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The first mishna of Yoma explains that before Yom Kippur, a substitute wife is prepared for the kohein gadol lest his wife die -- because the torah says he makes atonement for himself and "his house", and "his house" means his wife. But he has to be married to exactly one woman on that day because it says "house", not "houses".

The g'mara on 13a-b describes a system of conditional gittim (bills of divorce), but I'm having trouble understanding how this actually works. Do I understand correctly that he takes an additional wife before Yom Kippur, with gittim written such that he will be married to exactly one woman when he performs the avodah? If so, does it have to be a different wife each year because of the laws of divorce and kohanim?

Since he could (in an unfortunate turn of events) end up married to the substitute, it seems like everyone involved would want to take as much care with this match as with any other. Yet, finding a good (and different) shidduch every year seems challenging, perhaps burdensome. Is that just part of the cost of being kohein gadol, or am I misunderstanding this g'mara?

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Plus, the shidduch must be a Betulah. –  Double AA Nov 15 '13 at 2:40
Incidentally, while this follows the Bavli's interpretation of Rabbi Yehuda's opinion (the rabbis do not agree that a substitute wife should be prepared for the kohein gadol), the Yerushalmi explains Rabbi Yehuda's opinion as requiring a conditional marriage for the second woman, not a conditional divorce (Yoma 1:1, מקדשין לו אשה אחרת על תנאי שמא יארע דבר באשתו שנאמר וכפר בעדו ובעד ביתו ביתו זו אשתו דברי ר' יהודה ). I presume that this would allow the same woman to conditionally marry on an annual basis. –  Fred Nov 15 '13 at 3:22
@Fred How many years would she hang around as a Betulah for? There was probably a very high turnover. –  Double AA Nov 15 '13 at 3:30
@DoubleAA If they actually ever used substitute wives, and did so according the Yerushalmi, then probably yes. But perhaps every 3 or 4 years rather than annually. –  Fred Nov 15 '13 at 3:43
The cynic's answer: this sounds like a second Temple innovation, so practically speaking, it could have been every year, since the Kehunah Gedolah was sold. –  Seth J Nov 15 '13 at 4:00

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