Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Yoma 13 a, b

We begin with the High Priest and his replacement on Yom Kippur.  The High Priest may feel somehow competitive with his replacement, even if the replacement Priest only becomes High Priest in the case of death (rather than just ritual impurity).  

The rabbis speak of a related question, that of the High Priest's wife.  Earlier we learned that the wife of the High Priest represents his "house", which is referred to in Leviticus.  Because the High Priest must pray for his house, he must be married - to one woman, and not to two women, for he is not praying for two houses but for "his house".  So what do we do if his wife dies?  We looked at this question at the start of Yoma.  The rabbis were concerned that any number of wives could die - once we are considering the possibility of death, we should be concerned that both wives could die.

Jealousy between the two wives would have been the least of the High Priest's troubles.  As mentioned, he was not allowed to have two wives.  So the rabbis wonder if he could bethroth or even marry the second wife while presenting her with a conditional get.  The get would allow the High Priest to divorce his second wife should the first wife still be alive at Yom Kippur.  But this would not solve the problem for our High Priest if his orginal wife died on Yom Kippur itself.  

The Gemara continues to wonder about the pros and cons of multiple wives and the job of the High Priest. They walk through examples that could leave the High Priest with erroneous prayers, incluing having no house to pray for. The rabbis move into a discussion of yevamot, children of a woman whose husband has died.  She is then to marry her dead husband's brother.  Incidentally, a note teaches that a man who dies with many wives leaves only one of these women to his brother.  The brother an choose the wife that he wants, while the others are permitted to remarry.  

At the end of today's daf, the rabbis take note of the fact that the High Priest would be in mourning should his wife die on Yom Kippur.  In such a situation, should the High Priest serve in teh Temple?  Yes, agree our rabbis.  But why?  To serve in the Temple is a mitzvah and a comfort to the mourner.  

It helps to see the rabbis struggle with the grief of the High Priest.  We rarely read about people's emotional states when we read in the Talmud.   One might think that no-one cares about injustices, or inequalities, or unfair power structures.  To lose one's wife is horrible, and the Talmud does understand the needs of a man in mourning

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