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Yom Kippur: Fast Or Feast?

Updated: Dec 14, 2020

One of the things that I see come up every year during the Fall Mo’Edim (the Holy Days of Feasting unto Yahweh) is whether or not we are commanded to fast on Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement) or if this is yet another added man-made tradition of the sages and rabbis. So I want to take a little time to examine the passages from the biblical text that bring about some of the confusion about this matter and see if we can draw a conclusion as to whether or not we are commanded to fast on this most unique day of the year.

There are two passages we must look at. First there is the description of The Day of Atonement in Torah, for which we will look at the commandment given in Leviticus 23. The other is a unique passage in The Book of Acts where we find a reference to Yom Kippur calling it “the Fast”.

Bowing In Humility

Adonai spoke to Moses, saying: “However, the tenth day of this seventh month is Yom Kippur, a holy convocation to you, so you are to afflict yourselves. You are to bring an offering made by fire to Adonai. You are not to do any kind of work on that set day, for it is Yom Kippur, to make atonement for you before Adonai your God. For anyone who does not deny himself on that day must be cut off from his people. Anyone who does any kind of work on that day, that person I will destroy from among his people. You should do no kind of work. It is a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. It is to be a Shabbat of solemn rest for you, and you are to humble your souls. On the ninth day of the month in the evening—from evening until evening—you are to keep your Shabbat.” ~Leviticus 23:26-32 (TLV)

The term in question here comes from verse 27: afflict yourselves. The question itself is: Does “afflict yourselves” mean we are to fast for the 24 hour period of Yom Kippur?

The word afflict in this passage is the Hebrew word עָנָה (anah). This word means to bow down or to humble yourself. Nothing about the word indicates a requirement of a fast. In fact, there is a totally different Hebrew word for fast, in the context of “fasting” for religious purposes: צוֹם (tsom). The indication, which will become more clear throughout this study, is that this is a day specifically set aside to humble ourselves and bow before our Master, our Creator, our Father Yahweh. It is interesting that many believe that the return of Messiah Yeshua will be announced at the final trump on The Day of Blowing Shofars and just ten days later is this day solidified by the phrase “every knee will bow and every tongue confess” (Isaiah 45:23, Romans 14:11, Philippians 2:10-11).

Anah is used 83 times in The Tanakh (“Old Testament”). Perhaps we should take a look at some of the other places it is used and see if it makes any sense to apply “fasting” to it in some of these places.

Then He said to Abram, “Know for certain that your seed will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and they will be enslaved and oppressed [anah] 400 years.” ~Genesis 15:13 (TLV)

“If you mistreat [anah] my daughters, and if you take wives besides my daughters, though no one is with us, look! God is the witness between you and me.” ~Genesis 31:50 (TLV)

When Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he took her and lay with her and raped [anah] her. ~Genesis 34:2 (TLV)

So they set slave masters over them to afflict [anah] them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Raamses as storage cities for Pharaoh. But the more they afflicted [anah] them, the more they multiplied and the more they spread. So the Egyptians dreaded the presence of Bnei-Yisrael. ~Exodus 1:11-12 (TLV)

So the Philistine lords came up to her and said to her, “Coax him, see where his great strength comes from and by what we may overpower [anah] him, so we may bind him to subdue him—then we’ll each of us give you 1,100 pieces of silver.” ~Judges 16:5 (TLV)

I will also set up a place for My people Israel and will plant them, so they may dwell in their own place and not be disturbed again. Nor will the children of wickedness afflict [anah] them anymore as in the past, since the day that I commanded judges to be over My people Israel. So I will give you rest from all your enemies. ~2 Samuel 7:10-11 (TLV)

Of course, I could go on and list many more examples—again, the word is used 83 times. But I think it is quite apparent from these references that it makes zero sense at all to say that “fasting” is what any of these passages refers to. After all, just in the first reference clearly nobody would believe that the Israelites were to fast for 400 years. Laban, in Genesis 34, certainly was not referring to fasting when he was discussing the treatment of his daughters.

