BLEMISH (Heb. מוּם), a defect in the body of a man or an animal. Defects of conduct are also metaphorically called blemishes (Deut. 32:5; Prov. 9:7; Job. 11:15). A blemished priest was unfit to serve in the priesthood (Lev. 21:16–23) and was precluded from approaching the altar to offer the fire-offerings. He was permitted to carry out only Temple functions not involving actual service at the altar, since he was not standing before the Lord. The Bible forbade a priest who had been blemished to approach the veil (Lev. 21:23), and as a result he was forbidden during the Second Temple period not only to enter the Temple but even to step between the altar and the sanctuary (Kelim 1:9). He was permitted, however, to go into the other parts of the Temple area and to "eat of the food of his God, of the most holy as well as of the holy" (Lev. 21:22).
Just as the officiating priest had to be unblemished, so no blemished animal was permitted to be offered on the altar (Lev. 22:17–25; Deut. 15:21–23; 17:1; cf. Mal. 1:6ff.). An animal whose blemishes were slight – "with a limb extended or contracted" (Lev. 22:23; see below) – could only be offered as a freewill offering, which was less stringent. A blemished priest was forbidden to approach the veil and approach the altar because "he shall not profane these places sacred to Me" (Lev. 21:23). A blemished sacrifice that was offered would not be acceptable on behalf of the one offering it (Lev. 22:20). Such a sacrifice is called an "abomination" in Deuteronomy 17:1 (cf. the strong words in Mal. 1:8ff. against a prevailing laxness in this regard). The flesh of a blemished animal, however, is permitted as food (Deut. 15:21–22).
The requirement that priests and sacrifices should be without blemish was common to all the ancient civilizations, and there is evidence of this from Egypt, Mesopotamia, Ḫatti (the land of the Hittites), Greece, and Rome. Egyptian documents state that candidates for the priesthood were examined for blemishes, and that the sacrifices were examined in the same way, marking animals fit for sacrifice. Documents from Mesopotamia state that priests and the sacrifices had to be perfect, without any blemish. The Hittites also regarded the presence at the ceremonial ritual of those blemished as an affront to the gods. The requirement that both priests and sacrifices be without blemish is also known from Greece and Rome.
The following blemishes are enumerated as making priests unfit for service in the Temple (Lev. 21:18–20): ivver (iwwer), a blind man; pisse'aḥ, one injured in the thigh, from birth or as the result of an accident (cf. II Sam. 4:4), in contrast to a man who has a broken leg; ḥarum, a man whose nose is sunk in between his eyes; saruaʿ, apparently one with hands or feet of unequal length; a man who has a broken leg or broken arm; gibben and dak (daq), whose meanings depend on whether the words are connected with the following (Rashi, Maimonides) or with the previous bone deformities (Ibn Ezra; according to the first explanation gibben is one whose eyebrows are long and descend over his eyes and daq is one who has a kind of skin (pterygium) over the cornea of his eye; according to the second explanation, gibben is a hunchback and daq is one whose foot or hand muscles degenerated as a result of corrosion, and are thinner than usual); tevallul, a sufferer from cataract; garav and yallefet, skin diseases, not identified with certainty (garav is probably dermatitis and yallefet is probably Egyptian herpes, ringworm); mero'aḥ ashekh, one with a crushed testicle.
Blemishes that render an animal unifit for sacrifice are (Lev. 22:22, 24) avveret, (awweret) blindness; shavur or ḥaruẓ, broken or cracked limbs that cause the animal to be lame; skin diseases (yabbelet, a wen, referring to a swelling discernible because of its size; garav and yallefet (see above)); defects of the testicles due to bruising by hand (maʿukh), or cutting with an implement (katut), tearing with pincers or a cord (natuq), or even complete severence by castration (karut); saruʿa and qaluṭ, very slight blemishes, referring to an animal having one leg longer or shorter than the other (these animals may be sacrificed as a freewill offering (Lev. 22:23)). According to some, only saruʿa means "living limbs of unequal length," whereas qaluṭ means "club-footed," i.e., in the case of cattle, sheep, and goats, with the hoof uncloven.
