Mishnah Yoma Chapter 1 Mishnah 6 Pt. 4

by Olivia Devorah Tucker, Program Coordinator, Zekharya ben Kevutal, Tannaitic Rabbi

זְכַרְיָה בֶּן קְבוּטָל אוֹמֵר פְּעָמִים הַרְבֵּה קָרִיתִי לְפָנָיו בְּדָנִיֵּאל
Zekharya, son of Kevutal, says, “Many times I recited before [the High Priest] from the book of Daniel.”

We’re making our way through the sixth mishnah of Chapter 1 of Mishnah Yoma, meaning “The Day”—specifically Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. We’re deep into the night of Erev Yom Kippur; where you may have played “Don’t Wake Daddy!”™ at your sleepover, the name of our game is “Keep Up the Kohen!” Our High Priest needs to stay up all night—lest he fall asleep and become ritually impure from a nocturnal emission, or, as Micah taught us on Monday, so that he keeps the continuity with the past day of focused reminders about what to do at the altar, or even such that he attains that special state that one gets from staying up way past bedtime. Our mishnah has been describing the energizing tactics of the High Priest’s companions: either they or the High Priest (if he knew his stuff) would drash / expound on Torah, or they would just read from scripture. Yesterday we asked, “What books would they read?” And we heard, “Job, Ezra, and Chronicles.” Today we’ll get one more option… Any bets? What books of the Bible keep you up at night?

Today we are hearing from Zekharya ben Kevutal / זְכַרְיָה בֶּן קְבוּטָל / “G💭D-Remembers, son of The Pickler” (based on קבוט on Jastrow 1307). There’s only a couple mentions of him outside of this mishnah: 1) In Yoma 19b, the Gemara commentary on this Mishnah, where he’s referred to as Rabbi Z’khar’ya ben K’voo’tal. There’s a fun moment where one Rabbi says his name as קְפוּטָל / K’FOO’tal and Rav makes a hand sign, that the name is K’VOO’tal —some ancient sign language for the letter vet! 2) There’s a much longer narrative starting on Berakhot 63a, about Zak’s grandson and power dynamics across the diaspora, which quotes our current mishnah as evidence that ZbK was an important person who served in the Temple שִׁמְּשׁוּ בְּבֵית הַמִּקְדָּשׁ. I checked my copy of “Who’s Who in the Talmud” by Shulamis Friedman (pg. 427), and she takes this to mean that he was a kohen himself. This is compelling to me, since it means that our speaker was a rare person who was both a priest and a scholar—and gives some clarity to an on-going mystery as to who this group of people was hanging out with the High Priest!

And what is it about the Book of Daniel that the son of K’vutal found it such an effective method for keeping the High Priest up through the night? Surprisingly, to me at least, the Gemara has nothing to say about why any of these books were chosen! But, in my own life, this past Shavuot I threw an all-night study party, asking friends to bring something to learn together. Our friend Aaron invited us into a section from Daniel, about bizarre prophecy beasts, and led us on a journey, connecting the dots to other prophetic texts, descriptions of angels and monsters—and lo! Daniel kept us up from around 3:30am all the way to sunrise! Was it Daniel that kept us and the High Priest up, or the power of learning together? I wonder what my friend thinks about reincarnation of the sages…

Check out the rest of the Yoma Learning Guide here!
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