Thursday, 21 November 2013

Yoma 14 a, b

At the start of today's daf, we complete yesterday's conversation regarding protocol should the wife of the High Priest die.  The rabbis question whether or not the High Priest would be in a state of acute mourning if his ex-wife were to die. An interesting question; today we continue to struggle with how much feeling we 'should' have for our ex-partners.

Beginning with a new Mishna, we learn more about the roles of the High Priest - and of the common priests in the Temple.  Throughout today's daf, rabbis share different opinions based on contradictory baraitot.  

What is the order of the High Priest's tasks in the sequestered room, and why does he perform these tasks (a combination of ritual leadership and basic housekeeping)?  During any other week, the priests participate in three daily lotteries that assign these and other tasks.  The Mishna suggests that the High Priest performs three jobs: burning the incense, cleaning the ashes from beneath the lamps of the menorah, and offering the back leg and head of the offering.  Why those particular tasks and not others?  

The rabbis speak about what might happen should the High Priest perform the rite of sprinkling water from the hyssop onto a person/animal accidentally.  There is some confusion about ritual purity - can the sprinkling of water impart ritual impurity, or might it remove ritual impurity, or both?  How does sprinkling differ from dipping?  And how might the High Priest and/or a common priest deal with errors in sprinkling?

Amud (b) demonstrates the many different interpretations and sources that our rabbis have relied upon to inform their diverse opinions.  They argue about the directions and order of chores, including sprinkling blood, the daily tasks of common priests, and the possible connections between clearing ashes and burning incense.  Each argument is supported by a proof text (or an unseen baraita).  

Today's learning reminds me of the rich, multi-dimensional history of the Jewish people.  As much as our rabbinical tradition has suggested that there is one 'right' answer, we come from a long line of disagreements, a valuing of multiple interpretations, and turning to metaphors as proof texts.  It is difficult to believe that we are meant to follow only one line of reasoning.  Our Sages created a system that helped them choose the 'right' answer, and that became halacha.  But we would not hold the Talmud sacred if we did not value the process of dissention and debate which sits just beyond our halachot.  

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