Jonathan's Little Corner : Torah : Siyum on Mishnayot Seder Moed

Siyum on Mishnayot Moed
Simchat Torah, 5761
First Yahrzeit of Arthur E. Korpus, Aharon Eli ben Yaakov
Jonathan Baker

You've heard me talk about my rabbi-chazan friend at work, R' Rich Wolpoe. We've been learning mishnayot after the office mincha minyan for over a year, and for the past year we've dedicated our learning to the memory of Debbie's father, Aharon Eli ben Yaakov. About a month or two ago, it became clear that with a bit of work, we could hit the end of Moed, the Division of Appointed Times, the second section of the Mishna, about this time, so we decided to try for a siyum today - I sped up and finished today, Rich will make a siyum at work next week. So here we are.

The seder Moed talks about Shabbat, Pesach, Sukkot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur - all the yontiffs, all the holidays. This last tractate, Chagigah, talks about the festival offering that was brought by individuals on the major pilgrimage holidays, which they would eat for dinner. One brought a pesach offering on pesach, but wouldn't get to eat more than an ounce or so, so one could eat more of one's personal chagigah offering. In line with its subject matter, Chagigah talks about the tahara, ritual purity, needed to eat this offering  There are different levels of taharah which one needs to eat different types of sacrifices and priestly food; different levels are compared for strictness. But it presents the subject, at least in part, in a strange way.

Chagigah talks about the society of Chaveirim, who would eat chullin, regular food, with the tahara-level of trumah, priestly food. This way, they got more people to be more careful about taharah in general. There is much discussion of the Chaveirim vs. the amei haaretz, the ordinary folk, who were generally not so careful with tahara and its opposite, tumah, unfitness for use in the Temple. The Chaveirim, the Associates, are generally identified with the Prushim, the Pharisees, the progenitors of the Rabbis of the Mishnah and Talmud. The Prushim are often contrasted with the Tzedukim, the Sadducees, who were mostly priests, who denied the Oral Tradition that the Prushim, the Rabbis, and we hold today to be authentically Divine.

This tractate brings out an interesting question about the position of the Chaveirim, the Pharisees, in antiquity. Mishnah 2:2 is a list of five pairs of Nasiim, Princes, and Av-Bet-Dins, heads of the rabbinical court, ending with Hillel and Shammai who lived in the last years of the Temple, and their arguments about whether leaning on a particular offering was permitted on Yom Tov, on holidays. Underlying this is the idea that the Rabbis were in a position to be listened to on this question, in other words, that they controlled the practice in the Temple.

Now, academic scholars, such as Jacob Neusner, the great translator of the Mishnah, the Talmuds, the Midrashim, etc., hold that this is a fantasy. Neusner takes it for granted, in his "From Politics to Piety" on the Pharisees, writte about 30 years ago, that the (Sadducean) priests were in control in the Bet Hamikdash, and thus this story about five generations of Rabbis claiming to have control of procedures in the Temple was a fantasy, a myth constructed so that the Rabbis could pretend to have had authority centuries before they really did.

Archaeology has proven him wrong. Lawrence Schiffman of NYU, in "From Text to Tradition" and "Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls," brings the recently presented scroll called 4QMMT, Miqsat Ma'asei Torah. This is a letter, clearly important to the Dead Sea Sect inasmuch as several copies were found, complaining to the authorities in the Jerusalem temple about perceived mistakes in ritual practice. What is clear from the letter, particularly from the calendar at the beginning, and from the positions with which the letter takes issue, is that the letter was written by Sadducees, complaining about the positions taken by Pharisees who were in control at the Temple. Schiffman dates the letter to about 150 CE, 15 years after the events in the Chanukah story.

What seems to have happened is that the Dead Sea Scroll people, the Qumran sect (who may or may not have been the same as the people Josephus calls Essenes), were a group of Sadducees who left the Temple when the Pharisees gained control. The dating of the letter coincides nicely with the beginning of the list of Princes and Court Heads in Mishnah 2:2. So archaeology supports the rabbinic understanding of the Mishnah, against the academic understanding.

Now let's learn the last mishnah in the tractate together. We've been learning with the commentary of Hanoch Albeck, who wrote in the middle of this century, incorporating comments beyond the classical commentators, including the Wissenschaftliche writers, the Science of Judaism academics of the last century or two. I'll bring some of his comments at the end.

This mishnah (3:8) deals with cleaning up in the Bet Hamikdash at the end of the Yom Tov. How appropriate for this lunch at the end of the Sukkot holiday! (note, I'm following the convention of the Artscroll gemara - the boldface is the real text, the regular type is my interpolation).

How did they go over the purity of the Temple courtyard, where most people were during the holiday? They immersed the vessels that were in the Temple, and they say to them, 'Be careful that you don't touch the Table of the shewbread, which was supposed to be there all week long, or the Menorah, lest you cause them to become impure.'All the vessels which were in the Temple had duplicates and triplicates, such that if the first ones became tameh, they would bring the duplicates to replace them. All the vessels in the Temple required immersion in a mikvah, a ritual bath, except for the golden and bronze altars, because they were like earth which is considered insusceptible to tumah, saith Rabbi Eliezer. The Sages say, because they are coated.
Let's go through Albeck's comments:
THEY SAY TO THEM - to the priests who are gathering up the vessels for purification. NOT TO TOUCH THE TABLE with the impure vessels in their hands, which would depurify the table and thus also the shewbread which is on it, and the shewbread must be there perpetually (Ex. 25:30), and if it becomes impure the table will be bread-free, since they won't bring fresh bread until the next Sabbath. AND THE MENORAH because it must also be perpetually lit (Lev. 24:2). The Babylonian Talmued doesn't have the word Menorah in its version of the mishnah. DUPLICATES AND TRIPLICATES - another vessel or two like it. REQUIRE IMMERSION after the festival. This also applies if they are depurified any other time in the year. LIKE EARTH - they don't receive impurity, just like the ground. BECAUSE THEY ARE COATED in gold and bronze, and when tumah touches them it doesn't touch the altars themselves, but only the coating, and the plating itself cannot receive impurity.
Albeck offers some theories in his extra notes in the back of the book, as to why one shouldn't touch the table. The one he brought is the simple reason, following Rashi. But Rambam suggests, following the Talmud Yerushalmi, that they showed the table to the people who had come for the holiday, by bringing it out of the Temple building into the courtyard. So the warning is made to the ordinary people, not to the priests, not to touch the Table and render it impure. He brings an alternate theory from the Meiri, but ultimately rejects it on textual grounds.

That about wraps it up, so I'll say the special prayers and kaddish for the completion of an order of Mishnah...

May the soul of Aharon Eli ben Yaakov have an aliyah, and may the Yankees win!