Yom Kippur in Qumran, Manfred Lehmann, Revue de Qumran 3, p.117-124.


Second Temple

Second Temple

The most fruitful examination of matters concerning the priesthood can be in the treatment of the Yom Kippur service in Ben Sira and the Qumran documents. The climax of the Temple service of the whole year is the High Priest’s Abodah on Yom Kippur. The description of this Abodah is, therefore, also the climax of the Yom Kippur liturgy. Before analyzing this subject in the light of Ben Sira and Qumran, we must examine the question of sectarianism in regard to the Yom Kippur ritual.

It can be said that no single phase of Jewish law was subject to more strife between Pharisees and Sadducees than the Yom Kippur service. The Talmudic legislation for this ritual embodied in Tractate Yoma, is constantly wrought with allusions to Sadducee heresies (1).

In preparation for the Yom Kippur service, the High Priest was trained for seven days by two “scholars, disciples of Moses” who could not be Sadducees (לאפוקי צדוקים; Babli Yoma 4 a). On Yom Kippur eve, representatives of the civilian court, before releasing the High Priest into the custody of the priestly court (2), took his oath to the effect that he would not deviate in any respect from the instructions given him by the civilian court (משביעין אנו עליך במי ששכן שמו בבית הזה  שלא תשנה דבר מכל מה שאמרנו לךMishnah Yoma I, 4). This oath is explained as a precaution against Sadducee practices, mainly with regard to the firing of the incense (see below). The strain placed on the High Priest by having him move constantly between the North and the South of the Temple during the performance of his Yom Kippur service was especially designed to dissuade any Sadducee from exercising the service (דאי צדוקי הוא ליפרש Babli Yoma 19 a). In order to prevent any criticism from the Sadducees, the lots drawn for the Scape Goat could not be interfered with (אל תתנו לצדוקים לרדות Babli Yoma 40 b). The Talmud also reports a general rejection by the Sadducees of the Yom Kippur service for having been defiled by the Pharisees (אמר ליה ההוא צדוקי . . . השתא ברי טמאים אתון Babli Yoma 56 b).

The major divergency between the Pharisees and the Sadducees concerned the timing of the firing of the incense which the High Priest had to place inside the Holy of Holies. According to the Mishnah (Yoma V, 3), the High Priest carried the pan holding burning coal into the Inner Sanctuary, but would only pour cloud-producing incense on the pan once he was inside. This procedure is stressed to contrast the practice advocated by the Sadducees who held that the High Priest must enter the Inner Sanctuary already enveloped in the smoke of the burning incense, and, therefore, had to pour the incense on the burning coal outside the Inner Sanctuary in fulfilment of Leviticus 16, 13 ונתן את הקטרת על האש לפני ה’ (Babli Yoma, 53 a). Sadducee High Priests were especially keen on breaking the Pharisaic ordinances on this point, e. g. Babli, Yoma 19 b: “It happened once that a Sadducee arranged (the incense) outside and brought it into (the Holy of Holies); when he came out again, he was exceedingly happy. His father reproached him saying “My Son, even though we are Sadducees, we are afraid of the Pharisees”. He answered, however; “All my life I longed to fulfill the verse Leviticus 16, 2 “for in “a cloud I shall appear before the curtain,” and I asked myself when will I have an opportunity to fulfill this, and now that I had an opportunity how could I have failed to take advantage of it?” The Talmud further reports that the heretic Priest soon died; according to one version a voice was heard in the Sanctuary when an angel came and crushed him to death (3).

Immediately following the placing of the incense laden pan inside the Inner Sanctuary (in the First Temple, on the ark; in the Second Temple, on a stone אבן השתיה), the High Priest would say a prayer which explicitly had to be brief ומתפלל תפלה קצרה (Mishnah Yoma V, 3). A High Priest who tarried in a long prayer was subject to suspicion of some heretic practice; tarring at this point was severely criticized (Babli, Yoma 53 b). That the people could become quite aggressive against a High Priest if “frightened” (4) by suspected heresies is illustrated by their attack on one Sadducee High Priest who deviated from the prescribed Suchoth ritual (Babli Suckah 48 b; according to Josephus the attack occurred on Alexander Janneus).

