TALMUD. The 26rd Massekhet – Shevuot

Massekhet Shevuot offers an exposition of how Jewish law relates to different types of oaths. The placement of Massekhet Shevuot in Seder Nezikin can be explained because some of the laws that apply to oaths are connected with courtroom activities (e.g., oaths taken by litigants as part of the court process, or someone who swears that he does not have testimony to offer). Thus, it is usually placed just after Massekhet Makkot as an additional conclusion to the laws of courts that appear in Massekhet Sanhedrin. At the same time it includes discussions of oaths in general that parallel the laws of vows found in Massekhet Nedarim, as well as other topics – including discussions of sacrifices and ritual purity – that are raised tangentially.

to be continued in the form of comments
the link to the previous Massekhet:
http://kabbalistnyc.com/?p=4408

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50 Responses to TALMUD. The 26rd Massekhet – Shevuot

  1. Massekhet Shevuot: Introduction to the Tractate

    Massekhet Shevuot offers an exposition of how Jewish law relates to different types of oaths. The placement of Massekhet Shevuot in Seder Nezikin can be explained because some of the laws that apply to oaths are connected with courtroom activities (e.g., oaths taken by litigants as part of the court process, or someone who swears that he does not have testimony to offer). Thus, it is usually placed just after Massekhet Makkot as an additional conclusion to the laws of courts that appear in Massekhet Sanhedrin. At the same time it includes discussions of oaths in general that parallel the laws of vows found in Massekhet Nedarim, as well as other topics – including discussions of sacrifices and ritual purity – that are raised tangentially.

    When a person makes a promise to do something, or when he affirms something that he says by means of an oath – especially when he makes the oath using God’s name – the laws of shevuot apply. Such oaths are taken very seriously by the Torah; in fact, one of the Ten Commandments forbids taking an oath in vain (see Shemot 20:6 and Devarim 5:10) – even if the statement is truthful. Of course, a false oath is even more severe and we find discussions in this tractate regarding atonement for them, either by means of sacrifices or by punishments meted out by the courts.

    There are different types of shevuot, whose regulations – as well as their punishments and atonements – vary. Most of these appear in the Torah, although there are a number that are rabbinic enactments, whose laws differ from the biblical ones.

    One type of oath relates not to others, but to the individual himself. We find this type of oath divided into two categories: Shevuat bituy (an oath of utterance) and shevuat shav (an oath taken in vain).

    Shevuat bituy refers to a situation where a person makes a positive or a negative statement, either regarding past events or future ones. If it was made regarding the future, it is similar to a vow, and will be treated as a false oath if he does not fulfill the statement that he made. The difference between a shevua (oath) and a neder lies in the fact that a shevua is what a person accepts upon himself, while a neder relates to the object under discussion, and in the different sacrifices that are brought if they are not fulfilled. If the shevuat bituy was made regarding past events, if his statement was false, he is held liable immediately. If it was done knowingly, he will receive malkot (lashes) and if unknowingly, he will have to bring a sacrifice according to his financial standing.

    Shevuat shav is a type of false oath, when a person takes an oath that he will do something that cannot be done, or if he tries to affirm a false statement that he made by means of an oath or if he swears for no reason at all. In these situations he will be liable to receive malkot if he did it knowingly; if unknowingly there is no punishment.

    The second type of oath relates to interactions with other people, and includes four categories of oaths: Shevuat ha-eidut (an oath regarding testimony), shevuat ha-pikadon (an oath regarding a deposit), shevuat ha-dayyanim (an oath imposed by the court) and shevuat ha-shomerim (an oath of the bailees, or someone who is watching an object).

    Shevuat ha-eidut refers to a situation where a witness knows information that would allow a litigant to win a case, and refuses to testify, claiming – by means of an oath in court – that he does not know anything, causing a loss to the litigant. In such a case, if it was done knowingly, he will have to bring a sacrifice according to his financial standing, otherwise he is free of any penalty.

    Shevuat ha-pikadon is not really limited to oaths regarding deposits, rather it refers to anyone who owes money to another person and denies it by means of an oath. This refers to all situations where a person has in his possession money that belongs to another – whether he received it legally (e.g. as a loan, or a lost object that he found) or illegally (e.g. he stole the money) – or even if he owed money because he damaged his friend’s property. In all such cases, if he wants to repent after having taken the oath he must return the money or object, adding a further one-fifth as a penalty, and bring an asham (guilt) offering.

    Shevuat ha-dayyanim is similar to shevu’at ha-pikadon, inasmuch as it also relates to denying money that is owed, but it is mentioned separately as the Torah devotes a separate passage to it and it is the court that requires that the oath be taken. When a claimant demands payment for money that is owed to him, but he only has one witness or if the defendant admits to only part of the claim, the court will require the defendant to take a severe oath (i.e. while holding a Sefer Torah or similar) to free himself of the obligation to pay. If the defendant lied, his punishment will be similar to that of shevuat ha-pikadon.

    Shevuat ha-shomerim also involved the denial of a debt. When one of the four types of shomerim (someone who watches an object as a volunteer, someone who does so for pay, someone who rents an object or someone who borrows an object) does not return the object to its owner, the Torah teaches there that under specific circumstances in each of these cases the shomer can take an oath and free himself of the obligation to pay. These rules and regulations are discussed at length in Massekhet Bava Metzia, and they are brought here simply to complete the picture of shevuat ha-pikadon.

    Aside from the above-mentioned biblical oaths, there are also a number of oaths that were established by the Sages. The Mishna teaches that there are circumstances when the Sages will require that the claimant takes the oath in order to win his case, rather than allowing the defendant to take the oath and free himself from the obligation to pay. One example where this was done was a case where the Sages did not trust the defendant’s oath for one reason or another. The Sages also established a shevuat heset (an oath of inducement) that obligates someone who denies a claim entirely to take an oath (according to Biblical law, if someone denies owing money entirely he is free of any further obligation, and only if he offers a partial confession will he take an oath on the money beyond what he admitted to).

    Massekhet Shevuot does not contain much aggadic material, and where it does appear its focus is on the severity of taking oaths, and the damage done by falsehood in general and false oaths in particular.

  2. Shevuot 2a-b: Two That Are Four

    The first Mishna in Massekhet Shevuot opens by teaching that the rules of shevuot – of oaths – are “two that are four.”

    In explanation of this phrase, the Rambam in his Commentary to the Mishna points to the passage in Sefer Vayikra (5:4) that describes how someone who swears le-hara o le-heitiv – which is understood by the Sages to mean someone who swears to refrain from doing something or someone who swears to do something – will be liable to bring a sacrifice if he does not keep his word. Thus the “two” mentioned in the Mishna refers to either a negative or a positive oath; the “four” refers to the possibility of taking such oaths with an eye towards either the future or the past.

