Masechet Yoma 30a-36b

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05 Jul 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. and Mrs. Alan Harris, The Lewy Family Foundation, and Marilyn and Edward Kaplan

Yoma 30a-b

The Mishnah on our daf teaches that no one was permitted to enter the azarah (courtyard) to participate in the Temple service unless he first performed tevilah – immersed in a mikvah, a ritual bath. On Yom Kippur, the kohen gadol performed this tevilah five times, as he walked back and forth between different parts of the mikdash.

Rashi explains the Mishnah (the Jerusalem Talmud makes this point, as well) as referring not only to someone who entered the precincts of the Temple to perform avodah, but to anyone who had reason to enter the sanctuary, even if he was not planning to participate in the Temple service. Some explain that this is necessary only because a kohen who is found on the premises may be invited to participate in some aspect of the avodah, and therefore must be prepared to do so.

The discussion of tevilah as preparation to enter the mikdash leads the Gemara to teach of another person who needs to go to the mikvah in order to take care of his business in the Temple: a metzora – a person who has recovered from a case of Biblical leprosy. As is taught in Vayikra 14, and elucidated upon in Masechet Nega’im, a person who shows the signs of leprosy to a kohen is declared a metzora. Such a person will be obligated to sit outside the community encampment until he recovers from his illness.

When he sees signs of recovery, he again approaches the kohen, and if he is found to have healed, he waits a week (during which time he remains ritually defiled, but to a lesser extent than during the previous week), at which point he will do tevilah. On the following day he will go to the Temple to bring the appropriate sacrifices and will have blood from the sacrifice placed on his thumb and big toe, at which point he is considered, once again, to have fully recovered and to be ritually pure.

Yoma 31a-b

The Mishnah (30a) teaches that the kohen gadol immersed in the mikvah five times during the course of the Yom Kippur Temple service. All of these tevilot (immersions) took place in an office called the bet ha-parveh, except for the first one, which took place on top of the water gate, which was near the office of the kohen gadol.

Abayye comments on this that the water source for these mikva’ot, a spring called Ein Eitam, had to be 23 cubits higher than the ground level of the Temple itself, since we know (based on a Mishnah in Masechet Middot 2:3) that the gates in the Temple were 20 amot high, and the mikveh that stood above the water gate needed to be at least three cubits deep in order to hold the correct amount of water. There is a difference of opinion involving Tosafot and the Geonim about the three cubits needed for the mikvah. The Geonim understand that the extra three cubits are needed to accommodate an average person, and generally speaking people are about three cubits tall. According to Tosafot three cubits is the normal height of a person, not counting his head. The logic here is that when a person enters the water, his body mass displaces enough water to cover his head, as well.

The Ein Eitam spring is identified as the third of Solomon’s Pools, which are located about three kilometers south-east of Bet Lechem, not far from the present-day community of Tekoa (where the Yeshivat Hesder under the direction of Rav Steinsaltz is located). From this spring, as well as others in the vicinity, there is a lengthy channel – more than 20 kilometers – that winds between the Judean Mountains and through underground tunnels, carrying water to the Temple Mount. The Ein Eitam spring today stands 760 meters above sea level, which is about 25 meters above the height of the Temple Mount.

With the destruction of the Second Temple, this channel was destroyed, as well. It was later rebuilt and was part of the water system that brought water to Jerusalem for generations.

Yoma 32a-b

In presenting the source for the five tevilot that the kohen gadol performed as part of the Yom Kippur avodah, Rav Chisda uses the expression gemiri, which usually indicates that the issue under discussion is a halakha le-Moshe mi-Sinai – an oral tradition handed down from Mount Sinai by Moshe Rabbeinu and thus has the authority of a Biblical law. Immediately following this statement, the Gemara quotes a series of sages who look through the pesukim of the parsha about the avodah of the kohen gadol on Yom Kippur (see Vayikra 16) for indications that these five tevilot are mandated by the Torah. Tosafot ask why it is necessary to find a textual source for this halakha, if we have already been told that it is a halakha le-Moshe mi-Sinai? They answer that the halakha le-Moshe mi-Sinai only indicated that there was a need for five tevilot, but did not specify when they were to be done – perhaps they could have been done one after the other. The search in the pesukim is an attempt to see where they belong in the course of the avodah.

Several other answers are given, as well:

Yoma 33a-b

One of the first sections of the daily prayer book is korbanot, where there is a basic description of the Temple service, including the Biblical passages (beginning with a sacrifice that was not brought – Akedat Yitzhak, the binding of Isaac), Mishnayot, and statements from the Gemara. One of the selections that appears there is Abayye‘s description of the daily Temple service, which begins with the ma’arakha – setting the wood on the mizbe’ach on which the korbanot are to be burned – and concluding with the tamid shel bein ha-arbayim – the afternoon tamid (continual daily) sacrifice that closes the day on the Temple.

Abayye offers this tradition mishmei d’gemara, ve-aliba d’Abba Shaul – in the name of the Gemara according to the tradition of Abba Shaul. Generally speaking the Sages of the Gemara make every attempt to attribute a statement they make to its source. In this case, where it is quoted in the name of “the Gemara” [and similarly when the Gemara uses the term naktinan – “we hold”], it means that this teaching was well known in the Bet Midrash, so it could not be attributed to a particular sage; rather, it was part of the general tradition.

