By Israel Drazin                      


No biblical holiday is practiced today as mandated in the Bible. The rabbis changed all of the holidays. The major but not only reason for the alterations is that many biblical holy days focused on sacrifices which ceased to exist when the temple was destroyed in 70 CE.[1] One biblical holiday stopped existing.[2] Two were replaced with new names and practices.[3] Two dropped and added practices, one radically[4] and one more subtly.[5] Even the Shabbat, which is technically not a holiday, was altered by the rabbis allowing acts that the Bible prohibited and over three dozen acts not mentioned in the Torah.


Like Rosh Hashana, the holiday Yom Kippur does not exist in the Bible. It replaces another day known as Yom Hakippurim. Yom Kippur is singular, “day of atonement,” While Yom Hakippurim is plural, “day of atonements.” The biblical Yom Hakippurim is mentioned in Leviticus 16:29-31, 23:27-32, and Numbers 29:7-11. No work was permitted on this day, special sacrifices were offered, and the Israelites were obliged to te’anu et nafshoteikhem, which is improperly translated as “you must afflict your souls.”[6]


Yom Hakippurim was primarily a day when priests offered sacrifices for a number of misdeeds or possible misdeeds, while the average Israelites were essentially passive; they only watched and te’anu et nafshoteikhem. Priests atoned for their misdeeds, those of Israelites, the tabernacle, and the altar. Hence the day had the plural “atonements.”


What do the Hebrew words denote? What was this obligation of regular Israelites on Yom Hakippurim? The first te’anu is the same word ye’anu in Exodus 1:12, which describes the “afflictions” Israelites suffered under Egyptian slavery. The second, whose root is nefesh, is a word used today for “soul,” but it didn’t have this meaning in the Torah. The Torah’s nefesh means a person.[7] Israelites were required to inflict themselves as their ancestors were inflicted in Egypt.


It is significant is that the Torah does not explain how people should afflict themselves. Perhaps everyone was expected to do so in their own way. It was only later, that the rabbis defined the term as the avoidance of six things: eating, drinking, washing, anointing one’s body, wearing leather shoes, and having sex.


When the temple was destroyed in 70 CE and sacrifices were discontinued, Yom Hakippurim ceased and was replaced by Yom Kippur when individuals, not priests atone for their misdeeds.


[1][1] There is some proof that some Jews continued to offer sacrifices after the destruction of the temple, but this did not last long.

[2] Passover

[3] Yom Teruah and Yom Hakipurim.

[4] Shavuot.

[5] Sukkot.

[6] The Holy Scriptures by The Jewish Publication Society of America.

[7] While Leviticus 2:1 speaks about a nefesh offering a sacrifice, it does not mean that a disembodied spirit does so, but rather a man doing it.