You can bookmark articles to Read Later

Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement): The Holiest Day of the Jewish Calendar

“It shall be a statute to you forever: in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and shall do no kind of work, the native-born, or the stranger who lives as a foreigner among you.”  (Leviticus 16:29)

Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) is, Biblically speaking, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar.

Gottlieb-Jews Praying-Synagogue-Yom Kippur

Jews Praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur, by Maurycy Gottlieb

With its themes of atonement and repentance, the tenth of Tishri is so significant that it’s observed by many secular Jews who don’t observe other Jewish holidays.

In Israel and in Jewish communities around the world everyone is in their local synagogue on Yom Kippur.  It seems that life here in Israel comes to standstill since all the streets and highways are completely emptied of cars.

Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) is a solemn fast day.

On this day, for nearly 26 hours, we “afflict our souls” in the following five ways:

  1. We don’t eat or drink;
  2. We don’t wash;
  3. We don’t use lotions or perfumes;
  4. We don’t wear leather footwear; and
  5. We abstain from marital relations.

Despite that, the observance of this day is characterized by a sense of peace because of our confidence in our relationship with God and His provision for atonement.

Forgiveness-Elul-Ten Days of Awe-High Holy Days-Yamim Noraim

Jewish men at the Wailing Wall praying for forgiveness.

On Erev Yom Kippur, before the sun sets, the Jewish People gather in their synagogues to hear the cantor chant Kol Nidre (All Vows) and recite penitential prayers.

The following morning, we return to our synagogues for the Morning Prayer service in which several sections of the Torah portion are read.  The entire Book of Jonah is read during the afternoon service.

This service concludes shortly before sunset with the Ne’ila (Closing of the Gates) prayer, which is the last moment for repenting before God seals His judgments in His Book.

Yom Kippur ends at nightfall with the blowing of the shofar, and we return home to enjoy a festive meal.  Many of us also begin building our Sukkah for the holiday of Sukkot, which is just four days away.

Jewish man-Selichot-Western Wall

Orthodox Jewish man praying Selichot, Jewish penitential prayers and poems, in preparation for Yom Kippur, at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem.

Yom Kippur During Temple Times

“Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die.”  (Leviticus 16:2)

Yom Kippur was the one day in the year that the Cohen HaGadol (High Priest) could enter the Holy of Holies in order to make atonement for the nation of Israel. 

Before ministering before the Lord on this holy day, the High Priest first bathed in water (immersed himself in the mikvah) and then put on a special linen tunic.

In the Holy of Holies, the high priest was not to wear his usual golden garments, designed for splendor and beauty; instead, he was to wear simple, white linen clothing that represented purity and humility, which befits this most sacred of all days.

Jewish Man-Kitel-Yom Kippur

Many Jewish men wear a kittel, a while robe-like garment, for evening prayers on Yom Kippur.  It is also worn on their wedding day.

Wearing White on Yom Kippur

Many religiously observant Jewish men dress in simple, white linen when attending Yom Kippur services.  They also wear rubber soled sneakers instead of leather shoes, in remembrance of Yom Kippur’s animal sacrifice.

And women will wear elegant dresses while wearing canvas running shoes.

The rabbis give another reason for wearing white on this holy day.  Israel comes before God, not in drab clothing like a penitent sinner, but arrayed in white as if going to a feast, confident that they will be pardoned as they come in sincere repentance.

In the Book of Revelation, we see a connection to the tradition of wearing white and the Book of Life:

“He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life, but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.”  (Revelation 3:5)

Kapparot-Yom Kippur

Kapparot is a ritual some Jews perform before Yom Kippur, where a chicken is waved over the head three times in order to symbolically transfer one’s sins to the chicken.  The chicken is then slaughtered and donated to the poor.

Since the Holy Temple is no longer standing and no sacrifices for sin can be offered, those who know Yeshua (Jesus) can trust in the sacrifice that He made for our atonement.

However, 99% of the Jewish people today do not believe that Yeshua is the Messiah.

And with no Temple in Jerusalem for the past 2,000 years, they have replaced the animal blood sacrifice with prayer (tefillah)repentance (teshuvah), and charity or good deeds (tzedakah).

Perhaps we have to give credit to the Ultra-Orthodox Jews who sacrifice chickens, because they still acknowledge the need for a blood sacrifice, (even though this is not the animal prescribed in the Torah for sacrifice).  And as we are now in the End Times, maybe it will be easier for these Ultra-Orthodox Jews to recognize the atoning sacrifice Yeshua accomplished on our behalf as the Messiah.


The Azazel

The Azazel

“But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the Lord to be used for making atonement by sending it into the desert as a scapegoat.”  (Leviticus 16:10)

On Yom Kippur, the High Priests cast lots for two goats.  One was offered as the sacrifice, but the other goat was chosen as the Azazel (the scapegoat).

Azazel is a very special Hebrew noun meaning dismissal or entire removal.

The entire removal of the sin and guilt of Israel is symbolized by the High Priest laying both his hands on the head of this live goat, confessing over it all the transgressions of the children of Israel.  The goat would then be released into the wilderness, thus physically carrying the burden of Israel’s sin into the wilderness.

Golden Gate-Old City-Jerusalem

The Golden Gate, which is called Sha’ar Harachamim (Gate of Mercy) in Hebrew, is located on the eastern side of the Temple Mount.  It’s thought that the Azazel was led through this gate to the wilderness.  It’s also thought that Messiah will come through this gate.  Suleiman wanted to prevent this and had the gate sealed in 1541.  A Muslim cemetery was placed in front of it to defile the area.

