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Purification Rituals, Lawrence H. Schiffman, Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia 1994.

The Dead Sea Scrolls
Another manuscript to be considered here, Purification Rituals, has been dated to the early first century B.C.E. The text discusses a number of issues- sexual impurities, purity of the cultic servitors, the laws of skin diseases for both persons and houses, and contact with the dead. In addition, the text explicitly mentions the obligation to purify oneself for Sabbaths and Festivals, for the equinoxes and solstices, and for the harvest Festivals and the New Moon.

In this text we find certain rulings on halakhic matters pertaining to ritual purity and impurity. What concerns us here, however, is the text’s liturgical features. Each person engaged in a personal purification ritual was to recite a prayer beginning with the clause- “Blessed be You, God of Israel, Who …” (frag. 41-3; frag. 42–44-3).

The evidence in this text can help us dispel a common misconception about the Jewish laws of ritual purity and impurity—that they lack ethical and religious dimensions. Critics claim that these rites are mechanical at best and that they actually represent taboos. But in the Qumran Purification Rituals we find clear evidence that at least by the first century B.C.E., this Jewish group emphasized the spiritual and religious meaning of such rituals, believing that ritual purification must be preceded and accompanied by an inner turning, a dedication to the goals and aspirations sought by Judaism. One example is the following-

And he shall bless and reci[te] and say- Praised are You [God of Israel Who has saved me from al]l my transgressions and has purified me from contact with menstrual impurity, and You have granted atonement, so that I may go […] purification, and the blood of the burnt offering of Your acceptance and the remembrance of the sweet sav[or … ], Your holy incense, [and the swe]et sav[o]r of Your acceptance … (PURIFICATION RITUALS 29–32 VII 6–9)

Indeed, what made the purification rituals work was repentance. In fact, when these rituals were performed with genuine feelings of spiritual purification, they apparently served as a substitute for the sacrifices no longer being offered by the sectarians. This idea is enshrined in Rule of the Community (2-26–3-12), which required proper repentance by anyone who wished to enter the waters of purification. Thus, purification was a deep spiritual process of self-improvement, not a mere cultic rite.

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