The Yom Kippur Fast
The Yom Kippur Fast is not commanded – that the command to “afflict your souls” does not mean to fast as the “Jews” do, but simply to be ‘serious’ on Yom Kippur.
There is a trend in some of the ‘two-house’ leaning circles in Messianic “Judaism” that says we should not ‘fast’ on Yom Kippur, because that is what Jews do, and the word in Leviticus 23 does not say ‘fast’, but ‘afflict’, which only means to humble oneself. On the surface, this doctrine sounds lofty, sounds ‘holy’, and sounds like an honest attempt to get to truth. Unfortunately, this is rooted in lack of scholarship, and in anti-Semitism, and the hatred/mistrust of all doctrines of Jews, just because they are “Jewish.” They forget that Yeshua showed up and worked within the framework of 1st Century “Jew”daism during His ministry, and would not violate its ‘customs’ unless those customs violated the Torah.
Yeshua kept the Jewish customs, the ones that did not contravene Torah. The custom of fasting is less a custom and more a command, though to us who are so far removed from the word ‘afflict’, we do not see that “anah”, conjugated as “anitem et nafshoteikhem”, actually does mean to fast, and scripture proves it. We assume sometimes that “Strong’s Concordance”, a lexicon published in AD 1890 by a Methodist protestant, is the ‘authoritative source’ on Hebrew. That is a DANGEROUS assumption, and discredits mountains of other Hebrew scholarship, and does NOT take into account what ancient JEWS used words for and how THEY understood them, including Yeshua.
Further, Stephen, Sha’ul, and the rest of the Shlikhim, were FALSELY accused of wanting to do away not only with Moshe [Torah], but with the CUSTOMS established in Yisrael. Pay attention: these were FALSE ACCUSATIONS!
“And they appointed false witnesses who said, ‘This man does not cease to speak against the Torah and against this makom hakadosh; for we have heard him say that Yeshua HaNatzri shall destroy this place and shall change the customs which Moshe entrusted to you.’ ” Acts 6:13-14 [Perek Version]
“And when they heard it, they glorified Elohim and said to Sha’ul, ‘Our brother, see how many thousands there are in Y’huda who are believers, and they are all zealous for the Torah: but they have been informed about you that you teach all the Y’hudim who are among the Goyim to forsake the Torah of Moshe, stating that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to follow after the customs of the Torah. Now, therefore, they have heard that you have come here. Do, therefore, what we tell you. We have four men who have vowed to purify themselves; Take them and go purify yourself with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads; then everyone will know that what has been said against you is a lie, and that you yourself uphold the Torah and obey it.’ ” Acts 21:20-24 [PV]
We see here, then, that keeping the customs/traditions was part of keeping Torah, in the minds of TENS OF THOUSANDS of JEWS who believed in Yeshua! And Sha’ul did NOT repudiate them, but agreed with them. He also declared that he kept both the Torah and the CUSTOMS, years later when he was defending himself against the same accusations:
Then Sha’ul answered, “I have committed no offense against the Torah of the Y’hudim, or against the Temple, or against Caesar.” Acts 25:8 [PV]
“And after three days, Sha’ul sent and called the leaders of the Y’hudim; and when they were come together, he said to them, ‘Men and my brethren, though I have done nothing against the people and the Torah of my fathers, yet I was delivered from Yerushalayim in bonds into the hands of the Romans, who, when they had examined me, would have released me, because they found in me no cause worthy of death. But as the Y’hudim stood against me, I was obliged to appeal to Caesar, not that I had anything of which to accuse my own people.’ ” Acts 28:17-19 [PV]
There is a lot to see in these two passages. First, that he did nothing against the “Temple”; the temples embodied many ‘customs’ that were not explicit in Torah, but that went hand in hand with Torah commands. You will see, one of these was fasting on Yom Kippur. Next, we see that, again, Sha’ul declares that he himself did nothing against the ‘traditions’/customs of ‘our fathers’, the JEWS. He is defending his obedience to JEWISH CUSTOM, even AFTER he became a believer in Messiah Yeshua. Check the book of Acts from about chapter 13 through the end, and you will see Sha’ul keeping customs. One of them was Synagogue attendance on Shabbat. There is no direct command to go to a Synagogue. Why, then, do we see Yeshua, Kefa and the 11, Sha’ul, and many tens of thousands of Messianic Jews doing so? We can also see that in the Jewish mind, the death penalty was justified for breaking CUSTOMS. Not just commands; why? Because in their minds, the customs were ‘how’ to keep the commands. They were not separate. Again, the ones Yeshua opposed were the ones that replaced or prevented actually keeping the commands. The ones that supported the commands, those handed down from Moshe, He upheld, as did Sha’ul and all the Talmidim of Yeshua.
Now, to fasting on Yom Kippur itself, the command reads this way:
“Howbeit on the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement [Yom HaKippurim]; there shall be a holy convocation unto you, and you shall afflict your souls [anitem et nafshoteikhem]; and you shall bring an offering made by fire unto יהוה .” Lev. 23:27
Those teaching that this does not mean fast assert that since a Methodist preacher decided it only means “afflict”, they can discard the rest of scripture concerning the Hebrew use of this word and ignore the “custom” of fasting on Yom Kippur. That is a DANGEROUS day to tinker with! Ezra shows us how this word means to fast.
“Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava, that we might afflict ourselves before Eloheinu, to seek of Him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance.” Ezra 8:21
The word for ‘fast’ here is “tzom”, which is the root word for ‘abstaining from food’, lest there be any doubt about what Ezra is recording. It is followed by the phrase, “L’hitanot lifnei Eloheinu”, or “afflict ourselves before Eloheinu”. So, the fasting was done for the purpose of ‘afflicting’. Indeed, Biblical ‘affliction’ is ‘hunger’, and this is seen in many hundreds of uses of the word in the Tanak.
Let’s make sure this holds up with more than one witness, however:
“But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth: I humbled my soul with fasting; and my prayer returned into my own bosom.” Psalm 35:13
“And if you draw out your soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall your light rise in obscurity, and your darkness be as the noonday..” Yesha-Yahu (Isaiah) 58:10
“In those days I Daniel was mourning three whole weeks. I ate no pleasant bread, neither came flesh nor wine in my mouth, neither did I anoint myself at all, till three whole weeks were fulfilled…. Then said he unto me: ‘Fear not, Daniel; for from the first day that you did set your heart to understand and to afflict yourself before Eloheikha, your words were heard…’” Daniel 10:2-3, 12
“Blow the shofar in Tzion, sanctify the fast, call a solemn assembly…” Yoel 2:15
So, we now have four scriptural witnesses that clearly show us that in many cases the word ‘anah’ is used to indicate that FASTING is the “how” we do the ‘afflicting/humbling’. In Yoel, this is the second shofar of the fall season, and the ‘fast’ is accompanied with the assembly of weeping and supplication, and this has long been seen by Jews as Yom Kippur, the Great Shofar. This was NOT a later “Jewish” concept, but a deeply rooted Torah concept. Moshe taught the Jews this, that ‘afflict’ in the context of Yom Kippur meant ‘fast’, and the prophets echoed it. It is not a “Jewish”, Talmudic custom, as many in so-called “Messianic” circles are now teaching.
This is further born out in the Mishnah, a document that was compiled in the late 2nd/early 3rd century. The Mishnah is the writing down of the orally taught ‘customs’ that were used in the Temple during the Second Temple period. Messiah Yeshua went to that Temple to observe the customs, and to show how those customs pointed to Himself. The customs of our Jewish people are very, very important. The Mishnah is NOT the Talmud. These were the students of people like Gamliel in the Brit Khadasha, who wrote down their teachings about Temple service one generation after they passed. It is the closest we can get to understanding ‘how’ they did things.
In the Mishnah, in Tractate Yoma, which explains how Yom Kippur was conducted in the Temple by the priesthood, we see very clearly that the 1st century JEWS observed a FAST in order to AFFLICT their souls before Elohim as commanded. [Yisrael was made up primarily of the tribes of Judah [JEWdah], Benjamin, and Levi, but small remnants of all the other tribes as well, and they were all called JEWS/YISRAELIS interchangeably. Two-housers can’t wrap their head around that, and it thwarts their doctrine]
In “Perek 4” (Chapter 4) of the Yoma Tractate, we read:
“But this day he scooped them out with a gold one [and was not required to empty one to the other] and with it he would bring it in [and offer it, thus conserving energy for the High Priest on this fast day]. On all other days he would….”
Here, we learn that on Yom Kippur, the High Priest is fasting, and his duty with the ashes is modified to accommodate his fast. This is the first mention in this tractate of the fast. In other words, there must have been a common understanding in Yisra’el that they fasted, that the Mishnah did not need to explain what “anitem nafshoteikhem”/afflict your souls meant! It was simply stated as a matter of fact that the High Priest was fasting that day!
We see this same defacto understanding in Perek 6, where we read:
“At each booth they would say to him, here is food and water, not that it ever happened that one needed to break his fast, rather, it was a comfort for the person to know that it was there, if needed.”
This is describing the journey of the escort for Azazel, the ‘goat for Azazel’ [known incorrectly as the “scapegoat”]. This escort was offered food, but no escort EVER took it! This is on Yom Kippur, when he is escorting Azazel to the cliff. This also shows us that there was a ‘defacto’ understanding that everyone fasted on Yom Kippur, not just the High Priest.
Then, in Perek 8 we read:
“since the Torah states regarding Yom Kippur, “You must afflict yourselves”, one consuming less than the bulk of a large date including its pit does not alleviate the affliction of fasting…”
Here, we are reading how fasting applies to ALL YISRAEL, and how it is EQUATED with ‘anah’, or “affliction”/”humbling” oneself. Again, the command for one to fast is never mentioned, but it is treated as if everyone in Yisrael understood it this way, and it is showing some mercy on the part of Elohim and Moshe, saying that food the size of a date’s bulk is permitted in emergencies!
Again, Yeshua adhered to these customs, all the Shlikhim [Apostles] did, suffering and dying in never ‘admitting’ to the lies that they violated Torah AND Customs, and the biblical proof that ‘anitem et nafshoteikhem’ actually means ‘fast’ is more than sufficient. There are many, many other scriptures where ‘anah/afflict’ is used in the context of HUNGER. Those teaching that Yom Kippur is NOT a fast are in serious error. It is NO SURPRISE to us that this doctrine is coming from TWO HOUSERS.
Our congregational Halakha on Yom Kippur is that WE FAST IN HUMILITY on that day. “How can two [or more] walk [share halakha, halakha meaning ‘your walk’ ] TOGETHER, unless they are in agreement?” If you’re ‘walking’ with those who teach this and other doctrines, please prayerfully consider the wisdom of the Prophets instead.