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Can I Use a Scapegoat on Yom Kippur?

Can I Use a Scapegoat on Yom Kippur?

. . . or is there a catch?


Hey Rabbi!

I heard that in the original Yom Kippur services, the Jews used to send a scapegoat away with all their sins, and then they could start all over again. I’m looking for a scapegoat, but not sure exactly what to do with it when the day comes. Could you fill me in on the specs?

Hi Scapegoat Guy!

You got some of it right, but I need to set you straight on a few details. For one thing, there were two goats. One was an offering on the altar. The other was sent away.

You’ve got a goat inside. It has two sides.

For another, the goat helps only when the entire community is involved, fasting, expressing remorse, and otherwise dealing with their past. Even then, the requirements stipulate a Temple built according to exact specifications on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and a high priest to officiate. If you can put all that together by the holy day, we’ll all be grateful. And impressed.

But wait, there’s still hope. Even if you can’t do this with a regular, woolly goat nowadays, you can still do it with your inner goat. Here’s how:

You’ve got a goat inside. It has two sides. On the one hand, you can’t live without it, and it’s not at all bad. Maybe it’s like one of those nice goats that provides milk, wool and playfulness. On the other hand, it can get into some darned awful habits that can prove pretty embarrassing in your relationship with others. Even more embarrassing when it comes to your Creator.

So, you need to split that goat into two goats. And then send one of them away.

There’s a caveat here, something you really have to know: You can’t send a goat away unless you first take ownership of it. You gotta know, “This is my goat. It’s part of me. What it did, I did. I take full responsibility.”

Once you’ve done that, you can wave goodbye, close the door, and never let it back in again. Then get to work on raising up the other goat into a truly divine offering.

That sounds pretty simple, but I have to bring it up because most people seem to find it real hard. We tend to think the scapegoat is our mother, father, fourth-grade school teacher, wife, husband, job, employer, rush-hour traffic, pharmaceuticals, condition, or some crazy rabbi who gives nutty advice.

You can’t send the goat away as long as you deny that it’s your goat.

That doesn’t work. You can’t send the goat away as long as you continue denying that it’s your goat. Only once you say, “Yes, that’s me,” then you can say, “No, that wasn’t me. Not the real me. That was beneath me.

“And I’m never going to see that goat again.”

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
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Amanda Toronto October 22, 2015

Something you have hinted about ... taking ownership of the splitting of the goats ... and ultimately, of not allowing others to 'own your soul ...

Can the divine soul w/in be rented out to anyone, really? Isn't it always G-d's sovereign 'land'? So can it only be the human intellect or tribalistic aspect of the soul that can allow such splitting; exile or sacrifice? Is there a relationship between this and the story of the binding of Isaac? ... where a ram was finally sacrificed? Reply

Anonymous May 23, 2015

Thank you so much for this article. I am not Jewish; I am a student writing a paper on Yom Kippur. However, this article really speaks to my inner goat and the things I have to change in my own life. It's time to take ownership and kick that thing outta here! Reply

Anonymous Nicosie September 16, 2013

Thank you for this article.
The symbolic side of the figure of the scapegoat should get more publicity.. I think it's very interesting and.. encouraging to progress. Reply

Anonymous September 13, 2013

i dislike killing or hurting animals in any manner

so i guess i'm outa luck :-{ Reply

Chaya PA September 13, 2013

Owning my goats This writing really speaks to me--both in the work I do with others and in my life. I am getting better at owning my goats. I am working diligently to change my behaviors, to acknowledge where I've been less than Holy, to ask for forgiveness and work to be different--more present where I've been lacking. I've learned that asking for and receiving often don't go together. So I keep working to atone in ways that help others even if the person I've asked to be forgiven by doesn't even acknowledge my apology. I've regrets. I'm working to do t'sheuvah and move on. Thanks for the posting. Sending the remiss goat is difficult to do when broken relationships remain and forgiveness from others is absent. Then I work to forgive myself and become the person I am meant to be. Reply

Dmitry Sheinin September 13, 2013

Great answer! That's how Hillel dealt with this kind of questions. (I must confess that when I read the question I first thought of Shammai and his ruler - "Shammai wacked him with a ruler, and Hillel taught him the Golden Rule.") Reply

Noah Perlman 60173 September 12, 2013

that's what I was going to say Awesome! Reply

Avraham USA September 12, 2013

Unacceptable ... The notion of a scapegoat as a way to dismiss one's sins is detestable and reminds me of the pogroms against Jews who are so often used as the scapegoats of the world. Reply

Myrym Garrick North Lauderdale September 12, 2013

The Goat We Send Away Even if we take full responsibility, I have a feeling that goat that we send away, will feel homeless and come knocking back at our door. (That's what makes it hard; separation of 'self,' especially after so many habits for so many years.) We'll feel for the poor fellow and let him back in. :)
Nowadays, we do Tashlich Service where we throw bread into water as we say our prayers: the bread symbolizes the sins, the prayers our asking for forgiveness from ourselves, community and the creator. The water to carry our sins away from us; let em float down the waterway and become beneficial to someone/something else. Reply

Anonymous September 11, 2013

Very good We each must take responsibility before The Most High , of how we have treated Him & how we have treated others. And we must be honest before Him & don't do it no more. Look & see how we need to progress & true fruits in keeping with repentance. I have loved your writings for years Rabbi Freeman . Reply

kat Germany September 11, 2013

I understand. Thank you very much :) "Once you’ve done that, you can wave goodbye, close the door, and never let it back in again. Then get to work on raising up the other goat into a truly divine offering"

One question though, please. So what we offer up is the gdly part in us, after we have sent the goat away?
Back in the day when the Temple still stood and peeps offered a sin offering (animal or grain) on any other day but Yom Kippur, did they also offer up their gdly part, or did they offer up their "goatly" part? Reply

rg September 11, 2013

you did it once again! I just love this true to life explanation of the Temple service. Reply

Judy Freed Israel September 11, 2013

new temple Aside from the problem of not knowing precisely where on the Temple Mount the Temple itself stood, there is the problem of possession, since the Israeli government didn't want the onus of destroying somebody else's historic religious structures and abdicated control of the site to the Wakf in 1967.

Aside from that, even in Biblical times, the Temple wasn't erected immediately after Jerusalem became the capital. King David was told that he would not be the one to build the Temple because he was a man of war. I suppose the modern corollary to that would be that would be that a generation of peace would have to supply the leader who will rebuild the Temple. Reply

Veronica Tx September 11, 2013

Awesome explanation! Reply

sally September 9, 2013

Why don't you just build a new temple in Jerusalem according to Torah instructions? If that's what you want, what are you waiting for? Thanks Reply

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