Ben Sira’s most lasting contribution to Jewish literature is the sequence of the Yom Kippur found in Ben Sira 50, 6 ff. which has survived in the standard Jewish Kippur liturgy, as well as, as we may see, in the Samaritan and perhaps the Qumran Yom Kippur liturgy. The Ben Sira description of the Yom Kippur ritual does not follow the standard order of the service, probably as Ben Sira 50 is primarily intended as a poetic homage to the High Priest Simon and as a description of his personal appearance on this day. The description begins with the High Priest’s leaving the Inner Sanctuary (מה נהדר בהשגיחו מאהל ובצאתו מבית הפרכת Ben Sira 50, 6), without any reference at all, at least in the Hebrew text, to the burning incense. However, in the Syriac and Greek versions, Ben Sira compares Simon, not with וכאש לבונה על המנחה (50, 10), but with כאש לבונה על המחתה (M. Z. Segal, opus citatum, p. 344), which may be an allusion to the incense ritual on Yom Kippur. Ben Sira may have ignored this phase of the ritual, which later becomes so important, because in his days it had not yet become a controversial issue (5). He stresses, on the other hand, the sacrificial functions of the High Priest: his ascent on the altar (50, 14 בעלותו על המזבח הוד; cf. Mishnah Yoma IV, 3 עלה לראש המזבח), his placing the fire wood (50, 15.19 מערכות; cf. Mishnah, loco citato בכל יום היו שם ארבע מערכות והיום חמש) and other sacrificial functions, in which he was assisted by his fellow priests, at times accompanied by trumpet blasts. It is after the sacrificial functions upon the altar are completed, that the High Priest descends and blesses the people. As he pronounces the Divine name, the people fall down on their faces (cf. Mishnah Yoma VI, 2). Significantly, Babli Yoma 39 b reports that Simon the Righteous was the last High Priest to pronounce the full Divine name in his blessings. (This observation may explain why the 1 Q Priestly Blessing does not contain the Tertagram.)

The many liturgical variants on the Yom Kippur service preserved in the Mahzorim representing the German, Polish, Dutch, Italian, etc., rites, have freely borrowed from the Ben Sira text (6). We here render some close parallels:

ככוכב הנוגה בגבול מזרח כהוד ירח בתומו מרקיע   B.S. 50, 7ככוכב אור מבין עבים ובירח מלא מבין בימי מועד

(במראה השמש באדר וזוהר כצאת השמש בגבורתו)B.S. 50, 8 וכשמש נראתה בענן

כדמות הקשת בתוך ענן                                      B.S. 50, 8 וכקשת נראתה בענן

כשושנת חן בין החוחים                                      B.S. 50, 9 וכשושן עלי מים

כשוהם וזהב פרודים                                          B.S. 50, 11 ככלי זהב בבית אציל הנאחז אל אבני חפץ

The Samaritan Yom Kippur ritual, too, gives prominence to the description of the High Priest’s service (A. E. Cowley, The Samaritan Liturgy, Oxford, 1909, Vol. II, p. 500, 501, 516, 531, 532). The following passages closely echo the Ben Sira description of the High Priest: ויסתלקו מוצא הכהן אל המקום בשלמים. ויצא והו לבוש בגדי הקדש פני ערב בחצי שעה שיאמים, ויעמד בין ארבע מכתבים, ככוכבי  השמים. ברכתה ויפרש ידיו הכהן וידבר בהשם נסתר ומראות הצבאות תראה בהענן מכל אצטר, תמן יברך (p. 516). The final passage תמן יברך ברכתה refers to a long blessing pronounced by the High Priest inside the Inner Sanctuary, contrary to the Pharisaic regulations, but akin to the Qumran rite as examined below. An additional link between the Samaritan and the Qumran Yom Kippur rites is the use of Deuteronomy 32 in the Yom Kippur liturgy. One Samaritan liturgic poem (Cowley, opus citatum, p. 506) is largely based on Deuteronomy 32. Both here and in another liturgical text (p. 508) the term רביבים is used. The term ] רביבים עלי is likewise twice found in 1 Q Yom Kippur Liturgies (7). A small scroll containing, with some deviations from Massoretic text, Deuteronomy 32, was found in Cave 4; perhaps this was part of a Yom Kippur prayer book. If so, it cannot be subjected to the rigid exegetical examination as an outright Biblical text.

