The bible tells us clearly that no one can die for our sins. We are each responsible for our own actions. Read D'varim / Deuteronomy 24:16 "Fathers shall not die [through the testimony] of their sons, and sons shall not die [through the testimony] of their fathers, since [in any case] every man shall die for his sins."
G-d's judging of us is done as a father correcting his child -- in the hope that the child learns and becomes a better person.
"The wicked shall give up his way, and the man of iniquity his thoughts, and he shall return to HaShem, Who shall have mercy upon him, and to our G-d, for He will freely pardon." Y'shayahu / Isaiah 55:7.
"Do I desire the death of the wicked? says HaShem G-d. Is it not rather in his repenting of his ways that he may live?" Y'chezkel / Ezekiel 18:23.
When G-d judges us, He does so with mercy. As King David once said "let us fall now into the hand of HaShem; for His mercies are great; but into the hand of man let me not fall." Shmuel 2 / 2 Samuel 24:14.
Yet many missionaries will grasp onto the Jewish concept that "the death of the righteous atones" and try to equate this concept to "Jesus dying for your sins." For example, Michael Brown's Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus Volume 2, page 156 - 157 goes to great pains to equate the death of the righteous atoning with Jesus' death being an atoning sacrifice.
Since the bible forbids anyone dying as a sacrifice for the sins of another (again, note D'varim / Deuteronomy 24:16) what does it mean when Jews say that "the death of the righteous atones"?
It certainly does not mean, as Christians insist with Jesus, that G-d required (let alone wanted) the death of Jesus to somehow wipe out the sins of OTHER people! Read T'hillim / Psalm 116:15 "Grievous in the eyes of the L-rd is the death of His pious ones."
The Christian concept of vicarious atonement is completely foreign to Judaism. Yet, it is at the very heart of Christianity which says there is no atonement without believing in Jesus. While some Christians think repentance is part of their atonement (not all do), the primary requirement is to "believe" in Jesus as dying for your sins.
Jews say that repentance (being truly sorry for what you did) is at the heart of atonement. G-d forgives those who turn to Him and seek forgiveness (both from those they wrong and G-d) and to try to not repeat the sins. Atonement is an ongoing process througout our lives -- and it is for a reason. Only through making mistakes, getting up and learning from them, do we grow in knowledge, wisdom and holiness.
Do you see why no one else can do it for you?
When man repents, G-d forgives.
Read Bamidbar / Numbers 35:33 "And you shall not corrupt the land in which you live, for the blood corrupts the land, and the blood which is shed in the land cannot be atoned for except through the blood of the one who shed it."
Thus Jesus' blood could not atone for anything -- human blood corrupts the land!
Read D'varim / Deuteronomy 24:16 "Fathers shall not be put to death because of sons, nor shall sons be put to death because of fathers; each man shall be put to death for his own transgression." and M'lachim / II Kgs 14:6 "But the sons of the assassins he did not execute, as it is written in the book of the Torah of Moses, which the Lord commanded saying: "Fathers shall not be put to death for sons, nor shall sons be put to death for fathers, but each man shall be put to death for his own sin." and Yirmiyahu / Jeremiah 31:29 [30 in Christian Bibles] "But each man shall die for his iniquity; whoever eats the unripe grapes- his teeth shall be set on edge." Along with these read Y'chezkel / Ezekiel 18 and T'hillim / Psalm Ps 49:7 -- all state clearly that we are responsible for our own sins, no one can die for your sins and human blood (sacrifice) is forbidden -- human blood corrupts the land.
Which brings us back to -- if no one can die for your sins and vicarious atonement is forbidden what DO Jews mean when we say that the death of the righteous atones? The Talmud, Moed Katan 28a, says: "The death of the righteous atones [for the generation]”.
The examples of B'reshit / Genesis 9:5-6 and Y'shayahu / Isaiah 53:5 show that a key belief of Christianity -- that you have to have faith in Jesus to have your sins forgiven -- are rejected by those two examples, and so many others. There is no concept of "belief" in the T'nach or rabbinical writings that even comes close to a core belief of Christianity -- belief in Jesus for atonement.
To read more on this topic Mesora has an interesting article entitled "Atonement: Jesus Dying for Sins vs Death of the Pious Atoning." Also read "The Rabbinic Concept of the Death of the Righteous Atones" by R' Moshe Shulman. In the latter the Rabbi makes one more excellent point on which I will close this blog post: "There is another issue of significance that needs to be kept in mind when looking at the Rabbinic teachings. This is the distinction between ‘national’ sin and individual sin. The idea of national sin appears throughout the prophets and the basis for it is found in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 where God says that he will punish the nation if they sin and do not follow His commandments. This involves the suffering of the nation and eventual exile from the land of Israel. Individual sin, on the other hand, effects the individual alone in this world and also the next.
What I believe will become obvious after examining these passages is that with regards to individuals and the death of the righteous, we are dealing with atonement, in the normally understood manner, which is type 1 above; and that under specific circumstances an individual’s sins are atoned for. With regards to Israel and its national sin, it is atonement as in the 2nd type, where it has to do with the suffering of Israel as a community."