Masechet Yoma 44a-50b

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20 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 44a-b

The Mishnah (43b) describes a number of differences between the way the ketoret was prepared by the kohen gadol on Yom Kippur and the way it was done on a regular day. For example, every day the coals needed for burning the ketoret would be picked up with a silver mahtah (=shovel) and then transferred to a golden one, while on Yom Kippur a golden mahtah was used to pick up the coals and that same shovel was used to carry the ketoret into the kodesh ha-kodashim.

The Gemara on our daf (=page) explains that ordinarily the golden machtah was not used to pick up the coals because the Torah was concerned about the cost of golden shovels and the need to replace them were they used for this work on a regular basis. On Yom Kippur, aside from giving particular honor to the avodah (=service) of the day, allowing the entire process to be done with one machtah was easier on the kohen gadol, who was responsible for the entire Yom Kippur service.

Our Gemara also quotes a baraita that mentions a difference between the daily ketoret and that of Yom Kippur that is not mentioned in the Mishnah. Ben ha-Segan points out that only the ketoret of the Yom Kippur service had a neoshtik.

The source for the term neoshtik is unclear. Some suggest that its source is Persian, while others identify it as being borrowed from the Latin Nasticiun. According to the vast majority of the commentaries, it is a covering of some sort. The Tosafot Yeshanim say it was a cover for the handle of the machtah. This was necessary on Yom Kippur because the hot coals remained in the shovel for a fairly long time, and this made the handle of the machtah difficult to hold. The explanation presented by the Geonim – which also appears to be the explanation given by the Jerusalem Talmud – is that it was a cover for the shovel itself, whose purpose was to keep the coals burning by protecting them.

Rashi understands the word otherwise and argues that the neoshtik were two rings that were placed on the machtah so that they would make noise as the machtah was carried. The Me’iri suggests that it was a type of flat bottom that was added to the machtah, allowing it to be easily placed on the ground.

Yoma 45a-b

As we learned on yesterday’s daf (=page), the Mishnah (43b) discusses a number of differences between the way the ketoret was prepared by the kohen gadol on Yom Kippur and the way it was done on a regular day. One of the distinguishing features of the machtah – the shovel for the ketoret – was its color. On a regular day, the golden machtah was yellowish, but on Yom Kippur it was specially made to be a reddish-gold color.

In our Gemara, Rav Ashi and Rav Chisda discuss the different types of gold that were made, most of which have sources in the description of the of King Solomon‘s wealth in Sefer Melakhim (see I Melakhim 10). Their descriptions range from metals that are identified by their place of origin – zehav ophir – to the quality and purity of the gold – zehav shahut, which is braided like a hut (=string).

Pure gold has a dark yellow color. It is a very soft metal that can be shaped and stretched very easily. When it is used to make useable utensils or jewelry, however, it is necessary to add other materials (e.g. silver, copper, etc.) in order to make pieces that are hard enough to be used.  Even when very small amounts of other materials are added, both the physical quality and the color of the metal change drastically. The color can range from white as silver
to a blood red to green as grass.

The Me’iri identifies this gold with the type of gold called zehav parvayyim that is mentioned by Rav Chisda, which is described as being reminiscent of the blood of the bulls that were sacrificed on Yom Kippur, and was, apparently, the highest quality gold. The Gevurat Ari explains that the reddish-gold metal used for the machtah on Yom Kippur served to remind the kohen gadol of the sprinkling of the blood in the Holy of Holies.

Yoma 46a-b

Rabbi Meir is quoted by Rabbi Elazar in the name of bar Kappara as ruling that the innards of sacrifices that had not been burned up should be arranged on the altar and burned, even on Shabbat. The Gemara asks why this teaching needs to be presented, as Rabbi Meir’s position on this matter is already known from his statement teaching that the sacrifices are arranged on the altar four times every day, and one of them was for such left-over parts of the korban. Similarly, Rabbi Meir rules that on Yom Kippur there are five times when the sacrifices are arranged on the altar, including one for burning the left-over parts of the sacrifices that had not been burned up prior to the beginning of Yom Kippur. Clearly Rabbi Meir permits burning these innards on Yom Kippur, which has the same level of prohibition as Shabbat.

