Atonement / Yom Kippur




The Day of Atonement is a special day to Yahweh. It is a part of the fall festival season and occurs just before the Feast of Tabernacles. Most of the world hears of this day as being referred to as Yom Kippur. What is this day? What does it mean? Does Yahweh expect us to observe it today? If so, how? What do the historical sources and commentaries say?

From The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, volume 1-
From page 324 - 
"In Lev 23:26-32 mention is made in the list of festivals of the Day of Atonement, on the 10th day of the 7th month. It is ordered that for this day there shall be a holy convocation at the sanctuary, a fast, an offering by fire, and rest from labor from the 9th day of the 7th month in the evening."
From pages 326-327 - "The significance of the day is expressed in the name 'Day of Atonement' in the same manner as it is in the fast which was enjoined on the congregation as a sign of sorrow for their sins (this fasting being the only one enjoined by the law: Lev 16:29, 31; 23:26ff; Nu 29:7ff)."
"The Day of Atonement, in accordance with its purpose in later times, came more and more into the foreground and was called 'the great fast' or 'the great day,' or merely 'the day.' Its ritual was further enlarged and the special parts mentioned in the law were fully explained, fixed and specialized…. Already seven days before the beginning of the Day of Atonement he" (the high priest) "was ordered to leave his house and had to submit to a series of purifications and had to practise for the performance of the different purification ceremonies, some of which were difficult. The last night he was not allowed to sleep and had to spend his time in studying the sacred writings. On the Day of Atonement he took five baths and ten washings. Four times he enters the Holy of Holies (with the incense), with the blood of both sin offerings, and when he brings out the utensils used with the incense he makes three confessions of sins (for himself, for himself and his house, for Israel); 10 times in all he utters the name of Jehovah; 43 times he sprinkles; in addition he must read certain sections of the Scriptures or repeat them from memory. When he returns home he celebrates a festival of rejoicing, because he has without harm been able to leave the sanctuary. In addition, he had performed severe physical work, and especially difficult was the manipulation of the incense."

From Unger's Bible Dictionary, by Merrill F Unger, pages 358-359 -
"…the day appointed for a yearly, general, and perfect expiation for all the sins and uncleanness which might remain, despite the regular sacrifices."
"Even with the most scrupulous observance of the prescribed ordinances many sins and defilements would still remain unacknowledged, and therefore without expiation."
"Thus on the Day of Atonement Israel was reconciled to Jehovah, which was necessary before the Feast of Tabernacles, which prefigured the ingathering of all nations. In connection with this point it may also be well to remember that the Jubilee year was always proclaimed on the Day of Atonement."
"The day was a high Sabbath, on which no work was done; and all the people were to afflict their souls, i.e., to fast (from the evening of the 9th to the evening of the 10th), under penalty of being cut off from Israel."
"The question how often the high priest on this day went into the holy of holies is not of great importance. The biblical account seems to indicate that he entered four times: 1. With the incense, while a priest continued to agitate the blood of the bullock lest it should coagulate; 2. With the blood of the bullock; 3. With the blood of the goat; 4. To bring the censer, which, according to the Talmud, was done after the afternoon sacrifice."
"Modern observance. The strict Jews, on the day previous to the Day of Atonement, provide a cock which is slain by an inferior rabbi; the person whose property it is then takes the fowl by the legs, swings it over the heads of himself and company, and at the same time prays to God that the sins committed by them during the year may enter the fowl. This fowl seems to be a substitute for the scapegoat of old. In the evening, after a sumptuous repast, they go to the synagogue dressed in their best. After a blessing by the clerk each contributes toward the free gift offering, after which begins the evening prayer, the reader, the chief rabbi, and many of the congregation clad with the shroud in which they are to be buried, continuing in prayer and supplication for upward of three hours. Some remain all night, and those who go to their homes come again in the morning at five o'clock and remain until dark."