Shechem was not fasting, he was raping a young woman, a horrible tragedy—and if religion wants to incorporate whatever they feel is linked to anah to Yom Kippur practice, then why not make it a day of raping women as much as a day of fasting? Think about it! If we are going to follow what religion—in this case, as we will see, Judaism—says of how to keep Yom Kippur, then it stands to reason if this word is also applied to raping women then that should also be a permissible act on this day. And anyone who would actually believe this is acceptable should immediately be deemed a heretic and a spawn of Satan.

Moving on, obviously when the Philistines were using Delilah to coax Samson so they could overtake him they were not talking about fasting. Nor was Yahweh speaking of fasting when He gave His promise that the children of wickedness would no longer oppress His people. Clearly this word is not connected with fasting throughout most of its use in Scripture.

After… What Fast?

Since considerable time had passed and the voyage was already dangerous because the Fast had already gone by, Paul kept warning them, telling them, “Men, I can see that the voyage is about to end in disaster and great loss—not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives!” ~Acts 27:9-10 (TLV)

This is the lone passage in Scripture that is used to support the idea that Yom Kippur is to be kept by fasting. But I want to challenge this from two different perspectives.

The first perspective is that if, as religious Jewish tradition suggests, this passage truly is referring to Yom Kippur, why doesn’t it just say that the time of Yom Kippur had passed? Well, in some translations it does. In fact, out of 56 English translations of The Bible I reviewed, 13 do not use the word “fast” but call it The Day of Atonement, The Day of Cleansing, Yom Kippur, or The Day of Reconciliation. In addition to this, the controversial paraphrase translation called The Message Bible says: “We had passed the autumn equinox, so it would be stormy weather from now on through the winter, too dangerous for sailing.”

Essentially this passage was listed to mark a specific time of the year, not to say whether or not followers of Yeshua are supposed to fast for The Day of Atonement. Additionally, there are clearly a number of English Bibles, including at least two more Messianic translations, that shun the use of “fast/fasting” in this text—though, reference to the Greek does indicate that “fast/fasting” may be the more appropriate term. So perhaps the idea that Yom Kippur or The Day of Atonement should be used in this passage and eliminate the use of “fast” from the passage is not the best perspective to apply here. My point is that either Yom Kippur or “fast/fasting”, one or the other, is a poor translation of the text and if Yom Kippur is the proper translation then it eliminates “fasting” from the equation altogether.

What if I told you that, contrary to popular religious tradition, perhaps the fast referred to in Acts 27:9 was not at all a reference to Yom Kippur, but to one of a series of four fasts developed through Talmudic religious tradition? Oh, I know that will just drive some people up a wall—especially those who dogmatically believe in fasting for Yom Kippur and even more those strict Orthodox Jews who don’t even bathe or brush their teeth on this sacred date of The Day of Atonement. But let me show you something that helps us resolve the issue, since I have already established that the commandment in Torah can’t possibly refer to “a fast”.

Thus says Adonai-Tzva’ot, “The fast of the fourth, the fast of the fifth, the fast of the seventh and the fast of the tenth month will become joy, gladness and cheerful moadim. Therefore, love truth and shalom!” ~Zechariah 8:19 (TLV)

The primary reason everyone assumes that Acts 27:9 is referring to Yom Kippur is based on the view that it was after the end of the season of favorable weather for sailing—as The Message Bible puts it, after the fall equinox. But here we see a reference to four days of fasting, and one of them happens to be in the seventh month, which is the same time as the Fall Feasts that include Yom Kippur.

So, what are these four fast days? Incidentally, it appears they are not connected to any of the actual Mo’Edim from Torah, but are the creation of the rabbis and sages. Take a look at what the Jewish written work Peninei Halakhah, Zemanim 6:1 has to say regarding this passage from Zechariah:

After the destruction of the First Temple, the prophets instituted fast days in commemoration of the terrible events surrounding its destruction and the exile of the Jews from their land. They wished to inspire the people to feel pain and mourn the destruction and the exile, and lead them to repent and rectify the evil deeds that caused all the misfortune that has been visited upon the Jewish people from then until this very day.