Various suggestions are made to find a chiddush – some new teaching – in the statement quoted in the name of Rabbi Meir. Rav Aha bar Ya’akov suggests that we may have thought that the only time sacrifices were burned on Yom Kippur was when it occurred on the first day of the week, thus only Shabbat sacrifices – due to their high level of holiness – could be burned on Yom Kippur. Rabbi Elazar teaches us that according to Rabbi Meir, all sacrifices that were not burned up the day before can be arranged for burning on the altar on Shabbat.

Rava objects to this answer, arguing that Rabbi Meir clearly said that sacrifices are arranged on the altar four times “every day.” “Every day” certainly includes Shabbat. The Gemara concludes by saying kashya – we do not have an answer to this question.

Rava introduces his question with an interesting comment. He says man hai d’lo hayyesh le-kimheh? – literally “who is this who is not concerned about his flour?” – a statement that merits some attention:

Yoma 47a-b

The fifth perek (=chapter) of Masechet Yoma begins on our daf (=page). In it the Mishnayot continue with the description of the Temple service performed by the kohen gadol on Yom Kippur. In particular, our perek focuses on the avodah (=service) that is done inside the Holy of Holies, beginning with the burning of the incense and its placement in the kodesh kodashim. The first Mishnah in the perek teaches that, after collecting burning coals from the altar, the kohen gadol is handed two utensils – an empty kaf (=spoon) and a machtah (=shovel) filled with finely ground incense.  He then takes a handful of the ketoret from the machtah and places it in the spoon (see Vayikra 16:12). The Mishnah further teaches that the appropriate amount of ketoret that is to be taken is subjective, as it depends on the size of the
kohen gadol‘s hands.

This rule leads the Gemara to present the kohen gadol Rabbi Yishmael ben Kimhit, whose hands were so large that he would fill the spoon with four kabin of incense.

Another interesting thing about Rabbi Yishma’el ben Kimhit is that he is identified by his mother’s name – Kimhit – rather than by his father’s name, which is the common practice in the Talmud. The Maharsha explains that Kimhit must have been married to different kohanim and had children with each of them. The Gemara notes that Kimhit had the unique privilege of being the mother of seven kohanim, each of whom served as kohen gadol. The Gemara relates how, on separate occasions, each of them – including Rabbi Yishma’el ben Kimhit – became ritually impure at the last moment and was replaced by one of his brothers.

When asked what led to this honor, Kimhit attributed it to her great modesty, specifically that she kept her hair covered even inside her own home. The Sages reject this explanation, saying that others who behaved in a similar manner did not merit such a reward. The Jerusalem Talmud explains that the Rabbis did, in fact, appreciate Kimhit’s high level of modesty, but they were simply pointing out that there must have been other factors involved as well, since others who were equally careful about such things did not merit a similar reward.

Yoma 48a-b

There are four activities that are considered essential to the sacrifice and must be done by a kohen. Following the slaughter of the animal (which can be done by someone who is not a kohen), the kohen must perform:

  1. kabbalah – collecting the blood from the animal
  2. holakhah – carrying the container with the blood to the altar
  3. zerikah – sprinkling the blood on the mizbe’ah
  4. haktarah – burning the fats and innards of the sacrifice on the mizbe’ach

Of these four activities, the second one – holakhah – is qualitatively different from the others. As Rashi points out, the other three activities are clearly enumerated in the Torah, which commands that they be performed by a kohen, whereas holakhah is only hinted at in the text as an essential part of the service. In fact, as noted by the Rishonim, if the sacrifice was slaughtered right next to the altar, the blood could be collected and sprinkled on the mizbe’ach without holakhah taking place at all, as long as the other three essential elements were performed correctly. Thus, there exists the possibility that not all of the rules that apply to the rest of the activities connected to the korban apply to holakhah.

With this in mind, we can understand the question that is presented to Rav Sheshet – whether a korban is disqualified if holakhah was done by a kohen who carried the blood in his left hand (generally speaking, all of the avodah [=service] in the Temple was done with the right hand).

