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The Absence of Yom Kippur in Nevi’im and Ketuvim

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The Absence of Yom Kippur in Nevi’im and Ketuvim

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Symposium

Historical Dimensions of Yom Kippur – Part 3

The Absence of Yom Kippur in Nevi’im and Ketuvim

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The Absence of Yom Kippur in Nevi’im and Ketuvim

In contrast to other holidays like Passover and Sukkot, Yom Kippur is never mentioned anywhere in all of Nach (the Prophets and the Writings). This means from a traditional perspective we have well over 800 years of scripture/records with no mention of the holiday. In truth, Shavuot seems to go unreferenced in Nach as well, but its absence is less surprising than the absence of Yom Kippur, since there are no narratives that explicitly occur during this period of time where the holiday should be referenced. The absence of Yom Kippur, on the other hand, stands out when one surveys biblical passages where one may have expected to see it referenced.

1 Kings 8:65-66

This passage describes the two week celebration Solomon held when dedicating the Temple. The two weeks are traditionally understood to have lasted from Rosh Hashanah through to the end of Sukkot.

סה וַיַּעַשׂ שְׁלֹמֹה בָעֵת הַהִיא אֶת הֶחָג וְכָל יִשְׂרָאֵל עִמּוֹ קָהָל גָּדוֹל מִלְּבוֹא חֲמָת עַד נַחַל מִצְרַיִם לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ שִׁבְעַת יָמִים וְשִׁבְעַת יָמִים אַרְבָּעָה עָשָׂר יוֹם. סו בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁמִינִי שִׁלַּח אֶת הָעָם וַיְבָרֲכוּ אֶת הַמֶּלֶךְ וַיֵּלְכוּ
So Solomon and all Israel with him—a great assemblage, [coming] from Lebo-hamath to the Wadi of Egypt—observed the Feast[1] at that time before the Lord our God, seven days and again seven days, fourteen days in all. On the eighth day he let the people go. They bade the king good-bye…

If there was a party that ran through Yom Kippur, what did they do on that holiday? The Rabbis, noticing[2] this problem, actually suggest that they skipped over it, however, with such a radical departure from Torah law one might have wanted, even expected, the pesuqimto explain this.

Ezekiel 45:18-25

Ezekiel describes a ritual of purifying the Temple rather reminiscent of the Yom Kippur ritual. However, this purification is, in Ezekiel’s description, to be done on the first day of Nissan, not the tenth of Tishrei (i.e. Yom Kippur). Additionally, Ezekiel goes on to describe Temple holidays, including Pesach and Sukkot, but skips over Yom Kippur entirely.

יח כֹּה אָמַר אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה בָּרִאשׁוֹן בְּאֶחָד לַחֹדֶשׁ תִּקַּח פַּר בֶּן בָּקָר תָּמִים וְחִטֵּאתָ אֶת הַמִּקְדָּשׁ. יט וְלָקַח הַכֹּהֵן מִדַּם הַחַטָּאת וְנָתַן אֶל מְזוּזַת הַבַּיִת וְאֶל אַרְבַּע פִּנּוֹת הָעֲזָרָה לַמִּזְבֵּחַ וְעַל מְזוּזַת שַׁעַר הֶחָצֵר הַפְּנִימִית. כ וְכֵן תַּעֲשֶׂה בְּשִׁבְעָה בַחֹדֶשׁ מֵאִישׁ שֹׁגֶה וּמִפֶּתִי וְכִפַּרְתֶּם אֶת הַבָּיִת. כא בָּרִאשׁוֹן בְּאַרְבָּעָה עָשָׂר יוֹם לַחֹדֶשׁ יִהְיֶה לָכֶם הַפָּסַחחָג שְׁבֻעוֹת יָמִים מַצּוֹת יֵאָכֵל. כב וְעָשָׂה הַנָּשִׂיא בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא בַּעֲדוֹ וּבְעַד כָּל עַם הָאָרֶץ פַּר חַטָּאת. כג וְשִׁבְעַת יְמֵי הֶחָג יַעֲשֶׂה עוֹלָה לַיהוָה שִׁבְעַת פָּרִים וְשִׁבְעַת אֵילִים תְּמִימִם לַיּוֹם שִׁבְעַת הַיָּמִים וְחַטָּאת שְׂעִיר עִזִּים לַיּוֹם. כד וּמִנְחָה אֵיפָה לַפָּר וְאֵיפָה לָאַיִל יַעֲשֶׂה וְשֶׁמֶן הִין לָאֵיפָה. כהבַּשְּׁבִיעִי בַּחֲמִשָּׁה עָשָׂר יוֹם לַחֹדֶשׁ בֶּחָג יַעֲשֶׂה כָאֵלֶּה שִׁבְעַת הַיָּמִים כַּחַטָּאת כָּעֹלָה וְכַמִּנְחָה וְכַשָּׁמֶן.
18 Thus said the Lord God: On the first day of the first month, you shall take a bull of the herd without blemish, and you shall cleanse the Sanctuary. 19The priest shall take some of the blood of the sin offering and apply it to the doorposts of the Temple, to the four corners of the ledge of the altar, and to the doorposts of the gate of the inner court. 20 You shall do the same on the seventh day of the month to purge the Temple from uncleanness caused by unwitting or ignorant persons. 21 On the fourteenth day of the first month you shall have the passover sacrifice; and during a festival of seven days unleavened bread shall be eaten. 22 On that day, the prince shall provide a bull of sin offering on behalf of himself and of the entire population; 23 and during the seven days of the festival, he shall provide daily—for seven days—seven bulls and seven rams, without blemish, for a burnt offering to the Lord, and one goat daily for a sin offering. 24 He shall provide a meal offering of an ephah for each bull and an ephah for each ram, with a hin of oil to every ephah. So, too, during the festival of the seventh month, for seven days from thefifteenth day on, he shall provide the same sin offerings, burnt offerings, meal offerings, and oil.