They instituted a fast on the tenth of Tevet (Asara Be-Tevet) because that is when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia began his siege of Jerusalem. They instituted a fast in Tamuz because the walls of Jerusalem were breached in that month. The ninth of Av was established as a fast day (Tisha Be-Av) because the Temple was destroyed on that day. The third of Tishrei (Tzom Gedalia) was instituted as a fast over the murder of Gedalia ben Aḥikam – leader of the Jews who remained in Judea after the destruction of the Temple – because his death extinguished the last ember of Jewish sovereignty in Eretz Yisrael.

The Jewish people observed these fasts throughout the seventy-year Babylonian exile. When they were privileged to build the Second Temple, the question arose: Must we continue fasting on these days? The prophet Zechariah answered:

Thus said the Lord of Hosts: The fast of the fourth month (in Tamuz), the fast of the fifth month (9 Av), the fast of the seventh month (Tzom Gedalia), and the fast of the tenth month (10 Tevet) shall become occasions for joy and gladness, happy festivals for the House of Judah; but you must love honesty and integrity. (Zechariah 8:19) Indeed, during the Second Temple era, these days became joyous festivals.

When the Second Temple was destroyed, the original enactment was reinstated for all four fast days. However, the date of the fast in Tamuz, commemorating the breach of Jerusalem’s walls, was changed. When the First Temple was destroyed, the city was breached on the ninth of Tamuz, and thus the Jewish people fasted on that day throughout the seventy-year Babylonian exile. When the Second Temple was destroyed, however, Jerusalem was breached on the seventeenth of Tamuz, which is when we have fasted ever since. Even though the four fasts were originally instituted by the prophets to commemorate the destruction of the First Temple – which is why we fast on the tenth of Tevet, which is when Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem during the time of the First Temple, and on Tzom Gedalia, which marks the end of Jewish sovereignty in Eretz Yisrael at the end of the First Temple era – the Sages nonetheless decided to establish the fast commemorating the breach of Jerusalem’s on the seventeenth of Tamuz (Shiva Asar Be-Tamuz), which is when the city was breached at the time of the Second Temple, because the pain of the second destruction is more acute to us. Furthermore, the verse calls that fast “the fast of the fourth month,” implying that the most important part the enactment is that it should take place sometime during the fourth month, Tamuz. Therefore, even when the Sages changed the date from the ninth to the seventeenth, they did not substantively alter the prophets’ enactment of a fast in the fourth month over the breach of Jerusalem. Nothing changed with regard to the ninth of Av, because both Temples were destroyed on that day.

Now, if this passage is not enough to show you this truth, these events are actually all documented in Scripture. Take a look:

In the fourth month, the ninth day of the month, the famine was so severe in the city, that there was no food for the people of the land. Then the city was broken into, and all the men of war fled, going out of the city by night by the way of the gate between the two walls, which was near the king’s garden—even though the Chaldeans were all around the city. They were heading along the way of the Arabah. ~Jeremiah 52:6-7 (TLV, emphasis added)

Now in the fifth month, the tenth day of the month—which was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon—Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard came into Jerusalem to represent the king of Babylon. Then he burned the House of Adonai, the king’s house, and all the houses of Jerusalem. He burned every large house with fire. Then all the Chaldean army, which was with the captain of the guard, broke down all the walls of Jerusalem all around. ~Jeremiah 52:12-14 (TLV, emphasis added)

Now it was in the seventh month, that Ishmael son of Nethaniah son of Elishama—of royal descent and one of the chief officers of the king, along with ten men—came to Gedaliah son of Ahikam to Mizpah. While they were eating bread there together in Mizpah, Ishmael son of Nethaniah rose up with the ten men that were with him and struck down Gedaliah son of Ahikam son of Shaphan with the sword—putting to death the one whom the king of Babylon had appointed over the land. Ishmael also slew all the Jews who were with Gedaliah at Mizpah, as well as the Chaldean soldiers who were found there. ~Jeremiah 41:1-3 (TLV, emphasis added)

