By: Kaufmann Kohler
- Original Meaning.
- Connection with Sacrifice.
- Atonement Idea Spiritualized.
- Atonement for the Whole People.
- Repentance and Atonement.
- Substitutes for Sacrifice.
- Fasting, Almsgiving, Suffering.
- Post-Biblical Atonement.
- After the Fall of the Temple.
- Christian Idea of Atonement.
- Elements of Atonement.
- Divine Mercy.
- Reparation of Wrong.
- Prayer, Fasting, and Charity.
- Suffering as Means of Atonement.
- Suffering or Death of the Righteous.
- Study of the Torah.
- Atonement Is Regeneration.
- Annual Redintegration of Man.
- Day of Atonement.
- Day of Sealing God's Decree.
- A Day of Confiding Joy.
- Both Fast-Day and Festal Day.
The setting at one, or reconciliation, of two estranged parties—translation used in the Authorized Version for "kapparah," "kippurim." The root ("kipper"), to make atonement, is explained by W. Robertson Smith ("Old Testament in the Jewish Church," i. 439), after the Syriac, as meaning "to wipe out." This is also the view taken by Zimmern ("Beiträge zur Kenntniss der Babylonischen Religion," 1899, p. 92), who claims Babylonian origin for both the term and the rite. Wellhausen ("Composition des Hextateuchs," p. 335) translates "kapparah" as if derived from "kapper" (to cover). The verb, however, seems to be a derivative from the noun "kofer" (ransom) and to have meant originally "to atone."Original Meaning.
Just as by old Teutonic custom the owner of a man or beast that had been killed was to be pacified by the covering up of the corpse with grain or gold ("Wergeld") by the offender (Grimm, "Deutsche Rechts-Alterthümer," p. 740), so Abimelech gives to Abraham a thousand pieces of silver as a "covering of the eyes," in order that his wrongdoing may be over-looked (Gen. xx. 16, R. V.; A. V., incorrectly "he" for "it"). "Of whose hand have I received any [kofer] bribe [A. V., "taken a ransom"] to blind my eyes therewith?" says Samuel (I Sam. xii. 3).
"Kofer" was the legal term for the propitiatory gift or ransom in case a man was killed by a goring ox: "If there be laid on him a [kofer] ransom [A. V., inaccurately, "a sum of money"] (Ex. xxi. 30); but this "kofer nefesh" (ransom for the life) was not accepted in the case of murder (Num. xxxv. 31, 32). The dishonored husband "will not regard any ransom" ("kofer"; Prov. vi. 35). No man can give a kofer for his brother to ransom him from impending death (Ps. xlix. 8, Hebr.; A. V. 7). At the taking of the census "they shall give every man a ransom for his soul unto the Lord . . . half a shekel" (Ex. xxx. 12, Hebr.). Similarly, Jacob, in order to make his peace with his brother Esau, says, "I will appease ["akapperah"] his [angry] face with the present" (Gen. xxxii. 21, Hebr. [A. V. 20]); that is, "I will offer a kofer." When the blood of the murdered Gibeonites cries to heaven for vengeance, David says: "Wherewith shall I make atonement ["bammah akapper"]?" that is, "With what kind of kofer shall I make atonement?" (II Sam. xxi. 3). "The wrath of a king is as messengers of death: but a wise man will [by some propitiatory offering or kofer] pacify it" (Prov. xvi. 14). Every sacrifice may be considered thus as a kofer, in the original sense a propitiatory gift; and its purpose is to "make atonement ["le kapper"] for the people" (Lev. ix. 7, x. 17).Connection with Sacrifice.
In the priestly laws, the priest who offers the sacrifice as kofer is, as a rule, the one who makes the Atonement (Lev. i.-v., xvi., etc.); only occasionally is it the blood of the sacrifice (Lev. xvii. 11), or the money offering ("kesef kippurim," Ex. xxx. 15, 16; Num. xxxi. 50), that makes Atonement for the soul; while the act of Atonement is intended to cleanse the person from his guilt ("meḥaṭato," Lev. iv. 26, v. 6-10).
In the prophetic language, however, the original idea of the kofer offering had become lost, and, instead of the offended person (God), the offense or guilt became the object of the Atonement (compare Isa. vi. 7, Hebr.: "Thy sin ["tekuppar"] is atoned for [A. V., "purged"]"; Isa. xxvii. 9, Hebr.: "By this, therefore, shall the iniquity of Jacob be atoned for [A. V., "purged"]"; I Sam. iii. 14: "The iniquity of Eli's house shall not be atoned for [A. V., "purged"] with sacrifice nor offering for ever"; Prov. xvi. 6: "By mercy and truth iniquity is atoned for [A. V., "purged"]"); and, consequently, instead of the priest as the offerer of the ransom, God Himself became the one who atoned (Deut. xxi. 8, "Kapper le'amka Israel," "Atone thou for thy people Israel" [Driver, Commentary, "Clear thou thy people"; A. V., "Be merciful, O Lord"]; compare Deut. xxxii. 43, "And he will atone for the land of his people [Driver, Commentary, "Clear from guilt"; A. V., "will be merciful unto his land, and to his people"]; see also Jer. xviii. 23; Ezek. xvi. 63; Ps. lxv. 4, lxxviii. 38, lxxix. 9; II Chron. xxx. 18).Atonement Idea Spiritualized.
