Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Yoma 12 a, b

Are synagogues in large cities and in small villages both vulnerable to leprosy?  Villagers own their synagogues themselves, while synagogues in large cities are frequented by disparate people, and thus are owned by "the public".  And can ritual impurity affect synagogues and study halls in Jerusalem? Is it only the Mikdash, the Temple, that is immune to the ritual impurity carried through leprosy?

Amud (a) considered the opinion of Rabbi Yehuda regarding Jerusalem.  He used a baraita to prove that Jerusalem was divided between Judah and Benjamin, and not among all of the tribes.  The Temple was also divided between these two tribes, which caused Benjamin and his people to be jealous of Judah.  

Deuteronomy 33:12 can be used to argue that in fact Jerusalem was divided among the tribes.  In this case, the tribe of Benjamin was allotted the Holy of Holies.  The question of ownership in Jerusalem is raised: Jerusalem could not have been divided among the tribes as it was owned by the Jewish people.  Meaning that houses were not owned, nor were beds rented out.  More examples offer proof that in all of the land of Canaan, leprosy is a plague put on the houses of land that has been conquered and is now owned.

The rabbis turn their attention back to the High Priest, sequestered away to ensure ritual purity before the Yom Kippur offering.   If he becomes impure before the morning offering, the second Priest chosen for this role puts on the eight garments of the High Priest.  But if the disqualification occurs after the morning offering, the belt alone can be used to transfer power.  We learn that the ordinary belts of the Priests were made of pure linen (or wool and linen, according to Rabbi Elazar, son of Rabbi Shimon & Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi), while the ordinary belt of the High Priest was made of diverse kinds, dyed blue and purple.  On Yom Kippur alone, the High Priest's belt was like that of the Priests on ordinary days - pure linen.

Amud (a) ends with an explanation of the initiation of the replacement Priest should the High Priest contract ritual impurity.  The Priest is to change into all eight garments of the High Priest, and then he turns over the offering - likely with wood and/or ashes - on the alter with a fork.  By performing this sacred duty in the garb of the High Priest, the Priest is now initiated into that very special role.  Or, argues Rav Pappa, his service as High Priest is enough to initiate him.

More rabbis jump into the argument about how to initiate a common Priest into the role of High Priest.  Is it his belt? Is it his clothing - are all eight garments required, or are four (tunic, trousers, turban, belt) enough to symbolize his changed status?  And is the High Priest the exclusive actor in the rituals of Yom Kippur?  Can a common Priest turn over the ashes on the altar, for example?  Can his garments be threadbare?  Must they be kept from year to year, or made anew?  The rabbis share their proofs for these and other possible practices.

Our daf ends with an interesting question.  If the High Priest is replaced and then becomes qualified to practice the Yom Kippur rituals again, what becomes of the second 'High Priest'?  We learn that there cannot be two High Priests, nor can a High Priest move down in status after moving up to become High Priest.

The detail with which our rabbis describe the practices in the Temple is more than impressive.  To have dedicated that much time over hundreds - and now thousands - of years to better understand our earlier rituals... it is mind-boggling.  But like so many stories, we are learning the 'history' of the winners - we do not know what was done to a zavah who was forced from her community, for example.  And so our understanding is often limited to the experiences of the most privileged, like the Priests (and especially the High Priest).  I wonder if the rabbis chose consciously to focus much of their energies on the "leaders", hoping that we would draw from those models.  Or perhaps, like the rest of us, they were just drawn to celebrity.

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