Hebrew In Israel | Yom Hakippurim – Learn Torah

Hebrew In Israel | Yom Hakippurim – Learn Torah


What is this day called, what is our attitude to be, and who/what is Azazel?

Name of the Day

Most people know Yom Hakippurim as “Yom Kippur”-יום כיפור (spelled in the Torah without the י and ו).  In the Torah it is called יום הכפרים (Leviticus 23:27-28, Numbers 29:10) with the plural suffix attached to the word כפר-atonment.  It is possible that the change stems from a change in reality which happened after the destruction of the 2nd temple.  During temple times there were several atonements done in the temple:

  1. Blood of the ox and goat
  2. Goat to Azazel
  3. Fasting
After the destruction of the temple, the only atonement left was the fast, leading to the singular from כיפור.

Humble and Sad?

I know that there has been an argument for years over what is to be done on Yom Hakippurim.  However, I do have to point to a mistake being repeated over and over again about the root of the word used for affliction ענה.  I addressed this in a note I wrote several years ago on a podcast I made on the subject.  There are a lot of comparisons people make for different fasts mentioned in the Tanakh, and many misplaced interpretations.  Here is what I wrote back then:

“The word עינוי -affliction and the word ענוה- humble do not share a common root.  Though phonetically they sound the same, they are not related.  The other thing is, we do not find the word אבל- mourning, צער- sorrow, or anything like that.  What we do find is that it is called a מועד-Moed which not only means appointed time, but also a joyous time.  This is how the word is used in Hebrew (Menachem Tzvi Qedari- dictionary of Biblical Hebrew).  We find in Nehemia 9:1-3 a day of fasting and mourning.  If Yom Hakkipurim is a sad day, why then did they make a special day just for mourning after Sukkot?  Wouldn’t that be adding to the Torah?  On top of that, we find that the Jews of the second Temple had a joyous day and not a day of mourning (Mishnah Ta’anit 4:8).”

I understand the confusion over this matter, but it is important not to create interpretations based on modern and non-Hebrew understanding of the text.  The idea of being humble is also very arbitrary, but when one does not eat one becomes weak and humbled, so we can still keep the idea of humbled without forfeiting the most historical keeping of this day with fasting.

Azazel-Who or What Are You?

Probably one of the more illusive terms used in Hebrew, this word has received some ill treatment and interpretation which has led many into esoteric ideas which do not necessarily fit Biblical thought.  Many common interpretations claim Azazel is a being, such a demon or fallen angle, but in truth there is nothing in the text to indicate any of this.  These interpretations are by most a result of internal changes which happened in Jewish thought after the first exile of 586BC.  In truth we do not know much about the thought in 1st temple ideology, but I suspect that believing in a demon you send a goat to is borderline pagan if not fully pagan. Jews in the 2nd temple were heavily influenced by the eastern religions, leaving them open to new ideas which were not of Biblical thought.

When analysing the text in Leviticus 16:10 we find that the text says at the end לעזאזל המדברה- to Azazel, to the desert.  The suffix ה on המדברה is a directional suffix indicating the motion of the animal.  My proposal on this is that Azazel is the desert, and that the genitive relationship between the two words is an apposition of clarification.  An apposition is when two words have equal standing in a text, and both are a reference to the same thing.  Hence, Azazel and desert are the same thing, and the text emphasizes the location but also clarifies that Azazel is not a being.  It is notable that later in the text (verses 21-22) the desert is the focus and not Azazel, showing that the desert is the actual recipient of the goat.

Originally Published: 7 October 2016



October 8, 2019 at 1:15 pm

Thank you!

Sarah Yocheved

May 3, 2020 at 3:30 am

Several translations of Leviticus 17:7 uses the term “demons” or “goat-demons,” “…and they shall no more offer their sacrifices to the demons…” Does the Hebrew word actually say demons, or something else? I didn’t think there were such beings as demons. Please clarify, as I do not know Hebrew.

    Yoel Halevi

    May 10, 2020 at 1:42 pm

    The word is שערים which literally means “goats”. However, in this case it probably should be translated as “spirits” or even “demonic spirits”.

    Yoel Halevi

    June 8, 2020 at 10:21 am

    It is understood that the goats are some kind of representation of demons, but the Tanakh does not want to discuss this subject. It seems that the general public believed in demons, but the Tanakh is uninterested because it is a distraction from the service of God.

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