Yoma 25

Dress for the job you want.

A classic piece of employment advice is to “dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” The idea is that, for a low-level employee, dressing like a manager will make managers think of you as a potential colleague, and help improve your chances of a promotion. While the jury is out on whether this actually helps employees advance, today’s daf offers an ancient example of this aphorism at work. 

Yesterday’s daf described what various priests were wearing when they showed up at the Temple to participate in the lottery that assigned various parts of the Temple service every day. Rav Nahman says that the priests showed up for the lottery in their ordinary, everyday clothes but Rav Sheshet says they dressed in their priestly garb so they could immediately enter into the Temple service, without having to stop and change.

Today’s daf goes into more depth about Rav Sheshet’s position: 

Rav Sheshet said: From where do I say (that the priests wore sacred garments when the lottery was held)? As it was taught: “The Chamber of Hewn Stone was built in the style of a large basilica (a rectangular room); the lottery is held in the east of the chamber, and an elder of the court sits in its west. The priests stand in a circle in the shape of a bracelet, and the appointed priest comes and removes the mitre from the head of one of them, and everyone thereby knows that the count began from him.” And if it were to enter your mind to say that the priests wore non-sacred garments during the lottery, is there such a thing as a mitre among one’s non-sacred garments? 

According to Rav Sheshet, all the priests would stand in a circle, dressed in their Temple finery, in preparation for getting to serve in the Temple on Yom Kippur. The first priest to be counted would have his mitre (another possible translation is “turban”) removed so that everyone would remember where in the circle they started the count. Clearly, a mitre is a sacred item so, according to Rav Sheshet, the priests must have been wearing their sacred clothing!

Curiously, though, the Gemara rejects this reasoning:

Rav Yehuda, and some say it was Rav Shmuel bar Yehuda, taught: A priest whose mother made a tunic for him may perform an individual service with it on.

Although priestly vestments were normally sewn in-house by professional garment makers, apparently some priests’ loved ones might have made them non-sacred versions of the priestly garb and this could well have included mitres. (It may be that the priests wore garments similar to their ceremonial garb while out and about, perhaps to visibly mark them as members of the priesthood. But these homemade priestly vestments were not approved for Temple use, in part because they were much more likely to become impure while being worn around town.) 

While the Gemara rejects this explanation of Rav Sheshet’s position, it doesn’t ultimately take a side in the original debate about what the priests wore for the lottery. But it does paint a powerful picture for us of what Rav Sheshet’s vision would have looked like: Hundreds of priests dressed in sacred clothing, including their stately mitres, standing in a circle, willing and eager to serve. Some are chosen, and rush forth to fulfill their assigned sacred tasks. But most are not, and these must remove their sacred clothing and leave the Temple, wearing ordinary clothing and preparing for an ordinary day. The Gemara reminds us that these lotteries occurred every single day at the Temple; the priests could show up again the next day dressed in their sacred clothing and try again. 

Interestingly, 500 years later Maimonides follows Rav Sheshet in his insistence that all the priests showed up to the lottery in their sacred garments. Maimonides insists that dressing for the job you want isn’t a guarantee that you’ll get it, but in the case of priests and the daily Temple service, it was the only way to have a shot at it.

Read all of Yoma 25 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on May 6th, 2021. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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