Thus there is in Scripture a successive spiritualization of the idea of Atonement. Following the common view, David says (I Sam. xxvi. 19): "If the Lord have stirred thee up against me, let him accept an offering [to appease the anger of God]." But while this cruder view of sacrifice underlies the form of worship among all Semites (see Robertson Smith, "Religion of the Semites," pp. 378-388), the idea of Atonement in the priestly Torah is based upon a realizing sense of sin as a breaking-away from God, and of the need of reconciliation with Him of the soul that has sinned. Every sin—whether it be "ḥeṭ." a straying away from the path of right, or "'avon," crookedness of conduct, or "pesha',"—rebellious transgression—is aseverance of the bond of life which unites the soul with its Maker. "The soul that sinneth, it shall die," says Ezek. xviii. 20 (compare Deut. xxx. 15-19; Ps. i. 6; Jer. ii. 13). It is the feeling of estrangement from God that prompts the sinner to offer expiatory sacrifices—not only to appease God's anger by a propitiatory gift, but also to place his soul in a different relation to Him. For this reason the blood, which to the ancients was the life-power or soul, forms the essential part of the sacrificial Atonement (see Lev. xvii. 11). This is the interpretation given by all the Jewish commentators, ancient and modern, on the passage; compare also Yoma 5a; Zeb. 6a, = "There is no Atonement except with blood," with the identical words in Heb. ix. 22, R. V.: "Apart from shedding of blood there is no remission [of sins]." The life of the victim was offered, not, as has been said, as a penalty in a juridical sense to avert Heaven's punishment, not to have man's sins laid upon it as upon the scapegoat of the Day of Atonement, and thus to have the animal die in his place, as Ewald thinks ("Alterthümer," p. 68), but as a typical ransom of "life by life"; the blood sprinkled by the priest upon the altar serving as the means of a renewal of man's covenant of life with God (see Trumbull, "The Blood Covenant," p. 247). In Mosaic ritualism the atoning blood thus actually meant the bringing about of a reunion with God, the restoration of peace between the soul and its Maker. Therefore, the expiatory sacrifice was accompanied by a confession of the sins for which it was designed to make Atonement (see Lev. v. 5, xvi. 21; Num. v. 7; compare Maimonides, "Yad," Teshubah, i. 1): "no atonement without confession of sin as the act of repentance," or as Philo ("De Victimis," xi.) says, "not without the sincerity of his repentance, not by words merely, but by works, the conviction of his soul which healed him from disease and restores him to good health."Atonement for the Whole People.
The sacrificial Atonement, based as it was on the symbolic offering of life for life, assumed a more awful or somber character when a whole community was concerned in the blood-guiltiness to be atoned for. While, in the time of David, people in their terror had recourse to the pagan rite of human sacrifice (II Sam. xxi. 1-9), the Deuteronomic law prescribed in such a case a mild and yet rather uncommon form of expiation of the murder; namely, the breaking of the neck of a heifer as a substitute for the unknown murderer (Deut. xxi.1-9). To the same class belongs the goat in the annual Atonement ritual (Lev. xvi. 7-22), which was to carry away all the sins of the children of Israel into an uninhabited land and was sent out to Azazel in the wilderness, while another goat was killed as usual, and its blood sprinkled to make Atonement for the sanctuary, cleansing it of the uncleanness of all the transgressions of the children of Israel. In the case of the one goat, the doom emanating from unknown and therefore unexpiated sins of the people was to be averted; in the other case the wrath of God at the defilement of His sanctuary —which often implied the penalty of death (Num. i. 53)—was to be pacified. The very idea of God's holiness, which made either the approach to Mt. Sinai, the seat of God (Ex. xix. 12), the Ark (II Sam. vi. 7), or even the mere sight of God (Isa. vi. 5; Judges xiii. 22), bring death, rendered the ritual of the Day of Atonement the necessary culmination of the whole priestly system of expiation of sin.Repentance and Atonement.
Yet, while the sacrificial rites were the only means of impressing upon the people God's holiness and the dreadful consequence of man's sinfulness, the idea of the Atonement assumed a far deeper and more spiritual aspect in the lives and teachings of the Prophets. Neither Hosea, Amos, and Micah, nor Isaiah recognizes the need of any means of reconciliation with God after estrangement by sin, other than repentance. "Take with you words, and turn to the Lord: say unto him, Take away all iniquity and receive us graciously: so will we render as bullocks the offerings of our lips" (Hosea xiv. 2, Hebr.; compare Amos v. 22-24; Isa. i. 13-17, and the well-known passage, Micah vi. 6-8): "Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? . . . Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?").Ezekiel.
But the prophet Ezekiel—a priest and therefore more deeply penetrated with the sense of sin and purity than other prophets—is not satisfied with the mere negation of ritualism. Repudiating, like Jeremiah, the idea held by his contemporaries that men undergo punishment on account of their fathers' sins, he lays the greater stress on the fact that the fruit of sin is death, and exhorts the people to cast away their sin and, returning to God, to live (Ezek. xviii. 4-32). For him Atonement is wrought by acquiring "a new heart and a new spirit" (ib. 31). In striking contrast with the other prophets, Ezekiel combines the belief in a complicated atoning ritual (as mapped out in Ezek. xl.-xlvi.) with the prophetic, hope in the redeeming power of God's spirit which shall cleanse the people from their impurities and endow them with "a new heart and a new spirit" (xxxvi. 26).Moses.