    The presentation of this rule leads the Mishna to mention other laws that have the same “two that are four” pattern, including carrying on Shabbat from one domain to another and types of tzara’at – biblical leprosy – and how they are to be recognized. Both of these cases parallel the case of oaths in that they contain two basic concepts that include four ideas.

    Although the focus of this tractate is on shevuot, the reference to tzara’at in the Mishna leads the first two perakim of the tractate to teach about a side topic. Most of these two perakim are devoted to discussions of ritual purity in the Temple, and more specifically, to arranging atonement for desecration of the purity of the Temple. The Torah demands great care with regard to maintaining the purity of the Temple, and we find many mitzvot whose purpose is to keep the Temple safe from ritual defilement. As a general rule, the main purpose of the laws of ritual purity relates to the Temple, and, as a consequence, today, when we do not have a Temple, most of those laws no longer apply.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  3. Shevuot 3a-b: Two That Are Four – With Hair

    The placement of Massekhet Shevuot in Seder Nezikin – the Order of the Mishna that deals with civil law – can be explained because some of the laws that apply to oaths are connected with courtroom activities (e.g., oaths taken by litigants as part of the court process, or someone who swears that he does not have testimony to offer). Our Gemara wonders why we find Massekhet Shevuot immediately following Massekhet Makkot within Seder Nezikin.

    According to the Gemara on today’s daf, the juxtaposition of these two tractates is based on stylistic concerns. One of the last Mishnayot in Massekhet Makkot teaches the law restricting the way a Jewish man can cut his hair, and there, too, we find that two laws of hair-cutting extend to a number of laws, similar to the list of “two that are four” rules in our Mishna (see yesterday’s daf).

    According to the Torah (Vayikra 19:27) – lo takifu pe’at roshkhem ve-lo tash’ḥit et pe’at zekanekhah – a man cannot round off the edges of his head, nor can he destroy the growth of his beard. The Mishna in Massekhet Makkot (20a) teaches that the prohibition against rounding off the edges of one’s hair applies to the two sides of his head, while the prohibition regarding the beard relates to five different points – two on each side and one on the chin. The former forbids cutting the hair at the temples so that the back of the ear and the forehead are “evened out”; the latter forbids the points on the face where there is an accumulation of hair.

    The Gemara in Kiddushin (daf 35) concludes that since the Torah used the term lo tash’ḥit (do not destroy) with regard to cutting one’s beard, the prohibition regarding shaving one’s beard would only be with a razor, which is mash’ḥit (destructive), but mispara’im ke-en ta’ar – a scissor-like cutting action that removes hair – is permitted. Based on this, most rishonim permit shaving one’s beard if it is done using that method, but they still prohibit cutting one’s payot against the skin even mispara’im ke-en ta’ar, since regarding this halakha the Torah forbids the very act of hakafah (rounding the “corners”.) The Rambam, however, disagrees, apparently because he takes the juxtaposition of bal takif and bal tash’ḥit very seriously, concluding that all of the laws of one apply to the other, as well. Thus, just as one’s beard can be cut with a scissors, so one’s payot can be cut with a scissors. [Note that in the famous portrait of the Rambam he does not appear to have payot.]

  4. Shevuot 4a-b: A Voluntary Slave

    According to Jewish law, a Jewish slave could not be mistreated and was reputed to be a “master” to his owner. Recognizing that this situation may encourage an eved ivri to choose to remain with his master, the Torah allowed for such a possibility (Shemot 21:5). According to the Torah, such an eved can choose to have his ear pierced with an awl (Shemot 21:6), at which time he will serve his master “forever.”

    The Gemara in Massekhet Kiddushin (21b) discussed the laws of an eved ivri who chooses to remain with his master. Will he remain with the master’s son after the master’s death? How long is “forever”? How must the technical application of the law that requires the eved ivri to have his ear pierced be applied? Must it be done with an awl?

    Based on a close reading of the pesukim, the Gemara concludes that the eved nirtzah – the slave who has had his ear pierced – is only obligated to work for the master, and not his son. The term “forever” means until the yovel. The Gemara on today’s daf brings the discussion regarding the ear piercing itself, where Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi rules that it can be done with any metal implement, while Rabbi Yosei b’Rabbi Yehuda allows it to be done with other sharp objects, including a sole (a sharpened piece of wood), a sira (a thorn), a maḥat (needle), and anything that is held in one’s hand.

    The biblical sira is identified with the contemporary Sarcopoterium spinosum, a member of the Rosaceae family. This thorny plant is a low growing shrub that is very common in Israel, particularly in the hilly areas north of Be’er Sheva where it covers large areas near cultivated fields. Its branches are wooden, ending in branched thorns. The leaves are compound and pinnate; winter leaves are relatively large compared to the smaller summer leaves. Flowering season is from March to April. Its fruit is round with a brown-red color. Due to its thorns and intertwined leaves, objects can enter the shrub easily, but it is very difficult to remove them.

  5. Shevuot 5a-b: Shades of White

    The Mishna (2a) described that mar’ot nega’im – shades of leprous marks – are “two that are four.” That is to say that the two nega’im – the two signs of plagues of leprosy mentioned in the Torah (see Vayikra 13:1-2) – a se’et or a baheret – each have toladot (secondary marks) – other, lower level signs of this plague – that are similar to them in color. Our Gemara quotes a Mishna in Massekhet Nega’im that teaches that a se’et is the color of the white wool of a newly born lamb, and its tolada is the color of the membrane of an egg. A beheret is the intense white color of snow and its tolada is white like the lime plaster of the Temple sanctuary walls.

    Rabbi Ḥanina notes that this Mishna disagrees with Rabbi Akiva who rules that the different shades of white are hierarchical which will not allow a nega that is the color of lime to be joined with another nega to be the appropriate size.

    There are two main explanations in the rishonim regarding this disagreement.
    According to Rashi, the author of our Mishna and the Mishna in Nega’im believes that there are two categories – se’et and baheret – each of which has a related nega one step lower that the main nega. The nega’im in each category can be joined to establish a full nega tzara’at. Rabbi Akiva, on the other hand, does not see a number of categories, but one list of nega’im, and each one can only be joined to a nega that is right next to it on the hierarchy.
    The Ramban and others view the disagreement differently. They believe that even Rabbi Akiva agrees that the different nega’im can be joined to each other. They argue that the difference is one of definition. The Sages of the Mishna believe that the two categories of se’et and baheret are not simply two different levels of brightness of the same color, but are essentially different hues of white, and each of those shades has a second level nega that is similar to it. According to Rabbi Akiva, however, there is only one hue of white and the four nega’im are different levels of brightness.

