The Excess of Men in the Mishnaic Tractate Yoma


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The Excess of Men in the Mishnaic Tractate Yoma

     “Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat and confess over it all the iniquities and transgressions of the Israelites, whatever their sins, putting them on the head of the goat; and it shall be sent off to the wilderness through a designated man (Leviticus 16.20).” “He who set the Azazel-goat free shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water; after that he may reenter the camp (Leviticus 16.26).” The preceding two quotes were the only mention of any people other than Aaron who were involved in the activities on the Day of Atonement. However, in the mishnaic tractate Yomah the mishnaic authors mention at least 50 other men who participate in the day’s events. It is unclear for this addition. Noticeably the groups of men are broken up into two distinct categories. The high priest is apparently trained, guided, and even observed by a group of elders of the court who eventually deliver him to the elders of the priest hood. The other group, was a group of men who completed many of the chosen High Priest’s simple minded and non exertive tasks. There is no specific name classification given to these men. This may be exemplary of their unimportance in the holy doings of the day. Unlike the need for elders of the court and priest hood, the necessity of these men is a bit unclear. It is unclear in the mishnaic tractate Yoma, as to why the many tasks performed by this nameless group of men could not just have been performed by the High Priest himself as it was by Aaron.
The authors of this text write that “another priest was made ready in his stead lest aught should befall him to render him ineligible … Also another wife was made ready for

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him lest his own wife should die… (Yoma 1:1)” Obviously one of the concerns for extra people in this day’s events is to assure that no matter what happens “the show must go on.”
     “They delivered unto him elders from among the elders of the Court, and they read before him out of the [prescribed] rite for the day; and they said to him, ‘My lord High Priest, do thou thyself recite with thine own mouth, lest thou hast forgotten or lest thou hast never learnt’. On the Day of Atonement in the morning they make him to stand at the Eastern Gate and pass before him oxen, rams, and a sheep, that he may gain knowledge and becomes versed in the [Temple-]Service (Yoma 1:3).

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” The elders were obligatory as they coached the chosen High Priest in what to do on the Day of Atonement. The authors make note of the elders’ assistance in Yoma 1:6 where they write “If he was a sage he used to expound [the Scriptures] he read, and if not they read before him. If he was versed in reading [the Scriptures] he read, and if not they read before him.” Once again, the theme of the day, “show must go on” distinguishes itself as the authors of this text write that if it should happen that the High priest is unable to read the particular text of the holiest day of the year then there will be others to assist him in doing so. “The Prefect was on his right and the chief of the father’s house on his left. If the lot bearing the Name came up in his right hand, the Prefect would say to him, ‘My lord High Priest, raise thy right hand’; and if it came up in his left hand the chief of the father’s house would say to him, ‘My lord High Priest, raise thy left hand’. (Yoma 4:1)” The preceding was yet another example of how the chosen high priest was aided in his holy prayers by other holy learned men.

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While assisting and teaching [the prayer to] the chosen high priest of the Yom Kippur holiday, the elders kept this chosen man in line as well. “If he sought to slumber, young members of the priesthood would snap their middle finger and say to him, ‘My lord High Priest, get up and drive away [sleep] this once [by walking] on the [cold] pavement … And they used to divert him until the time of slaughtering drew near (Yoma 1:7)”
The addition of these learned men was quite beneficial in the day’s (Yom Kippur’s) events as they assisted in prayer (should it be forgotten or not even known by the chosen high priest) and made sure that the high priest did not get lazy.
However, it is unclear as to the addition of numerous unnamed men who took part in the petty tasks of the day, Yom Kippur. These tasks were not at all difficult and the men who performed them never received a name or even a higher classification. This was exemplary of their non-importance for the higher cause. “ … and he [the chosen High Priest] gave it to the one that should stir it up on the fourth terrace of the Sanctuary so that it should not congeal (Yuma 4:2) … They brought out to him [the chosen Holy priest] the ladle and the fire-pan and he took his two hands full [of incense] and put in the ladle (Yoma 5:1) … Then they brought him [the chosen High Priest] his own raiment and he put it on. And they went with him to his house (Yoma 7:4).” The italicized words refer to the extra men mentioned within the Yoma text that performed simple tasks. Whichever task they performed it was only to assist the high priest, physically, in a task that would come next

