In the Talmud, it is recorded that after Jesus’ death the sin offerings offered on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) were not accepted by God. In this article, I will explain what the Talmud says and I will respond to counter arguments from anti missionaries that do not accept Jesus as their Messiah.
Yom Kippur Offerings
Recently, my Rabbi, Rabbi Eric Tokajer of Brit Ahm Messianic Synagogue, wrote an article on a cover up that tried to hide that the sin offerings on Yom Kippur were no longer accepted by God after Jesus’ death. In the article he explains:
Every year on this day, the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies and apply blood to the Ark of the Covenant, also known as the Aron HaAdut, or the Ark of the Testimony (remember this for later). This blood offer, if accepted by G-D, would cover the sins of Israel until the next Yom Kippur. The way Israel knew that this offering of covering was accepted was if the red cord tied around a goat’s neck would turn white. 1
The origin for Yom Kippur is explained in Leviticus 16. Every year, the High Priest of Israel would offer a sacrifice for the atonement of sins for Israel. This was not an offering for individual people, but rather, corporate Israel. The High Priest would enter the tabernacle and he would sacrifice one goat. He would then lay hands on the other goat and confess the sins of Israel and then let the goat go. Rabbi Eric Tokajer further explains:
This process went on year after year until the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. However, according to Talmudic writings, the red thread stopped turning white the year that Yeshua was crucified. While this information about the red thread was not hidden by the Rabbis, a cover-up began as the focus of Yom Kippur was changed after the destruction of the Temple and the emphasis became offering prayers instead of the offering of a blood sacrifice. There was no longer a provision for the actual covering of sins nor a mechanism for knowing if the offering was accepted. So, with this cover-up that was established with the end of the Yom Kippur sacrifice and the replacement of that sacrifice with prayer, Judaism lost its assurance of atonement. 2
Why this is Significant
This occurrence was recorded in the Talmud in Rosh HaShanah 31b. 3 The Talmud is a collection of Rabbinical writings that contains questions Rabbis ask and where issues are discussed in writing. The scarlet thread was a tradition that was started in the first temple period. It was used as an indicator of when the sacrifice made by the High Priest on behalf of corporate Israel was accepted. When the sacrifice was made, the thread would turn white when God accepted it.
On the year Jesus died on the cross, the scarlet thread no longer turned white. When this happened, the priests stopped using a thread to determine when God accepted the sacrifice. Instead, they replaced the sacrifice with prayer. Because of this, Rabbi Tokajer points this out as a cover up.
Aside from the obvious cover up by Jews that didn’t accept Jesus as their Messiah, there is further significance. We, as believers who have accepted Jesus (Yeshua) as our Messiah are enlightened to him being our High Priest and the atonement for our sins. The author of Hebrews wrote in Hebrews 9:12-15:
Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance (Hebrews 9:12-15).
A majority of New Testament scholars (both believing and skeptical) already agree that Jesus died on the cross and his tomb was found empty. This, however, is evidence that Jesus’ death was more than just a man dying on a cross; it is evidence the death of Jesus had theological implications.
In Isaiah 53, the Prophet Isaiah foretold the sacrifice that our Messiah would make on our behalf. If our sins are already atoned for, why would we need to continue making an annual sacrifice at the temple for Yom Kippur? Thus, this history that is recorded by people who are hostile to the notion that Jesus is the Messiah is evidence that Jesus’ sacrifice had theological implications. In other words, we have extra-biblical evidence that Jesus did indeed die as a sacrifice for the atoning of our sins.
Answering the Coverup
When confronted with this portion of the Talmud, proponents of forms of Judaism that do not accept Jesus as our Messiah will downplay it. In anticipation of these objections, I will endeavor to answer them here. The following objections are brought up by an Orthodox Rabbi named Tovia Singer and are often repeated by anti missionaries. 4
Objection: The idea that Jesus’ death is the reason the thread stopped turning white is preposterous.