In no one, however, does the most elaborate ritualism of the Atonement sacrifice appear so closely intertwined with the profoundest spiritual conception of God's atoning powers as in Moses the lawgiver himself. When the worship of the Golden Calf had provoked God's wrath to such a degree that He said to Moses, "Let me alone. . . . that I may consume them; and I will make of thee a great nation" (Ex. xxxii. 10), the latter, desirous of making an Atonement for their transgression, asked the Lord to forgive the people's sin, or else to blot Moses' own name out of His book (the book of life); and he persisted in imploring God's pardon even after He had said, "Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book," until finally, in answer to Moses' entreaty, the full glory of God, His compassionate mercy, His long-suffering and forgiving love, were revealed and Moses' prayer for the people's pardon was granted (Ex. xxxiv. 1-9;Num. xiv. 17-20). There Moses' own self-abnegating love, which willingly offered up his life for his people, disclosed the very qualities of God as far as they touch both the mystery of sin and the divine forgiveness, and this became the key to the comprehension of the Biblical idea of Atonement. The existence of sin would be incompatible with a good and holy God, but for His long-suffering, which waits for the sinner's return, and His condoning love, which turns man's failings into endeavors toward a better life. Each atoning sacrifice, therefore, must be understood both as an appeal to God's forgiving mercy, and as a monition to the sinner to repentance. "Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon" (Isa. lv. 7).Substitutes for Sacrifice.
It was quite natural that, during the Exile, when no sacrifice could be offered, other means of obtaining forgiveness and peace should be resorted to. First of all, prayer rose in value and prominence. As Moses interceded for his people, praying and fasting for forty days and forty nights in order to obtain God's pardon (Ex. xxxii. 30; Deut. ix. 18, 25), so did every prophet possess the power of obtaining God's pardon by his prayer. Abraham, as a prophet, prayed for the life of Abimelech (Gen. xx. 7); Pharaoh, after a confession of his sin, asked Moses and Aaron to pray to God for the withdrawal of the plague of hail (Ex. ix. 27, 28); acknowledging their sin, the people ask Samuel to intercede for them (I Sam. xii. 19); and Jeremiah is expressly warned: "Pray not thou for this people, neither lift up a cry or prayer for them" (Jer. xi. 14; compare ib. xv. 1). See Prayer.Fasting, Almsgiving, Suffering.
The great dedication prayer of King Solomon requires on the part of the sinner only a turning of the face in prayer in the direction of the Temple in order to meet with a response from heaven and with forgiveness of his sin (I Kings viii. 30, 33, 35, 48-50). The very idea of sacrifice is spurned by the Psalmist (Ps. l. 8-14, li. 12-20 [A. V. 11-19]): "Sacrifice and offering thou dost not desire" (xl. 7 [A. V. 6]); "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit" (li. 18 [A. V. 17]). Throughout the Psalms sincere repentance and prayer form the essentials to Atonement. Prayer is "as incense" and "the evening sacrifice" (Ps. cxli. 2); with the Lord is forgiveness, "He shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities" (Ps. cxxx. 4-8). Fasting especially appears to have taken the place of sacrifice (Isa. lviii. 1-3; Zach. vii. 5). Another means of Atonement in place of sacrifice is offered to King Nebuchadnezzar by Daniel: "Break off thy sins by almsgiving ["ẓedakah" (A. V., "righteousness")], and thine iniquities by showing mercy to the poor" (Dan. iv. 24, Hebr. [A. V. 27]). Most efficacious seemed to be the atoning power of suffering experienced by the righteous during the Exile. This is the idea underlying the description of the suffering servant of God in Isa. liii. 4, 12, Hebr.:
"The man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. . . he hath borne our pains [A. V., "griefs"], and carried our sorrows. . . . But he was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities . . ."
"The chastisement for [A. V., "of"] our peace was upon him; and with his stripes were we [A. V., "we are"] healed."
"All we like sheep had [A. V., "have"] gone astray; we had [A. V., "have"] turned every one to his own way."
"And the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all."
"He was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken."
"He bare the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors."
Whoever may have formed the subject of this tragic song—whether Zerubbabel or some other martyr of the Babylonian Exile—the seer, in embodying it in his message of comfort to his people, desired to assure them that of greater atoning power than all the Temple sacrifices was the suffering of the elect ones who were to be servants and witnesses of the Lord (Isa. xlii. 1-4, xlix. 1-7, l. 6). This idea of the atoning power of the suffering and death of the righteous finds expression also in IV Macc. vi. 27, xvii. 21-23; M. Ḳ. 28a; Pesiḳ. xxvii. 174b; Lev. R. xx.; and formed the basis of Paul's doctrine of the atoning blood of Christ (Rom. iii. 25). It was the inspiration of the heroic martyrdom of the Ḥasidim or Essenes (Ps. xxix. 2, cxvi. 15; Philo, "Quod Omnis Probus Liber," § xiii.). The principle of Atonement by sacrificial blood was, on the whole, adhered to during the second Temple. Job's intercession on behalf of his friends is accompanied by their burnt offering, which is to atone for their sins (Job xlii. 8; compare i. 5). In the Book of Jubilees Noah and Abraham make Atonement for the earth and for man by means of sacrificial blood (vi. 2, vii. 3, xvi. 22). In Sibyllines iii. 626 et seq., the heathen are told to offer hecatombs of bulls and rams to obtain God's pardon for their sins (compare Ps. lxxvi. 12; Isa. lvi. 7); but in Sibyllines iv. 29, 161, the Essene view, deprecating sacrifice, seems to be expressed. Nevertheless, the conception of Atonement underwent a great change. The men of the Great Synagogue—disciples of the Prophets and imbued with the spirit of the Psalms—had made prayer an essential element of the Temple service; and whereas the Ḥasidean liturgy, accentuating divine forgiveness and human repentance, took little notice of sacrifice, the Levites' song and the prayers introduced as parts of the worship lent to the whole sacrificial service a more symbolic character. Accordingly, each of the two lambs ("kebasim") offered every morning and evening as a burnt-offering (Num. xxviii. 3, 4) was declared by the school of Shammai to be "kobesh," intended "to subdue" the sins of Israel (see Micah vii. 19: "Yikbosh 'avonotenu" = "He will subdue our iniquities," A. V.) during the year until the Day of Atonement should do its atoning work. By the school of Hillel the lamb was to be "kobes," "to wash Israel clean" from sin; see Isa. i. 18; Jer. ii. 22; Pesiḳ. vi. 61b; Pesiḳ. R. 16 (ed. Friedmann, p. 84) and 81, p. 195; and more especially the notes by Buber and Friedmann, ad loc. Compare also the expression "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John i. 29). "The morning sacrifice atoned for the sins committed during the previous night, the afternoon sacrifice for the sins committed in the daytime" (Tan., Pinḥas, 12).
