The Excess Of Men In The Mishnaic Tractate Yoma


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).” 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