The descendants of Levi were singled out for service in the Sanctuary, as [Deuteronomy 10:8] states: "At that time, God separated the tribe of Levi."1 It is a positive commandment2 for the Levites to be free and prepared for the service of the Sanctuary, whether they desire to do so or not,3 as [Numbers 18:23] states: "And the Levite shall perform the service of the tent of meeting." When a Levite accepts all the mitzvot of the Levites with the exception of one matter, he is not accepted unless he accepts them all.


זֶרַע לֵוִי כֻּלּוֹ מֻבְדָּל לַעֲבוֹדַת הַמִּקְדָּשׁ שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (דברים י ח) "בָּעֵת הַהִיא הִבְדִּיל ה' אֶת שֵׁבֶט הַלֵּוִי". וּמִצְוַת עֲשֵׂה לִהְיוֹת הַלְוִיִּם פְּנוּיִין וּמוּכָנִין לַעֲבוֹדַת הַמִּקְדָּשׁ בֵּין רָצוּ בֵּין שֶׁלֹּא רָצוּ שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (במדבר יח כג) "וְעָבַד הַלֵּוִי הוּא אֶת עֲבֹדַת אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד". וּבֶן לֵוִי שֶׁקִּבֵּל עָלָיו כָּל מִצְוֹת לְוִיָּה חוּץ מִדָּבָר אֶחָד אֵין מְקַבְּלִין אוֹתוֹ עַד שֶׁיְּקַבֵּל אֶת כֻּלָּן:


Their service was to guard the Temple.4 Among [the Levities], there were gate-keepers5 who would open the gates of the Temple and close its doors. And there were singers who would accompany the sacrifices with song each day. [The latter concept is derived from the exegesis of Deuteronomy 18:7]: "And he shall serve in the name of God, his Lord, as all of his Levite brethren." Which service involves [invoking] the name of God? I would say: song.

When were songs recited? At the time that the wine libations6 [accompanying] all the communal burnt offerings,7 and the peace offerings brought on Shavuous,8 were brought. Song was not recited over the freewill burnt offerings that the community would bring for "the dessert of the altar,"9 nor on the wine libations that are brought independently.10


עֲבוֹדָה שֶׁלָּהֶן הִיא שֶׁיִּהְיוּ שׁוֹמְרִין אֶת הַמִּקְדָּשׁ. וְיִהְיוּ מֵהֶן שׁוֹעֲרִין לִפְתֹּחַ שַׁעֲרֵי הַמִּקְדָּשׁ וּלְהָגִיף דַּלְתוֹתָיו. וְיִהְיוּ מֵהֶן מְשׁוֹרְרִין לְשׁוֹרֵר עַל הַקָּרְבָּן בְּכָל יוֹם. שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (דברים יח ז) "וְשֵׁרֵת בְּשֵׁם ה' אֱלֹהָיו כְּכָל אֶחָיו הַלְוִיִּם". אֵי זֶהוּ שֵׁרוּת שֶׁהוּא בְּשֵׁם ה' הֱוֵי אוֹמֵר זוֹ שִׁירָה. וּמָתַי אוֹמֵר שִׁירָה עַל כָּל עוֹלוֹת הַצִּבּוּר הַחוֹבָה וְעַל שַׁלְמֵי עֲצֶרֶת בְּעֵת נִסּוּךְ הַיַּיִן. אֲבָל עוֹלוֹת נְדָבָה שֶׁמַּקְרִיבִין הַצִּבּוּר לְקַיִץ לַמִּזְבֵּחַ. וְכֵן הַנְּסָכִין הַבָּאִין בִּפְנֵי עַצְמָן. אֵין אוֹמְרִין עֲלֵיהֶן שִׁירָה:


A Levite who is in an acute state of mourning11 is permitted to perform his service and sing.12 There should never be less than twelve Levites13 standing on the duchan14 each day to recite the songs over the sacrifices and their number could be increased without end. The songs were sung vocally without musical instruments, for the fundamental dimension of the song is vocalization. Others would stand on [the duchan] and play melodies with musical instruments: some of them were Levites and some of them were Israelites of distinguished lineage, fit to marry into the priesthood. For only a person of distinguished lineage was allowed to ascend to the duchan.15 The people who play musical instruments are not included in the number of the twelve singers [required].


