YOM KIPPUR CEREMONIES THROUGH THE EYES OF TWO 16TH CENTURY CONVERTS
Victor Karben: Purification ceremonies
They prepare for the 10th of September with fasting, alms-giving and other good works… They all go together to a stream and wade in up to their chest. They are naked and wear nothing, not even a loin cloth around their private parts… Then everyone stands in the water up to his chest and silently makes his confession, beating his breast and his heart with his fist, and not gently. Furthermore a male person must be present, either in the water or on the bank, who takes note and watches everything that is done. The people must dip their heads into the water three times to the point that no hair on their head is visible. If someone does this correctly twice, but not the third time, he is told to repeat the process… Coming out of the water and cleansed in this way, they believe they are as pure as they were coming out of the womb of their mothers.
Johann Pfefferkorn: The Kapparot Ceremony
Every Jew, young or old, obtains a white rooster; the women a white hen if possible; and if a woman is pregnant, she must obtain a rooster and a hen, for herself and the unborn child, although it has not committed any sin yet but has been conceived in carnal lust. The master of the house stands with his rooster in the circle of his family. They keep a pious silence and ponder their sins. Thereafter, he takes his rooster by the legs and swings it thrice around his head, so that the rooster flutters his wings and claps them together. Then he says to him: You are the forgiver [“vergeber”] of my sins, which go from me to you and are transferred to you. I am now free of my sins, and you bear the guilt on my behalf. You die, and I go on to eternal life. ..Then they roast and boil the fowl.
I should also mention that the Jews rise early on the 9th of September and curse the first Christian whom they meet and say: “May God make you my rooster for this year. And the women do the same thing with Christian women. No Jew minds if he has to wait in the same place for an hour or two until he meets a Christian, especially one who has grievously harmed him and whom he may curse on this occasion.
And if someone thinks that he has not been quite purified of his sins and still has scruples, he goes to his nearest friend and neighbour at the synagogue and kneels down with his head bowed to the ground. The other man lifts up his clothes in the rear, where some sins may be left, and strikes him thirty-nine times with a thong or a belt. After that his purification is complete. And they sit down happily at table and eat their confessors and their own sins until they are sated.
(Translated from Karben’s De vita et moribus Iudeorum, 1511, and Johann Pfefferkorn’s Die Judenbeicht, 1508)