Masechet Yoma 2a-8b

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08 Jun 2006

The Coming Week’s Daf Yomi by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim (original ideas) of Talmudic scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, as published in the Hebrew version of the Steinsaltz Edition of the Talmud.

This month’s Steinsaltz Daf Yomi is sponsored by Dr. David Katzin in memory of Jack and Eva Katzin, z”l

Yoma 2a-b

Masechet Yoma is a chronological presentation of the various activities that take place in preparation for the Temple service on Yom ha-Kippurim, beginning with those things that need to be done prior to the holiday, and culminating with the day itself.

The first Mishnah in the Masechet teaches how the kohen gadol – the High Priest – is taken aside for an entire week of preparation and purification in anticipation of Yom Kippur. Since the entire complicated service will be done by him, reaching a climax with his entering the kodesh kodashim – the Holy of Holies – it was clear that serious preparation was essential. The Sages of the Talmud learned this from the Torah‘s description of the Tabernacle in the desert, where Aharon and his sons were confined for a week during the ceremonies inaugurating the Mishkan to practice the service that needed to be done afterwards.

This preparation became even more important during the Second Temple period. Although the ideal kohen gadol should have been a scholar and righteous person, for a variety of reasons the person who filled the position during that period often did not live up to that expectation.  This led the Sages to institute rules that would ensure that the High Priest would be knowledgeable in the service that he was to perform, and that he would do it

Aside from the day of Yom Kippur, all of the kohanim have the opportunity, and, in fact, were required, to take a turn in the Temple service. Our Gemara asks whether every bet av – family of priests – should be required to spend a week preparing for their turn working in the Beit ha-Mikdash, a suggestion ultimately rejected by the Gemara.

The idea of priestly families – of a bet av – stems from a very early division of the kohanim – as early as the time of King David (see I Divrei ha-Yamim 24:1-18) – into 24 mishmarot (watches). The same number existed during the Second Temple, as well, although it was a new division of labor, since only four priestly families returned to serve in the Second Temple. Each of the 24 “watches” was divided into six families (bet av). Every “watch” would go up to Jerusalem to work for one week at a time, so that in the course of a year each “watch” would work approximately two weeks. During the festivals of Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot all the kohanim would come to work together.

During the week that a given mishmar was in the Temple, each bet av would work on a specific day, and only if there was an inordinate amount of work would a second family join them. Thus, generally speaking, every family of kohanim would work on two set days during the year.

Yoma 3a-b

We learned in yesterday’s daf that the Sages of the Talmud derived the need for a seven-day preparation for the Yom Kippur service from the Torah‘s description of the Tabernacle in the desert. In that case the High Priest Aharon and his sons were confined for a week during the ceremonies inaugurating the Mishkan so that they would practice the service that needed to be done afterwards. Specifically, the Gemara refers to Vayikra 8:33-34, where the Torah teaches that the week of preparation was a model for a situation where kapparah – atonement – was offered, which is understood to mean Yom Kippur.

The Gemara on our daf discusses how we know that the passages in Vayikra that talk about kapparah refer to preparation for Yom Kippur; perhaps they are teaching that other holidays – like Rosh ha-Shanah, for example – need such preparation. The Gemara points to the uniqueness of Yom Kippur as a holiday on which the kohen gadol brings his own sacrifice, similar to the personal sacrifice brought by Aharon ha-Kohen at the consecration of the Mishkan. This is significantly different than other holidays – including Rosh ha-Shanah -where the sacrifices brought were communal ones.

The conclusion of the Gemara is clear that, with regard to Yom Kippur, some sacrifices were the personal property of the High Priest. It points out, though, that there are some things that were used in the Temple whose ownership is less clear. The baraita quotes Rabbi Yoshia, who claims that every time the Torah uses the expression kakh lekha (literally “take for you,” as in the command to make the incense – see Shmot 30:34) or a’se lekha (“make for you,” as in the command to make silver trumpets – see Bamidbar 10:2) it means that the object should be taken or made from the property of the person who was commanded about it.  Rabbi Yonatan argues that both of these expressions are still to be understood as commanding that the object be taken from community funds. These expressions are used in order to indicate that God was saying that he preferred to take it from Moshe, rather than from the Jewish people.

