The Rambam in Hilchot Biat Hamikdash, Perek 8, Halachah 15, writes that a Kushite is unfit to serve in the Mikdash. To quote

...שמונה בעור הבשר ואלו הן. הכושי

There are eight involving the skin. They are:

a) a Kushite;

b) an albino whose skin is white like cheese;

c) one who is red-skinned like scarlet;

d) one who has pure blotches on his skin,17 i.e., [the appearance of] the skin changed because of an internal factor, like a bohak;18

e) [the appearance of] the skin changed because of an external factor, like the scarring of a burn; this is also one of the distinguishing marks that are pure [with regard to tzara'at];19

f) one who has a facial mole that has hair, even if it is not the size of an isar,20 but rather of the smallest size;21

g) one who has a facial mole the size of an isar or more;22h) one afflicted with warts, [when] a person's flesh or skin should distend or the fluids in the skin should distend to any part throughout the body, this is a blemish.

What are the ramifications of this law? What kind of modern people would theoretically be unfit to serve in the Mikdash?

  • Why not ask about all three of his initial examples?? "There are eight [blemishes] related to skin: too dark, too light, too red..." – Double AA Apr 5 '17 at 17:13
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    I'm not sure what the question is. What kind of people are unfit? The ones he names in that piece you just quoted. – DonielF Apr 5 '17 at 18:16

The Gemara (בכורות מד:‏) which is the source of this Rambam, defines כושי as כל שמראיו חשוכין anybody with a dark complexion. That would seem to exclude anybody who isn't Caucasian-looking (for lack of a better term).

However, Rashi there defines כושי as שהוא שחור ככושי somebody as black as a Kushite. And in ברכות נח:‏ as שחור הרבה very black.

The Bartenura says on that Mishna in בכורות (Mishna 7:6) say הכושי. שחור - i.e. black.

That would seem to exclude from service those who look black - and possibly include those Africans (for lack of a better term) who are dark brown.

The only other place I recall discussing complexion is in נגעים (Mishna 2:1) where it says:

רַבִּי יִשְׁמָעֵאל אוֹמֵר, בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֲנִי כַפָּרָתָן, הֲרֵי הֵן כְּאֶשְׁכְּרוֹעַ, לֹא שְׁחוֹרִים וְלֹא לְבָנִים, אֶלָּא בֵּינוֹנִיִּים

Jews are neither black nor white, but look like boxwood, a type of cedar. Making it sound that anything too light or dark is not typical. This is relevant, because the "coloring issue" that makes a Cohen unfit is because he stands out from the other Cohanim, as the Bartenura teaches us in בכורות (Mishna 7:1) אָמַר קְרָא (וַיִּקְרָא כא) כָּל אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר בּוֹ מוּם מִזֶּרַע אַהֲרֹן, הַשָּׁוֶה בְזַרְעוֹ שֶׁל אַהֲרֹן יַעֲבֹד, וְשֶׁאֵינוֹ שָׁוֶה בְזַרְעוֹ שֶׁל אַהֲרֹן לֹא יַעֲבֹד (based on the Gemara in (בכורות מג.‏) - those Cohanim who look alike may serve, those who look different may not.

So if a lot of Cohanim have a darker-than-Caucasian complexion, they may be accepted as normal looking. (And then you could ask: If a huge majority of Cohanim are dark, would the lighter ones be invalidated?)

For some reason, previous generations decided to keep this vague; we'll have to see what Eliyahu Hanavi and Moshiach decide, when it becomes a practical issue. בִּמְהֵרָה בְּיָמֵינוּ

  • Note plenty of Caucasians would be excluded too according to the next line in the Rambam. Jews were middle Eastern ie pretty tan colored or "ceder colored". – Double AA Apr 6 '17 at 12:29
  • Does anyone suggest that we're talking medical abnormalities? Just as we would for an albino or someone with red-colored skin. – Shalom Apr 6 '17 at 15:29

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