This one comes at you from Mississippi Fred McDowell over at On the Main Line, by way of Baalbatish, who adds some great illustrations.

It all started with the article from Dan Rabinowitz in Hakira, showing that contrary to the ahalachic illustrations of the new edition of Mishanyot Meirot, Kohanim did not wear a kippah underneath their migba’at. Rabinowitz tells us that, as recorded in the Mishna, the Kohanim serving in the Mikdash would have a lottery of sorts to determine how to split up the jobs, some of which were more desired than others because they came with segulah for wealth or other benefits.

Basically, the Kohen Gadol would think of a number and the Kohanim interested in the job would stand around him in a circle and put out some number of fingers. The Kohen Gadol would then count fingers until he reached his predetermind number, and the Kohen belonging to that finger would get the job. The Mishna states that in order to keep track of where they started counting, the first Kohen counted would remove his migba’at from his head, thus baring his head. Tosfot comments that the lottery must have taken place outside of the courtyard, because it is disgraceful to stand bareheaded in the courtyard of the Temple.

As a side note, prior to the lottery practice, one job, that of removing the ashes from the  large altar in the courtyard (terumat hadeshen) was free for the taking, but if two priests wanted it, they would race up the ramp of the altar.

Most of what I’ve read so far has been in response to the idea that the kohanim didn’t wear a kippa, but I actually think the lottery part of the story is more compelling. As kids we used to play Twenty-First  Finger Is It (everyone puts in a few fingers and you count to the twenty-first) as a decision rule, but it was one of the first to be abandoned because everybody soon learns that barring knowledge of how anyone else was going to play, it was in your best interest to put out as many fingers as possible and give yourself as many chances to win as possible. How could the Kohanim use such a primitive system? Were they not smart enough to figure out its flaws? Couldn’t they come up with another method?

It also seems like a relatively undignified method of distributing the labor, which is only exacerbated by having a Kohen take off his migba’at, thus forcing the whole lottery to be moved otudoors. Why couldn’t the first guy to be counted have raised his hand, or any other method to differentiate himself that would not have forced them to leave the courtyard, as Tosfot says they did?

I think I would rather talk about these questions than ask whether the Kohanim actually wore kippot or not.