Updated: Oct 9, 2022
Part one of this article was written some time ago. Since that time I received many rebukes and requests for more supporting evidence that the High Priest did not wear a rope around his ankle, foot or waist when entering the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur or during the discharge of his duties in the Holy Place at other times.
For some readers their concern is I questioned the validity of the New International Version of the Bible (NIV). In general, I try not to rely on the accuracy of one translation over another. All English translations are just that, a translation from the Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic. My post questioned the validity of the story about the rope tied to the High Priest's ankle, "according to Jewish tradition." There is a footnote in the NIV Study Bible for Exodus 28:35 that I do not agree with.
First, let's examine verse Exodus 28:35 in context.
31 “Make the robe of the ephod entirely of blue cloth, 32 with an opening for the head in its center. There shall be a woven edge like a collar[a] around this opening, so that it will not tear. 33 Make pomegranates of blue, purple and scarlet yarn around the hem of the robe, with gold bells between them. 34 The gold bells and the pomegranates are to alternate around the hem of the robe. 35 Aaron must wear it when he ministers. The sound of the bells will be heard when he enters the Holy Place before the Lord and when he comes out, so that he will not die.
In the NIV Study Bible verse 35 indicates the High Priest has entered the Holy Place and not the Holy of Holies as some versions of the myth report. The pictures below clarify the differences between the designations within the Tabernacle.
Photo Terry Harman 2008 - Holy Place which houses the Menorah, Table of Showbread and the Golden Altar of Incense.
The NIV footnote for Exodus 28:35 reads as follows. "According to Jewish tradition, one end of the length of the rope was tied to the high priest's ankle and the other end remained outside the tabernacle. If the bells on his robe stopped tinkling while he was in the Holy Place, the assumption that he had died could be tested by pulling gently on the rope."
Photo by Terry Harman of the Holy of Holies which houses the Ark of the Covenant.
Hopefully this brief part 2 clarifies my position. The legend of the rope and the High Priest does underscore one truth. The people looked to the High Priest to be their mediator before the Lord on the Day of Atonement. His role was central to the ritual of atonement. His fitness for duty was paramount. The people would rejoice when they observed the High Priest concluding the days services. They knew their sins and the sins of the nation were forgiven. Immediately following the High Priest would break the fast by sponsoring a feast for the people (Yoma 7:4).
The picture of Terry Harman in September 2001 at the New Holy Land display of the Tabernacle. It is located in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. A bystander was kind enough to take the picture. Permission granted by my friend Dick Ludig aka "Phineas" the long time teacher
at the display. His memory is a blessing to many.
Ari Z. Zivotofsky offers insight regarding the struggle to maintain the sanctity the office of the High Priest. Over the course of time the biblical standards of the priesthood lost way to the politics of the day.
"During the later period of the Second Temple, the renegade Tzedukim (Sadducees)
often succeeded in having members of their sect appointed as the Kohen Gadol. According to the Gemara (Yoma 8b-9a; 18a), the majority of the Kohanim Gedolim in the Second Temple period were ignorant and unworthy and bought their way to the position; some did, in fact, die on Yom Kippur. Only twelve Kohanim Gedolim served during the 410 years of the First Temple. In contrast, during the 420 years in which the Second Temple stood, there were four righteous Kohanim Gedolim, and more than 300 others who did not even serve a full year. It should be noted that although the Gemara says they did not serve an entire year, it does not specifically state that they died on Yom Kippur; while some definitely died then, others may have died under different circumstances or simply lost the position to a higher bidder."
Regardless of whether we are a layperson or clergy. All service for the Lord is sacred. Each of us has a role to play in making this world a better place. Each of us has a gift or an assignment in life. May we serve with a pure heart. Lord help us not to play politics with your gifts and callings.
References for further study
1. Zohar Vayikra 67a “chain of gold”
2. Leviticus 16 details the rituals involved on Yom Kippur. The slightest deviation would cost the High Priest his life.
3. In Biat Mikdash 9:15 Rambam lists eighteen things that would invalidate the sanctity of the service within the Temple. A rope or chain would be considered an extra garment.
4. Ari Z. Zivotofsky, in his article, What’s the Truth About the Kohen Gadol’s Rope? offers a detailed examination of Jewish sources regarding the subject. https://jewishaction.com/religion/jewish-law/whats_the_truth_about_-_the_kohen_gadols_rope/