The whole idea of sin was, in fact, deepened. It was regarded rather as a breaking-away from theoriginal sinless state of man as the child of God—which state must be restored—than as a wrong committed against God needing covering up. The expressions "temimim" (spotless) and "ben shanah" (of the first year) (Num. xxviii. 3), suggested the thought that sin-laden man should become "spotless like a child of one year" (Pesiḳ. R. l.c.; compare Shab. 89b). Of course, as a symbolic rite, this mode of cleansing oneself from sin could be, and actually was, replaced by daily baptism and fasting such as were practised by the Ḥasidim—those heroes of prayer who in time of national distress made intercession for the people far more effectively than did the priests in the Temple (Josephus, "Ant." xiv. 2, § 1; xviii. 8, § 4; compare Ta'anit 19a, 20a, 23a).
Still the words of Simon the Just, "The world rests on the Law, worship, and works of benevolence" (Ab. i. 2), retained their validity likewise for the Ḥasidim, who felt the need of an atoning sacrifice (Ned. 10a; Ker. vi. 3). It was especially owing to the assistance offered by the "ma'amadot," the chosen representatives of the people, with their fasts and prayers, that the daily sacrifice assumed a more spiritual character, so that to it was applied the passage (Jer. xxxiii. 25): "If my covenant be not maintained day and night [by the service] I would not have made the ordinances of heaven and earth" (Meg. 31b; Ta'anit 27b).After the Fall of the Temple.
The cessation of sacrifice, in consequence of the destruction of the Temple, came, therefore, as a shock to the people. It seemed to deprive them of the divine Atonement. Hence many turned ascetics, abstaining from meat and wine (Tosef., Soṭah, xv. 11; Ab. R. N. iv.); and Joshua ben Hananiah, who cried out in despair, "Wo unto us! What shall atone for us?" only expressed the sentiment of all his contemporaries (IV Esd. ix. 36: "We are lost on account of our sins"). It was then that Johanan b. Zakkai, pointing to Hosea vi. 6 (R. V.), "I desire mercy and not sacrifice," to Prov. xvi. 6, "By mercy and truth iniquity is purged [atoned for]," and to Ps. lxxxix. 3 (A. V. 2), "The world is built upon mercy," declared works of benevolence to have atoning powers as great as those of sacrifice.Christian Idea of Atonement.
This view, however, did not solve satisfactorily for all the problem of sin—the evil rooted in man from the very beginning, from the fall of Adam (IV Esd. iii. 20, viii. 118). Hence a large number of Jews accepted the Christian faith in the Atonement by the blood "shed for many for the remission of sins" (Matt. xxvi. 28; Heb. x. 12; Col. i. 20) or in Jesus as "the Lamb of God" (John i. 29; Apoc. of John vii. 14, and elsewhere). It was perhaps in opposition to this movement that the Jewish teachers, after the hope for the rebuilding of the Temple in the second century had ended in failure and wo, strove to develop and deepen the Atonement idea. R. Akiba, in direct opposition to the Christian Atonement by the blood of Jesus, addressed his brethren thus: "Happy are ye, Israelites. Before whom do you cleanse yourselves, and who cleanses you? Your Father in heaven; for it is said: 'I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean; from all your filthiness . . . will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you'" (Ezek. xxxvi. 26); and again it is said that the Lord, "the hope of Israel" (Jer. xiv. 8), is also a "fountain of water" (a play on the Hebrew word "miḳweh"). "As the fountain of water purifies the unclean, so does God purify Israel" (Yoma viii. 9). This doctrine, which does away with all mediatorship of either saint, high priest, or savior, became the leading idea of the Jewish Atonement.Elements of Atonement.
Accordingly, Atonement in Jewish theology as developed by the Rabbis of the Talmud, has for its constituent elements: (a) on the part of God, fatherly love and forgiving mercy; (b) on the part of man, repentance and reparation of wrong. The following exposition will serve to enlighten the reader on these elements:
(a) While God's quality of justice ("middat hadin"), which punishes the wrong-doing, would leave no hope for man, since "there is not a righteous man upon earth that doeth good and sinneth not" (Eccl. vii. 20, R. V.), God's quality of mercy ("middat haraḥamin") has from the very beginning provided repentance as the means of salvation (Gen. R. i, xii.; Pesiḳ. xxv. 158b; Pesiḳ. R. 44; Pes. 54a.) "Thou hast mercy upon all; thou condonest the sins of men in order that they should amend" (Wisdom xi. 23). "Wherever there are sins and righteous deeds set against each other in the scale of justice, God inclines it toward mercy"(Pesiḳ. xxvi. 167a).Divine Mercy.
Far from being merely judicial compensation for an outward act, as Weber ("System der Alt-Synagogalen Theologie," pp. 252, 300-304) asserts, the divine mercy is expressly represented by Hillel as working in favor of pardoning those who have no merit: "He who is plenteous in mercy turns the scale of judgment toward mercy" (Tosef., Sanh. xiii. 3; R. H. 17a). This quality of mercy is sure to prevail as soon as it is appealed to by the mention of the thirteen attributes with which the Lord appeared to Moses in response to his prayer for forgiveness after the sin of the Golden Calf (R. H. 17b). No matter how vile the sinner—be he as wicked as Manasseh or as Ahab—the gate of repentance is open to him (Pesiḳ. xxv. 160b, 162a).
