Mesechta Avodah Zora: “The Designated Man,” and the He-Goat to Azazel “Prohibited for Benefit?”

Shabbos Vayakhel/Pikudei 5783 — 18 March, 2023

I want to heartily thank David Kallus for fitting me in to the Chabura schedule for this Siyum: Big-Time Mega-Dittos Tizke L’Mitzvot! I also want to thank David Leichter for the time when he gave the Daf HaShavua shiur on Mondays and Thursdays. Very much in mind as I give this Siyum is HaRav Chaim Zev ben Avraham Aharon HaLevi, Zt’l, my Rav, whose wisdom and insights have impacted my life. And HaRav Avishai David and Rabbi Binyamin Jacobson have also provided great insights for all of us. A special thanks to Rabbi Jacobson and to Tully Bryks for their feedback regarding my talk. The Piaseczna Rebbe – HaRav Kalman Menachem Shapira and HaRav Chayim Soloveichik have also provided great insights. Many thanks to Rabbi Hillel Horowitz for printing out for me the final piece of Gemara in large print and vowelized. Similarly, many thanks to Danny Michaels for printing out this talk. Lest I forget to recognize and express deepest appreciation for my many friends in Ramat Beit Shemesh who show the world what Kindness, Chessed and Hachnasat Orchim are all about. And many thanks to all of you who have joined me today, as well as all who have a part in sponsoring this Kiddush.

I think back to my days of first becoming a Ba’al Teshuva some 34 years ago and the impact of that Aish HaTorah Shabbaton back in 1989 in East Windsor, NJ, my subsequent process of becoming frum, and the impact on my observance of Rabbis Moshe Ungar, Dovid Wachs and HaRav Pinchas Yehoshua Kaganoff. I would be remiss if I overlooked mentioning a Chavrusa dating back to the early days of my becoming Observant back in Philadelphia in Philly Yeshiva on Wednesday nights, Rabbi Elozer Dovid Gluck of Sorotskin neighborhood in Yerushalayim as well as HaRav Shmuel Kamenetsky who arranged for us to learn together. And thank you to HaKadosh Borchu for bringing me to this special day.

As I make this Siyum, I have in mind both my parents; my Dad — Me’ir ben Shabtai HaKohen whose Yahrtzeit was two weeks ago, as well as my Mother — Chaya bat Zalman HaKohen whose Yahrtzeit is Isru Chag Pesach.

Also in mind is Eliyahu Chaim ben Rafael Nachum HaLevi who was niftar nearly two months ago, his neshama should have an Aliyah in Shemayim, the Father of my dear friend Beryl Thomas and Rachel bat Me’ir Moshe — her neshama should have an Aliyah in Shemayim — sister-in-law of both Shlomo Weis and Dov Moses, also dear friends.

Mesechta Avodah Zora: “The Designated Man,” and the He-Goat to Azazel “Prohibited for Benefit?”

by Moshe Burt

As a Kohen, I am puzzled by the part of the Mishnah in Mesechta Avodah Zora daf Ayin Daled (daf 74a) where the he-goat dispatched to Azazel on Yom Kippur is listed among the items prohibited for benefit. I first refer to footnote #12 on 74a2 which states:

Our Mishnah appears to be teaching that the dismembered limbs of the Azazel goat are prohibited for benefit and does not become nullified when they mix with limbs of permitted animals. However, the prohibition to benefit from the goat’s limbs is a matter of Amoraic dispute in Yoma 67a, and the Gemara itself favors the view that they are not prohibited for benefit (ibid, 67b). Indeed, Rambam, Hilchos Avodas Yom HaKippurim 5:22 rules that they are permitted. Many commentators, in fact, delete the words “the he-goat dispatched (to Azazel),” from from the text of our Mishnah. (The Mesechet citing Rif; Rosh; Tosafos; Zevachim 72a; Meleches Shlomo and Hagahos HaGra)

According to those who delete this phrase, the reason the Mishnah does not list a live he-goat dispatched to Azazel (that became mixed with other goats on its way to the rocky incline) is because the Mishnah is not referring to consecrated items [Kadashim]. For this reason the Mishnah does not list the Chatas offerings that must be put to death. (Mesechet citing Tosafos to Zevachim 72a; Keren Orah, Zevachim 70b)

So here we have this dispute between Amoraim as to whether or not the he-goat to Azazel even belongs listed among those items which are ussur and thus are prohibited for benefit, in the context of being due to either connection to avodah zora or other forms of impurity, rather than due to being a consecrated item.

