Sleep in the Mishnah III: Seder Kodashim

priests sleeping in the fire chamber

Continuing on in our investigation into sleep into the Mishnah (having previously considered Seder Moed and Seder Taharot), sleep appears a handful of times in Seder Kodashim, similar to the amount of times it appears in Seder Taharot. While most of the appearances in this seder concern priests and levites sleeping in the Temple (which we will consider), this Mishnah is quite fascinating:

כל העריות: אחד גדול, ואחד קטן–הקטן פטור; אחד ער, ואחד ישן–הישן פטור; אחד שוגג, ואחד מזיד–השוגג בחטאת, והמזיד בהכרת

In the case of all forbidden sexual encounters, if one partner was an adult and the other a minor, the minor is exempt;
If one is awake and the other asleep, the one asleep is exempt;
If one is an inadvertent and the other intentional, the inadvertent one is liable to a sin-offering, the intentional one is liable for excision. (Keritut 2.6)

This mishnah discusses culpability for forbidden sexual liaisons and exempts both a minor and a sleeping person, seemingly on account of their diminished agency in the encounters. While the minor may be aware of what is transpiring, the minor may not have the power or knowledge to prevent this forbidden encounter from occurring. Similarly, the sleeping person who is passively involved – whether man or woman – is obviously not aware of what’s happening, so they are exempted from culpability for the forbidden sexual encounter. This Mishnah, however, doesn’t describe the situation of the sleeping person waking up amidst the sexual encounter; are they culpable if they wake up and continue to engage in the activity?

The other occurrences in this seder concern themselves with priests and levites sleeping in various places in the Temple and, somewhat similarly to what we saw in Seder Taharot, sleep is a potential site of seminal emission and, thus, impurity (as well as mYoma 1.7 in Seder Moed).

In the following mishnah, the levites were not supposed to be sleeping while on the job:

איש הר הבית היה מחזר על כל משמר ומשמר, ואבוקות דולקין לפניו: שכל משמר שאינו עומד, ואומר לו איש הר הבית, שלום עליך; ניכר שהוא ישן–חובטו במקלו, ורשות היה לו לשרוף את כסותו. והן אומרין, מה קול בעזרה–קול בן לוי לוקה, ובגדיו נשרפים, שישן לו על משמרו.
רבי אליעזר בן יעקוב אומר, פעם אחת מצאו את אחי אימא ישן, ושרפו את כסותו

The officer of the Temple Mount used to go round to every watch, with lighted torches before him, and if any watcher did not rise [at his approach] and say to him, “Shalom to you, officer of the Temple Mount”, it was obvious that he was asleep, then he used to beat him with his rod, and he had permission to burn his clothes. And they would say: “What is the noise in the courtyard? It is the cry of a Levite who is being beaten and whose clothes are being burned, because he was asleep at his watch.”
Rabbi Eliezer ben Jacob said: “Once they found my mother’s brother asleep, and they burnt his clothes.”(Middot 1.2)

From the face of it, it’s not clear if the problem with this sleeping levite is that he is merely not awake while serving or if it’s a problem of a potential seminal emission.

בשלושה מקומות הכוהנים שומרים בבית המקדש–בבית אבטינס, ובבית הניצוץ, ובבית המוקד.
בית אבטינס ובית הניצוץ–היו עלייות, והרובין שומרים שם.
בית המוקד–כיפה, ובית גדול היה, מוקף רובדין של אבן; וזקני בית אב ישנים שם, ומפתחות העזרה בידם, ופרחי כהונה איש כסותו בארץ.
ולא היו ישנים בבגדי קודש; אלא פושטין ומקפלין ומניחין אותן תחת ראשיהם, ומתכסין בכסות עצמן.
אירע קרי באחד מהן–יוצא והולך לו במסיבה ההולכת תחת הבירה, והנרות דולקות מכאן ומכאן, עד שהוא מגיע לבית הטבילה; ומדורה הייתה שם, ובית כיסא של כבוד.
וזה הוא כבודו–מצאו נעול, יודע שיש שם אדם; פתוח, יודע שאין שם אדם.
ירד וטבל, עלה ונסתפג, ונתחמם כנגד המדורה; בא וישב לו אצל אחיו הכוהנים עד שהשערים נפתחים, יוצא והולך לו

