Sunday, 19 January 2014

Yoma 73 a, b

A set of fascinating ideas today.

First, the rabbis explore the differences between a High Priest and the priest who is anointed for war.  Both are subject to similar prohibitions and permissions.  The rabbis note that a High Priest might be offended by a lower-level priest who is adorned like a High Priest.

Like the High Priest, the priest anointed for war is subject to laws regarding his hair, symbols of mourning, ritual impurity as a mourner, whom he can marry (a virgin - and his is prohibited from marrying a widow), and possibly that his death will allow the return of an accidental murderer from the city of refuge.

In addition to these, the High Priest is also subject to numerous other prohibitions and obligations, including the rites of the bull for all mitzvot, the bull of Yom Kippur, the daily offering of 1/10th of an ephah, sacrificing offerings even as an acute mourner - though not eating/taking a portion from them, the right to first sacrifice, wearing eight garments, exemption from certain offerings, validating all Yom Kippur rituals, and the right to continue using this privilege once retired as a High Priest.

When learning about this, Ravvi Ami and Rabbi Asi turned their faces away from their teacher.  We learn from this that turning one's face away is a respectful sign of disagreement.  Honour was given to all governmental leaders, even through secular and otherwise non-Jewish governments.  It makes sense to me that the rabbis would wish to honour other codes of hierarchical rule.  As they were establishing their own relevance and authority, similar displays of respect to other examples of hierarchical rule would only lend credence to their own supremacy.

I had never before learned of the ritual of Urim Vetummim.  Apparently, certain leaders (kings, commanders of war, leaders of the Jewish people) could ask the High Priest to answer one or two questions using Urim Vetummim.  This ritual involved both individuals facing each other in the Temple by the Ark.  Following the question being asked, the High Priest would look to the breastplate for letters to stand out, light up, or otherwise come together to answer the question(s).  Rabbis wondered whether small pieces of paper were used behind the breast plate.  They also go to great difficultly proving that all letters of the Hebrew aleph-bet were represented on the breast plate.  And they agreed that a rabbi who did not have the 'Divine Spirit'; who could not see the answers, was fit to be removed from the High Priesthood.

Unless there was some kind of magic being used that I am unaware of, that means that any rabbi who was honest and reported that he did not see an answer in the breastplate was denied a very special status.  Makes me think of the ritual facing the sota.  Also makes me think of the Monty Python sketch where a woman is accused of being a witch through logic that includes comparing her to a duck and thinking of things that burn.  Basically, the logic is faulty.  And due to that erroneous thought, someone's life is lost or dramatically altered.

We move into Perek VII part way through amud (b).  A new Mishna teaches some familiar rules.  On Yom Kippur, we are prohibited from eating, drinking, wearing shoes, and conjugal relations.  The king and new brides are allowed to wash their faces.  And a woman after childbirth is allowed to wear shoes*.  The Mishna qualifies its own statements: one who eats a large date bulk of food - all together or in pieces over the course of the day - or who drinks a cheekful of liquid - in whole or in part, combined - is liable.  Food and liquid are measured separately in this regard.

The Gemara teaches us that the rabbis argued about what of this Mishna is based on Torah law and what is based on rabbinic law.  Does it matter what a person eats?  Can the food be treiefot?  At what point did we make an oath that we would not eat such food - on Mount Sinai?  or simply before Yom Kippur?  Perhaps we are not supposed to eat at all; forget the date bulk and forget the half-measures.

These are fascinating questions.  Did I actively agree to keep G-d's commandments at Mt. Sinai?  If the Sages have reworked and reinterpreted Torah law to make halachic practice more stringent, did I agree to keep those laws at Mt. Sinai?  Given that the rabbis chose interesting leniencies (a woman who has just given birth can wear shoes, but she cannot eat or drink, for example), why would I have promised to keep those laws?

* We learn in a note by Steinsaltz that people wore shoes in the cities by the time that the Mishnaot were written.  Those shoes were leather sandals, usually, and they were more comfortable than walking barefoot.  When people gave up their leather shoes for Yom Kippur, they walked in bare feet.  Very different from us, who give up our leather shoes for canvas sneakers on Yom Kippur.

No comments:

Post a Comment