdays, and the holiest day of the Jewish—which is to say, Biblical—calendar: Yom Kippur takes place on the tenth of Tishri, nine days after Rosh Hashanah.

On that day, the high priest would put on a special coat of white linen and carry out a very unusual sacrifice.

And he shall take the two goats, and present them before the LORD at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the LORD, and the other lot for the scapegoat. And Aaron shall bring the goat upon which the LORD’s lot fell, and offer him for a sin offering. But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness. . . .


And when he hath made an end of reconciling the holy place, and the tabernacle of the congregation, and the altar, he shall bring the live goat: And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness: And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness. (Lev. 16:7-10, 20-22)

Today, the sacrifices which were the centerpiece of the Levitical ceremony cannot be held of course, but this does not make it impossible to observe the day. Like Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur is not a pilgrimage Feast: No one was required to be in Jerusalem (other than the cohenim, or priests) for its service. However, those outside of Jerusalem still bore the responsibility for not doing any work, gathering in a holy convocation (i.e., in their home synagogues), and for denying themselves (Lev. 23:27ff). Out of these three commands, modern Judaism has built its customs.

After a final, festive meal in the afternoon before Yom Kippur, Jews the world over dress in white in remembrance of the High Priest’s white linen robe that he would wear within the Holy of Holies, and at sundown go to what is known as the Kol Nidre (“All Vows”) service. The Kol Nidre is a prayer sung to a haunting cadence, which asks God to release one from any wrongful oaths taken that year. It dates to the Middle Ages, when Jews were forcibly converted to Christianity; they would ask God to release them of the vows taken at the point of a sword. Another traditional song is Avinu Malkeynu (“Our Father, Our King”), which translates as follows:

Our Father and Our King
Our Father and Our King
Our Father and King
Be merciful to us
Be merciful unto us.

For we have done no deeds
Commending us unto You
For we have no deeds commending us to You
Be merciful, save us, we pray.


Synagogue services typically run all day, with observant Jews petitioning God to forgive their sins. Fasting, denying one’s self, is mandated by Torah, and observant Jews will usually refrain from any comforts at all during the day, including bathing, wearing leather shoes, etc. It should be noted that Isa. 58 and Mat. 6:16-18 both speak against fasting to be seen and fasting in lieu of true repentance:

Wherefore have we fasted,” say they, “and Thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge?” Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure, and exact all your labours. Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high.

Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD? Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh? (Isa. 58:3-7)


True self-denial is not the mere restraint from food, though it may include fasting from food (Mat. 6:16-18, 1 Co. 7:5).


Yom Kippur ends with the Neilah (“The Closing of the Gates”) service and a final blast from the shofar. It is said by the rabbis that the gates of Heaven through which our prayers of repentance can rise close at this time, sealing one’s fate for the year. Of course, in the Messiah Yeshua, we may always “come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). However, there is still an eschatological truth to the rabbinical belief, discussed in the previous article on Rosh Hashanah.


Of course, it may rightly be asked in what sense can one be atoned for on this day without blood, “for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul” (Lev. 17:11). One who believes in the Messiah Yeshua, of course, looks to Him and His perfect sacrifice for their atonement. Non-Messianic Jews follow the belief established by Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai that acts of righteousness provide atonement (Avot de Rabbi Nathan 4:18). However, even in the Jewish community, the need for blood redemption still runs deep. In the ceremony called Kaparot, practiced only in very Orthodox circles, a chicken is waived over the head three times as the man says,


“This is my substitute, my vicarious offering, my atonement. This fowl shall meet death, but I shall enjoy a long, happy life.” After reading several selections from Job and the Psalms, the person lays his hand on the head of the bird as a symbol of identification, it is killed as his substitute, and given to the poor for their final meal before the fast. (Howard and Rosenthal, The Feasts of the Lord, p. 126)


Why is a chicken used instead of a goat, for example? Because goats, bulls, oxen, rams, and lambs could only be offered for sacrifice in the Temple, so the rabbis forbade the use of any animal which might make it appear that one was continuing the sacrificial system. (Turkey or chicken is substituted for lamb for the Passover dinner in most Ashkenazi homes for the same reason.)


