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Acharei Mot

Acharei Mot starts by describing the laws relating to the sending out of the scapegoat on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). It carries on with laws of forbidden relationships.

Another voice

Acharei Mot by Rachel Elior :: 5768

Rachel Elior is John and Golda Cohen Professor of Jewish Philosophy and Jewish Mystical Thought at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She is the Chair of the Department of Jewish Thought at the Hebrew University and has been a visiting professor at University College London, Yeshiva University, Princeton University, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Oberlin College, Tokyo University and Case Western University. She is the author of many books, among them The Three Temples: On the Emergence of Jewish Mysticism, Oxford 2004; The Mystical Origins of Hasidism, Oxford 2006; Jewish Mysticism: The Infinite Expression of Freedom, Oxford 2007; The Paradoxical Ascent to God, Albany 1992; and Dybbuks and Jewish Women, New York 2008.

Yom Ha-kippurim is mentioned as the sixth of the seven "set times of the Lord" festivals that fall during the first seven months of the year according to the biblical calendar in the Book of Leviticus. These set times are identified and dated in a list that extends from the mid-point of the first month the time set for Passover, which opens the cycle to the mid-point of the seventh month, the time set for the seventh and concluding festival of Sukkot (Lev. 23:4-44). The sixth of these "set times of the Lord" is called Yom Ha-kippurim (Lev. 23:26-32); the sacrifices associated with it are detailed in the Book of Numbers (29:7-11). The purpose of the festival is briefly stated: "For it is a Day of Atonement, on which expiation is made on your behalf before the Lord your God" (Lev. 23:28). No historical explanation is offered for the required expiation in Leviticus but in The Book of Jubilees, written around the middle of the second century BCE in separatist priestly circles and discovered in its original Hebrew version among the Dead Sea Scrolls found at Qumran, retells the stories of Genesis and the first half of Exodus, from the Creation to the divine revelation at Sinai. The stories are recounted within the framework of a seven-based chronology that divides history into units of seven years ("sabbaticals") and of forty-nine years; the latter, comprising seven sabbaticals, are referred to as "jubilees." In the course of its narrative, the book explains the details of the yearly calendar and specifies the precise times (day, month, sabbatical, jubilee) of the stories (J.C Vanderkam).

The stories of Genesis are linked in Jubilees to the seven fixed times of the Lord and evoke unfamiliar recollections whose historical underpinnings, tied to the festivals, take place at various times during the forty-nine jubilees that preceded the encounter at Sinai. This stands in contrast to the biblical tradition that ties the seven festivals to the Exodus from Egypt, the generation of the wilderness, and the encounter at Sinai, all described in the book of Exodus, with no reference to the events of Genesis. The context that Yom Ha-kippurim appears in the Book of Jubilees is that of Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers in the tenth day of the seventh month. The act is presented as a transgression committed jointly by Jacob's ten sons, and biblical law elsewhere treats such a transgression as a capital offense: "He who kidnaps a man - whether he has sold him or is still holding him - shall be put to death" (Ex. 21:16). Because the brothers were not properly punished for their transgression, according to the biblical narrative, the act must be recalled throughout the generations and must be expiated collectively by the sinners' descendants. As recounted in Jubilees 34:10-18, Joseph was sold by his brothers on the tenth day of the seventh month - Yom Ha-kippurim - and their sin in doing so is tied to the Israelites' need for annual expiation on that day. That motif, originating in the Book of Jubilees, appears in various contexts in which the nation's forefathers are depicted as defiling themselves through capital transgressions committed jointly; because the sinners themselves are not punished, the sin requires collective repentance and expiation on the part of their descendants.

The story is elaborated on in the "Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs," a pseudepigraphal work written during the final pre-Christian centuries in circles close to those that produced Jubilees. During the first centuries CE, the story is retold in Heikhalot rabbati, which recounts the martyrdom of ten prominent rabbis as expiation for the sin of the ten brothers selling Joseph-a motif that recurs in various forms in Midrash aseret harugei malkhut, in the liturgical poem Eileh ezkerah-recited to this day during the Additional (Musaf) Service on the Day of Atonement following the description of the Temple service, asserting a connection to a martyrdom that represents the victim's spiritual triumph over the oppressor's temporal might, and in Pirqei de-rabbi eli`ezer, chap. 38, recapitulating towards the end of the first millennium CE the tragedy of the un-punished sin of Joseph brothers and its martyrological transformations perceived as expiation and atonement.


More by Rachel Elior

Another voice by Golda Smith

Currently a synagogue and cheder near you is jumping around, trying to get a child protection policy and guidelines written. To Anglo-Jewry's discredit, it is only since requirements resulting from Every Child Matters recommendations demanded it, that our communities have at last taken child protection seriously. And this, a mere twenty years since Judge Israel Finestein declared Jewish families to be subject to the same stresses precipitating mistreatment of children in all other communities.

Acharei Mot, (after deaths), defines boundaries, 'None of you shall approach to any that is near of kin to him, to uncover their nakedness'. Various relationships are specifically named, including prohibitions of children uncovering the nakedness of a parent.

We read Acharei Mot twice each year, which means that twice each year Jewish minds are directed to think about this fundamental issue of child protection. Importantly, the first reading occurs around the time for clearing out chametz. And the second takes place during the Mincha service of Yom Kippur, at a point in the service when mothers of young children have left shul to feed children and take care of their needs. On this most awesome day those remaining in shul, (and in many congregations this is mainly men), listen, hear, read, think and ponder laws which promote children's safety and happiness, enabling the next generation to grow in families where children can love and honour their parents.


More by Golda Smith

Other Divrei Torah on Acharei Mot

  • 5766 (Aryeh Ben David)
  • 5766 (Taste of Limmud Team)
  • 5767 (Levi Lauer)
  • 5767 (Taste of Limmud Team)
  • 5769 (Daniel Anderson)
  • 5769 (Albert Ringer)
  • 5770 (Michelle Citrin)
  • 5770 (Yoni Smith)
  • 5771 (Shelley Marsh)
  • 5771 (Taste of Limmud Team)
  • 5772 (Gregg Drinkwater)
  • 5773 (Sharonah Fredrick)
  • 5774 (Charles Heller)
  • 5775 (Alma and Daniel Reisel)