May 14, 2005
Scholars and sages have often compared the legislation regarding priests (cohanim) found in Ezekiel with that found in Leviticus. Some sages have been perplexed by the discrepancies between the two books. Others have been perplexed by the frequent redundancy in their legal prescriptions. Seeming details have led to significant debate. Take for instance, the description of the garments worn by the priests when entering the inner courtyard of the Temple, as described by Ezekiel: \”And when they enter the gates of the inner court, they shall wear linen vestments, they shall have no wool (tzemer) upon them when they minister inside the gates of the inner court. They shall have linen turbans on their heads and linen breeches on their loins, they shall not gird themselves with anything that causes sweat (bayaza).\” (Verses 17-18)
It is worth noting that Ezekiel established a stringency in that he mandates this for all priests while according to Torah law, this dress requirement was meant exclusively for the High Priest serving in the Temple. (See Exodus 28:4-5; Leviticus 16:4) This stipulation raised a question, in particular, regarding the garment used as a belt to gird the loins.
This belt is described with the word \”bayaza\”. What does the term \”bayaza\” mean? The meaning of this term is uncertain, but from the parallel word in the previous verse – \”tzemer-wool\”, it seems that the word is probably associated with the word \”zeah-sweat\”. Accordingly, this verse would proscribe wearing a belt that would cause perspiration. (R. Kasher, Ezekiel 25-48, Mikra B\’Yisrael, p. 862). Rav Hai Gaon (10th-11th century Babylonia) derived the word \”bayaza\” from the word \”zazuwa\” which means to shake or move. For him, this phrase meant that one should not wear the belt in a place where it might fall.
Targum Yonathan (7th century Eretz Yisrael), however, translates this phrase to mean that a priest should not gird himself around the area of the heart since wearing a belt at that point of the body would cause a person to perspire. The Talmud adopted this interpretation: \”What does \’they shall not gird themselves \’bayaza\’ mean\’? Said Abaye: They should not gird themselves around a part of the body which might cause them to perspire, as it was taught: When they gird themselves, they must not do it below their loins, nor above the elbows, but rather in a place parallel to their elbows. [The Talmud then related the following story to illustrate its definition.] Rav Ashi said: \’Hanna bar Natana told me, I was once standing before King Izgedar (a Persian king), with my belt high up, whereupon he pulled it down, observing to me: \’Isn\’t it written about your people: \'[And you shall be unto Me (God)] a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.\’ (Ex. 19:6) When I came before Amemar, he said to me: The text, \’And kings shall be your foster parents.\’ (Isaiah 49:23) has been fulfilled in you.\” (Zevahim 18b-19a)
Amemar understood the action of the king to mean that Jews should comport themselves with the dignity worthy of their description as a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. This is certainly a worthy consideration.
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
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