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Return in Judaism:
|In the Hebrew Bible:|
|Temple in Jerusalem|
|Prophecy in the Temple|
|Confession in Judaism|
|Atonement in Judaism|
|Love of God|
|Awe of God|
|In the Jewish calendar:|
|Month of Elul · Selichot|
|Shofar · Tashlikh|
|Ten Days of Repentance|
|Kapparot · Mikveh|
|Sukkot · Simchat Torah|
|Ta'anit · Tisha B'Av|
|Passover · The Omer|
|Baal teshuva movement|
|Edit this box|
In Judaism, atonement is the process of causing a transgression to be forgiven or pardoned.
In Biblical Hebrew
The triliteral root of the verb "to atone" and the noun "atonement" (כפר) is also the root of the related verb "to cover" (Gen 6:14) and noun "a cover" (of a container, Ex. 25:17), the noun "a ransom" (Ex. 21:30, see also Ex. 30:11-16), and the names of things that normally cover or protect that which is within them (asphalt: Gen. 6:14, frost: Ps. 147:16, villages: Chron. I 27:25, cups or bowls: Ez. 1:10). In Mishnaic Hebrew, the same root often has the meaning "to annul" or "to deny" (כפר במלוה: deny having received a loan, כפר בעיקר: deny a principle of the faith, etc.); this meaning may also be interpretively read in some biblical usage, e.g. Is. 28:18.
The subject of the verb "to atone" may be the one whose forgiveness is sought (Deut. 21:8), the one seeking forgiveness (Gen. 32:21), or a third party. The last case, which is most common, usually (but not exclusively; cf. Ex. 32:30, Num. 25:13) refers to a kohen (priest) in performance of Temple service.
In Rabbinic Judaism
In Rabbinic Judaism, atonement is achieved through some combination of
- Temple service (e.g. bringing a sacrifice, not now possible)
- the occurrence of Yom Kippur (the day itself, as distinct from the Temple service performed on it)
- tribulations (unpleasant life experiences)
- the carrying out of a sentence of corporal or capital punishment imposed by an ordained court (not now in existence)
- the experience of dying.
Which of these are required varies according to the severity of the sin, whether it was done willfully, in error, or under duress, whether it was against God alone or also against a fellow person, and whether the Temple service and ordained law courts are in existence or not. Repentance is needed in all cases of willful sin, and restitution is always required in the case of sin against a fellow person, unless the wronged party waives it.
The following table, based on Maimonides (Hil. Teshuva 1:1-4), gives an outline of the requirements for atonement in sins between man and God:
|Positive commandment||none||none||Repentance + confession or Yom Kippur Temple service|
|Negative commandment||none||none||Repentance + confession + Yom Kippur or Yom Kippur Temple service|
|Severe negative commandment||none||Sin offering (if Temple exists) in some cases + confession||Repentance + confession + Yom Kippur + tribulations or Repentance + confession + Yom Kippur Temple service|
|Profaning God's Name||Repentance||Sin offering (if Temple exists) in some cases + confession||Repentance + confession + Yom Kippur + tribulations + dying|
The sentence of an ordained court (when available) can also substitute for Yom Kippur + tribulations + dying. It is important to note that once a person has repented, he can be close to and beloved of God, even if his atonement is not yet complete (ibid. 7:7).
In other Jewish denominations
Some Jewish denominations may differ with Rabbinic Judaism on the importance or mechanics of atonement. Consult the articles on specific denominations for details.
Compared with Christian idea of atonement
While Christianity developed its concept of atonement out of the same roots in the Hebrew Bible (Christian Old Testament), the different theology of Christianity led it to develop that concept in ways distinctly different from Judaism. In Christianity atonement is given to those believing in the atoning ability of the human sacrifice of Jesus. No text, not one, in the Hebrew Bible speaks positively about human sacrifice (Deu 12:31). The blood of Jesus was not put on the only place (the altar in the temple (see Deu 12:4-18)) where sacrifices could be done to atone for (unintentional (see Lev 4:2)) sin. Using the texts of Judaism, Tanakh or "old testament", atonement from the death of Jesus is impossible.