Answer: There is more than one reference in the Talmud to the scarlet thread no longer turning white. One reference is found in Rosh HaShana 31b and another reference is found in Tractate Yoma 39b (I know only of these two). 5 Neither of these references attribute the threads not turning white to Jesus’ death. This, however, doesn’t mean that it wasn’t because of Jesus’ sacrifice. Furthermore, we cannot expect anyone who doesn’t believe Jesus is the Messiah to think that his sacrifice had anything to do with the scarlet thread not turning white.
The preponderance of the evidence, however, suggests that Jesus’ sacrifice is the reason why the sin offerings were no longer accepted. First, the Talmud says that the thread stopped turning white 40 years prior to the temple’s destruction, and this puts us in the time frame of when Jesus was put to death. Second, we have the Gospel and the Epistles in the New Testament, all of which are in agreement with one another about the purpose and the effect of Jesus’ sacrifice. Third, we have the unusual occurrence of the scarlet thread not turning white. Furthermore, there was not a time when the scarlet cord did not turn white until the time of Yeshua’s death. After that, for forty years prior to the destruction of the temple, that scarlet thread did not turn white. The second temple lasted 585 years. The tradition of using a scarlet thread began in the first temple period, and the first temple lasted 410 years. In essence, the thread not turning white disrupted well over 500 years of the thread turning white.
Thus, with the writings of the New Testament, we have an understanding of why the sin offerings at the temple were no longer accepted–it is because Jesus Christ, Yeshua the Messiah, was the sin offering. Historically and theologically, the facts line up.
Objection: Ezekiel 44 and 45 say the sin offerings will be reinstated during the third temple period so the idea that Jesus was the sin offering is incorrect.
Answer: This has nothing to do with the issue at hand. There are debates between believers about whether or not Ezekiel 44 and 45 teaches the sin offerings will be reinstated. Let us, for argument’s sake, say that the sin offerings will be reinstated (many Messianics and some Christians believe this). What is the purpose of the sin offering? According to the New Testament, the offerings and many other laws were a shadow of the things to come. The Apostle Paul wrote:
Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ. Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God (Colossians 2:17-19).
If Jesus is the Messiah, then the offerings offered at the temple under corrupt leadership (any leadership that rejects the Messiah), in particular, on Yom Kippur, were not foreshadowing the coming of the Messiah. Why? Because if Jesus is the Messiah, and if someone who has rejected Jesus gives an offering, that offering will be rejected, for it is faith that pleases God, and a rejection of Jesus the Messiah is unbelief (Hebrews 11:6, 2 Samuel 12:19). The rejection of the Messiah is a sin, and if one gives an offering whilst rejecting the one who atones for their sins, the offering will be rejected. It is not enough to outwardly practice Torah. The heart must also be in the right place. This is why Cain’s offering was rejected, and why David’s offerings were rejected when he committed adultery with Bathsheba (Genesis 4:1-7, 2 Samuel 12:19).
Objection: The reason why the scarlet thread didn’t turn white was due to the sins of Israel and not because of Jesus’ sacrifice. Therefore, believers in Jesus are taking the Talmud out of context.
With this objection, the anti missionary is attempting to offer an alternative explanation to explain away the scarlet thread no longer turning white after Jesus’ resurrection and thereby arguing that believers in Jesus are taking the Talmud out of context. During the second temple period, there was a moral decline in Israel that some believe started after the death of the High Priest Shimon HaTzaddik. Some of these events are recorded in the Talmud, Tracate Yoma.
There used to be miracles that would regularly happen at the temple (which, by the way, is also extra-biblical evidence that God did work miracles). These miracles were:
1) The lot (goral) inscribed LaHashem, would always appear in the right hand of the High Priest during the Yom Kippur service.
2) The strip of scarlet-dyed wool (lashon shel ze’hurit) which was tied to the head of the scapegoat always turned white during the Yom Kippur service. (indicating atonement)
3) The western-most lamp (ner ma’aravi) of the Temple menorah would always be burning. The priest would use its fire to kindle the next days lamps.
4) The pyre on the altar (aish ha-ma’aracha) did not require any additional wood to sustain a strong fire.
