One Eyebrow

Bechorot (7) | Yehuda Gottlieb | 5 years ago

The Torah outlines a number of blemishes that render a Kohen unfit for avodah. One of these is referred to in Sefer Vayikrah (21:20) as ‘Giben’. The Mishnah in the seventh perek of Bechoros provides further detail on these blemishes. The second Mishna discusses blemishes related to hair, namely those kohanim that were bald or did not have eyebrows, or even one eyebrow according to the Tanna Kamma, would be invalid. The Tanna Kamma states that this blemish is the definition of the term ‘Giben’ mentioned in the Torah.

The mefarshim argue about the invalidation that the Tanna Kamma is referring to when referencing one eyebrow. The Tifferet Yisrael explains that the intention is one eyebrow that stretches across both eyes. The Tifferent Yaakov explains the blemish to mean a kohen who has one eyebrow missing. However the Bach explains that the term in the Torah which is ‘Giben’ means one eye, and therefore the blemish specifically refers to one who has hair over one eye only. The Hadrat Kodesh cites that the simple meaning is the lack of hair over one eye, yet points out a diyuk in the Rambam to explain that this invalidation may be referring to a protrusion over one eye only, on which hair does not grow, giving the appearance of hair being missing over one eye.

The Rashash questions this simple interpretation. He mentions that if missing one eyebrow would be considered a blemish then it would be superfluous for the Mishna to then explain that missing two eyebrows would be considered a blemish. The Rashash answers that although it may seem that the blemish of missing two eyebrows can be learnt through a kal v’chomer argument, both categories need to be mentioned. There may be an argument made that if a kohen had only one eyebrow and therefore had a lopsided appearance this may be a more stringent blemish than a person that had both eyebrows missing. Additionally, this blemish needed to be classified on its own because one may have an argument to classify this blemish amongst a more general category of blemishes which apply when the body is not in balance – for example where one limb is larger than another (a blemish termed ‘saruah’). Therefore, this blemish needs to be mentioned in order to classify it together with the blemish of having no eyebrows at all (defined under the term ‘giben’).

The Rambam writes that someone who has no eyebrows at all is what is referred to in the Torah as ‘Giben’ and adds that the blemish of having only one eyebrow is pasul1. The Chazon Ish explains this to mean that someone who has only one eyebrow is not inherently blemished, but rather is invalidated due to the fact that he is ‘not the same/equivalent to all other progeny of Aharon’ which is an extrinsic invalidation. However, one that has no eyebrows at all is inherently blemished. Therefore, explains the Chazon Ish, one cannot be learnt from the onother via kal v’chomer as the sources of their invalidation are not equivalent.

The Mishna continues by offering the opinions of other Tannaim regarding the definition of the word ‘Giben’ mentioned in the Torah. Rabbi Dosa explains the term to refer to one whose eyebrow hair has grown so long that it falls over his eyes. The Tifferet Yisrael explains that a kohen is invalidated only while this hair has not been cut. However, if a kohen was to trim this eyebrow hair, then the blemish would be removed and the kohen would be allowed to perform the avodah.

The Mikdash Yechezkel and Yad Binyamin seek to prove this din that one who trims or shaves his eyebrow hair is permitted to work in the mikdash. The Gemara in Ketubot (75a) writes that a kohen who has a foul odour is invalidated from undertaking the avodah. However, if this person were to wash and rinse his whole body, and/or make use of perfumes, then they would be allowed to do avodah. Therefore, prior to his performance of the avodah he has removed the blemish and his avodah is acceptable. The implication of this ruling is that the permissibility of a Kohen to do avodah depends on his state while he is undertaking that activity. This case is analogous to one who has long eyebrow hair. If he rids himself of this blemish prior to performing the avodah then the impediment no longer exists to invalidate him. Therefore at the time he performs avodah he is no longer classified as a blemished Kohen and his avodah is acceptable.


1 The Chazon Ish points out that this statement would indeed seem to contradict the Mishna’s explanation that both one who has both or even one eyebrow missing would fall under the definition of ‘Giben’ in the Torah.

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