In the Talmud
Blemishes in the Talmud can be divided into four categories: those mentioned in the Bible as physical blemishes disqualifying priests for service; physical blemishes disqualifying animals for sacrifice; nonphysical blemishes in both; and moral blemishes.
BLEMISHES IN ANIMALS
Whereas the Bible enumerates only 12 disqualifying blemishes in animals and 12 in the case of a priest, the Mishnah subdivides them in the minutest detail. The whole of chapter 6 of tractate Bekhorot is devoted to an enumeration of those blemishes in an animal. They are divided into permanent and transient blemishes, the former referring to those which continue for 80 days. As an example of the detail, where the Bible merely says "blind," the Mishnah 6:2 enumerates a pierced, defective, or slit eyelid, a speck in the eye, a commingling of the iris and the outer part, various growths in the eye, and rheum, or if its lip is pierced. According to the legend of
*Kamẓa and Bar Kamẓa
in the Talmud, it was the infliction of one of those two blemishes by Bar Kamẓa in the sacrifice offered up by the Roman emperor "which we count as a blemish and Romans do not," and the obstinate refusal of R. Zechariah b. Avkulas to make any exception, which was the immediate cause of the Roman War (Git. 55b, 56a). The list even includes such blemishes as "if the tail of the animal does not reach the knee joint" or if its lower jaw protrudes beyond the upper. Maimonides lists 50 disqualifying blemishes in man and beast (Yad, Bi'at ha-Mikdash, ch. 7).
BLEMISHES IN PRIESTS
All the blemishes enumerated for animals similarly disqualify priests from serving in the Temple, but chapter 7 of Bekhorot gives another extensive list of blemishes which disqualify a priest but which are not considered blemishes in an animal, such as baldness, flat nose, bowleggedness, black skin, red skin or albino, and many others. Maimonides numbers 90 blemishes which particularly apply to man (ibid., ch. 8).
In addition to bodily defects, the Mishnah enumerates some moral blemishes which disqualify a priest: if he has been guilty of homicide or murder, if he has married a woman forbidden to a kohen (though permitted to a non-kohen), or if he becomes ritually unclean by contact with the dead. In the last two cases he can resume his service if he undertakes to separate himself from the woman or undertakes to adhere in the future to the rules of ritual cleanness applying to a kohen. These blemishes originally applied to actual service in the Temple, and it is explicitly stated that a priest so disqualified could and did participate in reciting the
, Order of Service). It was, however, stipulated that if a kohen had a disfigurement which caused people to stare at him, he was not to recite the priestly blessing, not because the blemish disqualified him but because it would distract the recipients of the blessing. Thus as far as physical blemishes were concerned, this applied only to the hands, and even included a dyer whose hands were dye-stained (Mishnah Meg. 4:7). The Gemara (Meg. 24b) extends this prohibition to the feet, and even to speech impediments. The test was purely pragmatic; thus if the kohen was so well-known that his blemish raised no curiosity, the ban was removed. A complete list of such "non-statutory" blemishes is given in Shulḥan Arukḥ, Orah Ḥayyim 128:30. Although the prohibition against a blemished priest officiating in the Temple is given in the Bible, the Talmud justifies it by interpreting the word shalom, in Numbers 25:12, as shalem ("whole") since according to the masorah the vav is written with a break (Kid. 66b).
The word mum for a blemish in the Bible also refers to moral blemishes (cf. Deut. 32:5) and is used extensively in this sense in the Talmud: "Do not ascribe to your fellow your own blemish" (BM 59b). If a man falsely accused someone of being a slave, it was evident that he himself was a slave, since "a person stigmatizes another with his own blemish" (Kid. 70b).