ז׳ בטבת ה׳תשע״ד (December 10, 2013)

Yoma 32a-b: Finding a textual source for the ritual immersions on Yom Kippur

In presenting the source for the five tevilot (ritual bath immersions) that the performed as part of the Yom Kippur avodah (service), Rav Hisda uses the expression gemiri, which usually indicates that the issue under discussion is a halakhah le-Moshe mi-Sinai – an oral tradition handed down from Mount Sinai by Moshe Rabbeinu and thus has the authority of a Biblical law.

Immediately following this statement, the Gemara quotes a series of sages who look through the pesukim  of the parasha about the avodah of the kohen gadol on Yom Kippur (see Vayikra 16) for indications that these five tevilot are mandated by the Torah. Tosafot ask why it is necessary to find a textual source for this halakhah, if we have already been told that it is a halakhah le-Moshe mi-Sinai? They answer that the halakhah le-Moshe mi-Sinai only indicated that there was a need for five tevilot, but did not specify when they were to be done – perhaps they could have been done one after the other. The search in the pesukim is an attempt to see where they belong in the course of the avodah.

Several other answers are given, as well:

  • Some explain that it is common to find in the Gemara that a halakhah which has been derived from one source is still looked for in other source texts, as well.
  • The Tosafot Yeshanim argue that the halakhah le-Moshe mi-Sinai simply taught that there were five changes of venue (between the Kodesh and the Kodesh Kodashim) in the course of the avodah on Yom Kippur. The search in the pesukim is for a source that teaches that tevilot were necessary between each part of the avodah.
  • The Havot Ya’ir explains that, according to the Rambam, the term gemiri does not always mean that the tradition is a halakhah le-Moshe mi-Sinai. Sometimes it simply means a tradition was derived based on passages in the Torah and their hermeneutic interpretations.
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