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Class Notes - Class #20

Mitzvot #99, 100, and 101 mandate the “bigdei kehunah,” the uniforms worn by the cohanim when they served in the Temple. 


Mitzvah #99 requires each cohen to wear the appropriate uniform when serving in the Temple.  He could not wear anything in addition to the uniform.  If the cohen who brought a sacrifice was not attired in the proper uniform, the sacrifice he brought was disqualified and the cohen was liable to “misah b’yedai shamayim,” death by the hand of heaven. 

The shoresh of these mitzvot relates both to the cohanim themselves and to other people who came to the Temple.  The author points out that we behave differently when we dress differently.  A cohen serving in the Temple will find it easier to focus on his duties if he dresses in a special way.  His uniform will remind him to keep his attention on his work and his focus on God.  Seeing all the cohanim working in the Temple dressed in uniforms in perfect order would also enhance the experience of visitors bringing sacrifices in the Temple.


Although the source verses describe those uniforms, many questions remain about exactly what they looked like.  (The notes to the relevant source verses in Aryeh Kaplan’s The Living Torah are a good source of information about different opinions as to how the uniforms were constructed.)  The uniforms did not include footwear; the cohanim served barefoot.

            An ordinary cohen, “cohen hediot,” dressed in white linen and wore four required garments. 

1.“Michnasayim.”  These were underwear, drawstring boxer shorts that went down to the knees.  The author says that everyone knows what these look like.

2.“K’tonet.”  A tunic which, according to the author, went down to the cohen’s wrists and ankles.  The author describes it as a “broad coat of the Arabs.”

3.“Avnet.”  A long sash/belt that was wrapped many times around the cohen’s waist.  The linen belt was embroidered with wool.

4.      Migba’at.”  Hat.  The author says it was a kind of cap. 

The ordinary cohen also wore the “tefillah shel rosh,” the tefillin worn on the head.  He did not wear the “tefillah shel yad,” the tefillin worn on the arm, because the work of processing the sacrifices was too messy.  The cohen was allowed to wear the uniform when he was off duty, except for the avnet, which was shatnetz.


The cohen gadol had two outfits.  On yom kippur, for the service in the kodesh k’doshim, he wore the white linen outfit of a cohen hediot.  Once the cohen gadol wore that outfit in the kodesh k’doshim, the outfit was never used again.  The rest of the time, he wore eight required garments:

  1. Michnasayim, the same as the ordinary cohanim.
  2. A k’tonet of white linen.  This had a white-on-white pattern woven into it, but we do not know how visibly prominent that pattern was.
  3. An avnet which was multicolored and much longer than the avnet of the ordinary cohen.  It wrapped around the waist of the cohen gadol so many times that the cohen gadol would be constantly aware of its bulk.
  4. A turban style hat called a “mitznefet” that was 16 amot long (about 24 feet.)  It was bulky enough that the cohen gadol could see it as he was wearing it.  We do not know how the mitznefet was wound although the author says it was like turbans worn by women.  Although our author does not mention it, some authorities think the wound turban was covered with a layer of blue wool held on with three gold bands.
  5. Over the mitznefet the cohen gadol wore a gold headband called a “tzitz.”  The phrase “Holy to God” appeared on the front in high relief.
  6. Over the avnet the cohen gadol wore a blue surcoat called a “meil.”  According to the author, the meil was embroidered with gold.  It also had gold bells and pomegranates hanging from the hem.  Authorities debate about the shape of the meil.  It may or may not have had sleeves, it may have been slit up the sides or it may have gone entirely around the body, and it may or may not have been open in the front.   Mitzvah # 101 prohibits slitting the neckline of the meil, lest the cohen gadol look unkempt.
  7. Over the meil the cohen gadol wore the “ephod.”  It was very beautifully ornate, multicolored with gold thread.   This was a probably something like a backwards apron with a panel covering the cohen gadol’s back and sashes that tied in the front.  Authorities disagree about how long it was, where the straps were, and whether it also had a panel in front.
  8. Last, the cohen gadol wore a breast plate called the “hoshen.”  It was fabric that held twelve gold settings for the with twelve precious stones representing the twelve tribes.  Mitzvah #100 requires that the hoshen be firmly attached to the ephod; two straps that came from the front shoulders of the ephod attached to two rings on the hoshen.  That prevented the hoshen from flapping when the cohen gadol moved.


