About the Author

Rev Aaron Eime is the deacon of Christ Church in the Old City of Jerusalem, the first Protestant Church in the Middle East. Aaron studied at the Hebrew University in the Masters Program with the focus towards Early Jewish and Christian Interpretation of Bible. Aaron also studied Psychology and Sociology at Queensland University in Australia in the Social Work Program. He is a dedicated Bible teacher exploring the Hebraic Roots of the Christian Faith. He has taught Internationally in many countries including Europe, North America, Hong Kong and China. Aaron is the Director of Research and Education at Christ Church. He lives in Jerusalem with his wife and 3 children.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Day of Atonement

Yom Kippur 5777, the most sacred of days in the Jewish Calendar has begun. Stores have closed, the roads are silent of moving vehicles, even the traffic lights have stopped working and flash intermittently in orange as they themselves rest from directing cars. Israeli television ceases broadcasting with Netflix joining in the solemness of the day by withholding all program streaming. Surprisingly for such a Most Holy Day the Bible provides few details on how Israel is to conduct herself on this day. In Leviticus 16vs29-30 we read, In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and you shall not do any work … For on that day He shall provide atonement for you to cleanse you from all your sins before the Lord.

Yom Kippur is a Sabbath (Lev 23vs32) and no work is done. Like all weekly Sabbaths the day is 25 hours long. The regular weekly Sabbath is such a good day that we steal an extra hour from Sunday. Sunday, the first day of the week is thus only 23 hours long. On Yom Kippur the Bible records that we are instructed to gather in Assembly and Afflict the Soul. Despite God’s seriousness of destroying people who perform work on this day, or do not afflict themselves (Lev23vs30) there is little information on what to actually do when we Assemble and exactly how to effectively Afflict the Soul. Traditionally, no food or drink is taken, no bathing is allowed, white clothes are worn to reflect on the verse in Isaiah that our sins will be as white a wool (Isaiah 1vs18) and married couples refrain from intimacy. There are three prescribed daily prayers in Jewish tradition, a fourth is added during Shabbat, and on Yom Kippur there is a fifth prayer. The liturgy during Yom Kippur is more extensive than usual, requiring a special prayer book to collate the prayers together. One of the special prayers for Yom Kippur is called Al Chet meaning “All Sins”. It is a confession of 44 sins, a large portion of them having to do with the Tongue. 

Leviticus 23vs26 notes that the day is actually called יום הכיפורים Yom HaKippurim. It’s plural. Literally the Day of Atonements. Leviticus 16 provides some more details on this plurality. The first person to be atoned for is the Priest (Lev 16vs6). Once the Priest is atoned then the community is atoned through the goat of the sin offering (Lev 16vs9-10), and lastly the Temple itself is atoned for (Lev 16vs20). The Day of Atonement provides for the Priest, the People and the Temple. In that order. But how did it work? Which sins are forgiven? Was repentance required, which is not mentioned in the text or did the ritual cover everything? According to the Rabbis in the Mishnah (a collection of 2nd Temple Period Jewish commentary), a contrite and repentant heart was of utmost importance. No one could intentionally sin and expect the ritual act to make everything right. Rituals assist in directing thoughts, confessions and prayers.  They promote boundaries. But without the Intention of the Heart, a ritual is devoid of meaning. We should remember that it is God Himself who institutes ritual and also Commands that the Torah be written on our hearts (Deut 6vs6). 

The Book of Jonah is read and studied during Yom Kippur in the synagogue. Serving to remind people that repentance can be done on any day, not just Yom Kippur. And also that salvation belongs to the Gentiles too. God is the King of the Universe, not just the King of Israel.

Yom Kippur is for making atonement with Heaven. For the sins committed between Man and God. But what about the sins committed between Man and Man? Good question. Yom Kippur falls on the 10th of Tishri. Tishri is named after the Babylonian god of creation/beginnings. The Hebrew Bible records the name of the month as being the Seventh month. Just as days of the week were simply named Day One, Day Two, so too were the months. During the Babylonian captivity the Jewish community integrated elements of the Babylonian calendar including the names for months. They also changed the New Year from being Aviv (modern day Nisan) in the Spring to being in the Fall. Thus Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year now occurs in the Fall whereas the Hebrew Bible records the year to begin in the Spring (Exodus 12vs2). According to tradition; Adam and Eve were created on the 1st of Tishri. 

The 10 day period between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur is known as the 10 days of Awe. Getting right between Man and Man is conducted with urgency in the Days of Awe, asking forgiveness from the sins we have done to our fellow Man. Interestingly we spend one day getting right with God and 10 days getting right with Man. Similarly in the New Testament we can note the emphasis on forgiving our fellow man in the Lord’s Prayer, Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. And also in Jesus’ urging to make right with our brothers before coming to the Altar of God (Matthew 5vs23). Getting right with God is incredibly important. God said that this Yom Kippur was to be a lasting ordinance that is to be celebrated for all generations. However, the Lord doesn't want that at the expense of broken human relationships.