  6. Shevuot 6a-b: The Greater of Two Kings

    As we learned on yesterday’s daf, the Mishna (2a) described that mar’ot nega’im – shades of leprous marks – are “two that are four.” That is to say that the two signs of plagues of leprosy mentioned in the Torah (see Vayikra 13:1-2) – a se’et or a baheret – each have toladot – other, lower level signs of this plague – that are similar to them in color. According to the Gemara, a se’et is the color of the white wool of a newly born lamb, and its tolada is the color of the membrane of an egg. A beheret is the intense white color of snow and its tolada is white like the lime plaster of the Temple sanctuary walls.

    On today’s daf, we find that the Sages attempt to offer parallels to this hierarchy by describing the relationship between a king and his underlings. Rava rejects the suggestions made by the other Sages arguing that the only true parallel is the relationship between two kings who are on the same level – like Shevor Malka, the king of Persia, and the Roman Caesar. In response, Rav Pappa asked him which of the two is greater. Rava replied that Rav Pappa’s question makes it sound as though he was living in a forest his whole life, since everyone knows which currency is more widely accepted in the world.

    Rashi explains that Rav Pappa was aware of the political reality of the outside world, but he was confused by the fact that Rava mentioned the Persian king before the Roman Caesar. Rava needed to do this since he lived under Persian rule and had to make sure that he spoke in a manner that was respectful to the local authority. The Ḥatam Sofer indicates that this was the basis of Rava’s comment – did Rav Pappa not recognize the need to be sensitive to the honor of the Persian rule?

    Some of the rishonim (e.g. Rabbeinu Hananel) interpret Rava’s comment differently, and understand that he asked whether Rav Pappa had a problem with his eyes. Did he not see which of the two countries was the greater one? Alternatively, the Arukh brings an opinion that Rava asked whether Rav Pappa wanted to become blind, since the Persian kings were wont to blind people who did not show proper respect to the monarchy.

  7. Shevuot 7a-b: Feats of Verbal Analogy

    The Mishna (2a) taught that the laws of yedi’ot ha-tumah – situations where a person forgot that he was ritually defiled and entered the Temple or ate consecrated food – are “two that are four.” That is to say that there are different situations regarding how the mistake was made – as noted he could have forgotten his status and either entered the Temple or eaten consecrated food – or he could remember his status but forget that the food was consecrated or that it was forbidden for him to enter the Temple in this state. These are the situations referred to by the Torah when it says (Vayikra 5:2-14) that the sinner must bring a korban oleh ve-yored – a “sliding scale” sacrifice where a wealthy person will bring goat or a lamb, a middle income person will bring a dove and a poor person will bring a meal offering.

    The Gemara on today’s daf asks how we know that these laws apply specifically to the Temple and to food consecrated to the Temple, since the Torah itself simply says that the person erred, was ritually impure and was guilty, without specifying what he was guilty of. In response, Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi suggested a gezera shava – a method of comparing similar words that appear in two places in the Torah. Rabbi’s statement was praised by Rava, who said that Rabbi “drew up water from deep wells” in suggesting this.

    Rava’s praise is questioned by a number of the commentators, who point out that the rule of a gezera shava is that it must be received as a tradition; no Rabbi, however great he may be, can create one on his own. It is therefore difficult to understand why it is so impressive from Rabbi to simply repeat a teaching that he had received from others. The Ritva and others suggest that Rabbi’s tradition was limited to the knowledge that this particular word had a gezera shava attached to it. His greatness was to work out the significance of that teaching.

  8. Shevuot 8a-b: Causes of Biblical Leprosy

    Two similar se’irim – sacrificial goats – are set aside for use in the Temple service on Yom Kippur, and are chosen by lottery to be brought as a sacrifice in the Temple or sent to be thrown off the cliff to Azazel (see Vayikra 16:5-22). The Gemara on today’s daf discusses the se’ir that was brought as a sacrifice in the Temple – what purpose did it serve? Although the baraita is certain that it comes to atone for sins that relate to entering the Temple in a state of ritual defilement, our Gemara considers other possibilities, as well.

    Perhaps it comes to atone for a yoledet – a woman who recently gave birth? The Gemara explains that the Torah makes clear that this is an atonement for sin, not for ritual impurity, like that of a yoledet. Perhaps it comes to atone for a metzora – a person suffering from biblical leprosy?

    Again, the Gemara explains that this sacrifice is an atonement for sin, not for ritual impurity. In response the Gemara points out that Rabbi Shmuel bar Naḥmani says that every case of metzora comes about as a result of one of seven different sins, so the sacrifice could be seen as acting as an atonement for one of those sins. The Gemara explains that further atonement is unnecessary, since the tzara’at itself acts as atonement.

    What are the seven sins that lead one to become a metzora? Rabbeinu Ḥananel lists them as follows:

    Lashon ha-ra – slander
    Shefikhut damim – murder
    Shevu’at shav – taking an oath in vain
    Gilui arayot – sexual immoraliy
    Gasut ha-ru’aḥ – arrogance
    Tzarut ha-ayin – stinginess
    Gezel – robbery
    Tosafot argue that it appears to be clear that the sacrifices brought by the metzora are not sin offerings for these underlying acts, since those sacrifices would never be brought if the person had not become a metzora. The Rivan is quoted as answering that the sacrifices of a metzora serve a dual purpose, both as part of the process of ritual purification, and also as an atonement for the underlying cause of the tzara’at.

  9. Shevuot 9a-b: Atonement and the New Moon
    The Mishna (2a) taught that when a person who was tameh was unaware of his status and he entered the Temple or ate consecrated food, since he cannot bring a sacrifice for atonement (given that he was unaware that he had done anything wrong), sacrifices brought on holidays and on Rosh Ḥodesh (the New Moon) serve to offer him that atonement. The source for this is the passage (Bamidbar 28:15) that describes how the sacrifice is a sin offering la-HaShem – to God – which is understood to refer to sins that only God is aware of.

    The Gemara quotes another teaching derived from this passage. Reish Lakish says that the sacrifice brought on Rosh Ḥodesh makes reference to a sin offering la-HaShem because God says to the Jewish people that this sacrifice should be brought to atone for God having minimized the moon. The idea that God made the moon smaller is discussed at length in the Gemara Ḥullin (60b) where the Gemara describes that originally both the light of the day – the sun – and the light of the night – the moon – were the same size, but that God made the moon smaller after it complained that two equal rulers could not exist together (see also Rashi on Bereshit 1:16).

