There is no new column for Parshat Tzav
We previously noted that the blatant interference in the administration of the Beit Hamikdash by the hated Roman rulers and their Herodian sycophants, resulting in the recurrent appointment of unworthy men, greatly reduced the prestige of the High Priesthood. For example: It was essential that the Kohein Gadol [KG] not become ritually impure before Yom Kippur and therefore he was not permitted to sleep the previous night. To keep him awake, the Mishna says that "if he (the KG) was learned, he used to expound, and if not, the disciples of the sages would expound before him. If he was able to read the Scriptures, he read. If not, they would read before him... Zechariah ben Kabutal said, 'Many times I read to him from (the Book of) Daniel.'" (Yoma 6:1). Much of Daniel is in Aramaic. Quite likely many of the latter KGs did not even fully understand Hebrew let alone be able to read it properly. The Mishna (Yoma 1:3) depicts a situation where the possibility existed that the KG did not even know the order of the Avoda of Yom Kippur. No wonder the Sages wept when they charged him under oath not to change anything they instructed him concerning the Avoda of Yom Kippur (Yoma 1:5). No doubt they recalled the glorious days of the saintly Simon the Just and compared him with the degenerate KGs of their own day. But the Yom Kippur service was valid only when performed by the KG; even such KGs as those intimated by the above quoted Mishnaic texts.
By the end the second Temple period, the people honored the Sages as their religious leaders. There is a Talmudic story how the people were escorting the KG home after the conclusion of the Yom Kippur service. "...but when they saw [the two sages] Sh'maya and Avtalyon, they left him and followed Sh'maya and Avtalyon... Later the two sages visited the KG who angrily snarled at them, "May the descendents of the nations come in peace" superciliously recalling their descent from proselytes. Sh'maya and Avtalyon swiftly retorted, "May the descendents of the nations who do the work of Aaron come in peace, but the descendent of Aaron who does not do the work of Aaron, he shall not come in peace" (Yoma 71b). These two great Sages were the teachers of Hillel and they lived in the days of Herod.
The Gemara mentions that the high priesthood was sold to the highest bidder every twelve months, like many other appointments in the Roman Empire. This explains why the chamber set aside in the Azara for the KG's use during the seven days before Yom Kippur was called 'Lishkat Hapalhedrin - the Chamber of the Counselors - because "like those counselors who are changed every twelve months", the KGs were changed yearly (Yoma 8b). While this is perhaps an exaggeration, Agrippa II did appoint and dismiss six KGs in the ten years before the outbreak of the Great Rebellion in 66 CE. In the eyes of the people, the KG soon became little more than a "religious functionary" of the government. This dependency was further emphasized when the Roman authorities insisted on keeping custody of the KG's vestments without which he could not carry out his ordained role. The sources do not relate that the Romans ever refused to return the high priestly garments when so requested and they did not hold them continuously. Nevertheless, the superfluous humiliation was very provocative and this calculated insult lowered the prestige of the KGs. The Gemara preserves a popular "street ballad" (Pesachim 57a) about these Herodian and post-Herodian KGs. The ballad shows the contempt and enmity of the people for these individuals.
"Woe is me, for the house of Boethus:
woe is me because of their clubs!
Woe is me, for the house of Annas:
woe is me for their whispering!
Woe is me, for the house of Katros:
woe is me for their pen!
Woe is me for the house of Ishmael
(ben Phiabi): woe is me for their fist!
For they are the high priests, and their sons the treasurers; their sons-in-laws are Temple officers, and their servants beat the people with their staves...î
This wicked Ishmael ben Phiabi is not to be confused with a later righteous KG of the same name. This later Ishmael ben Phiabi was appointed by Agrippas II in 59 CE and was popular among the people. His mother made him white linen garments for the Yom Kippur service which cost the staggering sum of one hundred Minae. After Yom Kippur, he donated them to the Mikdash (Yoma 35b). He was one of the few KGs who prepared a Parah Aduma (Parah 3:5). "When Ishmael ben Phiabi died, the splendor of the priesthood ceased" (Sota 9:15). Another of Agrippas II's appointees was Joshua ben Gamla. Surprisingly, this KG, who only served one year (64 CE) in the very chaotic period before the great Rebellion, made an imperishable contribution to Judaism. "Joshua ben Gamla came and ordained that teachers of young children should be appointed in each district and each town, and that children should enter school at the age of six or seven." The Sages praised him and said, "Truly the name of that man is to be blessed, Joshua ben Gamla, but for him the Torah would have been forgotten in Israel" (Baba Batra 21a).
However, the Yerushalmi has a variant tradition; that it was Simeon ben Shetach, head of the Sanhedrin in the days of Queen Shlomtzion, who ordained that "children should go to school." It is note- worthy that the Amora Rav, who studied in Eretz Yisrael for many years and adsorbed its traditions, taught the tradition that gave the credit to Joshua ben Gamla. And as the noted historian Shmuel Safrai commented, "The Talmudic tradition rarely noted ordinances instituted by or praises given to KGs who lived in the end of the second Temple period." Therefore the first version is to be preferred. With these rare exceptions, the "spiritual leaders" foisted upon the people by the Roman and Herodian authorities were well known for their strong-arm methods and violence. They were insidious in their secret denunciations of their opponents to the authorities. The historian Joseph Klausner correctly noted that, "There could be scarcely a more dreadful and hateful picture of the KGs and their families" (than the above quoted "ballad"). However, downgrading the importance of the (usually Sadducee) KG did have one unexpected positive effect. It automatically raised the status of the Segan (adjunct KG), who almost always was a Pharisee. A follower of the Sages, he made sure that the Avoda was performed according to their rulings. An example is R. Chanina Segan Hakohanim. Quoted in Perek and surviving the Destruction, he is often cited as an authority on Mikdash procedure. Even so, the timeless Avoda of the Beit Hamikdash required the services of a KG. Clad in pure white linen garments, he was the man who, as his ancestor Aaron before him, entered the Kodesh Hakodashim and sought forgiveness for the sins of Am Yisrael. Whatever his moral state may have been and no matter who appointed him, he could not be ignored or dispensed with. <to be continued>