Masechet Zevachim 16a-22b

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25 Nov 2010

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 16a-b: A mourner in the Temple

As we learned on yesterday’s daf the second perek of Masechet Zevachim deals with situations where there is some problem with the person who brings the sacrifice. One of the examples that appears in the Mishnah is the case of an onen who sacrifices. An onen is someone who has a close relative who has passed away, but has not yet been buried. Generally speaking, Jewish law anticipates that such a person is supposed to focus entirely on tending to the deceased and is free of all other mitzvot.

A number of reasons are suggested by the Gemara as possible sources for the law forbidding an onen from carrying out the sacrificial service.

The first suggestion is that we learn it from the passage about a kohen gadol – a High Priest – who is commanded to continue his service in the Temple even after a close relative has died (see Vayikra 21:12). According to that pasuk, which says lo yetze ve’lo yechalel, the kohen gadol cannot leave the Temple, and that in doing so his service will not become mehulal – made mundane. The implication, as understood by the Gemara, is that this is a unique law pertaining to the kohen gadol, but if any ordinary kohen in that situation were to remain in the Temple, his service would become mehulal.

Both Rashi and the Rambam in his Sefer HaMitzvot (principle number 5) understand from the Gemara that the term ve’lo yechalel is not a prohibition for the High Priest to make his service mundane by leaving the Temple, rather it is an explanation of why he is required to remain at his post – his service will not be affected by his status as an onen, even though the status of other kohanim would be affected. The Ramban disagrees with this approach, noting that many of the Geonim do seem to count ve’lo yechalel as a prohibition forbidding the High Priest from leaving the Temple when he is an onen. He suggests that the Gemara should be understood as saying that there is a unique law forbidding the kohen gadol from leaving the Temple when he is an onen, since were he to leave, it would render his service mundane. The service of ordinary priests, however, would not be mehulal were they to leave the Temple – since were their service acceptable the Torah would not permit them to leave.

Zevachim 17a-b: Clothing makes the kohen

According to the Mishnah (15b) one of the people whose sacrificial service would be invalid is a mechusar begadim – a kohen who is missing one of the four unique articles of clothing that the priests are commanded to wear. The Gemara on today’s daf seeks to find a source for this law.

Rabbi Avuha quotes Rabbi Yochanan as offering a teaching from Rabbi Elazar ben Rabbi Shimon who suggested that the source is Sefer Shemot (29:9) that teaches that Aharon and his sons should be dressed in these unique garments and that they would serve as kohanim – as priests. This is understood to mean that as long as they wore these clothes they would be kohanim, but without them they would not be able to serve in that capacity. Thus, the sacrificial service that they performed without them is invalid.

Rashi and others understand this statement literally, meaning that without the full priestly attire the kohen who works in the Temple is considered a zar – a “stranger” to the priestly service – whose service is rejected and who will be liable to receive a Heavenly death sentence.

Rabbi Avraham, son of the Rambam argues that we still must distinguish between Temple service performed by someone who is not a kohen and that done by a kohen who is mechusar begadim. For while there is a full negative commandment forbidding a non-kohen from performing the Temple service, the prohibition for a kohen to be mechusar begadim when he performs such service is a negation of a positive commandment – the commandment to wear the clothing so that the service will be done le-kavod u’le-tiferet – for honor and splendor (Shemot 28:2) (see the Rambam‘s Sefer ha-Mitzvot, Positive Commandment 33).

In his gloss to the Sefer HaMitzvot, the Ramban disagrees, and says that wearing the priestly garments is not a separate commandment, but is simply preparation that must be done for performing the Temple service.

Zevachim 18a-b: Keeping stylish in Temple attire

We learned on yesterday’s daf that kohanim are required to wear special garments – bigdei kehunah – when they perform the Temple service. The Gemara on today’s daf continues the discussion of proper attire in the Temple.

The Gemara quotes a baraita that teaches that although the bigdei kehunah are supposed to be fit properly for each individual kohen, nevertheless the Temple service is still valid if the garments were a little bit long and touched the floor, or if they were a little bit short and raised a bit from the floor, or for that matter, if they were a little bit worn out. (The Gemara also quotes the opinion of Rav, which is accepted as the halacha, that if they are too short the service is invalid, but if they were too long and the kohen shortened them by means of the belt on his uniform, then it would be valid.) If, however, they were dirty or torn, then the service that was performed is invalid.