"Human Wisdom, when asked, 'What shall be done with the sinner?' replieth, 'Evil pursueth sinners' (Prov. xiii. 21). Prophecy, when asked, 'What shall be done with the sinner?' replieth, 'The soul that sinneth, it shall die' (Ezek. xviii. 4). The Law, when asked, 'What shall be done with the sinner?' replieth, 'Let him bring a guilt-offering and the priest shall atone for him' (Lev. i. 4 [Hebr.]). God himself, when asked, 'What shall be done with the sinner?' replieth, 'Let him repent, and he will be atoned for; was it not said: "Good and upright is the Lord: therefore will he teach sinners in the way of repentance" (Psalms xxv. 8). For, my children, what do I require of you? "Seek me and live"'"
Upon these ideas, which can be traced through the entire Apocryphal literature, was based the liturgy of the fast-days, and that of the Day of Atonement in particular; they are probably best expressed in the Ne'ilah prayer of the latter, which, going much further back than the second century (seeYoma 87b, where Rab of Babylonia and R. Johanan of Palestine refer to some portions of it), contains such sentences as the following:
"Thou offerest thy hand to transgressors, and Thy right hand is stretched out to receive the repentant" (Pes. 119a). "Not in reliance upon our merits do we lay our supplications before Thee, O Lord of all the world, but trusting in Thy great mercy. Thou dost not find delight in the perdition of the world, but Thou hast pleasure in the return of the wicked that they may live."
The saying of the Rabbis, "Higher is the station of the sinner who repenteth than that of him who has never sinned" (Ber. 34b; see Pes. 119a; Luke xv. 10), emanates from the same principle of God's redeeming grace:
"God says, 'Open for me a gate no wider than a needle's eye, and I will open for you a gate through which camps and fortifications can pass'" (Pesiḳ. xxv. 163b). "When the angels wanted to shut the windows of heaven against the prayer of Menasseh, saying, 'Can a man who set an idol in the Temple repent?' God said, 'If I receive him not in his repentance, I shut the door upon all penitents'; and He bored a hole under His throne of Glory to hear his supplication"
(b) On the part of man Atonement is obtained in the first place by repentance, which consists of an outward
But the main stress is laid upon the undoing of the wrong done. "No sin that still cleaves to the hand of the sinner can be atoned for; it is as if a man would cleanse himself in the water while holding the contaminating object in his hand; therefore it is said, 'He that covereth his sins shall not prosper, but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy" (Prov. xxviii. 13; Ta'anit 16a). If a man steal a beam and use it in building, he must tear down the building in order to return the stolen thing to its owner: thus of the men of Nineveh it is said, "Let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in [cleaves to] their hands" (Jonah iii. 8; Yer. Ta'anit ii. 65b; Bab. B. Ḳ. 66b).
Further, repentance consists in abandoning the old ways, and in a change of heart; for it is said "Rend your heart and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God" (Joel ii. 13); that is to say, "If you tear your heart, you need not tear your garments over a loss of sons and daughters" (Pesiḳ. xxv. 161b; Yer. Ta'anit, l.c.). "They poured out their hearts like water before God" (Yer. Ta'anit ii. 65d). "He who says, 'I will sin and repent; I will sin again and repent again,' will never be allowed time to repent" (Yoma viii. 9). Repentance rests on selfhumiliation. "Adam was too proud to humiliate himself, and was therefore driven from Paradise" (Num. R. xiii. 3). "Cain who humbled himself was pardoned" (Pesiḳ. xxv. 160ab; Gen. R. xi., xxii.). "Great is the power of repentance; for it reaches up to the throne of God; it brings healing (Hosea xiv. 5 [A. V. 4]); it turns sins resulting from ill-will into mere errors (according to Hosea xiv, 2 [A. V. 1]); nay, into incentives to meritorious conduct" (Yoma 86ab). "He who sincerely repents is doing as much as he who builds temple and altar and brings all the sacrifices" (Lev. R. vii.; Sanh. 43b).Prayer, Fasting, and Charity.
Hand in hand with repentance goes prayer. "It takes the place of sacrifice" (Pesiḳ. xxv. 165b, according to Hosea xiv. 3 [A. V. 2]). When God appeared to Moses after the sin of the Golden Calf, He taught him how to offer prayer on behalf of the sinladen community (R. H. 17b). That prayer is the true service ('Abodah) is learned from Dan. iv. 24, there having been no other service in Babylonia (Pirḳe R. El. xvi.; Ab. R. N. iv.). "As the gates of repentance are always open like the sea, so are [holds R. 'Anan] the gates of prayer" (Pesiḳ. xxv. 157b).
But repentance and prayer are as a rule combined with fasting as a token of contrition, as is learned from the action of King Ahab recounted in I Kings xxi. 27, of the men of Nineveh referred to in Jonah iii. 7, and of Adam in Vita Adæ et Evæ, 6; Pirḳe R. El. xx.; 'Er. 18b. Fasting was regarded like "offering up the blood and fat of the animal life upon the altar of God" (Ber. 17a; compare Pesiḳ., ed. Buber, p. 165b, note). With these is, as a rule, connected charity, which is "more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice" (Prov. xxi. 3). On every fastday charity was given to the poor (Sanh. 35a; Ber. 6b). "Prayer, charity, and repentance, these three together, avert the impending doom" (Yer. Ta'anit ii. 65b). "Repentance and works of benevolence are together the paracletes [pleaders] for man before God's throne (Shab. 32a), and a shield against punishment" (Abot iv. 11).Suffering as Means of Atonement.
