SAN FRANCISCO — A new website has been launched in honor of the Old Testament holy day Yom Kippur, allowing visitors to confess and atone for their sins by laying them upon a virtual goat.
“The eScapegoat is roaming the Internet collecting sins before Yom Kippur,” the site reads, which has collected nearly 8,000 submissions since its launch last month. “Like in Bible times, only nerdier.”
Funded by a grant from the Jewish Community Federation in San Francisco, the site uses animated comic-like characters to create a virtual experience akin to the ceremony outlined in the book of Leviticus. An animated priest and tabernacle appear, with several individuals lined up for the atonement in modern-day garb.
As stated in Leviticus 16, every year, on a holy day known as the Day of Atonement, the high priest would lay his hands upon a goat, known as the scapegoat, and confess the sins of the people over the animal, which would “bear upon him all their iniquities.” The goat was then released into the wilderness while another goat, which was slaughtered, served as a blood sacrifice for sins. The site tells the Scriptural account of the requirement under the law, known to Jews as the Torah.
Christians believe that the Old Testament practice of atoning for sin through a scapegoat and other animal sacrifices was replaced in the New Covenant through Christ’s death on the cross.
“For the law, having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. … [H]e said, ‘Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein, which are offered by the law,'” Hebrews 10 outlines. “Then said He, ‘Lo, I come to do thy will, O God.’ He taketh away the first, that He may establish the second. By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
For the most part, the submissions to the site have been lighthearted.
“Whenever I spill anything on the floor, I simply wipe it up with the socks I’m currently wearing,” one post states. “I just turned 40.”
“I missed work to watch all of Breaking Bad in a sleep-deprived 4-day weekend,” another wrote.
Some are more serious.
“I’m sorry for wasting my time and not investing it in things that are good or holy,” one visitor submitted.
“I don’t always treat people as people, but as means to my ends,” confessed another.
Select submissions, which are anonymous, are then re-posted on Twitter for others to view.
The website is the brainchild of Sarah Lefton of G-dcast, who said that in addition to serving as an educational outlet, she thought the site would be entertaining to visitors.
“The whole feel of the app is light and funny and we expected people to say, ‘Oh, ha, ha, this is light-hearted atonement,’” she told Religion News, but added, “If we’re giving people an outlet to reflect on this special time of year, we think that’s awesome.”
Lefton and others at G-dcast reportedly celebrated the launch of the site with a party at Moishe House in San Francisco–complete with live goats.
Response to the website has been mixed.
“This is a brilliant innovation,” Paul Freedman of Radlett and Bushey Reform Synagogue told Jewish Community Online. “Atonement is a serious business, but that doesn’t mean we can’t approach it with humor.”
“The eScapegoat is typical for our no consequences culture,” Andrew Rappaport, President of Striving for Eternity Ministries told Christian News Network. “Sin before a holy God — just confess your sin to the eScaprgoat and think no more of it. This is yet another means of people avoiding the purposes that God has set forth for His creation to follow. It is a further example of human’s rebellion against God.”
“The purpose of the scapegoat in Leviticus is tied with a blood sacrifice. One animal dies, another escapes,” the former conservative Jew, now an evangelical Christian, stated. “The atonement is not to remove guilt, but to cause a person to see that only God can forgive sin, not our works. Here they treat Yom Kippur as a work–the very opposite of its purpose.”
Yom Kippur will begin this year at sunset on September 13.