Rashi explains that the fact that torn bigdei kehunah invalidate the service is true even if they are brand new, since they do not serve the purpose of le-kavod u’le-tiferet – for honor and splendor (see Shemot 28:2) – they cannot serve as priestly garments. From the Rambam‘s Sefer HaMitzvot, however, it appears that the prohibition against wearing torn clothing during the Temple service stems from the commandment given to Aharon and his sons after the death of Nadav and Avihu (see Vayikra 10:6), where they were told to continue their work in the bet ha-mikdash and that they should not tear their clothing as mourners ordinarily do. The Ramban argues that this cannot be the source, since it was a one-time commandment made to the high priest in a specific situation, which cannot be applied to others. The Ramban himself suggests that the problem with torn clothing is simply that it would not cover the entire body of the kohen, which is one of the basic requirements of the bigdei kehunah.

Zevachim 19a-b: Temple fashions

The Gemara has been discussing the laws of the bigdei kehunah – the priestly garments that served as the required uniform for kohanim who were performing the Temple service. One of the sources for the laws regarding these garments appears in Sefer Yechezkel, where the prophet Yechezkel – who, incidentally was a kohen – taught (44:18) that the priests are obligated to wear hats and pants made of linen, and that they cannot gird themselves bayaza. Abayye explains this term to mean that that their belts should not be tied around their bodies in a place where one sweats. A supporting baraita is brought where it is taught that the proper place on the body for tying a belt is where the elbows meet the body, neither above that nor below the waist.

According to Rashi, the place where the body sweats is any place where flesh rests against flesh, which limits the area of the chest above the elbows, as well as the area where the stomach doubles over the legs. Rav Hai Gaon suggests that the simple meaning of the term ba-yaza refers to movement, and he understands the limits to be places on the body where the belt will move or fall from its place. This includes the chest, where it will naturally fall to the waist, and below the waist where it will fall to the legs. Yechezkel’s commandment is to secure the belt in a place where it will stay comfortably.

These teachings lead Rav Ashi to relate a story told to him by his contemporary, the Exilarch, Huna bar Natan. Once Huna bar Natan was visiting the Persian king, Izdagar, who noticed that Huna bar Natan’s belt was sitting on his waist higher than it should have. The king adjusted the belt and said: Your Torah says that you are a priestly nation and a holy people (see Shemot 19:6), i.e. he rebuked him gently for his fashion mishap. Upon relating this story to Ameimar, he invoked the words of the prophet Yeshayahu (49:23) that kings will raise and serve the Jewish people.

The Persian king mentioned in this story can be identified as Yzdkrt I who ruled from 399-420 CE. He was known as a peaceful king, and had good relations with Rome; he also showed great tolerance for other religions, Judaism and Christianity, a quality that led Persian religious leaders to brand him a sinner. As is clear in this story, he had great respect for Jews and for their leadership – according to some accounts he was married to the Exilarch’s daughter. It was during this period of tolerance that the Talmud Bavli began to be edited into its final form.

Zevachim 20a-b: Washing up in the Temple – I

Much as we are obligated to begin our day with ritual washing of the hands, in the Temple the kohanim were obligated to wash their hands and feet every morning before they began to perform the sacrificial service. They did this by placing their right hand over their right foot and their left hand over their left foot and washing them from the kiyor – the water basin in the Temple – which was made of two halves, the basin and it base. During the Second Temple, twelve faucets were added to the kiyor in order to allow many kohanim to prepare themselves for service at the same time.

Once the kohen prepared himself by washing in the morning, he can continue performing the Temple service into the night without washing them again. According to Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, if he washed his hands and feet at night, then when the next morning comes he will have to wash his hands and feet again.

Rabbi Yochanan argues that if the kohen were to wash prior to performing the terumat haDeshen, then he will not have to wash his hands again when the daily sacrifices begin.