With regard to Abba Shaul, it should be noted that “Abba” is a title that was given to sages before the title “Rabbi” came into common use. He was one of the tanna’im who, apparently, lived while the second Temple was still standing. Many of the teachings quoted in his name involve his recollections of the Temple and its service. It is likely that he was one of the students of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai, which would place him during the period of the destruction of the Temple. Of the many mitzvot with which he was involved, burying the dead appears to be one that he was specifically devoted to. He is described as “towering over his generation” which probably refers to both his physical appearance and the respect he commanded among his peers.

Many of the rulings that are quoted in Abba Shaul’s name appear to be his own opinion, yet they became the basis for practical halakhic rulings over generations.

Yoma 34a-b

The Mishnah (31b) describes the tevila (ritual bath immersion) that is done by the kohen gadol on Yom Kippur, and closes with the comment that if the kohen gadol was elderly or particularly sensitive, they would add heated water to the water in the mikvah so that he could immerse himself more comfortably.

The Gemara on our daf cites a related baraita in which Rabbi Yehuda is quoted as teaching that the method used to make the water warmer was to heat up metal blocks before Yom Kippur and place them in the water.  The Gemara objects, saying that the act of placing heated metal in water is tzoref – a method of hardening metal that is forbidden on Shabbat. Abayye explains that even if tzoref does take place, it is a davar she-eino mitkaven – it is unintentional – since the only intent in this case is to warm the water, not to harden the metal, and so it is permitted.

The concept of davar she-eino mitkaven – in which a forbidden act takes place, but the intent of the activity was for a different, and permissible, outcome – is discussed with regard to several halakhot. Specifically with regard to the halakhot of Shabbat there is a concept of melechet mahashevet asrah Torah – that the Torah only forbade activities on Shabbat where there is intent for the final, forbidden outcome. It should be noted that, even with regard to the case of Shabbat, in a situation where a given activity will, without question, lead to a forbidden outcome taking place, we do not say that it is davar she-eino mitkaven, which would be permitted, but a pesik reisha, which would be forbidden.

Thus, in our case, Abayye’s explanation that we are dealing with a davar she-eino mitkaven will only solve the Gemara’s problem if it is coupled with other reasons to permit it. In our case – as Abayye points out – tzoref is only a Rabbinic decree. Since we have a principle that ein shevut ba-mikdash – that Rabbinic decrees do not apply in the Temple – it would be permitted.

Yoma 35a-b

After discussing the law that allows a kohen to make his own clothing, on the condition that it is donated to the Temple (so that it is the property of the Temple when the avodah, or service, is done) the Gemara tells of Rabbi Elazar ben Harsum, whose mother made him clothing that was so fine that he was not allowed to wear it, as it allowed the outline of his body to be seen. Rabbi Elazar ben Harsum served as kohen gadol for eleven years, and the Gemara mentions his great wealth in a number of places.

This story leads the Gemara to quote a baraita that describes the arguments that will be made by various people when they are called before the Heavenly tribunal:

The baraita goes into some detail with regard to each of these stories. Perhaps the best known is the story of Hillel, who worked daily for a small sum of money, which he divided between his family’s needs and the entrance fee to the Bet Midrash. One Friday during the winter, when he could not find work, he climbed onto the roof of the study hall so that he could listen to the lecture. The snow began to fall and it was not until the next morning that Shemaya and Avtalyon noticed a form buried beneath three cubits of snow (the sheer volume of snow described by the baraita is unusual in Jerusalem, although after one of the infrequent snowstorms, the snow could pile up to such a height), at which point he was taken down into the Bet Midrash and revived.

The idea of having a guard at the door to the Bet Midrash who would limit access was in existence at various times during the Talmudic period, specifically at the higher levels of learning. Apparently at the beginning of this period there was a sense that the Torah leaders should be from the upper class, so that they would be financially independent and thus not subject to pressures from wealthy individuals. This expressed itself in the collection of tuition at the door of the Bet Midrash.

When, later in life, Hillel became the head of the academy, he ended this system. Nevertheless, the guard at the Bet Midrash door, whose job was to keep out students who were perceived as inappropriate for intense Torah study, was reinstated at various periods in history.  It was only during the rule of Rabban Gamliel of Yavneh that entrance to the study hall was truly open to all.

Yoma 36a-b

The Mishnah (35b) describes how the kohen gadol performed viduyconfession – on the first sacrifice on his own behalf, asking for forgiveness for his own sins and those of his family. The Mishnah teaches that the animal stands with its head facing southward and its face to the west, toward the Holy of Holies (see illustration).

The Gemara on our daf explains that, in order to do this, the animal is forced to turn its head while the kohen gadol does semikha (rests his hands) on the animal.

The concept of semikha, where the owner of a korban places both hands on the head of the sacrifice between its horns and presses down on it with all of his strength, applies to all sacrifices with the exception of a bekhor (a first born animal) and ma’aser behemah (the tenth animal from the flock). It is during semikhah that the owner confesses his sins when the sacrifice comes as part of the process of repentance (a chatat or an asham), or expresses his thanks and praise when the sacrifice is a celebratory one, like a korban shelamim or todah (thanksgiving offering). Immediately after semikhah the korban is slaughtered and sacrificed.

These activities are explained by the Ramban as representing the attitude that the individual should have with regard to his own self. Given that a sin is made up of thought, speech and activity, the person who brings a korban hatat will perform a number of actions, each of which will be an expression of a request for atonement on a separate part of the sin. He will:

Finally, the blood of the sacrifice will be sprinkled on the mizbe’ach, representing his soul. The idea is for the sinner to recognize that he has transgressed against God with his body and soul, and that in order to receive atonement for his actions, what is being done to the sacrifice really should be done to him.

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.