    The way the text of our Gemara reads, it appears that God asks that the Jewish people bring a sacrifice on God’s behalf, since he performed an inappropriate act in minimizing the moon. That approach is certainly a difficult one to understand, although some commentaries suggest mystical explanations for such a request. The Ri”f explains that the sacrifice is certainly brought to atone for sins done by the Jewish people – as Rabbi Yehuda explained, for unknown sins – but God commanded that it be brought on Rosh Ḥodesh by way of consolation to the moon for having lost its primary place in creation.

  10. Shevuot 10a-b: Leftover Sacrifices
    How were the animals in the Temple purchased?

    According to Rashi, the general practice in the Temple was to set aside six animals that had been checked and found to be appropriate for sacrifice that would serve the needs of the upcoming communal sacrifices. This way, there was always a reserve of animals available for the Temple’s needs. Tosafot HaRosh quotes an opinion which says that it all depended on availability. The kohanim in the Temple tried to always have a reserve of animals, and if a particularly good buying opportunity came up, they would buy a large number of animals.

    According to both of these approaches, we can understand the question raised in the Gemara – what was to be done with leftover korbanot? With the new year for sacrifices beginning on the first day of Nisan, when the end of Adar arrived there would often be a pool of animals that had been set aside for sacrifices, but could no longer be used, since the new year’s sacrifices had to come from the new year’s donations.

    Ulla quotes Rabbi Yoḥanan as teaching that animals that were set aside to be used as temidim – daily offerings – that were not sacrificed, can be redeemed even though they remain unblemished (ordinarily an animal that had been set aside to be used as a sacrifice could only be redeemed in the event that it developed a blemish that would keep it from being brought on the altar). When Rabba repeated this teaching, Rav Ḥisda objected, saying “who will listen to you and to Rabbi Yoḥanan, your teacher!? Where did the animal’s holiness disappear to?”

    The expression used by Rav Ḥisda is interesting inasmuch as we have no record in the Talmud that Rabba ever left Babylonia for Israel to learn with Rabbi Yoḥanan. We do know that Rabba’s brother traveled to Israel where he was so taken by Rabbi Yoḥanan’s leadership that he wrote to Rabba that he should join him in Israel in order to learn from Rabbi Yoḥanan. Although, given his age, he could not have spent many years in Israel, it does appear that Rabba traveled to Israel, as we find a number of places where Rabba quotes Rabbi Yoḥanan’s teachings.

  11. Shevuot 11a-b: To Be Consecrated Or Not To Be
    As we learned on yesterday’s daf Rabba repeated the teaching of Rabbi Yoḥanan teaching that animals that were set aside to be used as temidim – daily offerings – that were not sacrificed, can be redeemed even though they remain unblemished (ordinarily an animal that had been set aside to be used as a sacrifice could only be redeemed in the event that it developed a blemish that would keep it from being brought on the altar). Rav Ḥisda objected to this saying, “who will listen to you and to Rabbi Yoḥanan, your teacher!? Where did the animal’s holiness disappear to?”

    On today’s daf Rabba replies to Rav Ḥisda, explaining that when these animals are purchased lev beit din matneh aleihem – “beit din has in its heart” – that they are bought on the condition that if they are needed they will be used as sacrifices on the altar, but if they are not needed then they will be treated like any standard donation to the Temple, and their value will be consecrated but their bodies will not.

    A similar law is brought by the Gemara, where we find that the ketoret – the incense offering – will only become fully consecrated after it was readied for sacrifice in a keli sharet – a utensil sanctified for use in the Temple, but otherwise the laws limiting its use do not apply. Here, too, the Gemara asks “where did the holiness disappear to?” In response the Gemara responds that the ketoret was unique because it lasts for an entire year.

    Rabbeinu Ḥananel explains this answer by pointing out that a large amount of the incense for the ketoret was prepared at the beginning of the year. At that time the holiness remains only in the value of the ingredients; the ketoret does not get its essential holiness until it is actually placed in the keli sharet and readied for actual use.

  12. Shevuot 12a-b: A Dessert of White Figs
    On yesterday’s daf Rabba explained that when animals are purchased for use as sacrifices in the Temple, lev beit din matneh aleihem – “beit din has in its heart” – that they are bought on the condition that if they are needed they will be used as sacrifices on the altar, but if they are not needed then they will be treated like any standard donation to the Temple, and their value will be consecrated but their bodies will not.

    Not everyone agrees to the idea that lev beit din matneh aleihem, which would permit the animal to be used for other purposes in the Temple. The Gemara on today’s daf asks how Rabbi Shimon – who does not accept lev beit din matneh aleihem­ – would suggest that the animals be used. Rabbi Yitzḥak quotes Rabbi Yoḥanan as explaining that Rabbi Shimon believes that they must be brought as sacrifices, and are used for ketz ha-mizbe’aḥ, meaning that when there are no sacrifices to be brought, voluntary communal sacrifices would be brought to honor the altar, that is, to ensure that it does not stand empty of sacrifices.

    This suggestion is supported by a statement made in a baraita that teaches that unused sacrifices such as these are like a “dessert of white figs” for the altar. In response to this example, the Gemara argues that since neither leaven nor honey can be placed on the altar (see Vayikra 2:11) it is difficult to understand the suggested parallel. Rav Ḥanina taught that the baraita means to say that the additional sacrifices brought on the altar are similar to a fruity dessert enjoyed by a person.

    Rav Ḥanina’s teaching should be understood to mean that just as figs are served as an additional dessert after the main meal is over, similarly these sacrifices are brought only when the main sacrifices are finished, even though there is no obligation to bring them.

  13. Shevuot 13a-b: The Power of Yom Kippur
    Can one reach atonement even if he does not do teshuva (if he does not repent)?

    Although we ordinarily view teshuva as essential for receiving kappara (atonement), nevertheless the Mishna (2b) teaches that for virtually all Torah transgressions a person can receive kappara by means of the se’ir hamishtale’aḥ – the scapegoat that is thrown from the cliff to Azazel as part of the Yom Kippur service (see Vayikra 16:5-22).

    The Gemara on today’s daf asks when the se’ir hamishtale’aḥ applies. If the person did not do teshuva, why should it be effective for him? Would it not be placed in the category of zevaḥ resha’im to’evah (the sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination – see Mishle 21:27)? On the other hand, if he did teshuva, then why is Yom Kippur special? A person can repent on any day of the year!

