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Apparently, a blind kohen can't serve in the Mikdash:

Bechorot 44a:

The Sages taught in a baraita: When it is stated that a blind man [iver] is disqualified from performing the Temple service (see Leviticus 21:18), this applies whether he is blind in both of his eyes or blind in one of his eyes. With regard to a priest who cannot see due to pale spots on the eye or due to tears streaming from the eye that are constant, from where is it derived that he is disqualified? The same verse states: “A blind man [ish iver].” The superfluous word “ish” serves to include these conditions as well.

Eli was said to have had failing sight and eventually blindness in his final days:

"One day, Eli was asleep in his usual place; his eyes had begun to fail and he could barely see." (Shmuel 1:3:2)

"Now Eli was ninety-eight years old; his eyes were fixed in a blind stare." (Shmuel 1:4:15)

Is there any source that states that he stopped being acting Kohen Gadol at some point due to his blindness, or was he acting-Kohen Gadol1 until his death?


1 As opposed to kohanim who were considered inactive KGs, such as what Rabbi Meir says in Yoma 12b, or ex-KGs according to Rabbi Yossi; kohanim that served even for a short time as KG, perhaps because the official KG had some kind of temporary blemish that disqualified him until it healed or rectified.

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  • Could that teaching have came about in the centuries after Eli? – Mike Oct 13 '20 at 2:37
  • @Mike anything is possible, but the gemara quotes a specific verse that says that blind and other blemished people can't serve in the mishkan/mikdash. If we go by your suggestion then follow up questions would be: a. What's the difference between that verse and this situation? b. What changed centuries later that brought this halacha? – Harel13 Oct 13 '20 at 3:52
  • What does "acting kohen gadol" mean? Is there only one of them but more of a different kind? – Double AA Oct 13 '20 at 12:37
  • @DoubleAA I edited my question; I hope it makes more sense now. – Harel13 Oct 13 '20 at 12:57
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Daas Sofrim on the first verse you cited says that indeed Eli wasn't able to serve as Kohen Gadol once he started going blind. So he says that Eli had expected that one of his sons would take over as Kohen Gadol, but then on that very same day (or rather, that night) Shmuel received his first prophecy, that Eli's sons wouldn't be worthy of that position, and indeed would die prematurely:

במשך כל הזמן הזה,‏ לא יכול היה לעבוד בעבודת המקדש,‏ כי כבר היה בעל מום ואף אם טרם נחשב בעל מום לא יכול היה לעבוד מפני שלא ראה היטיב, ואז צריכה היתה העבודה כולה לעבור לידי אחד מבניו,‏ שיהיה כהן גדול במקומו.‏ באותו יום באה הנבואה שאין בניו ראויים לכך והם ימותו לפני זמנם.‏

(He doesn't address, then, what happened during the years between this event and Eli's death. Possibly one of his sons served as acting Kohen Gadol, as in your footnote. Note that aside from the avodah of Yom Kippur, there's very little else in the Mishkan/Beis Hamikdash that has to be done specifically by the Kohen Gadol and can't be done by a regular kohen.)


On the other hand, Kli Yakar on this verse suggests that the verse in ch. 3 may not mean that Eli had actually started going blind, just that he had a sudden loss of vision (and indeed that this is what misled Shmuel to think that Eli was calling for him, in pain):

שלהיות שעלי שוכב במקומו ופתאום עיניו החלו כיהות לא יוכל לראות אשר זה היתה סבת טעות שמואל בקול הקורא היותו עלי צועק מכאב לבו ומיחוש עיניו דשורייני דעינא בלבא תלו.‏

According to this, then, it could conceivably have been a temporary condition, and once it cleared up, Eli would have been able to serve as Kohen Gadol for much longer (until at some (unrecorded) point he developed chronic vision problems).

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  • Thank you! 15 c – Harel13 Oct 13 '20 at 18:40

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