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that would be more complex than the one they had just performed. Through the mishnaic tractate Yoma text, that statement reiterates itself. “They brought him [the
chosen High priest] the he-goat. He slaughtered it and received its blood in a basin(Yoma 5:4).”
One might certainly assume that perhaps they were there in order to assist a man of great importance and to complete frivolous activities that only wasted his time in completing more important activities of the day.
However, that would only require a few assistants. The Yoma readings show that there were more than a few men used for more than several activities of the day. Many of the times these men might have been priests, but yet again it is unclear why it was necessary for so many of them. Ranging from Yoma 2:3 till Yoma 2:7 there are at least ten different activities performed each by at least seven different men. “The Daily Whole-offering was offered by nine, ten, eleven, or twelve [priests], never more and never less. Thus it was itself offered by nine; a the Feast [of Tabernacles] one held in his hand the flagon of water – and so they were ten; in the afternoon [it was offered by eleven, [the Daily Whole-offering] itself by nine, while two held in their hands the two faggots of wood; on the Sabbath [it was offered] by eleven; itself by nine while two held in their hands the two dishes of frankincense for the Shrew bread, and on a Sabbath that fell during the Feast [of Tabernacles] another held in his hand the flagon of water (Yoma 2:5).”


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     Many times even one activity was broken up into several activities. “A ram was offered by eleven: the flesh by five, and the inwards, the fine flour, and the wine by two each (Yoma 2:6).”
     One might actually understand the need for assistants on this day. It remains unclear as to why so many assistants were necessary. Consider the following possibility as to why this might have been so. Everyone wanted a part in the process of the day’s events of “purification” and transgression of sins. Maybe they felt that participating would help them even more in achieving repent ion on that holiest of holy days.
These Israelites certainly wanted to be included in these activities, there is no doubt in that statement. “Before time whosoever was minded to clear the Altar of ashes did so. If they were, many they used to run and mount the [Altar-]Ramp and he that came first within four cubits secured the task. If two were equal the officer said to them, ‘Raise the finger’ (Yoma 2.1).” At times people were so anxious to participate that people got hurt. “It once happened that two were equal and they ran and mounted the [Altar-] Ramp; and one of them pushed his fellow so that he fell and his leg was broken; (Yoma 2:2).”
     The high priest would pray for them and, “say: ‘O God, thy people, the House of Israel, have committed iniquity, transgressed, and sinned before thee. O God, forgive, I pray, the iniquities and transgressions and sins which they people, House of Israel, have committed and transgressed and sinned before thee; as it is written in the law of the servant Moses, For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you: from all your sins shall ye be clean before the Lord. And when the priests and the people which stood in the Temple Court heard the Expressed Name come forth from the
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mouth of the High Priest, they used to kneel and bow themselves and fall down on their faces and say, ‘Blessed be the name of the glory of his kingdom for ever and ever! (Yoma
6:2).” The assumption of their desire for cleansing of sins proves itself definite from the preceding paragraph.
     The desire to participate in these activities might not only have been to cleanse one self. The authors of Prov 107 and lbid wrote “the memory of the just is blessed … but the name of the wicked shall rot. (Yoma 5:II)”
     The authors of the mishnaic tractate Yoma display a large number of men used in the activities of the day. These men can be separated into two groups of men. These two groups are the learned elders of the society that assist the chosen high priest in completing the prayer part of the day as well as making sure he does not slack off at any point. The other men not entirely described by the mishnaic authors as to what their place in society is, assist in the physical labor of the day. It is understandable as to their benefit. Yet, it is unclear as to why it is necessary for the great amount of them. From the text with in the mishnaic tractate Yoma it appears that people feel that participation in the events of the day delete their sins. The other possibility is that they want to participate in the days events so that they me blessed for taking part in such holy activities.


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