Mitzvah #102 requires the cohanim working in the Temple to personally eat the appropriate portions of certain korbanot in the Temple. The cohanim could not share the meat of these korbanot with their families, nor could they use it for purposes other than eating.  The korbanot this mitzvah applies to are the hattat and the asham, both sacrifices brought in atonement for wrongdoing.  The author explains that the act of the cohanim eating these korbanot is part of the process necessary to accomplish the atonement that is at the heart of these korbanot.  Thus, this mitzvah contributes to the overall atmosphere that encourages closeness and understanding of God that is the purpose of the Temple and its functions.

            Ramban, with whom our author agrees, does not consider this a separate mitzvah.  Rather, it is just one aspect of the particular korbanot to which this requirement applies.

            The author mentions several times in this essay that he will defer discussing more details of this topic until he can speak systematically about sacrifices, which he will do later in the work.  We will follow his lead and leave discussing more details until later.


Mitzvot # 103, 104 and 110 relate to the incense that was burned on the Golden Altar in the heichal.  Mitzvah #103 requires the cohanim to compound the incense each year and to burn that incense twice a day.  Burning the incense was coordinated with lighting the menorah and bringing the two daily communal sacrifices, the tamid shel shachar and the tamid shel bein ha’arbaim.  (Ramban counts this as two mitzvot, one to burn the incense in the morning and a second to burn the incense in the afternoon.)  Mitzvah #104 prohibits burning anything else on the Golden Altar.  Aside from burning the daily incense, the only other function of the Golden Altar was to have blood sprinkled on it on yom kippur.

            Burning the incense contributed to the overall atmosphere in the Temple.  Our author points out that aroma is another aspect that contributed to the grandeur and delight of the Temple.  (It might have helped alleviate some of the unpleasant smells of the animal sacrifices as well, although the author does not mention that.)  According to the Mishnah, the aroma spread well beyond the Temple, into Jerusalem and even farther.  The job of burning the incense could be done by the cohen gadol or by a cohen hediot, and it was a coveted job.  The author describes the process in some detail. 

            In this essay the author recaps what he had said earlier about the details of how the Temple was built and how it functioned:  we cannot expect to make much plain sense out of the details.  We have broad reasons for being required to build the Temple.  Those broad reasons do not necessarily explain the details of how the Temple and its implements should be designed.  Whatever the specific design, we would be left to question why that design and not some other design.  The author mentions that the mystical tradition might provide more specific explanations, but, as usual, the author does not say what those mystical reasons would be.

 Mitzvah #110 prohibits compounding the incense according to the formula required for the Temple service intending to use that incense outside the Temple ritual.  According to the author, one who makes the specified incense to sell or for practice does not violate this mitzvah.  The mitzvah applies to men and women, at all times and in all places, so it is possible to violate this mitzvah even now. 


Private individuals brought some of the Temple sacrifices, but other sacrifices were brought on behalf of the entire community.   All of the communal sacrifices were funded by a tax mandated by mitzvah #105.  Each male Jew age 20 and up, whether or not he lived in Israel, was required to give half a shekel silver in coin to the Temple.  Jewish women and children were permitted to make a comparable donation but were not required to do so.  No contributions were accepted from non-Jews.

Our author provides quite a bit of detail about how this mitzvah worked.  The half-shekel funded all the communal sacrifices, including the two daily sacrifices, tamid shel shachar and tamid shel bein ha’arbayim, the mussaf brought on special days, the salt and wine that accompanied those sacrifices and the wood used to burn those sacrifices.  It also funded the breads that were constantly present on the shulhan and the wages of those who baked those breads, as well as the two special loaves that were part of the Shavuot service and the omer that was brought on the second day of Pessah.  It funded the red heifer, “parah adumah,” and the goat sent to die in the wilderness on yom kippur.

On the first day of Adar, messengers were sent out reminding the people to make the required contribution.  Everyone gave the same amount, in one single coin payment.  Poor people, for whom this contribution might be a substantial burden, were required to raise the money even if they needed borrow the money or to sell their clothing.  There was a half-shekel silver coin, and donating one such coin was the preferred way of giving.  But the half-shekel was measured by weight, as were all cash payments in the ancient world.  If someone donated the silver in a different form he had to add enough extra value to cover the fee that would be charged by the moneychanger.  All the donations would be kept in a specific office, “lishkah,” in the Temple, and that fund was used to purchase the communal sacrifices. 

Thus, each contributor funded an equal share of the communal sacrifices and had the same sense of ownership in them.  The author points out that rich and poor had an equal share by means of this mitzvah.  On the other hand, anyone who was required to contribute and did not separated himself from the community and did not share in the atonement brought about by the communal sacrifices.

