ב׳ בטבת ה׳תשע״ד (December 5, 2013)

Yoma 27a-b: Arranging the wood

We learned on daf 24 that there is a difference of opinion between Rav and Levi regarding the question of whether the terumat ha-deshen could only be done by a kohen, which leads to a larger question – generally speaking, which parts of the Temple service had to be done by kohanim.

According to Rav, if a Temple activity

  • that involved placing something on the altar, and
  • was a complete avodah (service) (i.e. nothing needing to be done afterwards)

was done by a non-kohen, he would be liable for death.

Levi disagreed, ruling that the terumat ha-deshen – cleaning ash from the altar – was also forbidden to non-kohanim, even though it involved removing something from the altar, rather than placing something on the altar.

The Gemara on our daf introduces another part of the Temple routine and asks whether it falls into the category of activities that can only be done by kohanimsiddur ha-ma’arakhah – arranging wood on the mizbe’ah (altar). Rabbi Asi quotes Rabbi Yohanan as ruling that it can only be done by a kohen.

The idea of siddur ha-ma’arakhah as an essential part of the service is derived by the Gemara from a passage in Vayikra 6:5, which is understood to be a command to the kohen to arrange the wood on the altar so that the first sacrifice of the day, the korban tamid, would be brought on the new day’s kindling wood.

In response is a question raised by Rabbi Zeira that arranging the wood is only the beginning of the process of the daily Temple service, so why should it be so severe as to be forbidden to non-kohanim on the threat of death?

The Gemara responds that Rabbi Yohanan considers it to be avodah tamah – a complete activity – since it concludes the preparations of the altar for the new day. On this point Rabbi Yohanan is in disagreement with Rav and Levi, who do not include this as one of the activities limited to kohanim, apparently because they see siddur ha-ma’arakhah as just the beginning of the avodat ha-yom (service of the day).

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