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In the viduy (confession) of Yom Kipur, we confess, and beg for forgiveness for, sins for which we're liable for

  • a sacrificial offering:
    • ola,
    • chatas,
    • ole v'yored, and
    • asham;
  • lashes prescribed by rabbinic decree;
  • lashes prescribed by God;
  • death imposed by God;
  • kares-death imposed by God; and
  • death imposed by court:
    • by stoning,
    • by burning,
    • by sword, and
    • by throttling

— in that order. Why that order?


The ArtScroll machzor (prayer book) explains that the order is that of severity, so sacrifices are listed before capital punishment. Which makes sense to me, but

  • how does that explain the order of the sacrifices? And, also,
  • then various things are out of order:
    • Lashes prescribed by the rabbis should then come after those prescribed by God, as the former are harsher. (They're identical AFAIK except that they have no flat-rate maximum of 39.)
    • The court-imposed deaths are out of order: the first two are harsher than the others.
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I see the Rambam, in his seder t'filos kol hashana, has a different order, but my question applies to the order found in modern (at least Ashkenazic) machzorim. –  msh210 Oct 25 '11 at 3:35

1 Answer 1

As is fitting for a confession of sins, the punishments are listed according to the severity of the sins for which they are imposed, not the severity of the punishments themselves. "Rabbinic lashes" are imposed for violations of Rabbinic law or the failure to fulfill a positive Biblical commandment. (In any event, I don't believe it is accurate to say that Rabbinic lashes are more severe. While the court can choose to imposes such lashes in a harsher manner than conventional Biblical lashes, the assumption appears to be that generally they were less severe.)

The sacrifices are complicated, but the listing is basically consistent. An olah is only brought for the failure to fulfill a positive commandment, a chatas is brought for inadvertant violation of a negative commandment (which is considered worse), both oleh v'yored and asham can be brought for deliberate false oaths, apparently the case of the asham is considered worse (needs to be looked into more).

The listing of the capital punishments is anomalous, but I think that is because they are apparently being presented as a single group (death penalties).

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Are you sure that the death penalties don't follow that same order? I never really learned how they know which death penalty is applied to which violation. –  avi Feb 1 '12 at 14:30
    
I'm not following. –  LazerA Feb 1 '12 at 15:38
    
Are some sins punished by stoning and others by throttling? Are the ones done by stoning more or less severe than the ones done by throttling? –  avi Feb 1 '12 at 16:15
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Yes, the Talmud (Sanhedrin) applies different death penalties to different crimes. And stoning and burning are understood to be for more severe crimes. –  LazerA Feb 1 '12 at 16:52

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