The first Mishna in the second perek of Temura deals with differences between a korban tzibbur, a public sacrifice, and a korban yachid, a private sacrifice. One of the differences the Mishna mentions is that a korban tzibbur can be brought even if the meat became impure, if the priests are impure, or in the case of the korban pesach, the paschal offering, if the owner of the sacrifice who will have to eat it is impure.
The Gemara in Yoma (6b-8a) discusses the nature of this rule. It assesses whether the impurity in a public sacrifice is in fact permitted, as opposed to a private offering where it is strictly forbidden (the position of Rava) or whether the impurity is still forbidden in a public context, but the prohibition may be temporarily suspended when there is no other option (the position of Ravina)? The Gemara links this discussion to another issue: whether the Tzitz (a headband featuring the words Holy for G-d) which is intended to atone for impure sacrifices, operates even when the High Priest is not wearing it or does it only operate when the High Priest has it on his forehead. There is a disagreement among the medieval rabbis about how to understand both of these disagreements and the relationship between them.
In understanding the question of whether the ritual impurity is totally permitted in a public context, or merely deemed not to apply when there is no other option, the most extreme understanding of the permissive stance is that taken by my teacher, Rabbi Danny Wolf of Yeshivat Har Etzion. He understood that this opinion in the Gemara intends that the impurity is at a certain level an artificial construct in that it has legal force but not actual real manifestation. As such, he argued that the permissive stance in the Gemara feels that the legal reality of impurity, which the Torah created for sacrifices, was simply not created for the public sacrifices. A support for this stance may be found in the commentary of the Ritva to the Gemara in Yoma which we are discussing. The Gemara disagrees as to whether the permissive position would permit the sacrifice to be brought by a priest who was ritually impure if there was another priest serving in the Temple at the same time in a different capacity who was pure (who might bring the sacrifice without foregoing the need for ritual purity). Rav Nachman is recorded as ruling that the impure priest may still bring the sacrifice (and seemingly should). In explaining this position, the Ritva states that Rav Nachman felt that to use a different priest would constitute ignoring the lots that had been cast in the morning to allocate tasks to the different priests. However, these lots are not a biblical commandment, but seem to be mainly a way of equitably distributing tasks. If so, why should we be worried about ignoring the lots? It seems that the Ritva views the problem of ritual impurity (according to Rav Nachman) as a negligible, or perhaps even a non-existent one in a public context.
The Gemara states that the position that the High Priest is separated from contact with other people for seven days prior to Yom Kippur so that he might not become impure is limited to the opinion that impurity is only allowed in a public context when there is absolutely no other option, but if it is permitted in a public context there is no need for the separation. The Rosh in his Tosafot (addenda) states that this means that if the High Priest becomes impure he would nevertheless perform the sacrifices, much like the Ritva’s position that we mentioned, because this would constitute giving the sacrificial labour to a priest who had not drawn that lot. However, Rashi states that this only means that he would not be separated from others, implying that if he did indeed become impure he would not be permitted to bring the sacrifices and another priest would have to be chosen. We see then that for Rashi there is no opinion that truly holds that impurity is permitted in a public context. Rather, Rashi understood the disagreement in the Gemara to be around the severity of the prohibition of impurity. If it is very sever it must always be very carefully avoided. If it less severe, it is not permitted, but the avoidance need not be as stringent.
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