The Five "Afflictions" of Yom Kippur
The Five Afflictions of Yom Kippur
In three places, the Torah dictates what one is to do on Yom Kippur:
And it shall
be a statute
forever unto you:
month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and
shall do no manner of work, the home-born or the stranger that sojourns among
you. For on this day shall atonement be made for you, to cleanse you; from all
your sins shall you be clean before the Lord. It is a Sabbath
of solemn rest (Shabbat Shabbaton) for you, and you shall afflict your
souls; it is a statute forever. (Vayikra 16:29-31)
On the tenth
day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement; there shall be a holy
convocation for you, and you shall afflict your souls; and you shall
bring an offering made by fire unto the Lord. And you shall do
no manner of work in that same day; for it is a day of atonement, to make
atonement for you before the Lord your God. For whatever soul
that shall not be afflicted on that same day shall be cut off from his people.
And whatever soul that does any manner of work on that same
day, that soul will I destroy from among his people. You shall do no manner of
work; it is a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.
It shall be unto you a Sabbath of solemn rest (Shabbat
Shabbaton), and you shall afflict your souls; in the ninth day of the
month in the evening, from evening unto evening shall you keep your Sabbath. (Vayikra
And on the
tenth day of this seventh month you shall have a holy convocation and you
shall afflict your souls; you shall do no manner of work. (Bamidbar
verses, the Torah does not
eating, drinking, or other pleasures, but rather commands that one should
"afflict" (ve-initem) oneself on Yom Kippur. What is the definition and
nature of this "affliction" and what is its purpose?
the Torah describes Yom Kippur as a "Shabbat," and even more puzzling,
the Torah juxtaposes the phrase "Shabbat Shabbaton" with the
command of "ve-initem." What is the relationship between "ve-initem" and "Shabbat
The mishna (Yoma 73b) teaches:
On Yom Kippur
it is prohibited in engage in eating and drinking, in washing oneself, in
anointing [one's body with oil], in wearing shoes, and in marital relations. The
king and a bride may wash their faces, and a new mother may wear shoes. These
are the words of R. Eliezer. But the Sages prohibit this.
The gemara (74b) proves that the
phrase "inuy," as used in
the Torah, refers to
depriving oneself of eating and drinking. Thus, all agree that these two
prohibitions are biblically prohibited and that only they incur the punishment
of "karet" if violated.
other four prohibitions, the Talmud (76a) asks:
To what do
these five afflictions correspond? R. Chisda said: They correspond to the five
[times] afflictions are stated in the Torah
These are only five, yet we learned
in the mishna there are six [afflictions]? Drinking is included in
Rishonim debate whether the other four prohibitions are prohibited
mi-deoraita (biblically) or mi-derabbanan (rabbinically). Most
Rishonim argue that these prohibitions are mi-derabbanan (Rashi 74a,
s.v. shabbaton; Rabbeinu Tam in Tosafot 77a, s.v.
di-tnan; Tosafot Yeshanim 73b; Rosh, Yoma 8:1; Ritva
73b; Chinukh 313).
Rishonim bring numerous proofs to support their claim. First, the language
of the gemara above, which asks, "To what do
these five afflictions correspond," and not "What is the source for these
afflictions," implies that the gemara viewed these prohibitions as
rabbinic in origin. Second, the Rishonim point to the halakhic
differences between the prohibitions of eating and drinking and the other
afflictions. Only eating and drinking on Yom Kippur incur the punishment of "karet."
Furthermore, in the mishna, R. Eliezer permits a king and bride to
wash their faces and a new mother to wear leather shoes. Had the prohibition of
washing been mi-deoraita, we would not expect to find such exceptions.
Similarly, the gemara (77b) teaches that if one was soiled with mud or
excrement, one may wash oneself, and one who has scabs on his head may anoint
himself as he usually does. Again, had the prohibition been of biblical origin,
we would not expect to find these exceptions. The Tosafot Yeshanim
suggest that this discussion may actually be the basis for the debate between R.
Eliezer and the Sages, although they reject this possibility.
Due to the
it would seem quite difficult to maintain that the other afflictions are
prohibited mi-deoraita unless we were to
redefine what exactly is prohibited
mi-deoraita or reevaluate our assumption that a biblical law cannot
to resolve these difficulties. For example, R. Eliezer of
opinions attempt to resolve the apparent difficulties in asserting that the
other inuyim are biblically prohibited and to explain the halakhic
discrepancies between eating and drinking and the other afflictions, the Ran
(Rif 1a) offers a unique approach,
redefining how we
understand the notion of a "biblical prohibition:"
seems to me that all of the afflictions are mi-deoraita
Scriptures gave over the authority to the Sages and they were lenient, as they
saw fit, and permitted that which was not done for pleasure
In other words, while the core prohibition
of "and you shall afflict" is mi-deoraita, its specific details were
determined by the Sages. The Sages, therefore, determined that a king and a
bride, as well as one who wishes only to remove dirt, may wash. We find a
similar idea (Chagiga 18a) regarding the prohibition of melakha
(labor) on Chol Ha-Moed, the intermediate days of a festival (see
Tosafot there, s.v. cholo shel moed and Rambam, Hilkhot Yom Tov
7:1, as well as Yere'im 274 and Ramban, Vayikra 23:24).
The Acharonim discuss the position of the Rambam at length, debating
whether he agrees with those who view the other prohibitions as being of
biblical or rabbinic origin.