Rav Sheshet answers by pointing to the rule taught in our Mishnah (47a), which dictates that the mahtah (=shovel) was given to the kohen gadol to hold in his right hand, while the kaf (=spoon) was held in his left hand. This is understood by Rav Sheshet to clearly indicate that holakhah can be done with the left hand, as well.

Rav Sheshet points to the Mishnah by using the expression tanituha, which means “you have already learned it in the Mishnah.” This expression, commonly used by Rav Sheshet, indicates that the question can be answered by examining Mishnayot that are commonly known.

Yoma 49a-b

When Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi asked Rabbi Chanina whether a replacement kohen gadol could act instead of the kohen gadol who placed the handful of ketoret into the machtah (=shovel), in the event that the first kohen gadol died before he finished the avodah (=service), Rabbi Chanina’s response was “this is a question of the early Sages.” The Gemara at first understands this to mean that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi is older than Rabbi Chanina, although it concludes that Rabbi Chanina’s response simply meant that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s question was as good as the kinds of questions asked by the early Sages.

One of the proofs brought by the Gemara that Rabbi Chanina was the more senior of the two is a statement made by Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi that he had received a ruling from Rabbi Chanina allowing him to drink shahalayim on Shabbat. The fact that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi turned to Rabbi Chanina for direction in this matter is understood by the Gemara to mean that Rabbi Chanina was the older man.

Shahalayim is identified as Lepidium sativum L., an annual herb commonly known as peppergrasses or pepperwort. It is generally used as a spice or salad green. Its fruits can be used as a medicine when ground up and mixed together with wine or vinegar, which was common practice in the time of the Talmud.

The issue of drinking shahalayim on Shabbat stems from the Rabbinic prohibition against taking medicine on Shabbat. This includes not only food and drink that is taken for the purpose of healing, but also activities that are done solely for reasons of health, such as exercise, washing, etc. This, of course, applies only to situations where all that is involved is an issue of pain or discomfort. If there is a danger, or just the possibility of actual danger, then even activities forbidden by the Torah would be permitted, since piku’ach nefesh – danger to life – overrides the laws of Shabbat.

The basis for the Rabbinic injunction is the concern lest someone were to grind and prepare herbs for use as medicine, which involves transgressing the melakhah of tochen on Shabbat. Once the Sages applied this rule, they employed it across the board, even in cases that do not involve grinding.

Yoma 50a-b

When is a sacrifice brought on Shabbat, and when do we need to wait until after Shabbat to bring it?

One suggestion raised by the Gemara is that the distinction is whether the sacrifice is a communal one or if it is the sacrifice of an individual. According to this suggestion, a sacrifice brought by the community is docheh Shabbat (“pushes aside” Shabbat), while a personal sacrifice will wait until after Shabbat to be brought.

Rabbi Meir points out that the par (=bull) brought by the kohen gadol on Yom Kippur is a personal sacrifice, yet it is docheh Shabbat.

Rabbi Yaakov points out that a par he’elem davar shel tzibbur (the bull brought on behalf of the community when a mistaken ruling was given) is a communal sacrifice, yet it cannot be brought on Shabbat.

These questions force the Gemara to reconsider the principle.  The conclusion is that a sacrifice which needs to be brought at a specific, set time can be brought on Shabbat, while a sacrifice that does not have a set time cannot be brought on Shabbat.

The case of par he’elem davar shel tzibbur is presented by the Torah in Vayikra 4:13-21. There the Torah teaches that in the event that the court rules erroneously on a given case, and the majority of the community sins due to that ruling, the court will be obligated to bring a sacrifice on behalf of the community. This communal sacrifice replaces the individual sacrifices that would have been brought by every person who sinned, had they done so without the official sanction of the court.

The Mishnayot and Gemara in Masechet Horayot discuss this sacrifice, and a variety of opinions are offered there on how the community is defined. According to some opinions this rule applies not only when the bet din ha-gadol – the Great Sanhedrin – rules incorrectly, but also when the bet din of a given shevet rules and the majority of that tribe inadvertently sins based on that ruling. An open question remains regarding the status of kohanim and levi’im – are they considered to be independent communities, given that each of them had their own judicial system, or have they lost their status as communities since neither of them are a full shevet? Furthermore they do not have a specific share in the Land of Israel.

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.