In three places the priests keep watch in the Temple: in the chamber of Avtinas, in the chamber of the spark, and in the fire chamber.
In the chamber of Avtinas and in the chamber of the spark there were upper chambers where the youths kept watch.
The fire chamber was vaulted and it was a large room surrounded with stone projections, and the elders of the clan [serving in the Temple] used to sleep there, with the keys of the Temple courtyard in their hands. The priestly initiates used to place their bedding on the ground. They did not sleep in their sacred garments, but they used to take them off [and fold them] and place them under their heads and cover themselves with their own ordinary clothes.
If one of them had a seminal emission, he used to go out and make his way down the winding stairs which went under the Birah, which was lit by lights on each side until he reached the bathing place. There was a fire close by and an honorable seat [i.e. toilet]: and this was its honor: if he found it locked, he knew there was someone there; if it was open, he knew there was no one there.
He would go down and bathe and then come up and dry himself and warm himself in front of the fire. He would then go and take his seat next to his fellow priests until the gates were opened, when he would take his departure.(Tamid 1.1)

In this Mishnah, sleep is permissible in certain places in the Temple, but the younger priests seemingly face a greater danger of seminal emission and needed to not sleep in their sacred garments.

בית המוקד–כיפה, ובית גדול היה, ומוקף רובדין של אבן; וזקני בית אב ישנים שם, ומפתחות העזרה בידם, ופרחי כהונה איש כסותו בארץ
. ומקום היה שם אמה על אמה, וטבלה של שיש, וטבעת הייתה קבועה בה, ושלשלת של מפתחות הייתה קבועה בה. הגיע זמן הנעילה–הגביה את הטבלה בטבעת, ונטל את המפתחות מן השלשלת, ונעל הכוהן מבפנים, ובן לוי ישן לו מבחוץ; גמר מלנעול–החזיר את המפתחות לשלשלת, ואת הטבלה למקומה, ונתן כסותו עליה, וישן לו. אירע קרי באחד מהן–יוצא והולך לו במסיבה ההולכת תחת הבירה, והנרות דולקין מכאן ומכאן, עד שהוא מגיע לבית הטבילה; רבי אליעזר בן יעקוב אומר, במסיבה ההולכת תחת החיל, יוצא והולך לו בטדה

The fire chamber was vaulted and it was a large room surrounded with stone projections, and the elders of the clan [serving in the Temple] used to sleep there, with the keys of the Temple courtyard in their hands. The priestly initiates used to place their bedding on the ground.
There was a place there [in the fire chamber] one cubit square on which was a slab of marble. In this was fixed a ring and a chain on which the keys were hung. When closing time came, the priest would raise the slab by the ring and take the keys from the chain. Then the priest would lock up within while the Levite was sleeping outside.
When he had finished locking up, he would replace the keys on the chain and the slab in its place and put his garment on it and sleep there.
If one of them had a seminal emission, he would go out by the winding stair which went under the Birah, and which was lighted with lamps on both sides, until he reached the bathing place.
Rabbi Eliezer ben Jacob says: he descended by the winding stair which went under the Hel and he went out by the Taddi gate. (Middot 1.8-9)

Similar to the previously-mentioned mishnah, sleeping in the fire chamber is discussed, although this one doesn’t distinguish between the older priests and the younger ones, but still offers a series of actions to remedy one’s predicament in case of a seminal emission.

The primary thrust of sleep in Seder Kodashim is about where kohanim and levites can and cannot sleep in the Temple, as well as the possibility/concern for nocturnal seminal emissions.

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