    Rabbi Zeira explains that this Mishna follows the ruling of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, who taught that the sacrifices brought on Yom Kippur are so powerful that they will effect kappara for all sins, even if the individual is omed be-mardo – if he persists in his rebellion. The only exceptions are sins of throwing off the yoke of Heaven (i.e. denying the existence of God), belittling the Torah and rejecting the commandment of circumcision, which will only be forgiven if the individual does teshuva.

    Rashi explains that according to Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi the concept of zevaḥ resha’im to’evah applies all year, but does not apply on Yom Kippur, which has a unique power of atonement. The Torat Ḥayyim points out that the language used by Rabbi Yehuda – that the person is omed be-mardo – indicates that even if he denies the power and holiness of Yom Kippur itself, he will be forgiven nonetheless.

  14. Shevuot 14a-b: Forgotten Ritual Defilement
    The second perek of Massekhet Shevuot, Perek Yediot HaTumah, begins on today’s daf, and continues the discussion of issues of ritual defilement.

    From the simple reading of the Torah (see Vayikra 5:2-3) it would seem that coming into physical contact with a dead creature that gives off ritual defilement is, itself prohibited. Nevertheless, the tradition of the Sages is that there is nothing inherently wrong with touching such a creature; the only prohibition is for someone who is ritually defiled through such contact to enter the Temple precincts or spread that tumah to something consecrated.

    The first Mishna repeats the teaching that appeared at the beginning of Massekhet Shevuot (see 2a), that the laws of yediot ha-tumah – recognizing that someone was ritually defiled and then interacted with the Temple or some consecrated object – have the same “two that are four” pattern that parallel the case of shevuot – oaths – in that they contain two basic concepts that include four ideas. The two concepts that are written in the Torah are that –
    1. he was aware that he was tameh, but then forgot, and touched or ate consecrated food
    2. he was aware that he was tameh, but then forgot, and entered the Temple
    The Sages then added two further laws –
    3. he was aware that he was tameh but forgot that this food is consecrated
    4. he was aware that he was tameh but forgot that this is the Temple.

    In all four of these cases, he would be obligated to bring a korban oleh ve-yored – a “sliding scale” sacrifice where a wealthy person will bring goat or a lamb, a middle income person will bring a dove and a poor person will bring a meal offering.

  15. Shevuot 15a-b: Holy Additions
    Most of us have probably experienced the need to expand our homes or to add on to the local synagogue as the community expands and there are needs that did not exist when the structure was first built. Can we do that to the Temple? Will the newly built area have the same level of holiness as the original structure?

    In the context of discussing where a person who is ritually defiled cannot enter in the Temple precincts, the Mishna teaches (14a) that the Temple can have additions built that will have the same level of holiness, but only if a specific formula was followed. In order for the addition to be made holy it must be consecrated in the presence of the king, a prophet, the Urim VeTummim, the full Sanhedrin of 71 Sages, and two thanksgiving sacrifices – all accompanied by the singing of the levi’im.

    The Gemara on today’s daf explains that the source for this is the passage written regarding the erection of the mishkan – the Tabernacle in the desert – ve-khen ta’asu – “so shall you do,” which is understood to mean that for all generations these elements are necessary in order to establish the holiness of the Temple.

    But how do we know that these elements were all there when the mishkan was first put up?

    The rishonim explain that Moshe played the role of both king and prophet, and his brother, Aharon was the High Priest who wore the Urim VeTummim. The Gemara appears to assume that the Sanhedrin was there, as well, although others suggest that Moshe embodied the full Sanhedrin, as is indicated in Massekhet Sanhedrin. The Gemara explains that establishment of the Second Temple is the source for needing the thanksgiving sacrifices (see Neḥemia 12:31).

  16. Shevuot 16a-b: Forever Holy
    As we learned on yesterday’s daf, in order to add to the Temple in a way that the addition will be made holy it must be consecrated in the presence of the king, a prophet, the Urim VeTummim, the full Sanhedrin of 71 Sages, and two thanksgiving sacrifices – all accompanied by the singing of the levi’im. The Mishna (14b) concludes that if this formula was not followed, the additional area does not have the full kedusha of the Temple, and someone who enters in a state of ritual defilement will not be obligated to bring an atonement.

    In today’s Gemara we find that Rav Huna understands that the Mishna requires that all of the different elements of the ceremony must be done; Rav Naḥman says that even having just one of them would suffice to give holiness to the new addition. The Gemara explains that their disagreement stems from a basic difference in how they view the holiness of the land of Israel after the destruction of the Temple that was followed by a mass exile. Rav Huna believes that the original kedusha remains forever and there was no real need to perform a ceremony when the Second Temple was erected. When we find in Sefer Neḥemia that they did have a ceremony, it was just a remembrance. Rav Naḥman believes that the original holiness no longer existed, so Ezra needed to perform the ceremony in order to ensure that there would be kedusha in the Second Temple.

    The idea that the holiness given to the Land of Israel may have been established in such a way that it would last forever is subject to a dispute among the Tanna’im and Amorai’m, and extends to the rishonim, as well.

    Tosafot accept the simple reading of the Gemara, which seems to view the holiness of the Land of Israel and that of Jerusalem as being the same, so if the destruction of the Temple removes the holiness from the Land, it does so for Jerusalem as well. The Rambam, on the other hand, sees the two as distinct and rules that even if the holiness of the Land is removed, kedushat Yerushalayim – which stems from the presence of God – can never be removed. With the return of the Jews to Israel under Ezra HaSofer and the building of the second Temple, the center of the kedusha was the rebuilt Temple – the seat of the Almighty – and the rest of the Land derived its holiness from Jerusalem. Thus the Rambam rules that even with the destruction of the Temple, kedushat Ezra remains forever.

  17. Shevuot 17a-b: Time to Bow
    As we have learned, the Temple precincts have a high level of kedusha – of holiness – and someone who is tameh, that is he has become ritually defiled by contact with a dead person or animal, cannot enter. What if someone enters the Temple while ritually pure and suddenly becomes tameh? What should he do in such a situation?

    The Mishna (14b) requires such a person to leave in the most direct way possible. If he does so, he is not obligated to bring a sin-offering. If he stops to bow, however, or if he stops a long enough time to bow down, or if he chooses a longer path to leave, then he is obligated to bring a sin-offering.

    On today’s daf Rava asks what the halakha would be regarding a person who suspends himself in the air above the Temple. Would the same rules apply? The Gemara concludes teiku – the question stands and there is no clear conclusion.

    Rava’s question is unclear. One version of the text seems to present the question as asking whether the air above the area of the Temple has the same laws as the Temple itself. Tosafot object to that reading, arguing that that question was discussed and decided in Massekhet Zevaḥim (32a) where the clear ruling is that someone who places his hand in the air of the Temple would be held liable for doing so.

