Monday, 25 November 2013

Yoma 18 a, b

After completing the rabbis' thoughts regarding sharing the shewbread, we are introduced to a new Mishna.  Here we learn that a number of Elders are provided to the High Priest while he is sequestered. They show him some of the animals that he will slaughter, teach him the service, teach him the Torah reading in case he forgot it or does not read, offer him food and drink at will, and withhold food from him the night before Yom Kippur to ensure he is awake through the night.

The Gemara helps us to understand this Mishna.  Why would the High Priest not know how to read?  We learn that the rabbis believe that priests were often corrupt by the time of the Second Temple.  Why was the High Priest made familiar with bulls and ewes and rams but not with goats?  Different answers are suggested, but one of the more interesting possibilities is that the High Priest will become distracted by the thought of people sinning (when seeing a goat and thinking of the scapegoat) and his distraction will lead to a lack of focus.  

What is fed to the High Priest and why?  Different mnemonic devices are suggested to remind the elders - and the zavim, for they too are avoiding similar pitfalls - which foods are to be avoided by the High Priest.  The rabbis believe that certain foods will lead to seminal emissions.  Eggs, because of their consistency, could lead the High Priest to have a seminal emission. Similarly, different rabbis suggest that etrog, white or old wine, fatty meats, milk, cheese, garlic, cress, purslane, arugula and certain fish and soups can lead to this outcome.

If the High Priest experiences a seminal emission just before Yom Kippur, and he is not able to reestablish his state of purity, he will be disqualified as the High Priest.  I have never heard of food inducing a seminal emission.  Are the rabbis referring to nocturnal emissions or unintentional emissions of other sorts?  I remember reading about a Sage who was walking on the beach with his students when he had a seminal emission.  Seemingly this was without obvious touching or other provocation.  How frequently did these things happen?  Perhaps if masturbation was not an option, the body would find the pressure of clothing stimulating enough to cause an 'emission'.  Or not... I am curious about what this suggests about societal rules around sexual feeling and conduct.

Apparently when Rav and Rav Nachman were visiting certain towns, they would ask for a wife for the day.  The rabbis attempt to understand this.  Were they trying to quell rumours regarding inappropriate sexual behaviour for rabbis?  Were they wanting to show that rabbis were married, settled, models of 'ideal' status?  And how would they deal with the imperative for a woman to be seven days without blood after betrothal and before marriage?  Would a message be sent regarding betrothal in advance of their arrivals?  Or was this all a ruse to allow women to be secluded with these rabbis; their presence alone mitigating the desires of these men (when they knew that the women were not actually allowed to them)?

Our daf ends with another Mishna, returning again to the Elders who have prepared the High Priest for his activities on Yom Kippur.  The Elders are to repeat an oath, stating "My Master, High Priest.  We are agents of the court, and you are our agent and the agent of the court.  We administer an oath to you for G-d who house G-d's name in this house, that you will not change anything from all we have said to you."  All would cry after this oath was completed.  

The High Priest was to be kept awake all night before Yom Kippur.  We are told that either the Elders or the High Priest would teach Torah or Tanach (whomever was more learned), especially from Job, Ezra, Chrionicles, and/or Daniel.  

What is it with rabbis and sex and women?  There is this disconnect between understanding women as people and understanding women as property.   Both beliefs seem to exist simultaneously, but the rabbis use whichever belief better serves their interests in the moment. When sex is added into the mix, our Sages seem to drop the possibility of seeing women as people.  Apparently a baraita tells that Eliezer Ben Ya'akov teaches men not to marry women in different towns to ensure that their children are not matched and married to produce mamzerim.  Other rabbis suggest that rabbis are well known, and thus the issue of identity will not cause such problems.

Some of what I learn seems to interpret text toward the benefit of the community.  At other times, I am learning that our rabbis seem to interpret text to advantage themselves.

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