לֵוִי הָאוֹנֵן מֻתָּר לַעֲבֹד וּלְשׁוֹרֵר. וְאֵין פּוֹחֲתִין מִשְּׁנֵים עָשָׂר לְוִיִּם עוֹמְדִים עַל הַדּוּכָן בְּכָל יוֹם לוֹמַר שִׁירָה עַל הַקָּרְבָּן וּמוֹסִיפִין עַד לְעוֹלָם וְאֵין אוֹמְרִין שִׁירָה אֶלָּא בַּפֶּה בְּלֹא כְּלִי שֶׁעִקַּר הַשִּׁירָה שֶׁהִיא עֲבוֹדָתָם בַּפֶּה. וַאֲחֵרִים הָיוּ עוֹמְדִים שָׁם מְנַגְּנִין בִּכְלֵי שִׁיר. מֵהֶן לְוִיִּם וּמֵהֶן יִשְׂרְאֵלִים מְיֻחָסִין הַמַּשִּׂיאִין לִכְהֻנָּה. שֶׁאֵין עוֹלֶה עַל הַדּוּכָן אֶלָּא מְיֻחָס. וְאֵין אֵלּוּ הַמְשׁוֹרְרִים עַל פִּי הַכֵּלִים עוֹלִין לְמִנְיַן הַשְּׁנֵים עָשָׂר:


On what instruments would they play? On lyres, flutes, harps, trumpets, and a cymbal.16 There should not be less than two lyres, nor more than six. There should not be less than two flutes, nor more than twelve. There should not be less than two trumpets, nor more than one hundred and twenty.17 There should not be less than nine harps and there is no upper limit. There should only be one cymbal.


וּבַמֶּה הֵם מְנַגְּנִין. בִּנְבָלִים וַחֲלִילִים וְכִנּוֹרוֹת וַחֲצוֹצְרוֹת וְהַצִּלְצָל. וְאֵין פּוֹחֲתִין מִשְּׁנֵי נְבָלִים וְלֹא מוֹסִיפִין עַל שִׁשָּׁה. וְאֵין פּוֹחֲתִין מִשְּׁנֵי חֲלִילִים וְלֹא מוֹסִיפִין עַל שְׁנֵים עָשָׂר. וְאֵין פּוֹחֲתִין מִשְּׁתֵי חֲצוֹצְרוֹת וְלֹא מוֹסִיפִין עַל עֶשְׂרִים וּמֵאָה. וְאֵין פּוֹחֲתִין מִתִּשְׁעָה כִּנּוֹרוֹת וּמוֹסִיפִין עַד לְעוֹלָם. וְהַצִּלְצָל אֶחָד בִּלְבַד:


On all the days of the festivals and on the Rashei Chadashim, the priests would sound the trumpets while the sacrifice was being offered and the Levites would recite songs, as [Numbers 10:10] states: "On the day of your celebration, on your festivals, and at the beginning of your months, you shall sound the trumpets."18

Each trumpet was made from a block of silver.19 If it was made from scraps of silver, it is acceptable. If it is made from other metals, it is unacceptable.

The flutes on which they would play would have cane reeds, because they produce a sweet sound. The melody would always be played by a single flute, because it produces a pleasant sound.20


בִּימֵי הַמּוֹעֲדוֹת כֻּלָּם וּבְרָאשֵׁי חֳדָשִׁים הָיוּ הַכֹּהֲנִים תּוֹקְעִים בַּחֲצוֹצְרוֹת בִּשְׁעַת הַקָּרְבָּן וְהַלְוִיִּם אוֹמְרִין שִׁירָה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (במדבר י י) "וּבְיוֹם שִׂמְחַתְכֶם וּבְמוֹעֲדֵיכֶם וּבְרָאשֵׁי חָדְשֵׁיכֶם וּתְקַעְתֶּם בַּחֲצֹצְרוֹת". הַחֲצוֹצְרָה הָיְתָה נַעֲשֵׂית מִן עֶשֶׁת שֶׁל כֶּסֶף. עָשָׂה אוֹתָהּ מִן הַגְּרוּטָאוֹת שֶׁל כֶּסֶף כְּשֵׁרָה. מִשְּׁאָר מִינֵי מַתָּכוֹת פְּסוּלָה. וְהַחֲלִילִין שֶׁהָיוּ מְנַגְּנִין בָּהֶן הָיָה אַבּוּב שֶׁלָּהֶן שֶׁל קָנֶה. מִפְּנֵי שֶׁקּוֹלוֹ עָרֵב. וְלֹא הָיָה מְחַלֵּק אֶלָּא בְּאַבּוּב יְחִידִי מִפְּנֵי שֶׁהוּא מְחַלֵּק יָפֶה:

Mishneh Torah (Moznaim)

Featuring a modern English translation and a commentary that presents a digest of the centuries of Torah scholarship which have been devoted to the study of the Mishneh Torah by Maimonides.