From The Torah: A Modern Commentary, edited by W Gunther Plaut -
From pages 858-859 -- 
"This holy day as we know it was created by the Jewish people in the past two thousand years…. One may well feel disappointed when reading in Leviticus, chapter 16, the outline of a complicated sacrificial service performed by the High Priest on behalf of the community, with the people as passive spectators. At the end of the chapter - almost as an afterthought - they are commanded to fast and abstain from work on the sacred day, but nothing is said about inner contrition, self-discipline, or higher standards of conduct. For this reason, the leaders of Reform Judaism replaced this chapter, the traditional Torah reading for Yom Kippur morning, by selections from Deuteronomy, chapters 29 and 30, which they deemed more appropriate."
"The Day of Atonement appears in the Bible only in the priestly writings."

From Sacred Origins of Profound Things, by Charles Panati, pages 229-230 -
"The Day of Atonement is marked by abstention from food, drink, and sex and forbids anointing with oil and the wearing of leather shoes. Confession of sins is accompanied by prayers of supplication for forgiveness, friends mutually request and accept forgiveness for offenses, since God's forgiveness is signified by the obtaining of forgiveness of one's fellow men. The efficacy of Yom Kippur depends on one's sincerity or repentance."
"It is a day to be spent largely in a synagogue. No Jew should work or transact business. The fast is absolute; not even water may be taken from sundown to sundown. The persons excused from this severe fasting are the sick (and only if they ask to be excused) and children less than nine years old."
"Scapegoat. In ancient times, the high priest performed an elaborate sacrificial ceremony in the Temple, successively confessing his own sins, the sins of other priests, and the sins of all Israel. Clothed in white linen, he then entered the Holy of Holies (the only time of the year when this was allowed) to sprinkle the blood of the sacrifices - a bull and a goat - and to offer incense."
"The ceremony concluded when a second sacrificial goat, the 'scapegoat,' symbolically carrying the sins of the nation, was 'driven to his death in the wilderness.' Actually, the priest led the scapegoat along a secret causeway, one designed to guard the procession from sabotage by heathens and rival sects, while the congregants chanted, 'Hurry! Go!' The priest ushered the scapegoat to the end of a precipice, from which it was pushed to its death - symbolically carrying with it the sins of the nation."
"All of these brutal but picturesque rituals ceased with the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. The rituals and sacrifices were replaced with prayer, supplication, and penitence. It was then that the personal character of the Day of Atonement achieved primary importance. The focus of the holiday shifted from the high priest and the Temple to the synagogue, and the principal performers were the members of the community itself."
"Most important, the concept of repentance, the actual mending of one's behavior, took precedence over all other acts of atonement. The ritual of the Day of Atonement was insufficient to clear a person of his or her sins without a change in one's actions."


This day was given to all twelve of the tribes of Israel, not just the tribe of Judah. But most of the things the world, or Christianity, knows about the observance of this day today comes from Judaism. What are their traditions? Do they carefully follow what the Torah says?

In Jewish tradition, Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah) and Atonement (Yom Kippur) are more or less connected together.

From Judaism For Dummies, published by Hungry Minds --
From page 223 -
 "Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (which follows ten days later) are together called the 'High Holidays.' They are among the most important and holiest days of the Jewish year. For over 2,000 years, the High Holidays have been celebrated as a time for judgment, remembrance, and teshuvah ('return' or 'repentance'). While every other holiday commemorates a transition in nature or a historic event, the High Holidays don't - they focus on people and their relationship with God."
From page 232 - "The period of teshuvah ('return' or 'repentance') lasts 40 days, from the first of Elul to Yom Kippur. While most Jews tend to focus on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the days between them are in some ways just as important. These days, along with the High Holidays, are called the Yamin Nora'im ('Days of Awe') or Aseret Y'mai Teshuvah ('Ten Days of Repentance')."

From Gates of the Seasons, edited by Peter S Knobel -
From pages 39-40 -
 "It is a mitzvah to prepare for the Days of Awe during the preceding month of Elul. Special penitential prayers called Selichot are added to the daily liturgy."
"Since proper preparation includes serious reflection and self-exam, it is important to set aside regular periods of time for contemplation and study."
"It is customary to visit the graves of relatives during the month of Elul and during the Ten Days of Repentance. Through such visits, links to preceding generations are reinforced, and by contemplating the virtues of the deceased and their devotion to faith and people, we find strength."
"It is a mitzvah to express one's personal repentance (Teshuvah) on Rosh Hoshonoh. According to the traditional symbolism, God sits in the judgment of the world on Rosh Hoshonoh. Through repentance (Teshuvah), prayer (Tefilah), and charity (Tzedakah), one begins moving towards reconciliation with God and other human beings. This process reaches its climax on Yom Kippur."
From pages 45-46 - "Jewish tradition teaches that Yom Kippur makes atonement only for those sins which we commit against God, but it does not atone for those sins which we commit against other human beings unless we first attempt to make amends and seek their forgiveness."

