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"Leviticus 16: The High Priest and Holy of Holies without Rope, Bells, or Golden Garments"

Updated: Dec 5, 2023

Illustration Only - Cohen Gadol in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, photo Terry Harman, © 2014

I received an email from a subscriber who read my blogs on the myth of the rope around the High Priest's ankle (1). He stated, "Thank you for explaining the history behind the myth of the rope tied around the ankle of the High Priest when he entered the Holy of Holies. But you didn't explain why he did not wear the 'golden garments' on the Day of Atonement." Good question. Let's investigate.

Overview of Yom Kippur - Day of Atonement

Every year on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), the High Priest performed a detailed ceremony that involved four sacrificial animals. Yom Kippur is the one day of the year that the High Priest was permitted to enter the Temple’s innermost sanctum, the Holy of Holies.

The High Priest would atone for the sins by sprinkling the blood of sacrificial animals on the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant and symbolically cast off the guilt of the nation’s sins by banishing the one goat into the desert. This ceremony included a ram that served as a burnt offering, a bullock that acted as a sin offering for the high priest and his household, and two goats that were brought together as a sin offering. The two goats were the focal point of the ceremony, as the two goats, one for Azazel (scapegoat) and the other goat "for the Lord," worked together to achieve atonement for the entire nation.

"And he shall take the two goats, and set them before the LORD at the door of the tent of meeting. And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats: one lot for the LORD, and the other lot for Azazel. And Aaron shall present the goat upon which the lot fell for the LORD, and offer him for a sin-offering. But the goat, on which the lot fell for Azazel, shall be set alive before the LORD, to make atonement over him, to send him away for Azazel into the wilderness." Leviticus 16:7-19 JPS 1917

No Golden Threads or Bells but Gold itself Allowed?

During the Yom Kippur service each year, the High Priest performs a crucial service in the Holy of Holies. However, according to Leviticus 16:4, he is prohibited from wearing his golden garments. Why? The sight of the High Priest wearing gold threads and bells might divert the people’s attention from the present day's atoning blood and become a reminder of Aaron's sin in creating the golden calf (Exodus 32) and the people's grave sin of worshipping the Golden Calf, sins previously atoned. The prohibition against wearing gold only applies on the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur, inside the Holy of Holies (2).

"And the LORD said unto Moses: ‘Speak unto Aaron thy brother, that he come not at all times into the holy place within the veil, before the ark-cover which is upon the ark; that he die not; for I appear in the cloud upon the ark-cover. Herewith shall Aaron come into the holy place: with a young bullock for a sin-offering, and a ram for a burnt-offering. He shall put on the holy linen tunic, and he shall have the linen breeches upon his flesh, and shall be girded with the linen girdle, and with the linen mitre shall he be attired; they are the holy garments; and he shall bathe his flesh in water, and put them on." Leviticus 16:2-4 JPS 1917

Photo Terry Harman, © 2010

Some may wonder why the Jewish people would use a bullock in connection with the Holy of Holies when they sinned with a calf. However, only the bull's blood is sprinkled on the mercy seat during the service, not the actual animal itself. This difference is significant as it prevents any reminder of the Golden Calf sin. (3)

"And Aaron shall present the bullock of the sin-offering, which is for himself, and make atonement for himself, and for his house." Leviticus 16:6 JPS 1917

The Ark, the mercy seat, and the cherubim in the Holy of Holies, and the walls of the Tabernacle and the Temple were all plated with gold. Despite this, there is a rule that a sinner seeking atonement should not bring something made of gold into the Holy of Holies, as it would remind them of the Golden Calf.

Although the spoon and coal pan used in the service are also made of gold, they are not worn by the High Priest. Instead, the gold utensils are handled, not worn during the service, and it is permitted to use gold for this purpose. (4)

Illustration Only - Cohen Gadol in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, photo Terry Harman, © 2014


The stories concerning the rituals of Yom Kippur or The Day of Atonement are often retold. However, the myths of the rope tied around the High Priest's ankle, and the golden bells ringing to signal the High Priest was still alive in the Holy of Holies, are just myths. Yes, these tales are powerful when told to an unassuming audience yearning for forgiveness, restoration, and atonement. The seriousness of the atonement ritual evokes strong emotions.

The Temple no longer exists. The Levitical sacrifices are no longer presented at the altar of burnt sacrifice. Now we are the Tabernacle or Temple the Lord dwells within, and our hearts are the altar of burnt sacrifice. Our education, position in life, and the riches of gold and silver we have stored up, mean nothing.

"The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart." Psalm 51:19 JPS 1917

Photo by Terry Harman, © 2016

We were created for a purpose. Sin is a pollutant to our souls and derails our purpose in life. The contamination of sin must be cleansed for our souls to be at peace and our eyes opened to the high calling the Lord has for each of us! Although we have eyes to see and ears to hear, sin clouds our spiritual discernment and decision-making. Our hearts must change direction. In our search, we seek redemption, reconciliation, and restoration through the prayer of sincere confession, repentance, and when possible, restitution.

The Path of the Heart - Acknowledgement of Sin

"I acknowledged my sin unto Thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid; I said: ‘I will make confession concerning my transgressions unto the LORD’ - And Thou, Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin." Psalm 32:5 JPS 1917

The Path of the Heart - Confession

"If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:8-9 KJV

"He that covereth his transgressions shall not prosper, But whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall obtain mercy." Proverbs 28:13 JPS 1917

"When he shall be guilty in one of these things, that he shall confess that wherein he hath sinned." Leviticus 5:5 JPS 1917

The Path of the Heart - Humility

"If My people, upon whom My name is called, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their evil ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land." 2 Chronicles 7:14 JPS 1917

The Path of the Heart - Repentance

"For the Leader. A Psalm of David; when Nathan the prophet came unto him, after he had gone in to Bath-sheba. Be gracious unto me, O God, according to Thy mercy; According to the multitude of Thy compassions blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions; And my sin is ever before me. Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned,

And done that which is evil in Thy sight" Psalm 51:1-6 JPS 1917

The Response from the Lord - Compassion

"For as the heaven is high above the earth, So great is His mercy toward them that fear Him.

As far as the east is from the west, So far hath He removed our transgressions from us. Like as a father hath compassion upon his children, So hath the LORD compassion upon them that fear Him." Psalm 103:11-13 JPS 1917

The Response from the Lord - Pardon

"Who is a God like unto Thee, that pardoneth the iniquity, And passeth by the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He retaineth not His anger forever, Because He delighteth in mercy. He will again have compassion upon us; He will subdue our iniquities; And Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea." Micah 7:18-19 JPS 1917


(1) The Tabernacle Man. Discover the shocking truth about the rope around the high priest's ankle. The Tabernacle Man.

(2-4) The source for the Talmud text on this subject can be found online at the website of Sefaria, a digital library of Jewish texts. See "Rosh Hashanah" on Sefaria,

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May 14, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.


Praise YHWH


May 14, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Nice addition to parts 1 and 2 about the rope tied around the high priest’s leg.

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