Exodus 28:40 – And for the sons of Aaron you should make coats and you should make belts and turbans shalt thou make for them, for honor and for beauty.
Jerusalem Talmud Yoma Chapter 3 Halacha 6 – The Rabbis [Rabbi Yosi?] taught an explanation of the phrase “for the sons of Aaron you should make coats.” From this wording they learned that it is required to have two coats for each cohen.
Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation on Note #30:
Rabbi Yosi thinks that this statement apply to general ‘coats’. In other words, since it says ‘for the sons of Aaron’ that is the reason why it writes ‘coats’ in the plural. Certainly, the intent of the rabbis was not that each cohen should wear two coats. We know that it says in Gemora Zevachim 18a that a cohen who wears two garments of the same type while he’s doing the service in the temple, that service is invalid.
Rather, the intent is that each cohen should have an extra coat in reserve in case he needs it. Further, it is entirely possible that it need not be limited to two, but rather a cohen could have more in reserve if he wanted. The Talmud teaches “two” as the minimal obligation based on the use of the plural form.
Also, it does make sense [ניחה] that the same deduction is not made about belts and turbans that are also written in the plural. Only the coat is worn close to the body and likely to absorb bodily foulness.
Truly though it is not clear to me why the rabbis interpreted this posuk in this way. Certainly the words of Rabbi Yosi are based on logical reasoning rather than on a textural deduction. It does seem that the reason why it writes “coats” in the plural is because the subject is also in the plural (the sons of Aaron); just like belts and turbans are also in the plural. Additionally a similar phrase is using in the Gemora Megilla 7a where it discusses the requirement to send “gifts to the poor”. [Gifts is written in plural as is the word ‘poor people’.] There, even though the Gemora says it means at least two gifts to at least two poor people, Rashi says that one gift to one poor person would be sufficient for the minimum requirement. He bases this on the fact that even though it does use the plural form for ‘gifts’; nevertheless since it says ‘poor people’ [also in the plural] we can conclude that the minimum requirement is one gift for one poor person.
Take note also that the Rambam in Chapter 8 of the section “Vessels of the Temple” does not mention at all this requirement of having two coats for each cohen. Even though, as we mention above, it is not clear from the language of the posuk how the deduction is made that one must have two coats, nevertheless, it is clear that this is a deduction that the rabbis have made from the language of the posuk. It certainly has a valid reason and logic to it, even if we don’t understand it. If that is the case, how is it possible for the Rambam just to omit this law entirely? To compound the difficulty, look in the Gemora Chaggigah 3a where it concludes that a person who is deaf in only one ear is exempt from the obligation to go up to Jerusalem during the three pilgrimage festivals. The Gemora there concludes this from the words of the posuk (Parshat Vayelekh) where it says “Read the Torah in their ears”. From the fact that it says “ears” in the plural, the Gemora concludes that if one is deaf in one ear, he is excluded from this command. And the Rambam does include this law! Also, the Gemora Yerushalmi there actually attaches the law about being deaf in one ear to our posuk here about each cohen needing two coats.
Since this is the case, it really makes no sense for the Rambam to omit the law requiring two coats yet include the law exempting a person who is deaf in one ear. This issue requires much further study.
DBS Note: I appreciate the intense insistence on consistency. Also, being that I am deaf in one ear, this note has a personal relevancy to me.