Sure, there may be ways for the individual leading the he-goat to Azazel to benefit from it on Yom Kippur enroute, i.e. resting under it for shade, leaning on it to rest during the long walk. One might argue that leaning against it is anyways forbidden on account of the prohibition to use animals on Shabbos or Yom Tov, but that is just a rabbinic prohibition, and would not obviate the need to teach that it is prohibited to benefit from it by Torah law.

But the whole discussion regarding whether or not the he-goat to Azazel is prohibited would seem to me to be moot [adjective: of little or no practical value, meaning, or relevance; purely academic] for other reasons. Rabbi Shmuel Goldin provides a context, and what I see as a pertinent discussion, regarding “The Timely Man” (Ish Iti) and the he-goat in his Sefer, “Unlocking the Torah Text,” Sefer Vayikra, Parshat Acharei Mot (pages 135-139) :

So significant is the role of the “designated man” (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Vayikra, Perek 16, posuk 21) in the process of communal atonement that a series of way stations are set up along his route in the wilderness. At each station. the “ish iti” is offered the option of breaking his Yom Kippur fast, that he may retain the strength necessary to successfully complete his mission. The Talmud, however testifies that no “ish iti” ever actually ate on Yom Kippur.

According to biblical law, any Yisrael can serve as the “ish iti”; the Kohanim, however, eventually mandate that only Kohanim assume this role. (Rabbi Goldin citing Talmud Bavli Yoma, dafim 66a-67b)

Chizkuni offers a startling mystical interpretation [regarding the timely man] — the individual designated to accompany the sent goat to its final destination does not survive the following year…. The Kohanim were able to determine such a candidate… through their facility in the process of astrological divination.. (Rabbi Goldin citing Chizkuni on Sefer Vayikra, Perek 16, posuk 21)

The Chizkuni’s approach, however, is deeply troubling on two counts: both because of the arbitrariness of the “ish iti’s” fate and because of the reliance of the Kohanim upon divination, an art that is clearly prohibited by the Torah. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Vayikra, Perek 19, posuk 26)

…Commentaries, such as Rambam, maintain a straight-foward… approach. The only prerequisites for the role, they claim, are knowledge of the wilderness and a consequent preparedness to depart for a moment’s notice. (Rabbi Goldin citing Rambam on Sefer Vayikra, Perek 16, posuk 21) In the eyes of these pashtanim, “the designated man,” unlike the Kohen, is neither a model for, nor a representative of the people before Hashem. He’s simply a facilitator.

Another Talmudic source, quoted in Rashi, sees… to be “the designated man,”… one must be prepared for the task from the previous day… to ensure that [he] will be ready to respond to the call of duty at a moment’s notice…. Perhaps the Rabbis are defining a single character trait in the selection of the the designated man,” a personal value which they believe to be of inestimable value for anyone traveling along the path towards true Teshuva.

I return to the parts of Rabbi Goldin’s context, namely those noting that there are way stations set up along the route in the wilderness to the Azazel, “the designated man” knows the wilderness trails well, and that the Kohanim eventually mandated that “the designated man” be a Kohen.

The Jewish Encyclopedia notes:

A man was selected, preferably a priest, to take the goat to the precipice in the wilderness; and he was accompanied part of the way by the most eminent men of Jerusalem. Ten booths had been constructed at intervals along the road leading from Jerusalem to the steep mountain. At each one of these the man leading the goat was formally offered food and drink, which he, however, refused. When he reached the tenth booth those who accompanied him proceeded no further, but watched the ceremony from a distance. When he came to the precipice he divided the scarlet thread into two parts, one of which he tied to the rock and the other to the goat’s horns, and then pushed the goat down (Yoma vi. 1-8). The cliff was so high and rugged that before the goat had traversed half the distance to the plain below, its limbs were utterly shattered. Men were stationed at intervals along the way, and as soon as the goat was thrown down the precipice, they signaled to one another by means of kerchiefs or flags, until the information reached the High Priest, whereupon he proceeded with the other parts of the ritual.

So I ask how it is even possible for this he-goat headed for Azazel to mix in with other live goats, or a flock of live goats, while under control of the “Ish Iti” and, for most of the way, his entourage [noun: a group of attendants or associates]? And how is it possible for the he-goat’s dismembered parts to become mixed with parts from other dead goats at, near, or over the cliff at Azazel — whether or not they were Shechted Kosher, to in any way gain benefit as men watched its various stages of dismemberment at various stations in order to signal the Kohen Gadol of the mission’s completion?

What is the inclusion of the he-goat dispatched to Azazel to those items prohibited for benefit in the Mishnah coming to teach us?

Counter-intuitively, it may be coming to teach us, as those who delete the he-goat to Azazel from the Mishnah seem to indicate by their deletion, that the phrase “the he-goat dispatched to Azazel” in our Gemara is among consecrated items, not in the context of mixing with avodah zora or other like or impure items.