Historical Dimensions of Yom Kippur – Part 4
Does Ezekiel in 572 B.C.E. Know of Yom Kippur?
One possible reference to the date of Yom Kippur (not a direct reference to the holiday itself) in Nach occurs in Ezekiel 40:1. This verse marks the beginning of Ezekiel’s vision of the future Temple, and includes a date for the prophecy.
א בְּעֶשְׂרִים וְחָמֵשׁ שָׁנָה לְגָלוּתֵנוּ בְּרֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה בֶּעָשׂוֹר לַחֹדֶשׁ בְּאַרְבַּע עֶשְׂרֵה שָׁנָה אַחַר אֲשֶׁר הֻכְּתָה הָעִיר
In the twenty-fifth year of our exile, the fourteenth year after the city had fallen, at the beginning of the year, the tenth day of the month…
Although the verse is missing the number of the month, the term “Rosh Hashanah” (as we know it today,) sounds like the beginning of the Jewish calendar year, while the tenth of the month would be the date of Yom Kippur. Does this mean that the prophecy about the Temple came to Ezekiel during Yom Kippur? It is actually unclear. There are at least three interpretations of this passage in Ezekiel.
Since all the books of Tanach, including Ezekiel (see Ezek. 45), count Nissan as the first month, most academic scholars assume that Ezekiel is referring to the month of Nissan. Rosh Hashanah would be a reference to the first month of the year, as we find in Exodus 12:2:
ב הַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה לָכֶם רֹאשׁ חֳדָשִׁים רִאשׁוֹן הוּא לָכֶם לְחָדְשֵׁי הַשָּׁנָה. ג דַּבְּרוּ אֶל כָּל עֲדַת יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵאמֹר בֶּעָשֹׂר לַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה וְיִקְחוּ לָהֶם אִישׁ שֶׂה לְבֵית אָבֹת שֶׂה לַבָּיִת.
This month shall mark for you the beginning of the months; it shall be the first of the months of the year for you. Speak to the whole community of Israel and say that on the tenth of this month each of them shall take a lamb to a family, a lamb to a household.
Intriguingly, the Septuagint actually has the words “in the first month” (Greek: ἐν τῷ πρώτῳ μηνι), in the place of “Rosh Hashanah” (the beginning of the year). Most probably, the Septuagint text reflects a Hebrew vorlage (version the translator used) that read: בראשון בעשור לחדש. Whichever one of the above possibilities is correct, it seems clear that the peshat of the verse is a reference to the tenth of Nissan.
Avraham Ibn Ezra, in his gloss on Daniel 10:2, where the phrase “the first month” is used, writes:
רק לא ידענו זה החדש אם הוא חדש ניסן או הוא חדש ראשון לשנה השלישית למלכות כרש כדרך בעשרים וחמש שנה לגלותינו בראש השנה והנה זה בעשור לחדש החמישי כי בו נשרף הבית:
Only we do not know whether this month refers to the month of Nissan or whether it is the first month of the third year of the kingdom of Cyrus, as it is [in the verse (Ezek. 40:1)]: ‘In the twenty-fifth year of our exile, at the beginning of the year [on the tenth of the month],” which means the tenth of the fifth month (=Av), for this was when the Temple was burnt.
According to this, Ibn Ezra believes that there is an alternative dating system at play in these post-exilic passages, with Daniel counting from the reign of Cyrus and Ezekiel from the conquest of the Temple and its destruction by the Babylonians.
Referencing this verse, and noting that it is odd to call the tenth of any month the beginning of the year, Chazal write (b. Arachin 12b)
איזו היא שנה שראש השנה בעשור לחדש? הוי אומר: זה יובל.
In what year would the tenth of the month be the beginning of the year? It can only be a jubilee year.
The Talmud, in search of an occasion in the Jewish calendar where the tenth of the month marks a “new beginning” of some process or ritual that would qualify it to be called a “rosh hashanah”, explains this verse to be referring to a Jubilee year. The tenth of the seventh month (Yom Kippur) in a Jubilee year marked the moment all servants were freed and all land was returned to its original owners—a new beginning for these Israelite families.
Moreover, although the Torah describes Yom Kippur as occurring in the seventh month, since Tishrei is the first month in the rabbinic calendar, the rabbis may have understood that in this chapter at least, Ezekiel was working with the rabbinic calendar, referring to the actual celebration of Rosh Hashanah that would occur on Yom Kippur on the Jubilee year.
This rabbinic interpretation offers a creative solution for the meaning of the verse, but in some ways only serves to exacerbate the mystery of the absence of any reference to the celebration of Yom Kippur in Nevi’im and Ketuvim. If the date in Ezekiel really meant to say that he received this prophecy on Yom Kippur, it seems exceedingly odd that he would simply call it “rosh hashanah on the tenth,” making no mention of it being Yom Kippur or the fast or something that would indicate that this day is the Day of Atonement referenced in Leviticus.
Read our short series on the Historical Dimensions of Yom Kippur
1 – Yom Kippur: A Celebration of Liberty on the Jubilee Year
2 – Yom Kippur: A Festival of Dancing Maidens
3 – The Absence of Yom Kippur in Nevi’im and Ketuvim
4 – Does Ezekiel in 572 B.C.E Know of Yom Kippur?
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September 12, 2013
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