The Hebrew term for "blemish" ( or ) seems to have originally meant a "black spot" (compare Gesenius-Buhl, "Handwörterbuch," s.v.). It denotes anything abnormal or deviating from a given standard, whether physical, moral, or ritualistic. Biblical legislation makes certain kinds of blemishes a ground of disqualification of animals for sacrifice, and of priests for the performance of the priestly functions. It moreover prescribes qualifications for certain inanimate things that come upon the altar, the absence of which qualifications constitutes a blemish, or disqualification. Some of the blemishes are constitutional; others are transitory. All the physical blemishes in animals and priests are external bodily defects.
The later Halakah, however, considers blemishes in priests with regard also to the priestly blessing pronounced in temple and synagogue; in Levites with regard to their service in the Temple; in persons in general with regard to the vitiating effect of such blemishes on the marriage-contract; and, finally, internal ones in animals.Blemishes in Animals.
- (a) Bodily Blemishes: The bodily defects disqualifying an animal from being offered as sacrifice are enumerated in Lev. xxii. 20-25. The Halakah has extended them to seventy-three, of which number fifty are blemishes also in priests (Bek. v.; Maimonides, "Yad," Issure ha-Mizbeaḥ, ii.). In addition to these external defects the Halakah adds such internal defects as cause the animal to be unlawful for food (see Ṭerefah); and the absence of any internal organ. The reason for the requirement of faultlessness in sacrificial animals is given in Mal. i. 8: "If ye offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? and if ye offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? offer it now unto thy governor; will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person? saith the Lord of hosts."
The laws of "ṭerefah" are also applicable to fowl; but the seventy-three blemishes are not. If, however, the fowl have a marked defect—as a blind eye, an atrophied wing, the loss of a leg—it is disqualified on the general principle that a sacrifice must be "perfect" (Maimonides, ib. iii.).
- (b) Ritualistic Blemishes: The disqualifications under this head are: unnatural birth; hybridity, actual or suspected; indefinability of sex; carnal use by man or woman; having been worshiped as a deity, or set aside for idolatrous practises; if acquired as harlot's wages, or in exchange for a dog (Deut. xxiii. 19 is taken by the Halakah in its literal sense), or by stealth or robbery; if it have killed a man; if it be younger than seven full days; if it be not of the best kind obtainable (Maimonides, ib.).
- (c) In the case of first-born animals, all the blemishes that disqualify sacrifices are also disqualifications in first-born, with this difference, that the blemishes in the latter must be constitutional, and the fact of its being first-born must be established beyond a doubt ("Yad," Bekorot, ii.).
The disqualifications in meal-offerings, oblations, incense, and altar-wood are: Levitical uncleanness, which in this case extends even to incense and wood; spoiled condition, or change from natural state; lack of prescribed ingredients, or presence of leaven and honey; lack of required fineness in materials; wine left uncovered; produce of the first three years (), or of the new harvest before the first fruits are offered; produce grown in a field with mixed seed (), or untithed ("Yad," Issure ha-Mizbeaḥ, v., vi.).
Expert examiners were appointed to investigate blemishes, who were paid out of the Temple funds (Ket. 106a), but for the inspection of first-born animals they took a fee also from their owners ("Yad," Bekorot).Blemishes in Priests.
- (a) Bodily Blemishes: The twelve blemishes enumerated in the Bible (Lev. xxi. 17-23) were extended by the Halakah to 142 (Bek. vii.; "Yad," Biat ha-Miḳdash, vii., viii.). Besides, persons suffering from mental debility () were not tolerated as priests.
In the Second Temple a special chamber was set apart in the court in which the Great Sanhedrin examined all priests. Those who were declared to be unfit for the sacred office put on black garments, wrapped themselves in a black cloak, and went away in silence, to be subsequently employed for such services as selecting wood for the altar. Those found perfectly qualified put on white garments and a white cloak, and at once joined their brethren to assist in the sacred functions. They gave to their friends a feast, which they opened with this benediction: "Blessed be the Lord because no blemish has been found in the seed of Aaron the priest, and blessed be He because He has chosen Aaron and his sons to stand and to serve before the Lord in His most holy sanctuary" (Mid. ii. 5, v. 4).
