The source for this post is Discoveries in the Judean Desert X. I’m not in the mood to look up all of the bibliographic information right now. The part I read concerns Miksat Maasei Ha-Torah. Here are a few things that stood out to me:
1. The MMT bans the blind and the deaf from the Temple. Here’s what the book says about the rabbis:
“The rabbis did not treat the blind and the deaf as forming a single category. A deaf person was treated as mindless (in the same category as an imbecile or a minor). The blind were not seen as mindless, but merely as incapable of carrying out certain practices.
“As regards the deaf, the Mishna in Terumot 1:1 states that a deaf man may not set aside Teruma, and that if he does his act is not valid. The Tosepta in Terumot 1:1 adds that the deaf may have access to the pure food eaten in Jerusalem” (161).
That’s not nice–how the rabbis regard the deaf. The deaf aren’t stupid. They just can’t hear. And the MMT is too strict, especially since the Torah allows handicapped priests to eat from the holy food (Leviticus 21:22).
2. The Sadducees believed that the only one who could prepare the red heifer was a priest on whom the sun had set after his immersion; the rabbis disagreed. According to the book, “we read in m. Para 3:7 that the rabbis intentionally defiled the priest who was to burn the cow, and then immersed him; immediately thereafter he had to perform his task without waiting for sunset” (152). Man, that’s taking a belief pretty seriously, isn’t it?
3. At the same time, the rabbis could be tolerant. The authors of MMT bolted the Jerusalem community over halakhic differences, but the rabbis allowed Hillelites and Shammaites to intermarry, even though the two groups disagreed on purity rules (m. Yebam. 1:4). That puzzles me somewhat, since I’d expect them to consider purity rules more important. What if a man defiled his spouse, thinking that he wasn’t defiling her? Defilement determined whether or not God abode in the community. I’m surprised that more people didn’t bolt the community over halakah.