When the Kohanim are Tameh

Pesachim (7:6) | Yisrael Bankier | a year ago

When individuals become tameh met, they are unable to offer the korban pesach on pesach and must do so a month later, on pesach sheni instead. The Mishnah (7:6) however teaches that if the population or a majority of the population become tameh, then the korban pesach is nevertheless offered in a state of tumah. The Mishnah adds that this would also be the case if the kohanim were tameh. The Bartenura explains that even those individuals who are tameh would offer their korban pesach on Pesach, since the korbanot are being offered by the kohanim who are tameh.

Recall that the kohanim were divided into twenty-four mishmarot that were rostered to work in the Beit HaMikdash on a weekly basis. Each mishmar was divided into batei av that were rostered on a daily basis within that week. The Rambam (Bi'at Mikdash 4:14) explains that if some of one beit av was tameh, then only those that were tahor would serve. If all the beit av was tameh then a different beit av would serve. If the whole mishmar was tameh then a different mishmar would serve. Thus far it would seem that as long as there were some kohanim that were tahor, the korban pesach would not be brought in a state of tumah. The Rambam however continues that if a majority of those kohanim in Yerushalaim were tameh then the korban pesach would be brought in a state of tumah. We shall try to understand this ruling.

The Kesef Mishnah explains that the law is based on the debate in the Gemara between Rav Nachman and Rav Sheshet whether tumah hutrah betzibur or dechuya betzibur. In other words, when korbanot are offered when most people are tameh, is that because it becomes permitted to offer the korbanot in this situation (Rav Nachman) or because the prohibition is overridden (Rav Sheshet). The practical difference is when the beit av is tameh and whether it is necessary use a different beit av. The Rambam rules like Rav Sheshet, that the prohibition against offering korbanot when tameh, is present yet overridden. Consequently, a different beit av should be sought.

The Ridbaz continues that one might then ask based on the above, if a majority of kohanim where tameh, it should nevertheless only be offered by those kohanim that are tahor, contrary to the *Rambam'*s ruling. The Gevurat Ari also poses this question. If tumah is dechuya, then as long as there are tahor kohanim, that option should be sought.

The Ridbaz answers that due to the general rule that the status is determined by the majority, when a majority of the kohanim are tameh it is considered as if all the kohanim are tameh.

The Avi Ezri explains in a similar manner that that nature of dechuya here is different to, for example, when a positive mitzvah is "doche" a negative mitzvah. In the latter case, if there is an avenue in which both mitzvot can be preserved, then that option should be taken.1 In this case however, the meaning of dachuya is that it is not hutra with respect to the debate between Rav Nachman and Rav Sheshet. Once however a majority of the kohanim in Yerushalaim are tameh it has a status of dechuya and is overridden even if there are tahor kohanim available.

The Rashash (Temurah 14a) however questions the basis of this ruling. Firstly, we only find the concept of a rov (majority) with respect to the korban pesach as it relates to the population and not the kohanim alone. Furthermore, determining the majority regarding those in Yerushalaim is also difficult, considering that we find the rov for korban pesach is measured by those in the azara (Pesachim 94b). Finally, the Mishnah itself implies that it is only if all the kohanim were tameh that tumah is overridden, considering that it does not add "or a majority" as it did when listing that case where the population became tameh.

1 Aseh doche lo'taaseh is learnt from the mitzvah of tzitzit (with techelet) overriding shatnetz where the only way of performing the positive mitzvah is if the negative mitzvah is overridden.


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