Monday, October 06, 2008

Problems with The Concept of Kappara

Understanding Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur as Divinely mandated "Days of Judgment" poses some serious theological difficulties. First and foremost, why can't the Creator determine an individual's fate moment-by-moment, based upon that person's merits or level of perfection at a given time? Why should He be required to submit a judgment by a particular deadline?

Moreover, it seems as if the system of "Days of Judgment" yields fundamentally unjust results. A person who deserves one kind of treatment on Yom Kippur may either advance spiritually or regress afterwards, rendering his official judgment for the year inappropriate. Providence that adapts to the ebb and flow of an individual's spiritual growth would appear to be far more reasonable.

Furthermore, the idea that Hashem engages in a process of judging at one time and not another is metaphysically problematic, inasmuch as His nature does not admit of any change. Adding to this conundrum is the fact that the purported metaphysical "judgment" would have to take place according to a man-made deadline, i.e., the Jewish calendar as determined by the Sages of Israel! Are we really to believe that the Rabbis are scheduling the Creator's activities?

Finally, stories in Tanach that depict Divine interventions or responses to prayer belie the notion that one's destiny is "fixed" on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur and cannot tolerate subsequent adjustments. There is no indication whatsoever that God cannot answer tefillot offered between one Yom Kippur and the following New Year, or that repentance that takes place during that time period is ignored or dismissed by Providence.

Yet the Rambam, greatest among Jewish philosophers, clearly subscribes to the view that Hashem does judge every individual during the Ten Days of Repentance, and that the deadline for obtaining forgiveness and pardon is fixed at Yom Kippur:

Just as a person's defects and merits are weighed upon his death, so too annually are each and every person's defects and merits weighed on the holiday of Rosh Hashana. One who is found to be righteous is sealed for life. One who is found to be wicked is sealed for death. And those who are in the middle are given until Yom Kippur - if they repent they are sealed for life, and if not they are sealed for death.

How can we decipher this mysterious phenomenon?

To be continued....

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