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App Lets You Atone From Your Smartphone

Inspired by Leviticus, eScapegoat lets users offload sins onto a virtual goat

Isabel Fattal
September 17, 2014
Image from eScapegoat app. (G-dcast)
Image from eScapegoat app. (G-dcast)

As you prepare for Yom Kippur this year, you don’t have to look much farther than your iPhone for an opportunity to atone for your sins.

The eScapegoat app, created by Jewish media production company G-dcast in 2013, allows users to unload their sins onto a virtual, animated goat. While the app is certainly a modern invention, it’s based on a Biblical text. It’s modeled after the Yom Kippur ritual described in Leviticus, in which the community’s sins were figuratively placed onto a goat that was then sent off into the desert.

G-dcast creator Sarah Lefton happened upon the story of the scapegoat while glancing through the Torah portion in synagogue one Yom Kippur and was reminded of how fascinating it was. She began to notice that there was very little awareness of the story of the scapegoat in the Jewish world.“How can it be that we, the People of the Book, have such low literacy of so many great stories?” she said. And so she came up with the idea for the eScapegoat app, a virtual recreation of the ritual. “Our hope is to reignite the story in people’s knowledge and imagination,” she explained.

The app version of the ritual is relatively simple. After watching a short video summarizing the scapegoat story, users can submit their own sins in approximately the length of a 140-character tweet. The sins are placed onto the goat, and the user can then pass the goat along to others. There’s also an option to enter one’s email address to see the goat go off into the wilderness before Yom Kippur.

The goat has been sharing anonymous sins on the app’s Twitter account, @SinfulGoat.

“I bought a donut for my daughter, then ate it before she got home from school.” –

— eScapegoat (@SinfulGoat) September 16, 2014

“Judging others” –

— eScapegoat (@SinfulGoat) September 17, 2014

“I pretend my phone is broken when I ignore calls” –

— eScapegoat (@SinfulGoat) September 17, 2014

Lefton hopes that by bringing attention to the scapegoat story, the app can inspire collective atonement. “Our tradition gives us really specific ways to make private atonements, but the tradition also teaches that it’s important to do communal atonement. This story is a very colorful, concrete way in which that shows up in Torah,” she said of the scapegoat story.

You can download the eScapegoat app here.

Isabel Fattal, a former intern at Tablet Magazine, attends Wesleyan University.

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