Another thing considered by the Rabbis as a means of Atonement is suffering. Suffering is more apt than sacrifice to win God's favor and to atone for man (Mek., Yitro, 10; Sifre, Deut. 32; Ber. 5a). Poverty also, in so far as it reduces man's physical strength, has atoning power (Pesiḳ. xxv. 165a). Similar power was ascribed to exile (Sanh. 37b); also to the destruction of the Temple, which was held as a security—a play on the word —for Israel's life (Gen. R. xlii.; Ex. R. xxxi.; Lev. R. xi.). Above all, death atones for sin (Sifre, Num. 112; Mek., Yitro, 7). "Let my death make atonement for all my sins," say men when dying or in peril (Ber. 60a; Sanh. vi. 2). Particularly the deathof the righteous atones for the sins of the people. "Like the sanctuary, he is taken as security ["mashkon"] for the life of the community" (Tan., Wayaḳhel 9; Ex. R. xxxv. 4; Lev. R. ii.).Suffering or Death of the Righteous.
That the death of the righteous atones is learned from II Sam. xxi. 14, which says that after the burial of Saul and Jonathan "God was entreated for the land" (Pesiḳ. xxvii. 174b). "Where there are no righteous men in a generation to atone for the people, innocent school-children are taken away" (Shab. 33b). So also does the suffering of the righteous atone; as in the case of Ezekiel (Sanh. 39a) and Job (Ex. R. xxi.). R. Judah haNasi's suffering saved his contemporaries from calamities (Gen. R. 96). God is the King whose wrath is, in Prov. xvi. 14, referred to "as messengers of death," and the wise man who makes Atonement for it is Moses, who pacifies Him by prayer (Ex. R. xliii.). The death of Israel at the hands of his persecutors is an atoning sacrifice (Sifre, Deut. 333).Study of the Torah.
Atoning powers are ascribed also to the study of the Law, which is more effective than sacrifice, especially when combined with good works (R. H. 18a; Yeb. 105a; Lev. R. xxv.). The table from which the poor received their share atones for man's sins in place of the altar (see Altar); the wife being the priestess who makes Atonement for the house (Ber. 55a; Tan., Wayishlaḥ, vi.). The meritorious lives of the Patriarchs especially possess a great atoning power (Ex. R. xlix.). The Holy Land itself has atoning qualities for those who inhabit it or are buried in its soil, as is learned from Deut. xxxii. 43, which verse is interpreted "He will make His land an Atonement for His people" (see Sifre, Deut. 333; Gen. R. xcvi.; Ket. 111a; Yer. Kil. ix. 32c). On the other hand, the descent of the wicked (heathen) into Gehenna for eternal doom is, according to Isa. xliii. (A. V.), an atoning sacrifice for the people of Israel (compare Prov. xxi. 18). "I gave Egypt for thy ransom [kofer], Ethiopia and Seba for thee" (Sifre, Deut. 333; Ex. R. xi.).Atonement Is Regeneration.
The whole idea underlying Atonement, according to the rabbinical view, is regeneration—restoration of the original state of man in his relation to God, called "teḳanah" (R. H. 17a; 'Ar. 15b). "As vessels of gold or of glass, when broken, can be restored by undergoing the process of melting, thus does the disciple of the law, after having sinned, find the way of recovering his state of purity by repentance" (R. Akiba in Ḥag. 15a). Therefore he who assumes a high public office after the confession of his sins in the past is "made a new creature, free from sin like a child" (Sanh. 14a; compare Midr. Sam. xvii., "Saul was as one year old"; I Sam. xiii. 1, A. V. "reigned one year'" R. V. "was thirty years old"). In fact, the Rabbis declare that the scholar, the bridegroom, and the Nasi, as well as the proselyte, on entering their new station in life, are freed from all their sins, because, having by confession of sins, fasting, and prayer prepared themselves for the new state, they are, as it were, born anew (Yer. Bik. iii. 65c, d; Midr. Sam. l.c.). This is the case also with the change of name or locality when combined with change of heart (Pesiḳ. xxx. 191a; R. H. 16b). The following classical passage elucidates the rabbinical view as taught by R. Ishmael (of the second century; Yoma, 86a):
"There are four different modes of Atonement. If a man fails to fulfil the duty incumbent upon him in case of a sin of omission, for him repentance suffices, as Jeremiah (iii. 22) says, 'Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backsliding.' If he has transgressed a prohibitory law—a sin of commission—the Day of Atonement atones: of him the Löw says, 'On this day He shall atone for your sins to cleanse you' (Lev. xvi. 30). If he be guilty of crimes such as entail the death penalty and the like, repentance and the Day of Atone ment can not expiate them unless suffering works as a purifying factor: to this the Psalmist refers when he says, 'I will visit their transgressions with the rod and their iniquities with stripes' (Ps. lxxxix. 33 [A. V. 32]). And if the crime amount to a desecration of the name of God and the doing of great harm to the people at large, nothing but death can be the penalty; as Isaiah (xxii. 14) says, 'Surely this iniquity shall not be atoned for you [A. V. "purged from you"] till ye die, saith the Lord God of Hosts'"
Whether the Day of Atonement atoned only for sins committed in error and ignorance or involuntarily (Heb. ix. 7), or also for those committed wilfully with a high hand (Num. xv. 26, 30), whether only after due repentance or without it, is discussed by the Rabbis (Shebu. 13a; Yoma 85b); and the resulting opinion is that just as the scapegoat atoned for all the sins of the nation, whether committed involuntarily or wilfully (Shebu. i. 6), so also does the Day of Atonement, true repentance having the power of turning all sins into mere errors, such as are forgiven to the whole congregation according to Num. xv. 26. All the greater emphasis is laid on sincere repentance, without which the Day of Atonement is inefficient (Maimonides, "Yad," Teshubah, i. 3).Annual Redintegration of Man.
