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How many High Priests were there?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

  

Library » History » The Holy Temples » Temple Personalities | Subscribe | What is RSS?


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In the first Holy Temple, the high priests were righteous men who were truly worthy of their positions. They merited unusual longevity, with only nine high priests serving throughout the 410 years the Temple stood.

During most of the Second Temple Era, the high priesthood was for sale to the highest bidder, which allowed many corrupt people to occupy the coveted position.

These impious high priests had very short tenures, for they would die upon entering the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur
These impious high priests had very short tenures and would either die at the time of their entrance into the Holy of Holies (before they entered, they would actually be attached to chains with which their bodies could be dragged out), or wouldn't live out the year to serve another Yom Kippur.

Thus the 420 years of the Second Temple saw more than 300 High Priests! These three hundred high priests included Shimeon the Tzaddik, who served for forty years; Yochanan, who served for eighty years1; and the righteous Ishmael ben Phiabi, who served for ten years.2

Simple math shows that the rest of the lot averaged approximately one year!3

Footnotes

  • 1. Incredibly, after entering the Holy of Holies for eighty years – a sure sign of his saintliness – Yochanan became a Sadducee! This demonstrates the need to constantly remain vigilant; never to assume that you are “too far over the hill” to go wrong.
  • 2. Others also add Rabbi Eliezer ben Charsum, who served for eleven years. This lowers the average to LESS than one year for all the others.
  • 3. Source: Talmud Yuma 9a. See also Tosafot’s commentary.

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RELATED CATEGORIES

Jewish Identity » Kohains and Levites » The Holy Tribe

Tzaddik
(fem. Tzidkanit; pl. Tzaddikim). A saint, or righteous person.
Yom Kippur
Day of Atonement. This late-autumn high-holiday is the holiest day of the year. We devote this day to repentance and all healthy adults are required to fast.
Temple
1. Usually a reference to the Holy Temple which was/will be situated in Jerusalem. 1st Temple was built in 825 BCE and was destroyed in 423 BCE. The 2nd Temple was built in 350 BCE and was destroyed in 70 CE. The 3rd Temple will be built by the Messiah. 2. A synagogue.