Yom Hakippurim was a joyous holiday

 

                                                                 Two holidays that ceased to exist

 

The Talmud[1] states “There never were in Israel greater days of joy than the fifteenth of (of the month of) Ab and the Day of Atonement.”  Despite this accolade, both holidays ceased to exist. The joyous biblical holiday of Yom Hakippurim ceased and morphed into sober Yom Kippur as I explained in my book “Mysteries of Judaism,” and as I will explain some more below. Tu B’Ab, the Hebrew name for 15 Ab, disappeared entirely. The rabbis did not replace it, but many Ashkenazic Jews[2] remember it by eating fruits from Israel on this day, Sephardic Jews[3] say prayers, and modern Israelis see the day symbolizing the resurrection of the State of Israel and the revival of growth of foods throughout the land including the desert.

The Mishnah[4] tells how both days were celebrated. Unmarried girls “used dress in white garments which they borrowed so as not to shame anyone who had none” and go to vineyards to dance before boys many of whom chose girls for future marriages from the dancers.

Tu B’Ab is not mentioned in the Torah. It was apparently a holiday that was instituted during the second temple period.[5] The Talmud[6] gives the following speculative reasons for celebrating Tu B’Ab.

  • While tradition states that during the days of Moses, women from the Israelite tribes were not allowed to intermarry into other tribes so that land in Canaan would remain tribal land and not pass to the husband of another tribe.[7] But the tradition states that this law was annulled on 15 Ab.
  • According to Judges 21, after a civil war in which virtually all members of the tribe of Benjamin were killed, the other Israelite tribes swore that because of the tribe of Benjamin’s involvement in the death of the Levite’s concubine no Israelite “shall give his daughter to Benjamin as a wife.” When the tribes realized that their decree would result in the annihilation of Benjamin, they allowed the marriages on Tu B’Ab.
  • In the fortieth year of the Israelite trek through the desert the last person of the generation that lived when the spies returned to Moses and gave a negative report concerning Canaan, saying it could not be conquered, died. According to a tradition, on the ninth of Ab, every Tisha B’Ab night, the ninth of Ab, the Israelites were instructed to dig graves for themselves in which they slept during the night of Tisha B’Ab. Every year some of them died. In the 40th year, the remaining members of the first generation slept in the graves and all of them awoke in the morning alive. They thought that they may have mistaken the date, so they lay in the graves for another week until Tu B’Ab when they realized they were allowed to live.
  • When Jeroboam seceded from Judah during the days of King David’s grandson[8] and created the northern nation of Israel, he did not want his people to go to the temple in the southern kingdom of Judea. He built two temples in Israel. In Bet El and Dan and closed the road to Judea so that his people could not travel there. His successor Hosea “removed the guards” on Tu B’Ab.
  • The Romans defeated the Judeans during the battles against Bar Kochba in 135 CE and the Roman emperor Hadrian decreed that the slain Judeans must be left lying in the open field. On Tu B’Ab “permission was granted for those who were killed at Bethar to be buried.”
  • Since undried wood contains woodworms which made it unfit for the temple altar, only wood cut until the fifteenth of Ab was used on the altar. After this date the sun rays were not sufficiently strong to dry the fresh-cut logs.
  • Following the fifteenth of Ab nights grew longer and people who worked during the day had more time to study. And since study of Torah prolongs life, Tu B’Ab was considered a happy day.
  • Additionally, another talmudic[9] source states that Tu B’Ab marked the beginning of the separation of the tithes of fruit. The date was chosen because by then most of the rain fell in Israel.[10] Fruits growing after that date were counted toward the tithes of the next year.

 

Yom Hakippurim

If Yom Hakippurim was one of the two joyous days in Judaism, why does the Torah state[11] v’initem et naphshoteikhem, which the rabbis translated “you shall afflict your souls”[12] and listed five ways to afflict the soul: not eating or drinking, not wearing leather, no washing, no anointing, and no marital cohabitation.[13]

I described in some detail in my book “Mysteries of Judaism” that the biblical holiday Yom Hakippurim, “day of Atonements,” a plural form, was totally unlike the current holiday of Yom Kippur. Briefly stated, Yom Hakippurim was a day devoted to temple rituals. The high priest would offer sacrifices to atone for his own misdeeds as well as the misdeeds of his family, other priests, and all Israel. The Israelite involvement was passive. They only had to v’initem et naphshoteikhem, which I will explain below. When the temple was destroyed in 70 CE and sacrifices could no longer be offered, Yom Hakippurim ceased to exist. The rabbis created an altogether new holiday, Yom Kippur, singular because the day no longer dealt with many atonements but was organized to focus on the misdeeds of an individual for which the individual sought  atonement. The rabbis also gave new meaning to the word v’initem.

The root of v’initem, a-n-h, can mean “afflict,” but it also means “humble oneself.”[14] The word nefesh in the Bible does not mean “soul,” but “a person” or “oneself.”[15] Leviticus and Numbers is not telling the Israelites to engage in five restrictions, the passages are saying that while the high priest is offering the sacrifices, the Israelites should humble themselves and rededicate themselves to God. Yom Hakkipurim was a happy holiday. It was only after the rabbis created Yom Kippur that they gave the five-part restrictive meaning to v’initem, a meaning that the word does not have.

 

Summary

In short, we have here examples of two holidays disappearing, the rabbis created a new one based very weakly upon one of them, but allowing the other to disappear entirely. The people revived the other semi-holiday somewhat and gave it new meaning. The rabbis developed a ritual for Yom Kippur that is not in the Bible, and gave v’initem a totally new meaning. While virtually all Jews are convinced that Yom Kippur is a biblically mandated holiday with its practices delineated in the Bible, they are not correct.

 

[1] Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 26b and 30b.

[2] Jews from Germany, Poland, Russia, etc.  Lands under Christian domination.

[3] Jews from Spain and other countries under Muslim domination.

[4] Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 26b.

[5] 536 BCE-70 CE.

[6] Babylonian Talmud< Ta’anit 30b and 31a.

[7] See Numbers 36:6-7.

[8] Around 922 BCE.

[9] The view of Bet Hillel in the Mishnah of Babylonian Talmud Rosh Hashanah 1:1.

[10] Babylonian Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 14a.

[11] In Leviticus 16:29-34, 23:26-32, and Numbers 29:7-11.

[12] This is also the translation in the Jewish Publication Society’s “The Holy Scriptures.”

[13] Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 12b.

[14] Thus when Abraham’s concubine Hagar ran away because she felt mishandled by his wife Sarah, and angel came to Hagar and told her to return to Sarah v’hitani tachat yadehah, the angel was not saying return and be afflicted, but return and act humbly, or as the JPS translates it “and submit to her.”

[15] For example, when Leviticus 2:1 speaks of a nefesh making a sacrificial offering, it is speaking of a person, not a disembodied soul.

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