The Azazel and Messiah Yeshua

“He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head.  He shall send the goat away into the wilderness in the care of someone appointed for the task.  The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a remote place; and the man shall release it in the wilderness.”  (Leviticus 16:21–22)

There are striking similarities between these verses in Leviticus and those of Isaiah 53:

“And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all…  For He shall bear their iniquities….”  (Isaiah 53:6, 11)

Rabbis of ancient times viewed Isaiah 53 as a Messianic prophecy.  Most agreed that it speaks of the Messiah of Israel.

This Messianic prophecy has been effectively hidden from most Jewish people, even those who faithfully attend synagogue services, by omitting the entire chapter from the proscribed selection of Sabbath readings. 

Why?  Because they so perfectly describe the atonement Yeshua made for us through the sacrifice of his own life as the suffering servant.

This is why we so desperately need to make the Messianic Prophecy Bible available to the Jewish People!

holding Bible-Holy Scriptures

Holy Scriptures

The current rabbinical interpretation of Isaiah 53 proposes that this passage does not speak of the Messiah but it speaks of the nation of Israel.

This interpretation seems to have gained serious adherents only in the 13th century.  It is, in truth, a complete lie that is promoted throughout the Jewish community to blind Jewish people from seeing that Isaiah 53 perfectly describes Yeshua who suffered for our sins.

Not all rabbis have agreed with this willfully wrong interpretation.  In a strongly worded 14th century commentary, Rabbi Moshe Kohen ibn Crispin responded to this theory:

“[In contrast to those] having inclined after the stubbornness of their own hearts and their own opinion, I am pleased to interpret the parasha [Isaiah 53] in accordance with the teachings of our rabbis, of the King Messiah… and adhere to the literal sense.  Thus I shall be free from forced and far-fetched interpretations of which others are guilty.”

Moses Alshech, a 16th century rabbi, preacher, and Bible commentator, handled the nation-of-Israel interpretation by ignoring it.  He said, “Our rabbis with one voice accept and affirm the opinion that the prophet [Isaiah] is here [chapter 53] speaking of the Messiah.”

morning prayer-siddur-tallit

This Siddur (Jewish Prayer Book) is resting on a table at the Western Wall adorned with a velvet tablecloth that is embroidered with an image of the Second Temple.  The fringed garment is a folded tallit (prayer shawl).

Numerous Rabbinic commentators do take for granted that Isaiah 52:13–53:12 refers to the Messiah.

The following quotes are gleaned from traditional rabbinic sources, such as the Talmud (oral law):

“He, Messiah, shall intercede for man’s sins, and the rebellious, for his sake, shall be.”  (Jerusalem Targum on Isaiah 53:12)

“And when Israel is sinful, the Messiah seeks for mercy upon them as it is written, ‘By his stripes we were healed’, and ‘he carried the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors’”  (Genesis Rabbah on Isaiah 53:5, 12).

In a limited sense, however, the claims that Israel has suffered as an azazel ‘scapegoat’ for the nations is true.

Because of the blindness with which the Lord temporarily afflicted Israel with regards to their Messiah, salvation (Yeshua) has come to the Gentiles. 

“For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in… and so all Israel shall be saved….  (Romans 11:25–27)

Ehud Barak-Yom Kippur War-Jewish

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak comforts a bereaved mother at a memorial service for soldiers who died in the Yom Kippur War, when Israel’s Arab neighbors invaded Israel on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, in 1973, while the nation was fasting and in prayer.

A Lasting Atonement

“And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity [avon] of us all.”  (Isaiah 53:6)

In Hebrew, the word iniquity is avon.  This word differs from the Hebrew word for sin which means to fall short and miss the mark as this word is rooted in the Hebrew verb avah meaning to twist and to distort.  It signifies an inner crookedness or spiritual state of being bent, in other words perversity, as well as a willful departure from the law (Torah) of God.  

While the ordinary sacrifices were limited to atoning for involuntary or unintentional sins, this special sacrifice on Yom Kippur atoned for willful sin.

The blood of bulls and goats can never fully remove sin and iniquity; it can only cover it for a time.

A perfect, absolutely sinless one was required to pay the price for our rebellion and uncleanness.  Only Yeshua the Messiah could fulfill this role.

As the Divine Messiah, His body and blood are the Kapparah (atonement) and Korban (sacrificial offering) for our sins.  And when He rose on the third day, He revealed the absolute holiness of His life and the effectiveness of His sacrifice on the execution stake for all mankind.

Rabbinic tradition states that on Yom Kippur the Cohen (Jewish priest) would tie a scarlet cloth to the horn of the Azazel and that when the sacrifice was fully accepted, the scarlet cloth became white.

This wonderfully symbolized God’s gracious promise in Isaiah 1:18“Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow.”

Rabbi-Torah scrolls-Aron Kodesh-Torah ark

Rabbi with two Torah scrolls in the Aron Kodesh (Torah ark) in the background.

Assurance of Atonement for Sin

“Sins overwhelmed me, but You atoned for our transgressions.”  (Psalm 65:3)

The rabbis recognized that every man is in need of atonement for his sins, for it is written, “There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins.”  (Ecclesiastes 7:20)

A Talmudic story is recorded in which Yohanan ben Zakkai’s disciples gather around his deathbed and find him weeping.  They ask, “Rabbi, you are the light of Israel, the pillar on which we lean, the hammer that crushes all heresy.  Why should you weep?”  In answer, the rabbi confesses that he is afraid to die because he is not sure whether he will end up in heaven or hell.

Although God has provided atonement for all of our sins through the blood of the Messiah Yeshua, many Jewish people today are completely unaware of God’s Plan of Salvation through the Jewish Messiah.