All the various elements effecting Atonement are in a marked degree combined in the Day of Atonement, to make it the occasion of the great annual redintegration of man. It is called "Shabbat Shabbaton," the holiest of rest-days as the Shabbath of the Sabbatical month (Lev. xxiii. 32), because it was to prepare the people for the festival of harvest joy, the Succoth feast at the close of the agricultural season (Ex. xxiii. 16, xxxiv. 22; Lev. xxiii. 34, xxv. 9, 10; Ezek. xl. 1). Whereas Ezekiel (xlv. 18-20) intended to have the first and the seventh day of the first month rendered days of Atonement for the year, the Mosaic law ordained that the new moon of the seventh month should be a Sabbath (Lev. xxiii. 24), heralding forth with the trumpet in more solemn sounds than on other new-moon days (Num. x. 10) the holy month; and this was to be followed by the day which was to consecrate both the nation and the sanctuary by imposing atoning rites. These rites were of a two-fold character.Day of Atonement.
Atonement for the people was made in a form without any parallel in the entire sacrificial system, Lev. xvi. 7-22, or Deut. xxi. 4, perhaps excepted. A scapegoat, upon which the high priest laid the sins of the people, was sent forth into the wilderness to Azazel (a demon,according to Ibn Ezra on Lev. xvi. 10, related to the goatlike demons, or satyrs, referred to in Lev. xvii. 7; compare Yoma 67b); and its arrival at the rock of Ḥadudo,where it was cast down the precipice, was signalized as the moment of the granting of pardon to the people by the waving of a wisp of snow-white wool in place of one of scarlet, over the Temple gate, crowds of young people waiting on the hills of Jerusalem to celebrate the event by dancing (Yoma iv. 1-8; Ta'anit iv. 8).
Obviously this primitive rite was not of late origin, as is alleged by modern critics, but was a concession rather to ancient Semitic practise, and its great popularity is shown by the men of rank accompanying it, by the cries with which the crowd followed it, and by tales of a miraculous character related in the Mishnah and the Gemara (Yoma 66a, 67a, 68b). On the other hand, the sprinkling by the high priest of the blood of the bullock, the ram, and the second goat, consecrated to the Lord, was in full keeping with the usual Temple ritual, and distinguished itself from the sacrificial worship of other days only by the ministrations of the high priest, who, clad in his fine linen garb, offered the incense and sprinkled blood of each sin-offering upon the Holy of Holies and the veil of the Holy Place for the purification of the whole sanctuary as well as of his own household and the nation. The impressiveness of these functions, minutely described in Mishnah (Yoma ii.-vii.), has been vividly pictured by Ben Sira, whose words in Ecclus. (Sirach) 1. were embodied in the synagogue liturgy at the close of the 'Abodah. But while, according to Scripture, the high priest made Atonement (Lev. xvi. 30), tradition transferred the atoning power to God, as was expressed in the high priest's prayer commencing, "Kapper na" (O Lord, atone Thou for the iniquities, the sins, and the transgressions," Yoma iii. 8, iv. 2, vi. 2); interpreting the verse (Lev. xvi. 30): "Through that day He, the Lord, shall atone for you" (Yoma iii. 8; Sifra, Aḥare Mot, viii.).
Great stress was laid on the cloud of incense in which the high priest was enveloped when entering the Holy of Holies; and many mystic or divinatory powers were ascribed to him as he stood there alone in the darkness, as also to the prayer he offered, to the Foundation Stone ("Eben Shetiyah"), on which he placed the censer, and to the smoke of the sacrifice (Yoma, 53a, b et seq.; Tan., Aḥare 3; Lev. R. xx., xxi.; compare Book of Jubilees xii. 16). The prayer offered by the high priest (according to Yer. Yoma v. 2; Tan., 'Aḥare 4; Lev. R. xx.) was that the year might be blessed with rain, heat, and dew, and might yield plenty, prosperity, independence, and comfort to the inhabitants of the land.
In the course of time the whole Temple ritual was taken symbolically, and more stress was laid on the fasting, the prayers, and the supplications, to which the people devoted the whole day, entreating pardon for their sins, and imploring God's mercy. This at least is the view expressed by Philo ("De Septenario," 23), even if it was not yet shared by the people in general, when the Epistle to the Hebrews (ix.) and that of Barnabas (vii.) were written. It was after the destruction of the Temple, and through the synagogue, that the Day of Atonement assumed its high spiritual character as the great annual regenerator of Jewish life in connection with New-Year's Day.Day of Sealing God's Decree.