Twelve days a year, the flute would be sounded before the altar:21 During the slaughter of the first Paschal sacrifice,22 and during the second Paschal sacrifice,23 on the first day of Pesach, on the first day of Shavuot, and on the eight days of Sukkot. [The sounding of] the flute on these occasions24 supersedes the Sabbath [prohibitions],25 because it is associated with a sacrifice and the sounding of a flute associated with a sacrifice is an act of Temple service and supersedes the Sabbath prohibitions.


בִּשְׁנֵים עָשָׂר יוֹם בַּשָּׁנָה הֶחָלִיל מַכֶּה לִפְנֵי הַמִּזְבֵּחַ. בִּשְׁחִיטַת פֶּסַח רִאשׁוֹן. וּבִשְׁחִיטַת פֶּסַח שֵׁנִי. וּבְיוֹם טוֹב הָרִאשׁוֹן שֶׁל פֶּסַח. וּבַיּוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן שֶׁל עֲצֶרֶת. וּבִשְׁמוֹנָה יְמֵי הֶחָג. וְחָלִיל זֶה דּוֹחֶה שַׁבָּת מִפְּנֵי שֶׁהוּא חָלִיל שֶׁל קָרְבָּן וְחָלִיל שֶׁל קָרְבַּן עֲבוֹדָה הִיא וְדוֹחָה אֶת הַשַּׁבָּת:


A Levite may not enter the Temple Courtyard to perform his service until he studied for five years beforehand. [This concept is derived as follows. Numbers 8:24] states: "This is [the edict] with regard to the Levites: From the age of 25..." and [ibid. 4:30] states: "From the age of 30...." How can [this apparent contradiction be resolved]? They study for five years and they do not enter the service until they fully mature and attain manhood [as ibid.:19] states: "Each man to his service."26


אֵין בֶּן לֵוִי נִכְנַס לַעֲזָרָה לַעֲבוֹדָתוֹ עַד שֶׁיְּלַמְּדוּהוּ חָמֵשׁ שָׁנִים תְּחִלָּה. שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (במדבר ח כד) "זֹאת אֲשֶׁר לַלְוִיִּם מִבֶּן חָמֵשׁ וְעֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה" וְכָתוּב אֶחָד אוֹמֵר (במדבר ד ג) "מִבֶּן שְׁלֹשִׁים שָׁנָה". הָא כֵּיצַד. חָמֵשׁ לִלְמֹד. וְאֵינוֹ נִכְנָס לַעֲבוֹדָה עַד שֶׁיַּגְדִּיל וְיִהְיֶה (במדבר ד יט) (במדבר ד מט) "אִישׁ שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר אִישׁ אִישׁ עַל עֲבֹדָתוֹ":


The Torah's statement [Numbers 8:25]: "At the age of 50, he will turn back from the ranks of the workers [of the Sanctuary]," applied only in the era when the Sanctuary was carried from place to place. It is not an [ongoing] mitzvah for future generations.27 For future generations, a Levite is not disqualified because of age or because of physical blemishes,28 only due to a change in voice,29 i.e., if his voice spoils because of his advanced age, he is disqualified from serving in the Temple. It appears to me that he is disqualified only from serving as a singer, but he could become one of the doorkeepers.30


זֶה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר בַּתּוֹרָה בַּלְוִיִּם (במדבר ח כה) "וּמִבֶּן חֲמִשִּׁים שָׁנָה יָשׁוּב מִצְּבָא הָעֲבֹדָה" אֵינוֹ אֶלָּא בִּזְמַן שֶׁהָיוּ נוֹשְׂאִין הַמִּקְדָּשׁ מִמָּקוֹם לְמָקוֹם. וְאֵינוֹ מִצְוָה נוֹהֶגֶת לְדוֹרוֹת. אֲבָל לְדוֹרוֹת אֵין הַלֵּוִי נִפְסָל בְּשָׁנִים וְלֹא בְּמוּמִין אֶלָּא בְּקוֹל שֶׁיִּתְקַלְקֵל קוֹלוֹ מֵרֹב הַזִּקְנָה יִפָּסֵל לַעֲבוֹדָתוֹ בַּמִּקְדָּשׁ. וְיֵרָאֶה לִי שֶׁאֵינוֹ נִפְסָל אֶלָּא לוֹמַר שִׁירָה אֲבָל יִהְיֶה מִן הַשּׁוֹעֲרִים:


Samuel the Seer and King David divided the Levites into 24 watches.31 Each week, a different watch would serve [in the Temple]. The head of the watch would divide all the men of the watch into different "clans." On each day of the week, designated men would serve.32 The heads of the clans would assign the workers on the day that they were designated to work, [allotting each] one appropriate tasks.