5) There was a blessing upon the first fruits of the Omer, the two loaves offered on Shavuot, and on the loaves of the showbread so that each priest was satisfied with a portion no larger than the size of an olive. 6
The Talmud, in Tracate Yoma, chronicles the gradual decline of the occurrences of these miracles. Because of this, anti missionaries such as Rabbi Tovia Singer give the moral decline of Israel as the reason why these miracles stopped happening. This decline in these miracles started after the death of the High Priest Shimon HaTzaddik. Thus, the anti missionary will say that there was never a moment where all miracles ceased and will claim that the believer in Jesus is either being dishonest or is ignorant of the Talmud.
What we have now is information and we have two different conclusions drawn from that information. First, we have the conclusion that the sin offerings at the temple on Yom Kippur were no longer accepted by God due to Jesus’ atonement. Second, anti missionaries argue that the moral decline of Israel is to blame. The question is, which conclusion does the facts fit into better?
The information in the Talmud that anti missionaries give fits very nicely into the framework of history that the four components of the Gospel: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John give us. In the Gospel, it is clear that some of the pharisees were very corrupt. There were good pharisees such as Nicodemus, but there were a few, but prevalent, pharisees in the New Testament that wanted to protect their status and wanted their man-made traditions to be regarded on the same level as the Torah.
In the very same section of the Talmud that anti missionaries reference, it states that the height of the moral decline in Israel happened 40 years prior to the destruction of the temple, and this, again, puts us at the time of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. Therefore, any believer in Jesus would agree that the height of Israel’s moral depravity came 40 years prior to the temple being destroyed. After all, putting God, who had come in the flesh, to death is the most morally despicable thing that mankind has done.
And then we have the question of the thread. Now, anti missionaries will cry foul and say that believers in Jesus are claiming that all miracles at the temple suddenly stopped 40 years before the temple was destroyed. This is not an accurate representation of the argument given in this article nor is it an accurate representation of how the argument is presented by Messianic believers and Christians. The only miracle that is referenced in our argument is the scarlet thread turning white, and it specifically says in the Talmud that this particular miracle stopped 40 years prior to the temple’s destruction. This particular miracle did not gradually fade away; it suddenly stopped, and it was a miracle that was directly connected to the atonement of sins for Israel. Not only did it suddenly stop, but it stopped after Jesus was put to death, and, as Messianic believers and Christians believe, Jesus was given as a sin offering for the atonement of sins. The cessation of this miracle interrupted well over 500 years of this miracle occurring.
Though an alternative explanation is offered by the anti missionaries the information leading up to that conclusion does not contradict the Gospel in any way, and the notion that the moral decline of Israel went to a new low at the same time that Jesus was put to death hurts their case more than it helps it. Though the Talmud records miracles gradually declining, the miracle of the scarlet thread turning white suddenly stopped. Last, but not least, Joseph ben Caiaphas was the High Priest of Israel during the time that Jesus was put to death. In fact, he presided over the Sanhedrin that sentenced Jesus to death. Ceiaphas was the embodiment of the corruption of the Sanhedrin that lead to Jesus’ death. Thus, even within Biblical context, the moral decline after Shimon HaTzaddik’s death makes sense, for Ceiaphas, for all of his corruption including leading the Sanhedrin that would give Jesus the death penalty, would be the embodiment of that moral decline.
1. Tree of Life Bible Society, Rabbi Eric Tokajer, Yom Kippur and the Red Thread Cover-Up, <https://www.tlvbiblesociety.org/articles/yom-kippur-and-the-red-thread-cover-up> Dated 10/7/19, Accessed 10/8/19.
3. Talmud, Rosh Hashana 31b, “‘For forty years before the destruction of the Temple the thread of scarlet never turned white but it remained red’.”, <https://juchre.org/talmud/rosh/rosh2.htm>
4. Talmud, Tractate Yoma 39b, “The Rabbis taught that forty years prior to the destruction of the Temple the lot did not come up in the [high priest’s] right hand nor did the tongue of scarlet wool become white…” <https://www.sefaria.org/Yoma.39b?lang=bi>
5. <http://rabbishimon.com/?page_id=1283>, Accessed 10/8/19