- (b)Ritualistic Blemishes: The disqualifications under this head are: Levitical uncleanness; birth in unlawful wedlock (), or in an unnatural way (); uncertainty as to sex ( = , see Androgynos); state of mourning; or of inebriety; disheveled hair, and rent garments ("Yad," Biat ha-Miḳdash).In this connection may be mentioned the incident with King John Hyrcanus, to whom a Pharisee remarked that he should be satisfied with royal power and give the high-priesthood to some one else, since, as rumor had it, his mother had been once a captive in Modin; the purity of his birth, therefore, was not beyond cavil, and he was not entitled to hold the sacred office (Ḳid. 66a).
- (c)Moral Blemishes: The Pentateuch makes no mention of moral blemishes; but it is known that priests convicted of idolatry, homicide, or any other great offense were not permitted to officiate (see II Kings xxiii. 20; Ezek. xliv. 13).
- (d)Blemishes in Regard to Priestly Blessing: The following six blemishes disqualify a priest from pronouncing the blessing in temple or synagogue: Defective articulation of speech; malformation of face, hands or feet, or unusual appearance of hands (when, for instance, they are discolored with dye, for thus they attract the attention of the audience); moral delinquency, as idolatry or murder; insufficiency of age (his beard must be fully grown); state ofinebriety; and not having washed his hands. A , an offspring of an unlawful marriage, is debarred from the pronunciation of the blessing, because he is not considered a priest at all (Maimonides, "Nesiat Kappayim," xv.).
- (e)Reason for Disqualification: According to Philo ("De Monarchia," ii. 5) and others, the faultlessness of the body was meant to be a symbol of the perfection of the soul. Maimonides ("Moreh," iii. 45) explained it as being designed to make the Temple honored and respected by all: for the multitude does not appreciate a man for his true worth, but for the perfection of his limbs and the beauty of his garments. The correctness of such views has been disproved by Bähr ("Symbolik des Mosaischen Cultus," ii. 55) and Kalisch (commentary on Lev. ii. 465; compare also Philippson, "Der Pentateuch," p. 639). According to Kalisch, everything associated with the perfect God was to be perfect, and above all His ministers, who approached His altars to present faultless offerings, and "came near" the curtain which shrouded His mysterious presence. They were to be perfect not only in their lives, but also in their persons, which were to be the fit abodes of pure souls, and reflect the divine similitude and holiness. They were to be distinguished by health and harmony, vigor and freshness.
The blemishes disqualifying Levites from performing their official functions were only two: transgression of the prescribed age limits and loss of voice (Ḥul. 24a).
With reference to blemishes invalidating the marriage-contract, or yielding a sufficient ground for divorce, man and woman are treated unequally. In regard to woman, all the bodily defects considered blemishes in priests apply also to her, and, besides, several other blemishes are added, such as make intercourse with her unbearable to the husband. In the case of man, however, only a few blemishes are mentioned (Ket. vii. 7-10, 75a-77; "Yad," Ishut, vii.; compare "Eben ha-'Ezer," 39).
Blemish, or "mum," in rabbinical literature assumed also a spiritual meaning. "Whosoever is proud has a blemish," says R. Ashi with reference to Bar Kappara's homily on Ps. lxviii. 17 . He explains the passage, "Why leap ye, ye high hills?" as follows: "Why do you enter into a dispute with the hill God desireth to dwell on? Since you are all swollen with pride" (the word "gabnunim" being taken as identical with "gibben" ["crook-backed," Lev. xxi. 20]), "that is, since you have a blemish which unfits you to be God's mount, while Mount Sinai is humble and has therefore been chosen by God as His seat of revelation" (Meg. 29a). Abraham before his circumcision was not altogether without blemish. Circumcision fitted him for his high mission as father of the priest-people (Gen. R. xlvi.).
Hence the ethical maxim (B. M. 59b), "Mum shebak al tomar le-ḥabrak" (Do not accuse thy fellow-men of the blemish that you have). Another maxim is, "Do not cast a blemish on thyself" (Pes. 112b).
The court of justice must be free from physical as well as from moral blemish, for it is said (Song of Songs iv. 7): "Thou art fair, my love; there is no blemish ["spot," A. V.] in thee" (Yeb. 101b). A common Hebrew adage is: "Kol haposel bemumo posel" (He who finds faults in others is influenced by the blemish in himself, Ḳid. 70b).