We can safely say that a host of Qumran documents represent that community’s Yom Kippur liturgy. Various Qumran passages give Yom Kippur prominent mention (exempli gratia 1 Q Pesher Habacuc XI, 6–8; 4 Q Pesher Psalm 37, lines 10–11; Damascus Document VI, 19; 1 Q Serek III, 4). In the light of our observation on the sectarian strife revolving around the Yom Kippur ritual it is, therefore, of special historic interest to examine the Qumran documents bearing on the subject. We suggest that the following documents belong to a Yom Kippur liturgy:

Scroll of Three Tongues of Fire

Priestly Blessings

Pesher on Jacob’s Blessings

Yom Kippur Prayers

Scroll of Mysteries.

The Scroll of the Three Tongues of Fire, rather than having eschatological significance, may be a description of the Abodah on Yom Kippur. According to the Mishnah Yoma V, 4, the High Priest placed the incense on a stone אבן שתיה inside the Holy of Holies, since in the Second Temple the ark containing the stone tablets was missing. The pan remained on that stone while the High Priest withdrew and performed the Yom Kippur sacrifices; at the end of the service he would re-enter the Inner Sanctuary to withdraw the pan (Mishnah Yoma VII, 2). We may, therefore, suggest that at the beginning of the Scroll of the Three Tongues of Fire, the High Priest is already inside the Inner Sanctuary facing the stone (line 3), while incense is burning on the fire (line 4). He begins to pronounce a prayer (lines 5–10), places the pan on the stone (line 11), leaves the Inner Sanctuary (line 11: בצאת הכו[הן]; cf. Ben Sira 50, 6 ובצאתו מבית הפרכת), and ascends on the altar to bring the sacrifices (line 13; cf. Ben Sira 50, 14 בעלותו על מזבח הוד (8). Lines 15–24 may contain the Priestly Blessings which Ben Sira, too, places immediately after the sacrificial service. The observation in line 23 [ואח]ר ידרוש הכוהן לכול רצונו may be pointed against the rabbinic limitations on the High Priest which deprived him of any liberty in the service (Mishnah Yoma I, 4), and certainly re-stricted his prayers and blessings to a minimum. The admonishment in line 25 [בני י]ש[רא]ל שמורו את הדברים האלה shows that the rite was unique for the sect, and therefore had to be implanted with special emphasis. Although the beginning of the scroll is missing, and we cannot tell at which point the incense was poured on the fire—provided our over-all conjecture is correct—it is not impossible that the Scroll prescribed this to happen before the High Priest enters into the Inner Sanctuary, in line with the Sadducee teachings (9). Such an interpretation is supported by the observation that the Qumran ritual also deviated from the Pharisaic service with regard to the High Priest’s blessings and prayers.

It is reasonable to assume that the Scroll of Priestly Blessings represents that blessings pronounced by the High Priest during the Yom Kippur service, either while he is inside the Inner Sanctuary or immediately after leaving it. This moment in the High Priest’s service was considered especially opportune for a communion with God or angelic beings. Tosephta Sofa XIII, 6 tells of divine revelations to the High Priests Yohanan and Simon the Righteous during this moment in Yom Kippur Service. Simon the Righteous also tells of his meeting and angelic being inside the Inner Sanctuary in Babli Yoma 39 b. The Pharisees may have attempted to avoid undue stress on mysticism and angelology when they curtailed the time allowed the High Priest to remain out of sight of the multitude. An important incident is recalled in Babli Yoma 53 b: “It once happened that a High Priest prolonged his prayer (inside the Inner Sanctuary); his fellow priests decided to go for him; just as they were going to enter, he alighted; they asked him “Why did you prolong your prayer?” He answered: “Does it displease you that I prayed for you and for the Temple that it may not be destroyed?” But they said “Do not get the habit of doing so, because we have learned “he is not to prolong his prayer in order not to frighten Israel”.

The prayer ordered for the High Priest by the rabbis concerned the prosperity, peace and wellbeing of all the people (Babli Yoma 53 b; Yerushalmi Yoma VII, 2). It is significant that, according to some Amoraites, the prayer also contained the words לא יעדי עביד שולטן מדבית יהודה, based on Genesis 49, 10. In the light of this information, it may be conjectured that the Pesher on Jacob’s Blessing from Cave 4 is actually not an ordinary Pesher (the published fragment lacks a Biblical text), but is actually part of a liturgical text for Yom Kippur. In the rabbinic prayer as well as in the 4 Q Document שבט is equated with שליט, in line with the Targumim. It may also be suggested that this fragment is part of the Priestly Blessing, more particularly of that part intended for the נשיא העדה, in the 1 Q Priestly Blessing text we find the term שבט stressed in V, 24–27.