    The text as it appears in our Gemara presents Rava’s question as focusing on bowing down. The R”i Migash explains the question as asking whether “the amount of time of bowing” is the description of what is considered a significant length of time as far as the Temple is concerned, or is there a real requirement that it be possible for the person to bow down – something that he cannot do while suspended in mid-air – and he would not be held liable in such a case. Tosafot HaRosh approach the question differently and say that Rava was asking whether “the amount of time of bowing” is the description of what is considered a significant length of time as far as the Temple is concerned, or, perhaps that only applies on the ground where bowing is possible. In the air, however, where a person cannot bow, he would transgress immediately.

    As noted, the Gemara comes to no conclusion regarding this question.

  18. Shevuot 18a-b: A Time of Separation
    Sexual relations when a woman is a nidda – from the time when her period begins until she goes to the mikveh after it is over – is forbidden. Transgressing that negative commandment carries with it the punishment of karet – the people will be “cut off” from the community. The Mishna (14b) discusses the case of someone who transgresses a positive commandment of nidda, and explains that the positive commandment is when a couple is engaged in permissible intercourse, and the woman suddenly realizes that she has become a nidda. When she informs the man of her status, his obligation is to remain in place until his erection is lost in order to avoid sexual pleasure with a nidda.

    This parallels the case of the individual who enters the Temple and becomes tameh while he is there, since in both cases the entry was permissible, and the problem developed at a later time. The difference is that in the Temple, the man who became ritually defiled must leave as quickly as possible, while in the case of the nidda the recommendation is to wait until it is appropriate to leave.

    Following this discussion, the Gemara on today’s daf brings a baraita that quotes Rabbi Yoshiya as teaching that the passage in Sefer Vayikra (15:31) warns husbands to refrain from intimacy with their wives when their period approaches. In other words, it is essential for a woman to track her period so that the couple will know when to anticipate its arrival and avoid intimacy for a half day prior to that time.

    Most of the rishonim do not believe that Rabbi Yoshiya’s teaching is a biblical law, rather it is a rabbinic ordinance that was attached to a passage in the Torah. Others suggest that the biblical law would forbid intimacy only at the time that the period was expected, and the rabbinic addition is to extend that time by half a day. It should be noted that this rule limiting intimacy before the expected period refers only to sexual relations; other interactions between husband and wife remain permitted.

  19. Shevuot 19a-b: False Oaths
    The third perek of Massekhet Shevuot begins on today’s daf and with it the Gemara turns its attention to the main subject of the tractate – the issue of oaths – a topic discussed in a number of places in the Torah.

    In the Ten Commandments (see Shemot 20:6) the Torah forbids taking God’s Name in vain, which is understood to be referring to the context of an oath. In Sefer Vayikra the Torah forbids false oaths (see Vayikra 19:12). These types of oaths are referred to by the Sages as shevuot shav.

    In Sefer Vayikra (5:4-10) the Torah also requires that someone who takes an oath le-hara o le-hetiv – committing to perform a positive act or to refrain from doing something – fulfill his statement. This is referred to by the Sages as a shevuat bituy.

    Shevuat bituy refers to a situation where a person makes a positive or a negative statement, either regarding past events or future ones. If it was made regarding the future, it is similar to a vow, and will be treated as a false oath if he does not fulfill the statement that he made. The difference between a shevua and a neder lies in the fact that a shevua is what a person accepts upon himself, while a neder relates to the object under discussion, and in the different sacrifices that are brought if they are not fulfilled. If the shevuat bituy was made regarding past events, if his statement was false, he is held liable immediately – if it was done knowingly, he will receive malkot (lashes) and if unknowingly, he will have to bring a sacrifice according to his financial standing.

    Shevuat shav is a type of false oath, when a person takes an oath that he will do something that cannot be done, or if he tries to affirm a false statement that he made by means of an oath or if he swears for no reason at all. In these situations he will be liable to receive malkot if he did it knowingly; if unknowingly there is no punishment.

  20. Shevuot 20a-b: False and In Vain
    In the Torah we find that it is forbidden to take a shevuat sheker – a false oath (see Vayikra 19:12) – and also a shevuat shav – an oath taken in vain (see Shemot 20:6). What is the difference between them?

    Rav Dimi quotes Rabbi Yoḥanan as teaching that a shevuat sheker is a false oath taken regarding the future that is not kept, while a shevuat shav is an oath in vain about something that happened in the past. The Gemara on today’s daf challenges this opinion with a baraita that teaches that these two are the same, but explains that this means that the two were taught simultaneously – they were said at the same time in a manner that allowed the listener to realize that two similar laws were being taught and understand the nuance of difference between them.

    A parallel teaching that uses this same concept is the divergent readings in the Ten Commandments, where we find that there are differences between the “first tablets” in Sefer Shemot (chapter 20) and the “second tablets” in Sefer Devarim (chapter 5). One of those differences relates to Shabbat, which we are commanded to “observe” (shamor) and to “remember” (zakhor). The explanation is that these two concepts were said simultaneously (shamor ve-zakhor be-dibur eḥad), from where we derive laws like the fact that women are obligated in Kiddush on Shabbat.

    The challenge regarding women and Shabbat stems from the fact that Shabbat appears to be a mitzvat aseh she-hazeman gerama – a positive commandment dependent on time – a type of commandment from which women are usually exempt. The Gemara teaches that since shamor – which refers to the negative commandments of Shabbat – and zakhor – which refers to the positive commandments, like Kiddush – are viewed as connected since they were uttered simultaneously, they are seen as coming into effect together. For this reason, women, who are obligated in refraining from the negative commandments of Shabbat, are required to perform the positive commandments, as well.

  21. Shevuot 21a-b: Speech as Action
    Generally speaking, as we learned in Massekhet Makkot, punishments meted out by Jewish courts were given only when the perpetrator committed an act forbidden by the Torah. If, however, the person neglected to perform a positive commandment, the Torah does not punish him in any way (although the Sages enacted punishments whose aim was to encourage performance of positive mitzvot). Similarly, negative commandments that do not involve forbidden actions – referred to in the Gemara as lav she-ein bo ma’aseh – are not punishable, since there was no forbidden action that was done.

    Where do false oaths fit in? Since an oath usually involves speech with no action, is it considered to be a lav she-ein bo ma’aseh, or, perhaps, the act of speaking is considered significant?

    On today’s daf Rabbi Yehuda is brought quoting Rabbi Yosei HaGelili as teaching that there are three exceptions to the rule of no punishment for a lav she-ein bo ma’aseh. The three exceptions are nishba (taking a false oath), meimar (announcing one’s intent to switch one consecrated animal for another) u’mekalel et ḥaveiro ba-shem (cursing one’s fellow while invoking the name of God).

