Friday, September 17, 2010

Yom Kippur 2010: Part Two

Yesterday we looked the development and celebration of Yom Kippur in Ancient Israel. Today we look at the way the day was celebrated in the period following the Roman destruction of the Jerusalem temple.

With the culminating events of 70 A.D. Judaism was challenged to continue as a religion without the center of its cultic practices. In response to this crisis the Sages declared that: Prayer, repentance, and charity avert the evil decree (Ta'an 2:1, 65b). Thus, while Judaism ceased animal sacrifice, atonement was able to be acquired through the sacrifices of prayer, repentance, and good works.

Until the destruction of the temple, the scapegoat was seen as the atonement for sin. After 70 A.D., however, the Day of Atonement itself was seen as the mode of atonement (Milgrom, "The Day of Atonement” Encyclopedia of Judaica, 5:1378). Celebrating the feast was not enough, however, if it was not accompanied by acts of confession and repentance (m. Yoma 8.8-9).

Repentance could affect atonement for smaller transgressions against positive and negative commands. Graver transgressions, on the other hand, were suspended by repentance until the Day of Atonement could affect atonement (m. Yoma 8.8). Furthermore, the Day of Atonement may cover sins between God and man, but between two men restitution must take place before atonement is affected (m. Yoma 8.9). Consequently, the day evolved from being steeped in ceremonial requirements into a day of self consideration. The actual day existed more as a reminder of atonement than as an effecter of atonement.

The requirements that were laid upon the people also were further defined. According to the Sages denying oneself occurred in five ways by prohibitions against: eating and drinking, washing oneself (for pleasure), anointing the body, wearing shoes (of leather), and sexual intercourse (m. Yoma 8.1). Children were exempt from all prohibitions except for the wearing of leather shoes. Milgrom notes, however, that many in the second temple period through the Middle Ages insisted that children observe the laws of affliction (Milgrom, 1378).

With the absence of the temple prayer, confession, and reading of the Torah replaced the sacrificial ceremony. There is no definite knowledge about the prayers recited on the Day of Atonement. It was, however, the only day of the year that had five prayers. One specific prayer recited was the prayer of confession. On the eve of the Day of Atonement, confession was made prior to the last meal eaten and again after it. This is in addition to all of the prayers recited the next day.

During the morning service six people are chosen to read from the Torah the sections on the Day of Atonement and various prohibitions listed in the scriptures. In the afternoon the book of Jonah and Micah 7:18-20 will be read because their subject is ideal for repentance, its effect, and God's forgiving mercy.

The sages of the rabbinical period were not seeking to create a new aspect of Judaism, but were trying to fulfill the aspects of the Day of Atonement that is required for a right relationship with God. Without a temple or sacrifices the holiday and a life style of repentance had to be satisfactory for atonement.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting... you really got alot of info into a small space. Thanks.