This mitzvah applies only when the Temple is extant.  Now we have neither the Temple nor sh’kalim so it is impossible to fulfill this mitzvah.  On the Shabbat before the beginning of Adar, we read the passage referring to this mitzvah from the Torah.  Some people have a custom to donate one and a half times the standard unit of the common currency on Purim in remembrance of this mitzvah.


Mitzvah #106 requires the cohanim to wash their hand and feet before they begin doing the “avodah” or before they enter the heichal.  This was another way of making the Temple experience feel special both to the cohanim and to other Temple visitors.  Each cohen had to pause to wash, thus helping him reach the appropriate state of mind for his activities.  Others would see the care taken by the cohanim and be impressed at the seriousness of the Temple enterprise.

            Our author explains that each person is required to wash face, hands and feet each morning.  In addition, each cohen was required to wash when he entered the complex from outside and when he began their service each morning.  That washing was effective for the rest of that day as long as the cohen was concentrating on the work of the Temple.  If the cohen took a break to do something else or to take care of bodily needs, the cohen needed to wash again when he returned.

There was a large vessel, called the “kiyor,” for washing in the Temple. (A cohen could wash in the Temple from other sacred vessels, but not from non-sacred vessels.)   It had to hold at least enough water for four people to wash.  The water could come from a mikvah or from a natural spring, but the water could not be left gathered overnight.  Each cohen had to wash standing up; no one but the king was permitted to sit in the Temple.  The cohen would put his right hand on his right leg and pour water over both appendages together, then switch and do the same for his left hand and leg. The cohen could not dip in the water, he had to pour the water from a vessel over himself.  If a cohen failed to wash when required, the service that he did thereafter was disqualified.

This washing process the cohanim used in the Temple is related to two other washing processes. The author mentions some aspects of how these washing processes were related to each other, but does not provide a complete analysis.  As we mentioned earlier in our study, each farmer set aside some of the harvest as “terumah.”  This was given to a cohen of the farmer’s choice, and the cohen and his family had to be tahor in order to eat the terumah.  Thus, they were required by rabbinic ruling to wash before eating the terumah.  Second is the rabbinic requirement that we all wash before eating bread.   Here, according to our author, if we dip our hands in the water rather than pouring the water from a cup, the washing is still valid.  


Mitzvot # 107, 108 and 109 relate to the “shemen hamishchah,” anointing oil used in installation ceremonies for each cohen gadol and for some kings.  The same oil was used to inaugurate the vessels used in the mishkan, but vessels created for the Temples did not need anointing.  According to our author, the oil was made by boiling specific spices in specific amounts in olive oil. 

In mitzvah #107, the author says we are to make the shemen hamishchah and have it ready for anointing when needed.  The act of anointing helps the new king or cohen gadol recognize the seriousness of his new office.  The mitzvah to have the oil ready reflects the seriousness of the enterprise of appropriately inaugurating the officials.  The Temple should be prepared for these inaugurations, just as a responsible household is prepared with vital items in store and ready when they are needed.  The mitzvah applies when the Temple is extant and it the responsibility of the community as a whole.

Mitzvah # 108 details how the oil is to be used.  The mitzvah prohibits anointing anyone except designated cohanim and kings with the special oil.  People will only take the act of anointing with appropriate seriousness if its use is limited to anointing people entering the most exalted positions. 

The shemen hamishchah was used to anoint a new cohen gadol.  It was also used to anoint a “mashuah milchamah,” a priest appointed in time of war to serve the special functions needed during war.  (We will see more of that later in our course.) It was also used to anoint a king, but only if he was descended from David and if his position was subject to controversy.  A king who inherited his position smoothly from his father was not anointed with the shemen hamishchah.  One violates the mitzvah by anointing anyone else with a k’zayis of oil.  A violation b’mazid is punishable by karet; a violation b’shogeg requires a korban hattat.  Apparently, both the anointer and the anointed violated the mitzvah and were punishable. Ordinary cohanim and kings who were not anointed with the shemen hamishchah were anointed with balsam oil.

The author seems to contradict himself on the question of whether Temple officials should or should not make more of the shemen hamishchah.  Mosheh made some for the inauguration of the mishkan, and miraculously that was the only shemen hamishchah ever needed.  It is less clear is what would happen had that run out.  In mitzvah # 107 the author says there is a mitzvah to make it and have it ready.  But according to the author, mitzvah # 109 prohibits making any more of it.  Historically, no shemen hamishchah was used after the destruction of the First Temple.