From Festivals of the Jewish Year, by Theodor H Gaster, pages 124-125 -
"On New Year, it is said, God opens three books. The first contains the names of the virtuous and pious, who are inscribed forthwith for life and blessing during the ensuing twelve months. The second contains the names of the irremediably wicked and impious; these are inscribed forthwith for death and disaster. In the third, however, are written the names of the 'betwixt-and-betweens'; these are given a chance to determine their own fates, for the record is not sealed until twilight on Yom Kippur."
"The Ten Days of Penitence are not formally prescribed in the Bible…"

From The Jewish Holy Days, by Moshe A Braun, page 37 -
"As it is written, 'Inquire of God while He is found; call upon Him when He is close at hand. Let the wicked abandon their ways and evil men their thought: let them return to God, who will have pity on them, return to our God, for He will freely forgive' (Isaiah 55:6-7). The Talmud comments that the phrase 'when He is found' refers to the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, when God makes Himself accessible."

From Judaism For Dummies, published by Hungry Minds -
From page 236 - 
"Yom Kippur, the tenth of the month Tishrei, is perhaps the most cathartic, holy, and emotional day of the Jewish year (it's celebrated for only one day, even outside of Israel). It's a non-stop day of prayer and meditation that can rattle and inspire the Jewish soul in a way that no other holiday seems to do."
From page 237 - "Jewish tradition identifies three stages in the process of forgiveness, whether you are being forgiven or you are forgiving others. The steps are identified by the words s'lichah ('forgiveness'), m'chilah ('letting go'), and kapparah ('atonement'). Forgiveness begins with the conscious intention to forgive. But if the process ends there, the feelings of guilt or resentment reappear when you least expect them. Letting go means, 'I no longer need the past to have been any different than it was.' At this stage, you may remember the pain, but you are no longer consumed either with guilt or resentment. With atonement, you can accomplish something positive that otherwise wouldn't have been possible. You still remember, and you still may feel the pain, but the act of atonement transforms the pain into a blessing."
From page 238 - "While Yom Kippur is traditionally the last day to atone, Judaism ultimately says that the doors of repentance are open all the time - it's never too late. But if there wasn't at least a symbolic deadline, would anyone ever really get around to it?"
"Most Jewish holidays are distinguished by what you are supposed to do; Yom Kippur, however, is famous for what you're not supposed to do. Tradition states that on this day Jews should refrain from bathing luxuriously (though necessary washing with cold water to remove dirt is okay), anointing themselves with perfume or moisturizers, having sex, wearing leather (the soles of shoes, specifically, though some Jews don't wear any leather), and - probably the most commonly observed restriction - eating and drinking. Of course, because Yom Kippur is also considered like Shabbat, all the regular Shabbat restrictions apply."
From page 240 - "The name of the opening Yom Kippur service - Kol Nidre (pronounced 'kohl nee-DRAY'), considered one of the highlights of an observant Jew's year - is named after a portion of liturgy which is sung during the service. Strangely, its lyrics read more like a legal contract than a prayer. In fact, the Kol Nidre is a legal document. (Jewish law states that legal proceedings must be taken care of during daylight hours, which is why the Kol Nidre service traditionally begins while there's still light in the sky.)"
"… here's a translation:
"All vows and oaths, all promises and obligations, all renunciations and responses, that we shall make from this Yom Kippur till the next - may it come to us in peace - all of them we retract. May we be absolved of them all, may we be released from them all, may they all be null and void, May they all be of no effect. May these vows not be vows, may these oaths not be oaths, may these responses not be responses."
"Originally these words related to the vows made under duress, like during the forced conversions to Christianity. Now, these words recognize that you can't always keep the promises you make to yourself or to God."