Ezra 3:1-7

This section of the book of Ezra describes the construction of the new altar upon which the repatriated exiles offered sacrifices. The altar was dedicated during the month of Tishrei, and yet again only Sukkot is mentioned.

א וַיִּגַּע הַחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי וּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בֶּעָרִים וַיֵּאָסְפוּ הָעָם כְּאִישׁ אֶחָד אֶל יְרוּשָׁלָ‍ִם. ב וַיָּקָם יֵשׁוּעַ בֶּן יוֹצָדָק וְאֶחָיו הַכֹּהֲנִים וּזְרֻבָּבֶל בֶּן שְׁאַלְתִּיאֵל וְאֶחָיו וַיִּבְנוּ אֶת מִזְבַּח אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לְהַעֲלוֹת עָלָיו עֹלוֹת כַּכָּתוּב בְּתוֹרַת מֹשֶׁה אִישׁ הָאֱלֹהִים. ג וַיָּכִינוּ הַמִּזְבֵּחַ עַל מְכוֹנֹתָיו כִּי בְּאֵימָה עֲלֵיהֶם מֵעַמֵּי הָאֲרָצוֹת ויעל [וַיַּעֲלוּ] עָלָיו עֹלוֹת לַיהוָה עֹלוֹת לַבֹּקֶר וְלָעָרֶב. ד וַיַּעֲשׂוּ אֶת חַג הַסֻּכּוֹת כַּכָּתוּב וְעֹלַת יוֹם בְּיוֹם בְּמִסְפָּר כְּמִשְׁפַּט דְּבַר יוֹם בְּיוֹמוֹ. ה וְאַחֲרֵיכֵן עֹלַת תָּמִיד וְלֶחֳדָשִׁים וּלְכָל מוֹעֲדֵי יְהוָה הַמְקֻדָּשִׁים וּלְכֹל מִתְנַדֵּב נְדָבָה לַיהוָה. ו מִיּוֹם אֶחָד לַחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי הֵחֵלּוּ לְהַעֲלוֹת עֹלוֹת לַיהוָה וְהֵיכַל יְהוָה לֹא יֻסָּד.
When the seventh month arrived—the Israelites being settled in their towns—the entire people assembled as one man in Jerusalem. 2 Then Jeshua son of Jozadak and his brother priests, and Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and his brothers set to and built the altar of the God of Israel to offer burnt offerings upon it as is written in the Teaching of Moses, the man of God. 3 They set up the altar on its site because they were in fear of the peoples of the land, and they offered burnt offerings on it to the Lord, burnt offerings each morning and evening. 4 Then they celebrated the festival of Tabernacles as is written, with its daily burnt offerings in the proper quantities, on each day as is prescribed for it, 5 followed by the regular burnt offering and the offerings for the new moons and for all the sacred fixed times of the Lord, and whatever freewill offerings were made to the Lord. 6 From the first day of the seventh month they began to make burnt offerings to the Lord, though the foundation of the Temple of the Lord had not been laid.

The passage explicitly states that the altar was in use from the beginning of the month, yet no mention of Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur is made.

Nehemiah 8:2, 9-18

This chapter describes the reading of the Torah done by Ezra the scribe before all of the Judeans. This reading begins on the first of Tishrei and yet, when referencing the holidays they celebrated together as a community, only Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret are referenced, not Rosh Hashanah and not Yom Kippur.

