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Topic: Cleaning the Priestly Clothing

Sandra Block from Scottsdale, AZ wrote:
Dear Rabbi,

I was wondering if there is any mention in the Torah or Talmud about "cleansers" that may have been used in cleaning "holy" garments such as those that may have been worn by Aharon or the kohanim? These garments had to be "clean and pure" when worn in the Temple.

Someone once mentioned that the word "fuller" comes up in the Torah. I was a bit skeptical of that remark! I can't help but think of the Fuller Brush Co. Are you aware of any mention anywhere of what they used in those days? It's probably a very strange question, but I have a curiosity about it. Rav Todot.


Dear Sandra Block,

Maimonides writes: "It is a commandment that the priestly clothing be new, beautiful, and long like the clothing of dignitaries. If they are soiled or ripped, the service carried out in them is invalid. A priestly garment which is stained should neither be whitened nor cleaned; rather it is to be used for the wicks (of the menorah), and new clothing is worn."

The source for the above is the Talmud which says that one may clean the priestly garment only if the stain will come out with water alone. One may not clean a priestly garment if it requires neter or ohel to clean it. This is because "There is no poverty in a place of riches."

Neter was a type of white earth called in Old French nitra, which in English is called saltpeter. Ohel was derived from the root of an herb by that name.

The Talmud list other types of cleansers used in those days. Some seem to have been quite caustic and effective. They used plant roots, sulfur, and even urine and dog manure to clean garments.

A "fuller" or "foller" was a type of coin, and is mentioned in the Jerusalem Talmud. Despite rumors, neither "Amway" nor "Tupperware" appear anywhere in the Talmud.

Sources:

  • Maimonides Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Klei Hamikdash 8:4,5
  • Zevachim, 88a, 89a
  • Rashi Tractate Shabbos 15, 50b & 89b Hametargem
  • Tractate Shabbat 89b, 90a
  • Talmud Yerushalmi Peah 1:1


 
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