Historical Background: Pharisees and Sadducees

During the era of the Second Temple, the influence of apostasy began to make inroads in Israel. The mainstream Pharisees (who held fast to the Oral Tradition of Bible interpretation) were opposed by the cult of the Sadducees. The former upheld the performance of the commandments as they were received by Moses at Mount Sinai, and passed down through every subsequent generation by the people of Israel. The Sadducees did not accept the traditions of Sinai; by opposing the Oral Tradition, they rebelled against God Himself - for it was He, in His ultimate wisdom, who decreed that this process should keep the Torah alive and bind it steadfast to His people through every generation and circumstance. But instead, the Sadducees cut themselves off from this body of tradition, and translated and interpreted the Bible in a very literal sense. Thus, a classic example of the difference between the two groups is their opposing interpretation of the famous verse "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand... " (Ex. 21:24). The Sadducees interpret this verse, which deals with payment for personal damages, in a literal sense. However, the Pharisees received a tradition from Moses that these words are meant idiomatically and not literally - that is, full monetary compensation must be made for the loss caused by these injuries.

The Sadducees Reject the Sinai Revelation

The Sadducees also denied the belief that there will be a resurrection of the dead, since this important principle of Jewish faith is not explicitly mentioned in the Bible, but only alluded to; like other interpretations of the Pharisees, it too is included in the Oral Tradition.

While the Pharisees could be considered the true guardians of authentic Judaism - for their influence has kept adherence to the true Biblical ways alive amongst the Jewish people to this very day - the Sadducees sought ways to undermine the former's influence, and to establish customs and practices of their own making.

The differences held by the two factions were manifest in matters relating to service in the Holy Temple as well - hence the need for the adminstration of this vow.

For the verse states "... let him not enter the inner sanctuary that is beyond the partition concealing the ark, so that he may not die, since I appear over the ark cover in a cloud" (Lev. 16:2).

This verse, and the Sadducees' interpretation of its meaning, was the reason for necessitating the High Priest to swear before conducting the service of the incense offering on the Day of Atonement:

The Sadducees Would Ignite the Incense Outside the Holy of Holies

According to their view, the High Priest must prepare the incense while yet standing outside of the holy place... that is, he should place the incense on the coals of the shovel while he is within the sanctuary, but before stepping behind the curtain and into the Holy of Holies. He would only enter inwards once the cloud of smoke rose up from the incense, for the verse states "... let him not enter... since I appear over the ark cover in a cloud." The Sadducees interpret this to mean that the High Priest should enter into the Holy of Holies in the midst of the cloud of smoke, and then God will appear over the ark cover. The Talmud (BT Yoma 19:B) relates that this did happen on at least one occasion, for the priest boasted of his actions. He was subsequently punished by Divine retribution. But Moses received a tradition at the Sinai Revelation, maintained by the Sages of Israel - the Pharisees - that the High Priest must not place the incense on the coals until he enters into the holy place itself. This position is actually substantiated by a subsequent verse (Lev. 16:12-13): "He shall take a shovelful of burning coals from the altar... along with a handful of finely ground incense, and bring them both into the inner sanctuary beyond the curtain. There he shall place the incense on the fire before God... "

No Man Will Ever Know

On the Day of Atonement, no other human being can see how the High Priest actually performs this incense service... for the Bible specifically states (ibid. 17), "And no man shall be in the Communion Tent from the time that he enters the sanctuary to make atonement, until he leaves." Thus, because one could never really know, and since the Sadducean notions did have a certain following, there was a suspicion that perhaps this man was secretly sympathetic to their ideas. Therefore the High Priest undertook the oath, in the presence of the elders of the sanhedrin.