The prolonged prayer of the High Priest criticized in Babli Yoma 53 b, in the incident quoted above, concerned the priesthood and the Temple. This prayer or blessing must have been very closely akin to the Priestly blessings of Qumran which concern: 1) the pious Congregation in general (I, 1–20); 2) an unidentified member of the priestly family (the reference may be to a future Messianic High Priest, since in III, 18 mention is made of the vanquishing of nations) (I, 21–III, 22); 3) the Priests, sons of Sadoq (III, 22–V, 19); and 4) the lay leader of the Congregation (V, 20–29); the reference to שבט in V, 24 and 27 make it evident that a ruler of Davidic lineage is meant, as shown in Damascus Document VIII, 20 and Pesher on Jacob’s Blessing.

If such elaborate blessings, especially for the priesthood, were identified with practices of sects of the Qumran and the Samaritan type, it is not surprising that the rabbis looked with misgivings on the practice of prolonged prayers by the High Priest while in the Inner Sanctuary.

Some literary points of contact between Ben Sira chapter 50 and 1 Q Serek b may be traced, especially in the blessing of the Priests. B.S. 50, 6 describes the High Priest נהדר, 1 Q Sb V, 19 refers to הדריכה; B.S. 50, 8 describes the Temple as היכל המלך; 1 Q Sb IV, 25–26 describes it as היכל מלכות; 1 Q Sb IV, 24–25  ואתה כמלאך פנים במעון קודשfollow the pattern of B.S., especially as rendered in the Mahzorim כמלאך הנצב על ראש דרך (ed. Venice, 1716), and כחכמת מלאך האלהים (ed. Amsterdam, 1765). The verb used for the High Priest’s service is שרת in B.S. 50, 19.28; likewise, 1 Q Sb IV, 25. B.S. 50, 8 likens the High Priest with the sun; likewise 1 Q Sb IV, 27 likens the Priests to ולמאור [כשמש להאיר] לתבל (10). The High Priest’s blessing in B.S. 50, 34 calls for wisdom and peace; the Blessings in 1 Q Sb call for knowledge (I, 5; V, 25) and peace (III, 21). Based on B.S. 50, 16 סביב לו עטרת בנים we may perhaps read 1 Q Sb III, 3 ברכות [בני]ם עטרת רואשכה.

Even in the Temple, liturgical prayers were recited by the people attending the service. Ben Sira mentions such prayers in 50, 27 :וירנו כל העם הארץ בתפלה לפני רחום Yom Kippur prayers have been found in Qumran fragments from Cave 1, (Discoveries in the Judaean Desert, I, p. 152–154). The emphasis on Remembrance (זכו[ר א]דוני . . . כי זכרת בריתך) is reminiscent of the similar passages in the traditional prayers said from Rosh ha-Shanah till Yom Kippur.

The Scroll of Mysteries (Discoveries in the Judaean Desert, I, p. 102) may also have some connection with the Yom Kippur liturgy. Lines 6, 7 ינלה הרשע מפני הצדק כגלו[ת חוש]ך מפני אור וכתום עשן וא[יננו] עוד כן יתם הלשע לעד. This may be compared with the traditional liturgy: וכל הרשעה כולה כעשן, תכלה בי תעביר ממשלת זדון מן הארץ.

Finally, an attempt may be made to reconcile another text from 1 Q (Discoveries in the Judaean Desert, I, p. 132) with the Yom Kippur service. The Talmud relates Babli Yoma 68 b—that the High Priest read chapter 16 in Leviticus from a scroll of the Torah, and thereafter, by heart, chapter 29 in Numeri. Thereupon he would say: יותר ממה שקראתי כתוב פה “More than I have recited is written here.” The very fragmentary text of 1 Q refers to [מ]שיח הקודש in line 2, who may be identified with the High Priest. [ב]שלישית of line 3 may refer to Leviticus (third Book of Moses) especially since line 4 refers to [ס]פרים חומשים.

ויותר על ארבעת in line 5 may refer to the High Priest’s comments after reading from Numeri (fourth Book of Moses), especially since followed by ופשריהם in line 6, perhaps referring to some additional oral interpretations of the sections recited from the Torah.