It came to pass in the ninth year of his reign in the tenth month, the tenth day of the month, that King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came—he and all his army—against Jerusalem, and besieged it. They built a siege wall all around it. So the city was besieged until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah. ~Jeremiah 52:4-5 (TLV, emphasis added)

Jeremiah is said to have died around 570 B.C. and Zechariah appears to have been active as a Prophet between 520 and 518 B.C., so the events that established these four “fasts” happened long before Zechariah referred to them. Solomon’s Temple is said to have been destroyed in 587 B.C., which fits right into the timeline of Jeremiah’s life occurring about 13 years before the Prophet died. Additionally, Zechariah tells us that these four “fasts” will become joy, gladness, and cheerful mo’edim. The Torah commanded “anah”, or bowing down to Yahweh, humbling ourselves before Him, is to never end and never change.

Notice also that one of these fasts is in the seventh month, on the third day. This places this fast during the Days of Awe, the ten days starting with Yom Teruah, The Day of Shofar Blowing, and ending with Yom Kippur—as Yom Teruah is the first day of Tishrei, the seventh month, and Yom Kippur the tenth day. This means that anyone not familiar with these four fasts could easily make the mistake that the fast in the seventh month when the sailing voyage in Acts 27 took place is a reference to Yom Kippur and not one of these man-made added “days of affliction through fasting”.

Something else of interest that shows us how the act of “fasting” came to be linked with Yom Kippur and the “anah” commandment is found in Ezra 8:21, where it says: “Then I proclaimed a fast there at the Ahava River so that we might humble ourselves before our God and seek from Him a straight way for us, our little ones, and all of our possessions.” The word “humble” here is “anah”. Ezra is said to have arrived in Jerusalem to begin the rebuilding process around 458 B.C., followed by Nehemiah in 445 B.C., and in the record of this time period we see some of the roots of what would become Rabbinic Judaism and Talmudic doctrine begin to grow—such as the establishment of “no buying or selling on The Sabbath”. Perhaps this connecting of fasting with “anah” by Ezra greatly contributed to Yom Kippur becoming associated with fasting.

You know, it’s funny to me how often people in the growing movement to follow Torah shun traditions from “Christianity” that they have come to realize are not biblical, but then they embrace a tradition from “Judaism” that is also completely unsupported by the biblical text. The fact is, there is nothing in Scripture to actually support the idea that we are supposed to “fast” for Yom Kippur. But I don’t want to jump ahead, as I have a couple more bombshells to drop.

An Offering By Fire

Let’s look at one more thing, turning our attention back to Leviticus 23 where the Spring and Fall Feasts are outlined for us with instructions on how to keep them. Regarding Yom Kippur, in verse 27 right after being told to afflict [anah] ourselves, it says: “You are to bring an offering made by fire to Adonai.” This is interesting because we are told to do this for all of the other Feasts as well.

There is an offering made by fire to be brought at Passover/Unleavened Bread/First Fruits (Lev. 23:8), Pentecost (Lev. 23:13, 18), The Day of Blowing Shofars (Lev. 23:25), and The Feast of Tabernacles (Lev. 23:36-37). If we turn to Numbers 28:2-3, where we are given another set of instructions regarding the celebration of the Holy Feast Days, it says: “Command Bnei-Yisrael and tell them to be careful to present to Me at the moadim My food offerings by fire as a pleasing aroma. Tell them: This is the fire offering which you are to present to Adonai…”

Isn’t that interesting? In all seven of the Torah-commanded Feasts we are told to bring an offering made by fire, and then it is further clarified that this offering made by fire is the food we eat at the Feast. And this includes an offering made by fire on The Day of Atonement.

Deuteronomy 16:16-17 says: “Three times a year all your males are to appear before Adonai your God in the place He chooses—at the Feast of Matzot, the Feast of Shavuot, and the Feast of Sukkot. No one should appear before Adonai empty-handed—the gift of each man’s hand according to the blessing Adonai your God has given you.” Modern Scripture-twisting con artists are using this passage, seeing the growing interest in celebrating the Feasts of Yahweh, to teach that people should give money to their “ministry” as the offering no man is to come empty-handed. While there is certainly nothing wrong with financially supporting a Bible ministry that is teaching truth, this passage is talking about the food offerings that every man is to supply for his family to celebrate each of the Feasts. In fact, it is a tithe that every man in covenant with The Father is supposed to set aside to ensure they do not come to the Feast empty-handed [without food]. With that said, any ministry telling you this is about giving them money is manipulating the text and is not teaching you truth, so you should not be supporting them financially or any other way.

