Wednesday, February 09, 2011

What was the significance of the Kohen Godol's Garmets? A DovBear parlor game

BT Zevachim 88b:

The tunic [worn by the High Priest] atoned for bloodshed, the breeches atoned for lewdness, the turban made atonement for arrogance, the belt atoned for [impure] meditations of the heart, the breastpiece atoned for bad judgement, the apron atoned for idolatry, the robe atoned for slander, and the tiara, worn on the forehead, atoned for brazenness

(1) On what basis was it decided that each article of clothing served as an atonement for a certain sin? Absent some textual justification, doesn't it see equally plausible that the articles of clothing were intended as a segulah, ie, a charm that leads to a change in fortune? The pants, for example, might be a segulah for fertility, the hat for intelligence, and so on. Yet this possibility does not seem to have been considered. Why not?
The Talmud's answer: Because the sections on the Kohen's clothing are adjacent to the sections on the Korbonot, suggesting they serve a similar purpose.

(2) On what basis was each article of clothing assigned to its particular sin? Some, seem self evident, others are more puzzling. For instance:

Breeches (pants) for lewdness: Easy. These were essentially underwear, that directly covered the genitalia. RSRH adds that the animal nature of man is canceled out by the vegetable material of the linen garment. The peg the Talmud hangs this on is:

Exodus 28:42 (KJV)
And thou shalt make them linen breeches to cover their nakedness

Tiara for brazenness: Its worn on the forehead, and elsewhere the forehead is used to connote brazenness (this is a specific type of figure of speech (no, not a metaphor) but the name escapes me.) Examples are:

Isaiah 48:4 (NIV)
For I knew how stubborn you were; your neck muscles were iron, your forehead was bronze.

2 Chronicles 26:19 (NIV)
Uzziah, who had a censer in his hand ready to burn incense, became angry. While he was raging at the priests in their presence before the incense altar in the LORD’s temple, leprosy broke out on his forehead.

Also in Samuel 17 brazen Goliath is killed with a blow to his forehead

The Talmud uses only:

Jeremiah 3:3 (King James Version)
Therefore the showers have been withholden, and there hath been no latter rain; and thou hadst a whore's forehead, thou refusedst to be ashamed.

Apron for idolatry: The apron or ephod seems to have been used for divination, and in at least one unambiguous case it became an item of worship itself. In several other instances the suggestion that the ephod was worshiped is present, but vague:

Judges 8:27 (NIV)
Gideon made the gold into an ephod, which he placed in Ophrah, his town. All Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family.

Judges 17:5 (NIV)
Now this man Micah had a shrine, and he made an ephod and some household gods and installed one of his sons as his priest.

1 Samuel 21:9 (NIV)
The priest replied, “The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you killed in the Valley of Elah, is here; it is wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod. If you want it, take it; there is no sword here but that one.” David said, “There is none like it; give it to me.”

1 Samuel 23:9 (NIV)
When David learned that Saul was plotting against him, he said to Abiathar the priest, “Bring the ephod.”

The Talmud uses this verse:

Hosea 3:4 (King James Version)
For the children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice, and without an image, and without an ephod, and without teraphim:

.... reasoning that is suggests that when there is no ephod, there is no liability for having teraphim

Robe for slander: This brilliant suggestion came from one of my Tweeps (slang: people with whom I interact on Twitter) @Judahe wrote:

IIRC the meil has a kol (paamonim) to be mechaper for kol;

or the robe had bells on the hem that served to announce the kohel godol's arrival (compare with "Hip, hip, the King! The King!" the call of the British sovereign's footmen to let people in the next room know the king was approaching) The bells gave the coat a "voice" so, @judahe suggests, it was appropriate for the coat to serve as an atonement for sins made by voice such as slander. [Update: @Judahe was mekaven Rashi. Well done!] [Update: and Rashi is based on BT Zevachim 88b] Additional thought:

Joseph wore a distinctive robe, and he brought his father "bad reports" about the brothers (the word for robe, however is not the same. The KG wore a me'il; Joseph wore a ketonet pasim -- see below

Tunic for bloodshed: Perhaps Joseph's distinctive garment was a tunic, not a robe (the word for tunic is ketonet) In which case, perhaps the thought is the brother's murderous deception via Joseph's ketonet links the garmet with an atonement for that sin? This is shaky, I confess, as the brothers did not actually commit murder. The Talmud suggests that a connectioon between the attonemnt offered by the garment and:

Genesis 37: 31 (NIV)
Then they got Joseph’s ketonet, slaughtered a goat and dipped it in the blood

which can be construed as, the ketonet will be a tveila or kappara for blood (Rashi) .

Complicating the matter is this: We tear our clothing when hearing about a death; unfortunately for this line of thought, in Ezra 9:3 the scribe mourns for the affinity of the people with strangers by tearing his me'il. Nowhere else do I find any mourner tearing something more specific than a beged

Breastpiece for judgment: @e_fink points out that Exodus 28:15 says specfically that the breastpiece is for making decisions [via the Urim and the Thummim it contained: See Samuel 14:41] So its reasonable that the item should atone for judgement and decisions that were made incorrectly. This approximates what the Talmud says (ibid)

Turban for arrogance: The only clue I can find is

Ezekiel 21:26 (NIV)
this is what the Sovereign LORD says: Take off the turban, remove the crown. It will not be as it was: The lowly will be exalted and the exalted will be brought low.

R. Chanina suggests (ibid) "It is proper that something worn at the highest place (the head) atones for elevating oneself." [ a pun on "gvh" used for "highest place" and "elevating"]

Belt for [impure] meditations of the heart Though we think of the belt as something worn around the waist, the Talmud (ibid) says "its worn there" Wikipedia explains:

According to Rabbinical literature the avnet was 32 cubits long[1] and 2, 3 or 4 fingers wide[2]. At this length, it would have to have been wound around the body several times. Theories differ as to how this was accomplished: some say it was wound around the waist only, while others say it was wound around the waist and over the shoulders, crossing over the heart

I'm not best pleased with:
Turban for arrogance; or
Tunic for bloodshed.


Fun fact to know and tell:
The Latin word sigil meant magical charm or symbol.

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