Friday, September 04, 2009

Information and/or opinions requested

Here are some topics that I'm trying to find out more about.

The dress code of the Cohanim/priests

In connection with this post and its follow-up, why am I under the impression that the Cohanim went barefoot in the Ohel Moed/Mishkan (Tabernacle in the Wilderness) and in the Bet HaMikdash (Holy Temple)?

What the Tribe of Levi did for a living

We know from the Torah/Bible that the role of the Levites in the Wilderness was to do the sometimes-literally heavy lifting--they were among the original "roadies," responsible for (helping in the) disassembling and reassembling (of) the Ohel Moed/Mishkan as our ancestors wandered from place to place for 40 years before entering The Land. But what was their role after the construction of the Bet HaMikdash? Why was the entire tribe of Levi, which included the subset designated the Cohanim, entitled to become a dependent class, in need of tithes in order to survive, instead of having to earn a living like everyone else? Let's face it, only just so many Cohanim could perform sacrifices in the Bet HaMikdash, and one would hope that the singing of psalms in the Bet HaMikdash was restricted to those Leviim who could carry a tune. :)

The literal ins and outs, etc., of tefillin--how and why?

Questions, questions, questions.

  • Why are tefillin considered by many to be men's garments, when the Torah doesn't even call them garments? The shel yad (hand tefillin) is described by the Torah/Bible as an "ot" (pronounced "oat"), a sign, and the shel rosh is described as "totafot," whatever that means--2 Jews, 3 translations. :) (Pure speculation on my part: Is the word "totafot" a "loan word" borrowed from another language?)
  • Why are there two kinds of tefillin, Rashi and Rabbenu Tam? Zeesh, couldn't this grandpa-grandson duo agree on anything? :)
  • Why are there two different ways to tie the bayit (box containing the parchments) to the strap (ratzuah?) of the shel yad, one way leaving the bayit positioned above the knot (like my husband's), thus necessitating an extra winding to keep the bayit from falling over, and another way leaving the bayit positioned below the knot (like mine and our son's), so that it just hangs in place naturally?
  • Speaking of straps (ratzuot?), why is the knot that ties the bayit to the strap knotted in such a way that one must twist the strap to get the black part facing forward, as required? Why can't it be knotted to lie flat, black side out, naturally?
  • Why do Ashkenazim wind the strap of the shel yad one way and Sefardim (and B'nei Edot HaMizrach/Children of the Communities of the East?) wind the strap another way?


Anonymous jdub said...

the cohanim did go barefoot. you are correct.

the issue with t'fillin is not that they are men's garments, because they are not garments. a tallit has a much better argument for being a beged ish than t'fillin. there are other reasons women aren't supposed to wear t'fillin as a general matter, that I'm not going to go into now (largely because I have too much to do!)

The twisting back issue depends entirely on how you wrap. It sounds like you wrap like a Lithuanian, as do I. Galitziyaners/chasidim do it the other way, so it doesn't twist. And I don't even pretend to understand why Sefardim do what they do. Or Chabadnikim.

Why do we all do it differently? Because all Jews weren't blessed to be Litvaks! (joking, y'all). There are some esoteric reasons and a lot of custom. Shabbat shalom.

Fri Sep 04, 03:25:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

The leviim according to Artscroll, also functioned as teachers of the masses. That was the reason the levitical cities were scattered across the country and not just located in Jerusalem. Many leviim and cohanim also functioned as judges on batei din.

Sun Sep 06, 10:04:00 PM 2009  
Anonymous Miami Al said...

In addition to what is documented, the Leviim were the original Jewish aristocracy until the tribe of Binyamin conquered them. Through their control of religious functionality they exerted control over the Israelite tribes.

Think ancient Middle East, not Catholic Europe, the Priesthood formed a ring around the Pharoah in Egypt, and the Leviim no doubt did the same in Israel.

Teachers of the masses is probably a polite way of describing indoctrinating the masses in the importance giving generous tithes and sacrifices... I wouldn't be thinking Yeshiva education for all... :)

Mon Sep 07, 09:07:00 AM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

That's what I love about blogging--you get the ArtScroll view and the skeptic's view in the same comment thread. :)

In all fairness, I must confess to being perhaps excessively dismissive of ArtScroll's interpretations ever since I got a look at their so-called "translation" of Shir HaShirim/Song of Songs, which was not a translation at all, but a collection of traditional non-literal interpretations. (While I have no objection to those interpretations, I object vehemently to them being presented by ArtScroll *instead of* a translation, their approach being that Shir HaShirim couldn't possibly mean what it actually says, whereas many of us see no reason why we can't accept *both* the literal meaning and the traditional interpretation.)

Mon Sep 07, 12:53:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

there were actually designated bonfires in the temple precincts for the barefoot kohanim to warm themselves when it got cold on the bare rock.

Mon Sep 07, 03:35:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Steg, what's your source? Just curious. Sounds fascinating.

Tue Sep 08, 07:07:00 AM 2009  
Anonymous jdub said...

I believe in Bayit Sheni, that the courtyard had heated floors. Under the immediate floor was a hollow space in which fires were lit to warm the stones. No idea where I saw that, though.

Tue Sep 08, 10:24:00 AM 2009  

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