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Torah Commentary Blog

Parashat Acharei Mot-K'doshim (May 5, 2012)
by Rabbinic Intern Hannah Goldstein

BEFORE WE HAD the machzor, the High Holiday prayer book, we had the scapegoat. In Acharei Mot, we read about the first rituals that accompanied the Day of Atonement. God told Aaron to take two male goats before the tent of meeting: one intended for a purification offering, the other intended for Azazel. The Torah: A Modern Commentary calls the goat for Azazel, “the most embarrassing feature of the ancient ritual.” The appearance of what can be interpreted as a “demonic being” in the ritual for the holiest day of the year is difficult to reconcile with our notion of Jewish ritual. What does a demonic being have to do with atonement?

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