ב וַיָּבִיא עֶזְרָא הַכֹּהֵן אֶת הַתּוֹרָה לִפְנֵי הַקָּהָל מֵאִישׁ וְעַד אִשָּׁה וְכֹל מֵבִין לִשְׁמֹעַ בְּיוֹם אֶחָד לַחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי.
2 On the first day of the seventh month, Ezra the priest brought the Teaching before the congregation, men and women and all who could listen with understanding.
ט וַיֹּאמֶר נְחֶמְיָה הוּא הַתִּרְשָׁתָא וְעֶזְרָא הַכֹּהֵן הַסֹּפֵר וְהַלְוִיִּם הַמְּבִינִים אֶת הָעָם לְכָל הָעָם הַיּוֹם קָדֹשׁ הוּא לַיהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם אַל תִּתְאַבְּלוּ וְאַל תִּבְכּוּ כִּי בוֹכִים כָּל הָעָם כְּשָׁמְעָם אֶת דִּבְרֵי הַתּוֹרָה. י וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם לְכוּ אִכְלוּ מַשְׁמַנִּים וּשְׁתוּ מַמְתַקִּים וְשִׁלְחוּ מָנוֹת לְאֵין נָכוֹן לוֹ כִּי קָדוֹשׁ הַיּוֹם לַאֲדֹנֵינוּ וְאַל תֵּעָצֵבוּ כִּי חֶדְוַת יְהוָה הִיא מָעֻזְּכֶם. יא וְהַלְוִיִּם מַחְשִׁים לְכָל הָעָם לֵאמֹר הַסּוּ כִּי הַיּוֹם קָדֹשׁ וְאַל תֵּעָצֵבוּ. יב וַיֵּלְכוּ כָל הָעָם לֶאֱכֹל וְלִשְׁתּוֹת וּלְשַׁלַּח מָנוֹת וְלַעֲשׂוֹת שִׂמְחָה גְדוֹלָה כִּי הֵבִינוּ בַּדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר הוֹדִיעוּ לָהֶם.
9 Nehemiah the Tirshatha, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were explaining to the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God: you must not mourn or weep,” for all the people were weeping as they listened to the words of the Teaching. 10 He further said to them, “Go, eat choice foods and drink sweet drinks and send portions to whoever has nothing prepared, for the day is holy to our Lord. Do not be sad, for your rejoicing in the Lord is the source of your strength.” 11 The Levites were quieting the people, saying, “Hush, for the day is holy; do not be sad.” 12 Then all the people went to eat and drink and send portions and make great merriment, for they understood the things they were told.
יג וּבַיּוֹם הַשֵּׁנִי נֶאֶסְפוּ רָאשֵׁי הָאָבוֹת לְכָל הָעָם הַכֹּהֲנִים וְהַלְוִיִּם אֶל עֶזְרָא הַסֹּפֵר וּלְהַשְׂכִּיל אֶל דִּבְרֵי הַתּוֹרָה. ידוַיִּמְצְאוּ כָּתוּב בַּתּוֹרָה אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְהוָה בְּיַד מֹשֶׁה אֲשֶׁר יֵשְׁבוּ בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בַּסֻּכּוֹת בֶּחָג בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי
13 On the second day, the heads of the clans of all the people and the priests and Levites gathered to Ezra the scribe to study the words of the Teaching. 14 They found written in the Teaching that the Lord had commanded Moses that the Israelites must dwell in booths during the festival of the seventh month
יז וַיַּעֲשׂוּ כָל הַקָּהָל הַשָּׁבִים מִן הַשְּׁבִי סֻכּוֹת וַיֵּשְׁבוּ בַסֻּכּוֹת כִּי לֹא עָשׂוּ מִימֵי יֵשׁוּעַ בִּן נוּן כֵּן בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל עַד הַיּוֹם הַהוּא וַתְּהִי שִׂמְחָה גְּדוֹלָה מְאֹד. יח וַיִּקְרָא בְּסֵפֶר תּוֹרַת הָאֱלֹהִים יוֹם בְּיוֹם מִן הַיּוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן עַד הַיּוֹם הָאַחֲרוֹןוַיַּעֲשׂוּ חָג שִׁבְעַת יָמִים וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁמִינִי עֲצֶרֶת כַּמִּשְׁפָּט.
17 The whole community that returned from the captivity made booths and dwelt in the booths—the Israelites had not done so from the days of Joshuab son of Nun to that day—and there was very great rejoicing. 18 He read from the scroll of the Teaching of God each day, from the first to the last day. They celebrated the festival seven days, and there was a solemn gathering on the eighth, as prescribed.

In this text there is reference to Rosh Hashanah, Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret but still no Yom Kippur. This is rather surprising considering the prominent place given to Yom Kippur in our current Jewish calendar. Why this is remains a mystery.


Published

September 11, 2013

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Last Updated

October 21, 2019

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