    It appears, somewhat counter-intuitively, that the Gemara does not consider speech to be an action, yet nevertheless, these types of speech are presented by the Torah as exceptions to the rule and malkot (lashes) will be given to someone who transgresses them.

    In explaining the unique punishment of malkot for a false oath, Rabbi Yoḥanan quotes Rabbi Shimon bar Yoḥai as teaching that the source is the passage in the Ten Commandments where we find that God will offer no atonement for someone who takes his name in vain (see Shemot 20:6). From this they infer that while there is no heavenly atonement offered, atonement can be made by means of punishment meted out by the courts.

    Tosafot point out that there are other examples of speech for which punishment is given, e.g. eidim zomemin (witnesses that are found to be testifying falsely since they were not at the scene that they describe) or motzi shem ra (someone who falsely accuses his wife of premarital infidelity), and explain that in those cases the Torah itself clearly states the punishments associated with those statements.

  22. Shevuot 22a-b: Broken Oaths and Sacrifices
    According to Rabbi Akiva in the Mishna (19b), if someone takes a shevua, saying that he will not eat, if he eats even a tiny amount he has broken his oath and he will be obligated to bring a sacrifice. The Sages disagree with Rabbi Akiva, arguing that the minimum amount that a person must eat in order to be obligated is a ke-zayit – food the size of an olive – and we never find that someone is liable for eating less than that amount. Rabbi Akiva responds to that argument saying that we never find that someone is obligated to bring a sacrifice simply because of something that he said, yet we find that to be true in the case of a shevua. Therefore we can conclude that the sacrifice is not brought because of what he ate so much as because he has broken his oath, and the amount that he ate is irrelevant.

    The dialogue between Rabbi Akiva and the Sages continues in the Gemara on today’s daf. Several more cases are brought where we find that someone will bring a sacrifice simply because of statements that he made. For example:

    Megaddef – someone who blasphemes, who curses God accidentally. In that case Rabbi Akiva rules that the person who did this must bring a sacrifice. In response Rabbi Akiva argues that the megaddef brings the sacrifice because of the sin that he did, not because of the statement that he made.

    Nazir – a Nazirite brings a sacrifice at the close of his nezirut. Here Rabbi Akiva explains that the sacrifice does not come because of his statement; its purpose is to allow him to drink wine.

    Hekdesh – someone who consecrates an animal to the Temple will have to bring a sacrifice if he makes use of it for mundane purposes. Rabbi Akiva explains that in that case once he has consecrated the animal the same rule applies to all, and the sacrifice that he brings is not unique to him.

    Konamot – when someone makes a neder he must “attach” it to some object that represents the source of the prohibition. Thus a typical neder would be “This will be forbidden to me like a korban.” The Mishna in Massekhet Nedarim teaches that the word konam was considered an appropriate substitute for korban. Taking such a vow would create a situation where for the person who made the neder the object would be considered consecrated, while for the rest of the world it remains ordinary. To this challenge Rabbi Akiva responds that he does not view the case as being literally a korban, and the person who made something konam would not be required to bring a sacrifice.

  23. Shevuot 23a-b: The Forbidden Vs. The Inedible
    According to the Mishna (22b), if someone takes an oath not to eat or drink, and then he ate or drank things that are not edible, he would not be held liable for his shevua. If, on the other hand, he ate and drank foods that are forbidden, like nevelot, terefot, shekatzim u’remasim – animals that were not slaughtered properly or creepy crawly creatures forbidden by the Torah – he would be held liable. Rabbi Shimon disagrees and frees the individual from responsibility for a shevua in the latter case, since he is liable for another reason – he is mushba ve-omed me-har Sinai – he had a standing oath forbidding him from eating these things from the time of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.

    The Gemara on today’s daf asks why the first tanna distinguishes between food that is not edible and food that is forbidden, since from a halakhic perspective, forbidden food is also not considered edible!

    Rashi explains that this question was raised for discussion, but that really the difference between the two is clear. In the first case we are discussing someone who ate non-foods, e.g., he ate dirt or drank kerosene, while in the second case what is being eaten is real food that a Jew is not allowed to eat, but is perfectly edible to others. Others suggest that these differences notwithstanding, the Gemara can be explained otherwise. When a person takes a shevua, swearing that he will not eat, we must try to understand what his intention was. Logically it makes sense that he means to say that he will not eat food that is ordinarily eaten, without distinguishing between food that cannot be eaten because it is inedible and food that cannot be eaten because it is forbidden to eat.

  24. Shevuot 24a-b: Piling on the Prohibitions
    Can someone add shevuot on to existing shevuot? Can he “pile on” additional prohibitions to ones that exist already?

    The Gemara on today’s daf introduces us to two concepts that may allow him to do just that: issur kollel and issur mosif.

    Issur kollel means an inclusive prohibition. In a case of issur kollel we do not find an extra prohibition added, rather the new issur expands the context of the already existing prohibition so that this activity is now included under a different category at the same time that it retains its original prohibition. An example of this is a nevela – non-kosher meat that is forbidden in-and-of itself – that is eaten on Yom Kippur. Since Yom Kippur creates a situation wherein all food is prohibited, the nevela will gain a second prohibition in addition to its basic prohibition.

    Issur mosif means an additional, or expanded, prohibition. There are some cases where the issur does not fall under a larger category that adds a prohibition to it, rather there is an actual addition made to it that did not exist beforehand. One example of this is a situation where the prohibition becomes more severe, e.g. where originally there was a prohibition forbidding food to be eaten and now we find that it is also forbidden to derive any benefit from this food. Another example is where the prohibition now covers more people than it did beforehand, e.g. when someone gets married, his mother-in-law is forbidden to him, although she is permitted to the rest of the world (assuming that she is not married). Once she gets married, the prohibition no longer applies to him only, she is now forbidden to everyone in the world as a married woman.

    Tosafot point out that we find some opinions that believe that in the case of issur mosif we will find one prohibition added to the existing one, but reject that same possibility in the case of issur kollel.

  25. Shevuot 25a-b: An Oath He Cannot Keep
    We have already noted the basic difference between a neder and a shevua that is commented on by the Gemara. While a neder acts on an object (e.g. a person declares that meat is forbidden to him), a shevua acts on the person (e.g. he accepts upon himself a prohibition that will keep him from eating meat).

    The case of the Mishna on today’s daf, where someone takes a shevua that he will not sleep, will only work if it is an oath, since “sleep” is not an object, and it can only become forbidden by means of a shevua (which will create a prohibition on the person keeping him from sleeping).