Manfred  R.   Lehmann


(1) It is significant that nowhere in the Talmud (outside some Tosephta versions) are Baitusim mentioned in controversies with the Pharisees in sacrificial matters; their attacks on the Pharisees seem to have been concentrated on calendric matter (cf. the writer’s article in Revue de Qumran No. 3, p. 397), while the Sadducees were concerned with divergencies applying to the Temple service.

(2) It is apparent from this arrangement that the civil court did not consider it sale to entrust the instructions for the Yom Kippur service to the priestly court.

(3) The tradition that angelic figures met the High Priest inside the sanctuary is also attested elsewhere. Such encounters are reported in connection with the High Priests Ismael ben Elisha (Babli Berakhoth 7 a), Yohanan and Simon the Righteous in Tosephta Sota XIII, 6; for the latter also in Babli Yoma 39 b. See also Luke 1, 5–22. Such encounters may also be referred to in 1 Q Serek b IV, lines 25, 26.

(4)  The same expression is found in Babli Yoma 39 b when Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai admonished the Temple gates for opening up by themselves which he interpreted as a bad omen! היכל היכל מפני מה אתה מבעית עצמך In the light of 1 Q Serek XII, 1 ואם קלל או להבעת מצרה we can translate Babli Yoma 39 b. “Why do you bring fright upon yourselves.” Similarly the passage in Mishnah Yoma V, 3 means “in order not to frighten Israel”. The same fright is found in Luke 1, 21 (“the people marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple”).

(5)  However, Ben Sira 24, 17. 18 render an important description of the ingredients of the incense. Seven components mentioned by Ben Sira appear also in Babli Karitot 6 a. It should also be mentioned that the description of the High Priest’s service in the Letter of Aristeas (verses 96–99) gives only an account of High Priest Eleazar’s garments, roughly corresponding to the Ben Sira 45, 13–20, and corresponding to the High Priest’s garments listed in the Talmud. (The garments listed in 1 Q Milhamah VII, 9–10 refer to the 4 garments prescribed for the ordinary priest; cf. Babli Yoma 73). However, the Letter of Aristeas does not show any interest in the actual functions of the High Priest; this Letter represents a non-Jew’s impressions of the Temple service. There is, on the other hand, a reference to the High Priest’s sacrifice and burning of the incense in the Inner Sanctuary in Baruch’s Vision XXXV, 4.

(6) Cf.  Also Cecil Roth, Journal of Biblical Literature (1952), p. 171: Ecclesiasticus in the Synagogue Service.

(7) J. T. Milik, Discoveries in the Judaean Desert, I, p. 136 and p. 153 (No 34 and 34 b). Milik erroneously amends the text in both instances [דשא] כרביבים עלי instead of the correct [עשב] כרביבים עלי )Deut. 32, 2). Habermann copied Milik’s error.

(8) The verb נגש is consistently used in Ben Sira and the Qumran literature in place of קרב; cf. Damascus Document IV, 2 יגישו לי חלב ודם against Massoretic text of Ezechiel 44, 15 להקריב לי חלב ודם; cf. Ben Sira 46, 28 להגיש עלה וחלבים.

(9) It may not be without significance that, according to Mishnah Yoma III, 9, the family of Abtinas refused to divulge their knowledge of the ingredients of the incense for which they were famous. According to Yerushalmi Yomah III, 9, Sheqalim V, 1 and Canticum Rabbah III, 7 these ingredients were contained in secret Scrolls. (See the writer’s article in Revue de Qumran, No. 2, p. 250). The fragments from 2 Q published by M. Baillet (Revue biblique, 1955, April), p. 222–245 “Fragments Araméens de Qumran 2. Description de la Jerusalem Nouvelle”) are in the writer’s opinion likewise a secret Scroll of ingredients, in this instance for the show breads, and by no means have to be associated with a description of a “New Jerusalem”. This seems born out by the measurements and portions contained in these fragments.

תמנא סאין סול[תא (line 4, fragment 1)

וארבעת עשר        (line 13,      —         )

ארבעין ותרתין      (line 2,        —       6)

חמשין                 (line 1,        —       7)

That such secret ingredients circulated is also attested by the Talmud which relates—in connection with the account of the Incense Scrolls of the Abetinas family—that the family of Garmu refused to divulge the secrets of the ingredients of the show breads (Yoma III, 9). The list of incense ingredients contained in Babli Keritot 6 a may belong to a similar literature.

(10)  In-line with Ben Sira, I prefer this reading of the lacuna.


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