Mishnah Yoma Chapter 1 Mishnah 1 Pt. 5

by Lauren Tuchman, SVARA Fellow

שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (ויקרא טז) וְכִפֶּר בַּעֲדוֹ וּבְעַד בֵּיתוֹ בֵּיתוֹ זוֹ אִשְׁתּוֹ
As it is stated (Leviticus 16:6), “And it will atone for him and for his house.” His house, that is his wife.

We explored a prooftext today for Rabbi Yehudah’s claim that as part of the preparations for the Kohen Gadol, a second woman was designated as his wife lest his current wife dies. It’s implied by this text that the Kohen Gadol must be married to a woman in order to perform the sacred service in the Holy of Holies—for it atones for him and his household. His household, the sages say, is his wife.

Our word today is עוד, which can mean to return, turn, beyond, above, or (most relevant for us) in place of. The ritual function of the Yom Kippur service in the Holy of Holies is more intricate than we can address now, but I find myself continuously curious about how the ritual function of the Kohen Gadol impacted the religious lives of the entire people of Israel, on whose behalf the Kohen Gadol does this service.

The Kohen Gadol enters seclusion for seven days in a specifically designated room, just as the Kohen Gadol secludes himself in the Holy of Holies, a room only he can enter and only on Yom Kippur. Yet, in order to perform the ritual, the Kohen Gadol must have a wife. He is required to be a householder in order to be in intimate relationship with others. Though I find myself grateful that this is no longer the model our tradition uses on Yom Kippur, I find myself intrigued by how visceral the experience is for both him and all the people implicated. I also find myself feeling badly for the woman designated to be the backup wife of sorts. How deeply unfair. I bless us this Shabbat with the power to hold and unpack this text in its complexity, honoring it even as our tradition has chosen a different model of religious connection.

Check out the rest of the Yoma Learning Guide here!

Want some daily insights from our learners, too? Want to stay up to date on all things Mishnah Collective?
Sign up for our email list here!

Read More