In Biblical times, of course, a bull and two goats were the sacrifices made. The bull was offered for the sins of the High Priest and the other priests, so that he could be purified before entering into God’s presence. The goats, one for Hashem and one for the scapegoat would then atone for Israel. The word “scapegoat” is a translation of Azazel. Keil and Delitzsch explain the significance of the word:

Azazel, which only occurs in this chapter, signifies neither “a remote solitude,” nor any locality in the desert whatever (as Jonathan, Rashi, etc., suppose); nor the “he-goat” . . . The words, one lot for Jehovah and one for Azazel, require unconditionally that Azazel should be regarded as a personal being, in opposition to Jehovah. . . We have not to think, however, of [just] any demon whatever, who seduces men to wickedness in the form of an evil spirit, as the fallen angel Azazel is represented as doing in the Jewish writings . . . but of the devil himself, the head of the fallen angels, who was afterwards called Satan; for no subordinate evil spirit could have been placed in antithesis to Jehovah as Azazel is here, but only the ruler or head of the kingdom of demons. The desert and desolate places are mentioned elsewhere as the abode of evil spirits (Isa. 13:21 and 34:14; Mat. 12:43; Luk. 11:24; Rev. 18:2). (Keil, Johann and Franz Delitzsch, Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament, [e-Sword version 7.0.0, ed. Rick Meyers, 2000-2003])

And yet, while the “scapegoat” was, in effect, given over to Azazel, to the very Enemy himself, the “two goats . . . must be altogether alike in look, size, and value; indeed, so earnestly was it sought to carry out the idea that these two formed parts of one and the same sacrifice, that it was arranged that they should, if possible, even be purchased at the same time” (Edersheim, The Temple: Its Ministry and Services, p. 248). So all speculations that the scapegoat might represent Satan or the Antichrist or some other evil entity fall short. What could these two goats signify other than the dual-natured Messiah Yeshua? He carried away all our sin, just as the scapegoat would be sent into the wilderness with the sins of Israel: “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgressions from us” (Psa. 103:12). Unlike the lambs, goats, and bulls that died on the altar, our Messiah rose again. Thus, like the two goats, He was both sacrificed and yet lives.


A red ribbon was tied in the horns of the scapegoat. When the goat was led out before the people, if God accepted the sacrifice, the ribbon would miraculously turn white as a reminder of the promise that “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isa. 1:18). It is most interesting that for the forty years between the sacrifice of Yeshua and the destruction of the Temple, the scarlet ribbon did not turn white!


Forty years before the Temple was destroyed the chosen lot was not picked with the right hand, nor did the crimson stripe turn white, nor did the westernmost light burn; and the doors of the Temple’s Holy Place swung open by themselves, until Rabbi Yochanon ben Zakkai spoke saying: “O most Holy Place, why have you become disturbed? I know full well that your destiny will be destruction, for the prophet Zechariah ben Iddo has already spoken regarding you saying: ‘Open thy doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour the cedars’” (Zech. 11:1). (Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 39b)


Hebrews 8 -10 explains that when Messiah completed His sacrifice on the cross, He entered the heavenly Holy of Holies, of which that of the Tabernacle and the Temple were merely copies, to complete the Yom Kippur ritual of atonement. The sacrifice was not accepted because it was being offered by the wrong High Priest:


For Messiah is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: nor yet that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others . . . But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; from henceforth expecting till His enemies be made His footstool. (Heb. 9:24-25, 10:12-13)


But if this is the sole and sufficient fulfillment of the feastday of Yom Kippur, then we have a problem. In every other feastday that we have seen fulfilled in history, the fulfillment took place on that day. Yeshua was offered up on Passover as the Lamb of God, thus taking away our sin just as leaven was removed from the Hebrews’ houses during the seven days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. He rose as the firstfruits of the dead (cf. 1 Co. 15:20-23) on Sfirat HaOmer or HaBikkurim, the Feast of Firstfruits. The Church was given the Ruach HaKodesh (the Holy Spirit) in power on Shavuot, or Pentecost, the Feast of Weeks. And we have seen that His Second Coming seems likely to occur on a Rosh Hashanah in order to fulfill that feastday. Why then would the Day of Atonement be out of sequence?

Next: Part 2: The Exodus and the Future

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