From To Be A Jew, by Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin, pages 247-249 -
"The Torah specifies that the fast is to begin on the ninth day, so that fasting on Yom Kippur actually begins before sundown while it is still light. It does not conclude till the evening of the next day. By 'the evening' is not means sundown, but rather nightfall when the stars appear, which is somewhat later. How much later depends on the geographical latitude."
"The Biblical commandment to 'afflict your souls' is observed by a complete and total fast, by abstaining from all eating and drinking for the entire period (approximately twenty-five hours)."
"The wearing of white on Yom Kippur - white clothes, white robe (kitel), white skullcap - is a time-honored custom intended to recall the white robes (takhrikhim) in which the dead are buried, and thus to mellow the heart of the worshipper. White also represents purity and symbolizes the Prophetic promise: 'Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow' (Isaiah 1:18)."

From Festivals of the Jewish Year, by Theodor H Gaster, page 148 -
"But there was also, curiously enough, a gayer side to the Day of Atonement. On that day, the Mishnah tells us, it was customary for the girls of Jerusalem to dress up in spotless white finery and to go out and dance in the vineyards in order to attract suitors. As the young men gathered around them, they would raise their voice and chant: 'Lift your eyes, pick your prize' / Care for race, not for face.' And they would quote the Scripture (Proverbs 31:30) to prove that, since 'charm is deceitful and beauty vain,' it is inner virtue, and not outward grace, that should count in choosing a bride'."


Say what? Don't some questions come to mind when you read about these customs? Questions such as -

  • Where does it say in Scripture that there is to be a public commemoration of the dead? 
  • Where in Scripture does it mention visiting the graves of family during this time? 
  • Where in Scripture do we find "teshuvah", specifically for this time? 
  • Where in Scripture do we find a 40-day plan for repentance? 
  • Where in Scripture do we find the "ten days of awe"? 
  • Where is the Scripture referencing partial fasts on each of the days between Trumpets and Atonement, except for the Sabbath and the day before the high day?
  • Where are the Scriptural instructions for the High Priest to leave his home seven days before Atonement and go through specific rituals?
  • Where in Scripture does it mention a rooster swung over the head in place of the scapegoat? 
  • Where in Scripture does it say that you are to dress in your burial shroud to observe Atonement? 
  • Where in Scripture does it say that the man who leads the scapegoat into the wilderness is to push it over a cliff? 
  • Where in Scripture does it mention girls dancing and attracting suitors on Atonement?
  • Where in Scripture does it mention any version (or even the idea) of Kol Nidre?


Yahweh gave detailed instructions for the High Priest regarding the Day of Atonement. They are found in Leviticus 16:2-28. This day was to be the only time each year that the High Priest entered into the sanctuary. Beforehand, he was to do specific cleansings and offerings. He was going to make atonement for the nation. He was to kill a goat for the sin offering of the people. Then he would take a second, live goat, lay hands on it, confessing the sins of the people. It would be led into the wilderness and released.

Today there is no High Priest in place to carry out those duties. But there are a few verses of that chapter that do give some instructions for the people.

Leviticus 16:29-31
And it shall be for a never-ending statute, in the seventh month, in the tenth of the month, you shall humble yourself and do no work, the native, and the alien who is staying in your midst. 
For on this day he shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you from all your sins; you shall be clean before Yahweh.
It is a sabbath of rest to you, and you shall humble yourself; it is a never-ending statute.

Traditionally people have fasted on this day, though the word isn't there in the Scripture. In verse 29, the word is to "humble" yourself. That word is #6031, anah. It means to depress, literally or figuratively; to abase or afflict yourself.

The next two references help to expand the meaning.

Psalms 35:13
But in their sickness, my clothing was sackcloth; I humbled my soul with fastings; and my prayer returned to my bosom.

The word "humbled" here is the same anah, mentioned above. "Fastings" is #6684, tsuwm, meaning to cover over (the mouth), i.e. to fast.

Isaiah 58:3, 5
They say, why have we fasted, and you did not see? We have afflicted our soul, and you did not acknowledge… 
Is this like the fast I will choose, a day for a man to afflict his soul? To bow his head down like a bulrush, and he spreads sackcloth and ashes? Will you call to this as a fast, and a day of delight to Yahweh?

They afflicted themselves how? With fasting. Without food and/or drink. Like Moses did?

