כ״ט בכסלו ה׳תשע״ד (December 2, 2013)

Yoma 24a-b: Limited to Kohanim Only

What parts of the Temple service are limited specifically to kohanim and forbidden to others? The Gemara on our daf brings a difference of opinion on the matter.

According to Rav, there are four activities:

  • Zerikah – Sprinkling the blood
  • Haktarah – burning the incense
  • Nisukh ha-mayim – pouring water on the altar on Sukkot
  • Nisukh ha-yayin – the wine libation on the altar.

Rabbi Levi accepts the position of Rav, and adds one more Temple activity as being limited to kohanimterumat ha-deshen – cleaning ash off of the mizbe’ah (altar) in the morning.

Lighting of the menorah

Lighting of the menorah

Several other activities in the Temple are mentioned as other possible avodah (service) that is limited to kohanim. As an example, lighting the menorah, which the Gemara concludes is not an avodah. The Even Shlomo asks how the Gemara can come to this conclusion, given the repetition in the Torah that describes the lighting of the menorah as an activity done by the kohanim specifically (practically, it would be impossible for someone who is not a kohen to light the menorah, since its location in the kodesh (holy, inner part of the Temple) would not allow access to anyone who is not a kohen). The Li Le-yeshuah answers that when referring to hadlakat ha-menorah (lighting the menorah), the Torah is not only talking about lighting the menorah, but also all of the preparations, including cleaning out the remnants of yesterday’s flame and setting up the wicks for today’s lighting. These activities are certainly not avodah, nevertheless they are the responsibility of the kohanim and not of anyone else.

The Gemara does not come to a clear conclusion in the argument between Rav and Rabbi Levi, as two baraitot are quoted each of which supports a different position. The Rambam in Hilkhot Bi’at Mikdash, rules like Rav, inasmuch as the prohibition against a non-kohen performing the service in the Temple is limited to a complete avodah, and not one that is only preparatory to others – like cleaning the altar.

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