This rather enigmatic statement is explained by the Maharsha as follows: Since the entire world belongs to God, there is nothing that can be “given” to him, and it is impossible to discuss a physical thing that He “wants” from this world. Therefore, His command to offer something to Him means that He is honoring Moshe by accepting something from him, and He would prefer to honor Moshe than the Jewish people.

Yoma 4a-b

As we learned previously, the Sages of the Talmud derived the need for a seven-day preparation for the Yom Kippur service from the Torah‘s description of the Tabernacle in the desert. An alternative source is suggested by Resh Lakish, who proposes that this rule is derived from the story of Moshe receiving the commandments on Mount Sinai. The Torah describes Moshe as being enveloped by a cloud for six days and entering God’s presence on the seventh day (see Shmot 24:16). This teaches that someone who is about to enter machane shekhinah – the “encampment of God” – needs a week of preparation to do so.

The Gemara quotes a baraita that includes at least one Tanna who supports Reish Lakish. Several opinions are presented about thesix days that Moshe was in the cloud:

Although Rashi and Tosafot on our daf interpret Rabbi Matya ben Harash’s statement as referring specifically to the experience of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, others (see the Tosafot R”i ha-Lavan) apply it to Torah study in general, which is supposed to combine the elements of joy and celebration with trembling and trepidation. The Ritva points out that according to the Gemara in Berakhot it appears that this is a general principle – at every occasion of joy it is important to keep a sense of trepidation, as well.

Yoma 5a-b

The week of preparations for consecrating the Mishkan in the desert (Vayikra 9) ends with the tragic story of the death of Aharon‘s sons, Nadav and Avihu (see Vayikra 10). Ordinarily, the death of a close relative gives someone the status of an onein – a high level of mourning – whose focus on caring for proper burial limits participation in normal daily activities, including many mitzvot. For kohanim specifically, an onein would not participate in the Temple service, nor eat from the sacrifices. In the case of the week of the milu’im (inauguration), the Torah records a disagreement between Moshe and Aharon’s family about the level of participation they should have in the ceremonies following the death of two of Aharon’s children. The Gemara on our daf examines the disagreement and its background.

A baraita is quoted that points out Moshe’s repeated use of the term tzivah – commanded – on this day, with regard to:

According to the baraita, the difference of opinion between Moshe and Aharon stems from Moshe’s initial command that the sacrifices be eaten by Aharon and his sons, even though they were in a situation of aninut. He explained that the consecration of the Mishkan was so important that God commanded them to continue their participation even though Nadav and Avihu had died.

When Moshe discovered that the chatat of Rosh Chodesh had not been eaten, but had instead been burned (Vayikra 10:16), he demanded to know why the commandment had not been carried out. Aharon distinguished between the special mincha that was brought because of the Tabernacle consecration (which had to be eaten) and the chatat of Rosh Chodesh that was not part of the special ceremony (which did not have to be eaten). Moshe admits that Aharon was correct, but insists that with regard to the other sacrifices there was a specific command of God that they must be eaten.

The Tosafot ha-Rosh points out that this explanation does not fit into the simple order of the pesukim, which has the sacrifice on Rosh Chodesh as the last one discussed. He applies the well-known rule ein mukdam u’me’uhar ba-Torah – that the Torah was not written in chronological order – to explain the baraita’s reasoning.

Yoma 6a-b

As we learned in the Mishnah (2a) the High Priest is kept in one of the Temple offices for the week prior to Yom Kippur. Aside from training for the service that he is to perform on the Day of Atonement, this also keeps him away from his house, where there is a possibility that he may become ritually defiled by contact with others.

The Gemara on our daf asks why we are only concerned with the possibility of ritual defilement in his home. Continued contact with people, even in the Temple office, should lead to a total quarantine, for perhaps he will become tameh met, ritually defiled by contact with the dead. The Gemara offers a variety of explanations why we do not totally limit his contact with others.

Rashi‘s explanation of the Gemara’s question is that someone may enter his office in the Temple and die, so the suggestion is that contact with anyone should be limited. Some commentaries argue that Rashi’s explanation is difficult, both because the Talmud does not usually concern itself with the unlikely possibility that someone will die, and also because we know that the author of our Mishnah specifically excluded that possibility, when he rejects Rabbi Yehuda‘s opinion that we need to secure an additional wife for the kohen gadol lest his first wife pass away.