Down to the first century, in Apocalyptical as well as in New Testament writings, the idea of the divine judgment was mainly eschatological in character, as deciding the destiny of the soul after death rather than of men on earth. But under the influence of Babylonian mythology, which spoke of the beginning of the year—"zagmuk"—on the first day of Nisan, as the time when the gods decided the destiny of life (Jensen, "Kosmologie," pp. 84-86, 238), the idea developed also in Jewish circles that on the first of Tishri, the sacred New-Year's Day and the anniversary of Creation, man's doings were judged and his destiny was decided; and that on the tenth of Tishri the decree of heaven was sealed (Tosef., R. H. i. 13; R. H. 11a, 16a), a view still unknown to Philo ("De Septenario," 22) and disputed by some rabbis (R. H. 16a). Thus, the first ten days of Tishri grew to be the
Far from being the means of "pacifying an angry God," as suggested by Cheyne ("Encyc. Bibl." s.v.), or from leaving a feeling of uncertainty and dread of suspense concerning God's pardoning love in the heart, as Weber ("Altsynagogale Theologie," p. 321) maintains, these ten days are the days of special grace when the Shekinah is nigh, and God longs to grant pardon to His people (Pesiḳ. xxiv.). The Day of Atonement is the "one day" prepared from the beginning to unite the world divided between the light of goodness and the darkness of sin (Gen. R. ii., iii.), "a day of great joy to God" (Tanna debe Eliyahu R.i.). "Not depressed and in somber garments as the suppliant appears before the earthly judge and ruler should Israel on New-Year's Day and on the Day of Atonement stand before the Ruler and the Judge on high, but with joy and in white garments betokening a cheerful and confiding spirit" (Yer. R. H. i. 57b). Only later generations regarded these white garments, the Sargenes—in which also the dead were dressed in order to appear before the Judge of all flesh full of gladsome hope—as shrouds, and considered them as reminders of death (Yer. R. H. l.c.; Eccl. R. ix. 7; Gen. R. l.c.; Brueck, "Pharisäische Volkssitten," 1368). "The firstday of Succoth is called the first day [Lev. xxiii. 35] because on it a new record begins, the sins of the year having been wiped off on Atonement Day" (Tan., Emor., 22). The sins of the preceding year therefore, unless they have been repeated, should not be confessed anew (Tosef., Yoma, v. 15; Yoma 86b; Ex. R. lii.).
Both Fast-Day and Festal Day.
"He who says, 'I will sin, and the Day of Atonement shall make atonement for me,' for him the Day of Atonement is of no avail. Only such sins as concern man's relation to God will be pardoned. Sins committed by man against his fellow man are pardoned only after his fellow man's pardon has been obtained; for it is said: 'From all your sins before the Lord ye shall be cleansed' (Lev. xvi. 30), thus excluding sins before man"
The Day of Atonement has thus a double character; it is both a fast-day and a festal day. It comprises the elements of the great fast-day of the year, on which are prohibited all those things from which the people abstained on any other public fast-day, such as eating and drinking, bathing and anointing, the wearing of sandals or shoes, etc. (Yoma 76b and 77a). Another mode of affliction or penitence, however, is prohibited (Yoma 74b; Sifra, Aḥare, vii.). There were likewise embodied in the liturgy of the Day of Atonement all those forms of supplications and portions of the liturgy used on public fast-days (Ta'anit iv. 1), including the most characteristic portion recited at sunset, Ne'ilah ("the closing of the gates of the sun"). Of these the confession of sins forms the oldest and most prominent part of each portion of the day's liturgy, the alphabetical order in the catalogue of sins having originated in Ḥasidic circles (Rom. i. 29 et seq.; Didache v.; Shab. 54a) rather than in the Temple liturgy (Sifra i.; Yoma iii. 8). This is to be followed by the "Seliḥot," the appeals to God's forgiveness as expressed in the thirteen Attributes of God as He appeared to Moses on Sinai, promising "Salaḥti," "I have forgiven" (Num. xiv. 18-20). The reading from the Law of the chapter on the Atonement sacrifice in Lev. xvi., in the morning portion, is followed by the reading from the prophet Isaiah (lvii. 15-lviii. 14) as Hafṭarah, which has been significantly chosen to impress the worshipers with the lesson that the external rite of fasting is valueless without the works of righteousness and beneficence.
Differing in this respect from any other fast-day, and resembling all Sabbath and festival days, the celebration of the Day of Atonement begins in the synagogue on the preceding evening, in conformity with Lev. xxiii. 32 (Yoma 81b). It probably did so during the time of the Temple (Yoma 19b), but not in the Temple itself (Yoma i. 2). This evening service—called
The custom of bringing candles to burn in the synagogue the whole day, in memory of the dead, may have originated in the desire to light up the otherwise dark synagogue for the recital of prayers and psalms by the pious during the entire night. This is the one view expressed in Kol Bo lxviii.; but other reasons of a mystic nature are given for it there as well as in Maḥzor Vitry, p. 340; Abudrahim, l.c.; and Shulḥan 'Aruk, Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 610.
Very significant, as showing a deep-rooted desire for some form of atoning sacrifice, is the custom—known already in the time of the Geonim, and found in Asia and Africa (see Benjamin II., "Acht Yahre in Asien und Africa," 1858, p. 273), as well as in Europe (Asheri Yoma viii. 23; Maḥzor Vitry, p. 339; Kol Bo lxviii.; Shulḥan 'Aruk, Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 605), though disapproved by Naḥmanides, Solomon ben Adret, and Joseph Caro (Ṭur Oraḥ Ḥayyim, l.c.)—of swinging over one's head, on or before the eve of Atonement Day, a fowl, usually a rooster or hen; solemnly pronouncing the same to be a vicarious sacrifice to be killed in place of the Jew or Jewess who might be guilty of death by his or her sin. Fishes and plants, also (see Rashi, Shab. 81b), perhaps originally only these, were used in the gaonic time. The slaughtered animal or its equivalent was then given to the poor (see
The Karaite Day of Atonement with its liturgy is to a great extent similar to that of the Rabbinite Jews. It also begins half an hour before sunset of the preceding day, and lasts until half an hour after sunset of the day itself (see Karaites).
The Samaritans, also, adopted the custom of preparing for the day by a purificative bath and of spending the night and the day in the synagogue with prayer and fasting, singing hymns, and reading from the Law (See Samaritans).
- Hamburger, R. B. T. i., under Versöhnung und Versöhnungstag;
- Zunz, S. P. pp. 76-80;
- Sachs, Die Religiöse Poesic der Juden in Spanien, 1845, pp. 172 et seq.;
- Brueck, Pharisäische Volkssitten, 1855, pp. 135-146.