The Rambam (Hilkhot
Shevitat Asor 1:1, 4-5) writes:
It is a
positive commandment to refrain from all work on the tenth [day] of the seventh
month, as it states [Vayikra 16:31]: "It shall be a Sabbath of Sabbaths
There is another positive commandment on Yom Kippur to refrain from eating and drinking, as it states [Vayikra 16:29]: "You shall afflict your souls." According to the Oral Tradition, it has been taught: What is meant by afflicting one's soul? Fasting.
on this day fulfills a positive commandment. Whoever eats or drinks on this day
negates the observance of [this] positive commandment and violates a negative
commandment, as it states [Vayikra 23:29]: "Any soul that does not
afflict itself will be cut off." Since the Torah punishes a person who does not
fast with karet, we can derive from this that we are forbidden to eat and
drink on this day.
according to the Oral Tradition, it has been taught that it is forbidden to
wash, anoint oneself, wear shoes, or engage in sexual relations on this day. It
is a mitzva to refrain from these activities in the same way one refrains
from eating and drinking. This is derived from [the exegesis of the expression]
"a Sabbath of
Sabbaths." "A Sabbath" implies refraining from eating [according to another
version, "with regard to work"]; "of Sabbaths" implies refraining from these
activities. One does not incur karet or become obligated to bring a
sacrifice except [for violating] eating and drinking. However, if one washes or
anoints or wears leather shoes or engages in marital relations, one receives
rabbinical lashes (makat
On the one
hand, the Rambam writes that one who violates one of the four afflictions
receives "makat mardut," implying that these inuyim are only
mi-derabbanan. On the other hand, the Rambam writes, "It is a mitzva
to refrain from these activities in the same way one refrains from eating and
seemingly equating the prohibitions of eating and drinking and the other
insists that the
Rambam prohibits the other afflictions mi-deoraita. The Maggid
Mishneh (1:5) disagrees, explaining that the Rambam distinguishes between
eating and drinking, which are prohibited mi-deoraita, and the other
inuyuim, which are prohibited mi-derabbanan.
Interestingly, the Rambam, both in his Sefer Ha-Mitzvot (Positive Command
164) and in his Peirush Ha-Mishna (Yoma 8:1), writes that the five
afflictions are known "through tradition" (min ha-kabbala), implying that
they are mi-deoraita.
If so, how are we to understand the "afflictions" of Yom Kippur? What
role to they play, and why are they referred to as "shabbaton"?
of the Inuyim
et nafshoteikhem" (Vayikra 16:31, 23:27, 23:32, Bamidbar 29:7)
should be translated literally: "And you shall
afflict your souls."
apparent purpose of the inuyim is to afflict, to cause discomfort, in
order to motivate the person to repent. Indeed, this assumption seems to guide
the gemara (Yoma 74b), at least initially, in the following
taught: "You should afflict yourselves" (Vayikra 16:29). It might be
thought that this means that one should sit in the [hot] sun or in the cold in
order to suffer. To advise otherwise, the Torah then states, "And you shall
not do any work" (ibid.). [The linking of the two verses teaches:] Just as [the
injunction against] work is a command to sit and not do, so too the commandment
of afflicting oneself is a command to sit and not do. But say in a case where
one sits in the sun and becomes hot, we would not say to him, "Get up and sit in
the shade." Or where one sits in the shade and becomes cold, we should not say
to him, "Get up and sit in the sun!" [The gemara answers: The mitzva
of afflicting oneself is] similar to [refraining from] work: Just as you do not
differentiate concerning work, so too you do not differentiate regarding
At first, the gemara clearly understands the obligation of "you shall afflict yourselves" as an imperative to cause oneself discomfort. Afterwards, the gemara suggests that while one need not actively cause discomfort, one should certainly not improve one's state of comfort. Finally, the gemara concludes that just as "work" refers to specific labors that are always prohibited, "affliction" refers to specific forms of "inuy," or abstention, which apply in all situations.
does not indicate, however, the extent to which it clings to its initial
assumption. In other words, does the gemara still understand the primary
inuy as causing
Regarding the mitzva
to eat on the eve of Yom Kippur, the Shibbolei Ha-Leket and the Torah
Temima suggest that the Torah wants one to eat excessively the day before a
fast in order that one will suffer even more on the day of the fast itself.
Clearly, the Shibbolei Ha-Leket and Torah Temima understand "ve-initem"
literally - one should ideally suffer great discomfort on Yom Kippur.
Rishonim (Rashi, Rosh),
however, explain that
the Torah commands the Jewish People to eat
on the eve Yom Kippur
so that they
should experience less discomfort during the fast, or to express
one's joy upon the opportunity to receive absolution (Rabbeinu Yona, Ritva).
These Rishonim seem to disagree with the first opinion;
experiencing discomfort as the goal of the day.
according to the Rambam, as we explained above, inuyim are a fulfillment
of "shabbaton," similar to refraining from doing melakha.
Apparently, the inuyim would be better described as abstentions from the
physical world, a withdrawal from day-to-day activities, rather than an attempt
to cause discomfort. Indeed, the
Pirkei De-Rabbi Eliezer (45) accurately portrays the function of the
inuyim when it compares the Jewish People to the ministering angels who are
completely removed from physicality and devoted to fulfilling God's
In order to repent fully and achieve complete forgiveness, the Torah commands us to withdraw from the physical world and to focus upon the world of spirit, if only for a day. Causing oneself pain and discomfort is not the Torahs intention.