Earlier this week, we noted the ruling of the Rambam, in Hilkhot Kelei Ha-mikdash (8:11), that a kohen may not wear his avneit – the special belt worn by kohanim – at times when he does not perform the avoda (service) in the Beit Ha-mikdash. Since the avneit contained both wool and linen, it constituted sha’atnez and was thus forbidden to wear it except in the situations when the Torah requires wearing it, namely, while performing the avoda.
Curiously, in formulating this halakha, the Rambam mentions specifically that this is forbidden for a kohen hedyot – an ordinary kohen, as opposed to the kohen gadol. Seemingly, it is permissible for a kohen gadol to wear his avneit even when he does not perform the avoda – despite the fact that the kohen gadol’s belt also contained sha’atnez. In fact, as we noted earlier this week, the Gemara in a number of places cites a debate as to whether the belts of the ordinary kohanim contained sha’atnez like the belt of the kohen gadol. According to all views, it seems, the kohen gadol’s belt contained sha’atnez, and thus should be forbidden to be worn outside the context of the avoda. The question thus arises as to why the Rambam chose to mention specifically the ordinary kohanim in presenting this halakha. (It should be noted that the Mishneh Le-melekh (8:2) cites a version of the text of the Rambam’s ruling according to which the kohen gadol’s belt did not, in fact, contain sha’atnez. The Mishneh Le-melekh dismisses this version, however, noting that, as mentioned it seems clear from the Gemara that the kohen gadol’s avneit contained wool and linen.)
The Radbaz (Hilkhot Kilayim 10:32) explains that in the Rambam’s view, the kohen gadol is allowed to wear his avneit at any time because he has the right to insist on performing the sacrificial rituals in the Mikdash whenever he so desired. The other kohanim were divided into shifts, and members of each shift were selected for the various rituals based on a lottery system. However, the kohen gadol reserves the right to perform any of the rituals whenever he wishes, as the Rambam explicitly rules in Hilkhot Kelei Ha-mikdash (5:12). The Radbaz thus suggests that since the kohen gadol can at any moment decide to perform the avoda, he is always permitted to wear his avneit.
A different theory is advanced by Rav Baruch Teomim-Frankel (author of the famous work Barukh Ta’am), in his Ateret Chakhamim (Y.D. 23). He cites the Rambam’s formulation in Sefer Ha-mitzvot (asei 33) in describing the mitzva upon the kohen gadol to wear his special garments, where the Rambam writes that the kohen gadol is commanded “to always wear these garments in the Temple.” The implication of this phrase is that unlike other kohanim, who are required to wear their special garments only when they perform the avoda, the kohen gadol is commanded to wear his special garments at all times when he is in the Beit Ha-mikdash, and not just when he performs the avoda. As such, the Rambam’s ruling that a kohen may not wear his avneit when he is not performing the avoda is not relevant to the kohen gadol, who is to wear his garments at all times.
It should be noted that the Rambam mentions this halakha also in Hilkhot Kilayim (10:32), where he writes simply that it is forbidden for kohanim to wear the avneit when they are not performing the avoda. In this context, the Rambam does not note a distinction between the kohen gadol and other kohanim, as he does in Hilkhot Kelei Ha-mikdash. Regardless of how we explain the implied distinction drawn by the Rambam in Hilkhot Kelei Ha-mikdash, his comments there appear to contradict his ruling in Hilkhot Kilayim, where no such distinction is drawn. We might speculate that in Hilkhot Kilayim the Rambam wrote “kohanim” as a reference to specifically the ordinary kohanim, but the question still remains why he made this distinction clear in one context but not in the other.
(See Rav Asher Weiss’ Minchat Asher, Parashat Pekudei, chapter 69)