Exodus 34:28
And he was there with Yahweh forty days and forty nights; he did not eat bread and he did not drink water…

Deuteronomy 9:9
When I went up into the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, tablets of the covenant which Yahweh cut with you, and I remained in the mountain forty days and forty night, I did not eat bread nor did I drink water.

Leviticus 23:26-32
And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying
Also, on the tenth of this seventh month shall be a day of atonement; you shall have a holy gathering, and you shall humble yourselves, and shall bring a fire offering to Yahweh.
And you shall do no work in this same day, for it is a day of atonement, to make atonement for you before Yahweh your Elohim. 
For any person who is not humbled in this same day shall be cut off from his people. 
And any person who does any work in this same day, I shall even destroy that person from the midst of his people. 
You shall do no work; it is a never-ending statute throughout your generations, in all your dwellings. 
It is a sabbath of rest to you and you shall humble yourselves in the ninth of the month at evening; from evening until evening you shall keep your sabbath.

Even though the people are fasting, Yahweh still expects them to meet and to appear before Him.

We also learn exactly when this specific time is. It begins at sunset ending the ninth day of the seventh month and is over at the sunset at the end of the tenth day of the month. Remember: Yahweh's days begin and end at sunset, not at dawn or midnight.

Numbers 29:7-11
And on the tenth of this seventh month you shall have a holy gathering; you shall do no work of service, and you shall humble your souls.

The remainder of the verses here, 8-11, describe the offerings and sacrifices to be made for that day.

Remember in the sources quoted that the Jews had other limitations to this day. Some of them concern shoes, bathing, etc. But look at what Yahshua said.

Matthew 6:17-18
But you in fasting, anoint your head and wash your face.
So as not to appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father in secret; and your Father seeing in secret will repay you in the open.

You are to look no differently than you do any other day of the week. Or especially, no different than when you attend a convocation before Yahweh on any other high day.

Atonement was the one day a year that the high priest entered the sanctuary. It was the day that he was to make atonement for the people: a day in which the people would be reconciled to Yahweh.

What is one way to be reconciled to Yahweh? To reach out to Him?

Joel 2:12-13
Yet even not turn to Me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning, declares Yahweh.
Yea, tear your heart and not your robes; and turn to Yahweh your Elohim. For He is gracious and merciful; slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He pities concerning the evil.

Leviticus 25:8-12
And you shall number to yourself seven sabbaths of years, seven years times seven, and all the days of the seven sabbaths of years shall be to you forty-nine years.
And you shall cause an alarm, the ram's horn to pass over in the seventh month, in the tenth of the month, in the day of atonement shall pass over a ram's horn throughout all your land; and you shall make holy the fiftieth year; and you shall proclaim liberty in the land to all its inhabitants; it shall be a jubilee to you, and you shall return every man to his possession; yea, you shall turn back each to his family.
It is a jubilee, the fiftieth year; it is a year to you; you shall not sow, nor reap that which grows of itself, nor gather from its unkept vines.
For it is a jubilee, it is holy to you; you shall eat its increase out of the field."

Just think where we could be today if we had kept these ordinances. There would be no national debt or families in financial trouble with credit card debt. Those who had serious setbacks or went bankrupt could eventually reclaim their land. The count of years started when they entered the land. But we have lost track of that at this time. No one knows for sure when the next jubilee year is to be.

One of the references quoted said that "The Day of Atonement appears in the Bible only in the priestly writings." But what about this statement by Paul?

Acts 27:9
And much time having passed, and the voyage already being dangerous, because the Fast already had gone by…

The word "fast" is Strongs #3521, nesteia, meaning abstinence (from lack of food); specifically, the fast of the Day of Atonement. DAY OF ATONEMENT TODAY

So what do we do today on the tenth day of the seventh month? Since the temple was destroyed and the people were scattered, there has been no priesthood to carry out the duties listed for him. The things we can see to consider are:

  • It is an appointed time of Yahweh. 
  • It is holy, or set-apart time. 
  • There is to be an assembly. 
  • It is a time to worship Yahweh. 
  • It is a time to afflict our bodies - fasting as we understand it today. 
  • It is a time to repent and seek Yahweh's forgiveness.






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