All of the Levites are warned [not to participate in] the service of the altar,33 as [ibid. 18:3] states: "But to the holy utensils and to the altar they should not draw close so they do not die." [This prohibition implies] that they should not draw close to the service [of the Sanctuary], but they may touch [the sacred utensils].34


שְׁמוּאֵל הָרוֹאֶה וְדָוִד הַמֶּלֶךְ חִלְּקוּ הַלְוִיִּם לְאַרְבָּעָה וְעֶשְׂרִים מִשְׁמָרוֹת. וְעוֹבֵד מִשְׁמָר בְּכָל שַׁבָּת. וְכָל אַנְשֵׁי מִשְׁמָר מְחַלֵּק אוֹתָם רֹאשׁ הַמִּשְׁמָר לְבָתֵּי אָבוֹת. וְכָל יוֹם מִימֵי הַשַּׁבָּת עוֹבְדִים בּוֹ אֲנָשִׁים יְדוּעִים. וְרָאשֵׁי הָאָבוֹת מְחַלְּקִין אֵלּוּ הָעוֹבְדִים בַּיּוֹם שֶׁלָּהֶן אִישׁ אִישׁ עַל עֲבוֹדָתוֹ. וְכָל הַלְוִיִּם מֻזְהָרִין עַל עֲבוֹדַת הַמִּזְבֵּחַ שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (במדבר יח ג) "אַךְ אֶל כְּלֵי הַקֹּדֶשׁ וְאֶל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ לֹא יִקְרָבוּ וְלֹא יָמֻתוּ" לֹא יִקְרָבוּ לַעֲבוֹדָה אֲבָל לִגַּע מֻתָּרִין:


Just as the Levites were warned not to perform the service of the priests,35 so too, the priests are warned not to perform the work of the Levites, as [the above verse] states: "Also they,36 also you [shall not die]."37 Similarly, the Levites themselves were warned that each one should not perform the task incumbent on a colleague.38 Thus a singer should not assist39 a door-keeper, nor a door-keeper a singer, as [ibid. 4:49] states: "Every man, according to his service and his burden."


וּכְשֵׁם שֶׁהַלְוִיִּם מֻזְהָרִין שֶׁלֹּא לַעֲבֹד עֲבוֹדַת הַכֹּהֲנִים. כָּךְ הַכֹּהֲנִים מֻזְהָרִין שֶׁלֹּא לַעֲבֹד עֲבוֹדַת הַלְוִיִּם שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (במדבר יח ג) "גַם הֵם" (במדבר יח ג) "גַּם אַתֶּם". וְכֵן הַלְוִיִּם עַצְמָם מֻזְהָרִים שֶׁלֹּא יַעֲשֶׂה אֶחָד מְלֶאכֶת חֲבֵרוֹ. שֶׁלֹּא יְסַיֵּעַ הַמְשׁוֹרֵר לַשּׁוֹעֵר וְלֹא הַשּׁוֹעֵר לַמְשׁוֹרֵר שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (במדבר ד יט) "אִישׁ אִישׁ עַל עֲבוֹדָתוֹ וְאֶל מַשָּׂאוֹ":


When Levites perform the service of the priests or one Levi assisted in a task that is not his, they are liable for death at the hand of heaven, for [ibid. 18:3] states: "shall not die."40 When, by contrast, a priest performs the service of a Levite, he is not liable for death. Instead, he violates merely a negative commandment.41


לְוִיִּם שֶׁעָבְדוּ עֲבוֹדַת הַכֹּהֲנִים אוֹ שֶׁסִּיֵּעַ לֵוִי בִּמְלָאכָה שֶׁאֵינָהּ מְלַאכְתּוֹ חַיָּבִין מִיתָה בִּידֵי שָׁמַיִם שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (במדבר יח ג) "וְלֹא יָמֻתוּ". אֲבָל כֹּהֵן שֶׁעָבַד עֲבוֹדַת לֵוִי אֵינוֹ בְּמִיתָה אֶלָּא בְּלֹא תַּעֲשֶׂה: