Masechet Zevachim 100a-106b

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Bigdei Kehuna
17 Feb 2011

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.

Zevachim 100a-b: Gathering bones during the Second Temple period

In the context of discussing kohanim who were not permitted to partake in the Temple service for a variety of reasons enumerated in the Mishnah (daf 98b), the Gemara discusses the laws of an onen – a mourner on the day of death of a close relative – and mourning practices generally.

The Mishnah on today’s daf quotes a baraita that teaches that the day a person is first informed of the death of a close relative will be considered like the day of burial with regard to the laws of shiva – the week of severe mourning following burial – and shloshim – the thirty days after burial when the severe mourning is over, but the mourner still refrains from cutting his hair and so forth. With regard to the laws of the korban Pesach, however, it is only considered to be like the day of likkut atzamot – the day that the bones of a dead ancestor are collected – which would allow him to eat the Passover sacrifice in the evening (see Masechet Pesachim daf 92)

A melaket atzamot is someone who collects the bones of his relatives for final burial. During the Second Temple period – and for hundreds of years after that – there was a unique tradition with regard to burial. People were buried in the ground in plots that were designated as temporary resting places. After a number of years, when the flesh had decomposed and only the bones remained, they would be gathered and placed in an ossuary, a stone box, which would be interred in the family burial cave.

Although the gathering of the bones took place well after the death of the deceased, the day on which it took place was considered a day of mourning. The Gemara points out that we must be talking about a case where someone else did the actual gathering, since the person who did so would not be able to participate in the korban Pesach for a different reason – because he is tamei (ritually defiled).

Zevachim 101a-b: Who was the Biblical character, Pinchas?

According to the story that appears in Sefer Bamidbar (Chapter 25), at the moment when the Children of Israel engaged in sexual licentiousness combined with idol worship, it was the action of Pinchas the son of Elazar whose father was Aharon, the High Priest that saved the Jewish people from destruction. Pinchas stepped forward and killed Zimri ben Salu, one of the heads of the tribe of Shimon, together with the Midianite woman with whom he sinned. As a reward, Pinchas received a covenant of priesthood (Bamidbar 25:11-14).

It appears that although Aharon and his sons were anointed as priests (see Sefer Vayikra Chapter 8), Aharon’s son’s children who were alive at that time were not included in that ceremony. In the Gemara on today’s daf  we find that Rabbi Elazar quotes Rabbi Chanina as teaching that although he was from the priestly line, Pinchas did not become a kohen until after the incident mentioned above. Rav Ashi taught that it did not happen until many years later when the Children of Israel entered the land of Israel and Pinchas played a central role in bringing peace to the warring tribes (see Sefer Yehoshua 22:30-34). It is only then that we find that the biblical text refers to him as Pinchas HaKohen – Pinchas the priest.

The Gemara continues and asks how the passage in Sefer Bamidbar that promises Pinchas a covenant of priesthood should be understood according to this opinion, and explains that it might be understood simply as a blessing. Rashi explains that this means that it was a blessing for the future. Rabbeinu Tam, who was apparently uncomfortable with the idea that God would have blessed Pinchas with status that could not be implemented, explains that from the time of the story in Sefer Bamidbar Pinchas could have claimed the priesthood, and, in fact, began to keep the laws of priesthood. Nevertheless, the people who blamed him for the death of one of the leaders of the tribe of Shimon did not allow him to be anointed to serve in the Temple until he succeeded in establishing peace among the tribes in Sefer Yehoshua.

Zevachim 102a-b: Was Moshe a Kohen?

When Moshe is reluctant to accept the responsibilities of leadership, refusing God’s repeated requests that he return to Egypt as leader of the Children of Israel (see Sefer Shemot Chapters 3 and 4), God ultimately becomes angry with Moshe and tells him that his brother Aharon the Levite will speak on his behalf (Shemot 4:14). Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai interprets this passage to mean that God had originally planned to make Moshe the priest and leave Aharon as a levi. Since Moshe refused to accept responsibility as a leader, God was going to switch their positions so that Aharon became the kohen and Moshe remained a levi. The Chachamim teach that Moshe did serve as a priest for a limited amount of time – during the seven days of the consecration of the Tabernacle (see Sefer Vayikra Chapter 8) – when Moshe performed the sacrificial service. Yet another opinion is quoted in the baraita, that Moshe remained a kohen his entire life and it was only his children who did not merit to remain kohanim, as opposed to Aharon’s children, who retained their family status for all generations. In support of this last position, a passage from Sefer Divrei HaYamim (I 23:14) is quoted that says that Moshe’s children were associated as Levites; furthermore, the passage in Sefer Tehillim (99:6) refers to Moshe and Aharon together as kohanim.

Rav teaches that Moshe, in fact, served as the High Priest, as we see (Vayikra 8:29) that he received the High Priest’s portion during the days of consecration. It appears that according to this opinion, Moshe retained the position of High Priest throughout his life. In his Keren Orah, Rabbi Yitzchak of Karlin explains that it is logical to assume that once Moshe attained this position that he did not relinquish it, although on a practical level, once Aharon was anointed as kohen gadol, Moshe allowed him to serve in that position, as he was occupied with matters of leadership and direct interaction with God.

Zevachim 103a-b: Collection boxes in the Temple

The Gemara on today’s daf quotes a Mishnah from Masechet Shekalim (daf 18) that discusses the shofarot, or collection boxes, that were placed in the Temple. According to the Mishnah in Shekalim, there were 13 collection boxes that were called shofarot, because they were shaped like a shofar with one end small enough for a coin to be placed into it and a larger end where the coins could be removed. (They were made in this way so that no one who came to deposit money would be suspected of stealing.) Each shofar was marked with the purpose of its money, so that no mistakes would be made. For example, one said “new shekalim” for the monies that were deposited for the fiscal year beginning in Nissan, one was marked “old shekalim” for the leftover monies from last year’s collection, etc.

Six of these shofarot were marked as collecting money for voluntary contributions to the Temple, that is to say, when a person dedicated money to the Temple for purchase of a sacrifice, if there was money left over it would be deposited in these collection boxes for the purpose of purchasing a korban olah – a burnt offering.

Rabbi Yehuda teaches that in this case, the skins of these sacrifices were not given to the kohanim. The Shitah Mekubetzet explains his position as requiring the skins to be sold so that other sacrifices could be purchased with the proceeds.

Rabbi Nechemiah (some say Rabbi Shimon) argued with Rabbi Yehuda, pointing out that this negates a teaching attributed to the High Priest Yehoyadah.

This is a reference to one of the stories in the Tanach where we hear about the collection of shekalim (II Melakhim 12) in which King Yo’ash partnered with the High Priest Yehoyada in collecting money from the people and refurbishing the Temple. Yehoyada interpreted a difficult passage (Vayikra 5:19) to mean that extra money that is left over after someone brought his korban asham should be used to purchase a korban olah, whose meat is burned, but whose skin is given to the kohanim. In this way that money is shared between the kohanim and the altar.

Zevachim 104a-b: Sacrifices that must be burned

There are some korbanot that must be burned entirely after their blood is sprinkled on the altar and their innards are sacrificed. Thus, many of the Yom Kippur sacrifices, as well as some of the public guilt offerings (for example, those brought by the kohen gadol, and those brought by the Great Sanhedrin that erred and caused the majority of the community to sin) were taken to the beit ha-deshen – the place of the ashes – to be burned (see Vayikra 4:12). If, however, a korban is burned because it must be destroyed, e.g. some error or blemish kept it from being brought as a sacrifice, the Mishnah on today’s daf teaches that it is not taken to the beit ha-deshen, rather it is burned in the beit ha-birah.

What were these places where the sacrifices were burned?

Rav Nahman quotes Rabbah bar Avuha as teaching that there were three places in the environs of the Temple that served as repositories for ashes.