The terumat ha-deshen was a unique mitzvah that was performed in preparation for the new day of the sacrificial service in the Temple (see Vayikra 6:1-3). Essentially, it was the opening ceremony for the sacrificial service of the day. This commandment – which involved having one of the kohanim remove from the altar a small amount of ash from the remaining sacrifices that were burned overnight – was performed before dawn, and, during holidays when many sacrifices were to be brought, even before midnight. Only after this symbolic cleansing of the altar took place could the other kohanim begin to clear the altar and prepare it for the new day.

Abayye explains that according to Rabbi Yochanan, Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi’s requirement to wash at the beginning of the day in cases where the kohen has already prepared himself the day before is only a rabbinic requirement. Since the terumat hadeshen essentially begins the service of the new day, the Rabbis did not require a second washing in this case.

Zevachim 21a-b: Washing up in the Temple – II

As we learned on yesterday’s daf there was a daily requirement for the kohanim to begin their day of Temple service with ritual washing of the hands and feet every morning. According to the Mishnah (15b) a sacrifice brought by a kohen who had not prepared himself appropriately by washing his hands and his feet, would be invalid. The kohanim were required to place their right hand over their right foot and their left hand over their left foot and wash them from the kiyor, the water basin in the Temple. During the Second Temple, twelve faucets were added to the kiyor in order to allow many kohanim to prepare themselves for service at the same time.

The Gemara on today’s daf asks whether it would suffice if a kohen bathed his hands and feet in the kiyor, rather than using the water from the faucets. While the passage commanding the kohanim to wash says that Aharon and his sons should wash their hands and feet mimenu – from it, from the kiyor (see Shemot 30:19) – perhaps placing hands and feet into the kiyor would accomplish the same thing.

Although it is clear that the word mimenu appears to be unnecessary and is therefore being used by the Torah to teach something, it is not clear that the conclusion must be that it limits the possibility of bathing hands and feet in the kiyor. It is possible to suggest that it means that the water used to wash up in the Temple must come from the kiyor and not from some other source. Furthermore given that purifying a person by means of a mikvah – a ritual bath – can only be done by immersion, and not by pouring from it, it is possible to suggest that mimenu comes to teach that it is sufficient to wash hands and feet from it, and it is not necessary to bathe them in the kiyor.

The Gemara does not reach a clear conclusion regarding this question, and the Rambam rules that Kohanim should not bathe their hands and feet in the kiyor, although if a kohen did so, his sacrifice would be ruled valid (see Kesef Mishnah, Rambam Hilchot Bi’at Mikdash 5:11).

Zevachim 22a-b: Ritual defilement and the sacrificial service

As we learned in the Mishnah (daf 15), the second perek of Masechet Zevachim deals with situations where there is some problem with the person who brings the sacrifice. One of the examples that appears in the Mishnah is the case of a tamei – someone who is ritually defiled – who sacrifices. The Gemara on today’s daf brings Ziknei Darom – the Southern Elders – who limit this to cases where the ritual defilement stems from a relatively simple tumah, like someone who came into contact with a dead sheretz – an animal whose carcass transmits ritual defilement. If, however, the kohen was more seriously defiled, e.g. he had come into contact with a dead person, then his sacrifice would be accepted. The argument of Ziknei Darom is that since we know that serious defilement is set aside when the entire community is tamei, even in situations where we have an individual situation of defilement, the sacrifice will be accepted.

The source for serious defilement being set aside when the entire community is tamei is the passage in Sefer Bamidbar (9:2) that teaches that the Passover sacrifice was brought be-mo’ado – in its proper time. This is understood to teach that when a communal sacrifice must be brought, the ritual purity of the community will not be an impediment to bringing the korban. This stands in contrast to the laws of the individual who has become ritually defiled because of contact with a dead person, whose source is the continuation of Sefer Bamidbar (9:9), who will not be permitted to bring the sacrifice – although in the case of korban Pesach he will be offered a “make-up date” the following month.

The term Ziknei Darom refers to the Sages who lived in Judea – in the southern part of Israel – during the times of the amoraim. During that period, most of the Jewish community in Israel lived in the Galilee, which contained the centers of Torah study. Although the communities in the South were decimated by war, nevertheless there remained Sages who carried on the traditions of that community.

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.