In explaining Rashi, the Gevurot Ari argues that we must distinguish between a situation where the question is whether a specific individual may die, and one where there is a group of people and the question is whether one person from amongst the group will pass away. Since many people visit the kohen gadol in his office in the week prior to Yom Kippur, the Gemara is within its rights to suggest that perhaps one of them will die.

There are those who suggest an alternative interpretation of the Gemara. The R”i Lunil argues that the Gemara is simply suggesting that we limit the High Priest’s contact with others, in case one of them is tameh met and will spread the defilement to others. According to the R”i ha-Lavan we move the kohen gadol to the Mikdash because he is much less likely to come into contact with the defilement of a dead body there, whereas at home the likelihood is much greater.

Yoma 7a-b

Generally speaking someone who is tamei – has become ritually defiled by contact with a dead body or other tumah – cannot enter the precincts of the Temple and cannot participate in the Temple service in any way. There is, however, an exception: the case of tumah hutrah be-tzibur – if the majority of the Jewish people are tamei, then the sacrificial service can take place, performed by kohanim who themselves are tameh.

Most of our daf is devoted to an examination of the disagreement between Rav Nachman and Rav Sheshet with regard to the question of tumah hutrah be-tzibur – how to understand the rule permitting sacrifices to be brought when the majority of the community is tameh. Rav Nachman explains that tumah hutrah be-tzibur means that the rules of tumah simply do not apply under these unusual circumstances. According to Rav Sheshet, however, the rule is really that tumah dehuyah be-tzibur – not that the Torah totally permits it, rather that the need to bring sacrifices in this case “pushes aside” the existing prohibition about tumah, even as the prohibition remains.

To explain this concept, it is important to note that the question of hutrah (permitted) vs. dehuyah (pushed aside) is not unique to questions about ritual purity in the Temple and its sacrifices. We find a similar discussion with regard to the rules of Shabbat, when a number of different circumstances will permit melakhot – activities on Shabbat – that are, ordinarily, forbidden.

Regarding Shabbat we find that approaches differ based on the reason that the activity needs to be done. When communal sacrifices are brought in the Temple on Shabbat it is clear that Shabbat is hutrah. Such activities are totally permitted. On the other hand, potential life-and-death situations, when we certainly will allow activities to be done on Shabbat to save the individual, are likely considered dechuyah.  It is thus important to limit activities to those melachot that are essential, and anything that can be done without transgressing forbidden activities on Shabbat should be done in that way (see Shulhan Arukh Orah Hayyim 328 for a discussion of these issues).

Yoma 8a-b

According to the Mishnah (2a), a week prior to Yom Kippur the kohen gadol was isolated in an office in the Temple – the lishkat parhedrin – where he received training for the Yom Kippur service. Our Gemara quotes Rabbi Yehudah in a baraita who teaches that the office was originally called the lishkat balvatei, but that its name was changed during the period of the Second Temple, when the position of kohen gadol was sold on a regular basis. At that point the office that had been called lishkat balvatei – meaning “the leader’s office” – was transformed into lishkat parhedrin – “the office of the administrator.”

The term parhedrin referred to a Roman official who was appointed to a position for a single year term. This was commonplace whether the individual was elected by the Senate or if he acquired the position by paying off the right people. Among the officials appointed by this method were those who were responsible for controlling prices on a variety of goods and services. It was not uncommon for people in this position to try to acquire significant wealth by collecting exorbitant taxes during their short terms, well beyond the amount prescribed by Roman law.

The baraita refers to a period during the Second Temple when the kohen gadol was appointed based on the amount paid to the person in charge; during that period a different person was appointed every year, leading to the comparison with the Roman official. According to Rashi, the need to appoint a new kohen gadol every year stemmed from the fact that such people, who aspired to a position for which they were not worthy, invariably died during the course of the year. The Tosafot Rid explains that it was simply like the case of the Roman officials – the appointments were paid for only for a single year.

Some commentaries argue that it was not the kohen gadol who was replaced every year, but rather it was the office itself. Since the occupants of the position of kohen gadol were more interested in their honor than in the spiritual importance of the position, each of them tore down the office and rebuilt it to show off their wealth and position of authority.

In addition to his monumental translation and commentary on the Talmud, Rabbi Steinsaltz has authored dozens of books and hundreds of articles on a variety of topics, both Jewish and secular. For more information about Rabbi Steinsaltz’s groundbreaking work in Jewish education, visit or contact the Aleph Society at 212-840-1166.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.