Once a week, after the Ulpan is finished, a visiting Rabi or professor gives a talk on theology, Judaism, etc. With Rosh HaShana (the head of the year) approaching and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) soon after, there has been some discussion on kippur… or ‘atonement’.
Here are a few notes from the session:
The Rabi has said that the goal of our existence is to be increasingly filled with God’s presence. The more we obey God the closer God draws near to us. As far as I understand his concept of salvation, we are saved and are made fit for heaven by our actions. This brought up a question: If God dwells in us based on keeping his commands then what is the purpose and meaning of atonement in the Tannach? Why did atonement figure so prominently in the ceremonies conducted by the priests in the tabernacle?
The Rab knew where this question was going and said that Christians have a concept of atonement that focused on death as the means by which God forgives sin but that this was not correct interpretation of atonement… or of the sacrifices.
According to the Rabi, since the temple has been destroyed, the sacrifices that God finds acceptable are the fruit of our lives – the sacrifices of our lips. So what is atonement?
At this point a religious lady who was a Jew described ‘kaparot’ , a ceremony in which a chicken is slaughtered on eve of Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement). She told us that she could not sleep for two nights after she had done ‘kapporot.’ She told the class that although you can read about it, it is not until you actually do ‘kaporot’ that it becomes meaningful. It is when you grab the chicken by the wings and feel its heart beating and then realize that you deserved to die instead of the chicken…
What she had described was exactly my understanding of ‘kippur’.
The Rabi said that although on the surface atonement appears to have the same meaning to Jews and Christians, that this was not the case. He offered to meet with those of us interested, mostly Christians by this point, to explain atonement further. It was a friendly conversation and it has helped bring the meaning of ‘atonement’ into sharper focus. I will write more about the results of our second meeting with the Rabi another time. (I am out of time right now)
There seems to be an increasing amount of debate surrounding this word in ‘Christian’ circles. There have been a number of books written recently that reject substitutionary atonement and refer to the concept as divine child abuse. (I haven’t read the books but only reviews)
Such a view denies the unity of God and makes a mockery of the tremendous mystery of the Incarnation.