You may have heard this story before. It has been said that that because the high priest could be killed by God in Holy of Holies if not properly prepared according to Divine instructions, a rope was routinely tied around his ankle. Then, if he dropped dead, his body could be dragged out. Various versions of this claim have been repeated in Christian and Jewish circles. As yet, we have not located the original source, but apparently it originated long after the last Jewish Temple was gone. The biblical and historical evidence indicates that there was no rope, at least not in any common use. Dr. W.E. Nunnally, a professor of Hebrew and early Judaism, has reported: “The rope on the high priest legend is just that: a legend. It has obscure beginnings in the Middle Ages and keeps getting repeated. It cannot be found anywhere in the Bible, the Apocrypha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Josephus, the Pseudepigrapha, the Talmud, Mishna, or any other Jewish source. It just is not there.”  The Biblical Studies Foundation (loosely associated with Dallas Theological Seminary), similarly reports that their research has put the “the rope around the ankle-or-waist-or-maybe-the-leg” legend “to rest.” They also point out that Aaron was to wear a blue ephod with bells on its hem (Exodus 28:31-35), when he entered the Holy Place (not the Holy of Holies) (Leviticus 16:2-4). When he enters the Holy of Holies, he washes and wears special linen garments, not the ephod with bells. “If there are no bells to jingle, there is no need for the rope either.”  A Messianic Jewish Fellowship points out the potential difficulty of dragging a dead priest out of the Holy of Holies: “You could only drag out the priest if he died in the Holy place. The way the curtains of the temple were designed, the priest could not have been dragged out of the HOLY of HOLIES. The veil was made using many layers of cloth. The thickness was over three feet. The curtains overlapped and made a small maze through which the priest walked…”  References: Dr. W.E. Nunnally is Associate Professor of Early Judaism and Christian Origins at Central Bible College and Adjunct Professor of Hebrew at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary “All in the Family: The Visions and Vanities of Sam Hinn,” The Quarterly Journal, Vol. 16, No. 4, (St. Louis: Personal Freedom Outreach), http://www.pfo.org/allinfam.htm Biblical Studies Foundation (Garland, TX), http://www.bible.org/docs/qa/qa.asp?StudyID=462 Zion Messianic Jewish Fellowship Congregation (Austin, Texas), http://tzion.org/articles/Temple1.html
Read more at: http://christiananswers.net/q-eden/anklerope.html
Question: There’s a belief that the High Priest had a rope tied around his waist when he entered the Holy of Holies in the Temple during Yom Kippur (to pull him out should G-d judge him unfit and take his life). Do you know the source of this belief?
Answer: Thank you very much for your interesting question. I discussed it with an experienced educator here in Baltimore, Rabbi Moshe Oppen, and he said that the source is actually in two places in the Zohar: in Parshas Acharei Mos (67a), and in Parshas Emor (102a). What it actually says is that a golden rope was tied around the High Priest’s leg.
Additionally, in the Artscroll Edition of the Talmud, Yoma Vol. II, on Daf 53b footnote 25, there is extensive discussion about this statement of the Zohar and it’s Halachic ramifications.