The Final Atonement

But on the other hand, when this One offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God—waiting from then on, until His enemies are made a footstool for His feet. For by one offering He has perfected forever those being made holy. ~Hebrews 10:12-14 (TLV)

As I bring this message to a close, I want to consider one last point. As new covenant Believers we believe that Yeshua is the final atonement for our sin. As the text reminds us in Hebrews 10:16, as well as 8:10, quoting the Prophet Jeremiah the sign and seal of the new covenant is Torah put into our mind and written on our heart by The Father Himself.

Something else we find in this segment of Hebrews, which contextually is very much referring to the sacrifice of The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, is verses 26-27 where it quite emphatically states: “For if we keep on sinning willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but only a terrifying expectation of judgment and a fury of fire about to devour the enemies of God.” Sin, of course, is defined for us in 1 John 3:4 as the breaking, transgressing, violating of Torah.

So, consider this for just a moment: Having established that “anah” as applied to Yom Kippur is not about fasting but humbling ourselves and bowing before The Father, the fast referred to in Acts 27 is very possibly a reference to one of the four fasts referred to in Zechariah 8, and there is to be an offering made by fire—a food offering—given on The Day of Atonement, then it would be a sin (breaking, violating, transgressing of Torah) TO FAST on this date. I know that is a shocking revelation to those who have gotten caught up in this tradition, yet I believe I have very well supported this position.

Now, perhaps you are simply not convinced. I get it, traditions are hard to break—just look at all the “Christians” who absolutely know the truth about Christmas and Easter, but still can’t seem to abandon their celebrations of them. For those people I have a suggestion: FAST from sunset at the beginning of Yom Kippur and prepare your FEAST to be eaten prior to sunset at the conclusion. Perhaps you can eat an hour or two before the Feast Day is over, which still allows you to “afflict yourself with fasting” for the majority of the day, if that is what you feel you must do. Another option may be to fast on the day prior to Yom Kippur, allowing you to break the fast with the feast. After all, we have as much of an obligation to reject man-made Rabbinic traditions that add to Torah as we do to reject man-made Christian traditions that subtract from Torah, and it is quite apparent that we are commanded to have a feast, not a fast, for Yom Kippur.

You know, I just don’t get some of the things people in Messianic or “Hebrew Roots” communities come up with. We are free from bondage and affliction in Messiah. Think about that for a moment. I am not saying we should abandon Torah and not celebrate the Feasts, far from it. But the commandment for this Feast is to humble yourself and bow down before Yahweh, and to bring an offering made by fire—which, again, is food. Yeshua is our final atonement.

People are pushing to keep this as a somber and sad day of reflection and repentance. Serious question: If you are free in Messiah, have the Torah put in your mind so it is all you can think about, have the Torah written on your heart so it consumes your passions, have the Spirit put in you to cause you to obey The Torah (Ezekiel 36:27), and have as a result ceased from sin, breaking Torah (1 Peter 4:1), then what is there left to repent of? Truth does not repeatedly lead you to a Roman Catholic confessional booth or a Protestant Christian altar call every time you “miss the mark”. That’s religion that teaches you that. Sin is not “missing the mark”, sin is breaking The Torah. The truth sets you free so that you cease to sin—or, to put it another way, you stop breaking Torah.

We should not approach Yom Kippur with sadness and mourning, repenting from what we are supposed to already be free from. If you are in Messiah Yeshua then Yom Kippur should be the most joyful day of the year. So as you celebrate this most sacred of the Holy Mo’edim, rejoice and again I say rejoice, for The Lamb of God has been slain and has taken away the sins of the world for all who will receive Him.

~Blessings and Shalom~ ©2020 Truth Ignited Ministry

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