  1. There was a large beit deshen in the Temple courtyard where they burned the holiest sacrifices and the innards of lesser sacrifices that had become disqualified.
  2. There was a second beit deshen on the Temple Mount where they burned the animals that were supposed to be burned that had become disqualified after sprinkling the blood.
  3. The third beit deshen was for those korbanot that were done properly and had to be burned according to their basic requirements. This beit deshen was outside of the three camps (the inner camp of the Tabernacle, the middle camp of the tribe of Levi and the outer camp of Israelites) in the desert. When the Temple stood, this was outside the walls of the city of Jerusalem.

As far as defining the term beit ha-birah, Rabbah bar bar Chana taught that it was a particular spot on the Temple Mount, while according to Rabbi Yochanan the entire Temple was called Birah (see Sefer Divrei HaYamim (I 29:19).

Zevachim 105a-b: When clothing becomes ritually defiled

As we learned in the Mishnah on yesterday’s daf there are some korbanot that must be burned entirely after their blood is sprinkled on the altar and their innards are sacrificed. The Mishnah teaches that such sacrifices were placed on poles and were carried by kohanim front-and-back to the beit ha-deshen – the ash-pit outside of the city of Jerusalem. According to the Torah (see Sefer Vayikra 4:25; 16:27-28), the clothing belonging to the kohanim who had this responsibility became tamei – ritually defiled – and had to be immersed in the mikvah.

The Mishnah teaches that the clothing of the kohanim became tamei immediately when each one of the kohanim carrying the sacrifice left the walls of the Temple compound. Thus the kohanim who were in front carrying the sacrifice became tamei even though their colleagues in the rear were still tahor – ritually pure. Once all of the kohanim had left the Temple compound, they were all tamei.

The Gemara on today’s daf discusses the source for this halacha and quotes a baraita that explains that regarding the sacrifices brought on Yom Kippur the Torah sounds as if they must be removed and burned outside of a single encampment (see Vayikra 16:27), while regarding other such sacrifices the requirement is to burn them outside of three camps (the inner camp of the Tabernacle, the middle camp of the tribe of Levi and the outer camp of Israelites) in the desert. From this we understand that although the sacrifices must be burned on the beit ha-deshen outside of all three camps (and in the Temple, outside the walls of the city of Jerusalem), nevertheless, the ritual defilement of the clothing of the kohanim associated with this service takes effect immediately upon leaving the encampment of the Tabernacle (or the Temple courtyard).

Zevachim 106a-b: Sacrificing to Mercury

Regarding idol worship, there are certain activities that are considered to be objectively an act of worship and will be forbidden, while other activities may be specific and limited to a certain type of idol. Generally speaking, a person will be held liable for avodah zara – the prohibition against idol worship – when he performs any one of a number of acts of worship. These activities include commonly used methods of veneration including sacrificing or burning incense, offering a libation or bowing down, and even simply saying “you are my god.” Other types of obsequiousness, such as hugging and kissing the idol, washing or cleaning it and so on would be forbidden, but would not serve as true idol worship.

There are other modes of worship that ordinarily would not constitute an act of avodah zara, except with a specific idol or deity for which that act is a unique form of worship. Thus ha-po’er atzmo le-ba’al pe’or – someone who relieves himself in front of the idol Pe’or – or ha-zorek even le-markolis– someone who throws a stone to the idol Markolis – will also be held liable for performing an act of avodah zara, since this is the unique method of worshiping these idols. The Gemara on today’s daf brings the opinion of Rabbi Elazar who derives from a passage in Sefer Vayikra (17:7) that sacrificing to Markolis is also considered to be avodah zara, even though that is not the normal method of worshiping that idol.

Markolis is the name given by the Sages for the Roman god Mercurius, who was also known as the Greek deity, Hermes. Among his many responsibilities, Mercurius was the patron of the highways and travelers. This position led many to erect statues of him on crossroads. Oftentimes, these representations presented just the head of the idol and passersby would place stones at the foot of the statue. On occasion the representation was simply a pile of rocks, and travelers who passed by the pile would toss their own stone on it as an offering to the god.

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.