    The Gemara points out a problem with the Mishna’s ruling that an oath against sleeping takes effect. Rabbi Yoḥanan teaches with regard to shevuot that a person who takes an oath not to sleep for three days is understood to have taken a false shevua – since it is impossible to go without sleep for 72 hours. Therefore, rather than forcing him to attempt the impossible we punish him immediately (for having made a false shevua) and allow him to sleep whenever he wants. The Gemara explains that our Mishna is talking about a case where the person did not specify how long he planned to remain awake, so he will be able to fulfill his oath.

    The rishonim are sensitive to the fact that an open-ended shevua sounds as if it should last even longer than three days. While Rabbeinu Ḥananel says that we must be dealing with a case where the person specified an amount of time less than three days, the Rashba suggests that in a situation where the person cannot fulfill the oath that he took, it will be defined as applying only for as long as it is feasible.

    In theory it is possible for a person to go without sleep for a period of three days if he is constantly prodded and woken by others whenever he begins to doze off. Nevertheless, withholding sleep from someone for that length of time will likely cause long-term physical and psychological damage, which the Talmudic Sages could not condone.

  26. Shevuot 26a-b: Breaking an Oath
    What if someone’s oath leads to a situation that puts him in danger or makes him uncomfortable?

    This is the question posed by Ravina to Rava. If someone swore not to eat a loaf of bread and then was forced to eat it because otherwise his life would have been in danger, would he need to bring a sacrifice for having broken his oath, or would the circumstances that brought him to eat it save him from having to do so?

    Rava answers that the person should simply have the oath annulled, since the laws of piku’aḥ nefesh – life threatening situations – would allow for any mitzva to be “pushed aside,” and Rashi points out that if the oath would be annulled in any case, then if he accidentally broke his oath he will not be held liable.

    The Gemara then restates the question: What if someone who takes an oath to refrain from eating a loaf of bread then finds that keeping it makes him very uncomfortable? If he ultimately eats it accidentally will he need to bring a sacrifice? In response Rava quotes a baraita that only someone who forgot his oath will bring a sacrifice, but if he is aware of it them he will not bring a sacrifice.

    Rashi explains this as follows. The question was: In a case where someone’s oath to refrain from eating the loaf makes him so uncomfortable that he would eat the bread purposefully, if he ultimately eats it accidentally, should we suggest that he be considered to have done it on purpose, since he would have done it anyway? Rava’s answer is that, in fact, such a person cannot be considered to be a shogeg – someone who does this accidentally.

    The Rambam explains that the “accident” is that the person who took the oath is convinced that he does not need to keep his word, since he is so uncomfortable. Would such a person bring a sacrifice? Rava’s answer is that such a person cannot be considered to have done this accidentally, since he is fully cognizant of his oath.

  27. Shevuot 27a-b: An Oath to Perform Mitzvot
    The opening Mishna on today’s daf teaches that if someone took an oath to perform a mitzva or to neglect a mitzva, the oath has no meaning and the person would not be held liable for a wrongful oath even if he did not fulfill what he said.

    In his Commentary to the Mishna, the Rambam explains that if someone swears to neglect to perform a mitzva he will not be held liable because the passage in the Torah regarding such an oath limits it to situations where the person can choose le-hara o leheitiv – that the individual controls whether to perform that particular action or not (see Vayikra 5:4). When a person swears that he will not perform a mitzva, since he cannot do so, the laws regulating this type of an oath will not apply. It should be noted, however, that the laws of shevuat shav will apply, since he invoked God’s name in vain when taking an oath that he could not keep.

    In the case where he swore to fulfill a mitzva, again the laws of a wrongful oath will not apply, since he had no choice but to fulfill the mitzva. In this case, however, he will not be held liable for a shevuat shav, since a person is allowed to make use of oaths or vows in order to encourage himself to fulfill commandments.

    The Mishna presents this ruling in contrast with the opinion of Rabbi Yehuda ben Beteira who believes that the laws of wrongful oaths do apply to someone who swears to fulfill a mitzva. His logic is that if a person will be held liable if he does not uphold a voluntary oath that he takes upon himself, how much more will he be responsible if he does not uphold an oath that is taken regarding a mitzva that he is already sworn to fulfill, that is, the commitment taken by every Jewish person on Mount Sinai.

  28. Shevuot 28a-b: A Second Vow of Nezirut
    The Gemara on today’s daf discusses a case where a person accepts upon himself two consecutive periods of nezirut (under ordinary circumstances, a nazir must go thirty days without cutting his hair, drinking wine or coming into contact with the dead – see Bamidbar chapter 6). If, upon completing the first thirty days the nazir successfully petitions to have his first vow of nezirut annulled, then the time that he kept the laws of nezirut will be applied to his second vow and he has completed his obligation.

    At first the Gemara tries to limit this ruling to a situation where the first nezirut was not fully completed, e.g. cases where the final sacrifices had not yet been brought, or the closing ceremony of cutting the nazir‘s hair had not yet be fulfilled. Rav Ashi, however, rejects these limitations and argues that the case of a nazir is unique, since it is only the first nezirut that keeps the second one from beginning. Once the first one is removed the second one can replace it.

    Rav Ashi’s explanation is understood in a number of different ways.

    Rashi explains that even though this person had fully completed his first commitment as a nazir, nevertheless that vow still remains inasmuch as it keeps the second vow of nezirut from beginning. Once the first vow is removed, the second one immediately takes effect. The Ritva suggests that there is an element of fulfillment of the second vow of nezirut even during the period when the first nezirut is taking place. Therefore we view the two commitments as somewhat intertwined and we do not distinguish between the counting of the days for the first vow or for the second vow. Thus, when the first vow is annulled, it is clear that the second vow of nezirut has already been fulfilled and there is no need to complete it a second time.

  29. Shevuot 29a-b: Swearing About the Impossible
    The Mishna on today’s daf brings a number of examples of shevuat shav – an oath taken in vain. These include:

    Swearing that something is not what everyone knows it to be (e.g. that a stone pillar is made of gold)
    Swearing about something that is impossible (e.g. that he saw a camel flying in the air).
    It is interesting to note that although a person who takes such a shevuat shav will be liable to bring a sacrifice, had he taken a neder such as this, he would not be held responsible in any way, as we would assume that he is simply exaggerating, or speaking in a manner that is not serious.

    Why is there a difference between shevuot and nedarim with regard to these types of statements?

    One approach suggested by Tosafot is that when discussing nedarim, we are inclined to pay attention to the way people ordinarily speak. Since we know that people exaggerate, we will assume that that was his intention. Shevuot, on the other hand, which include invoking the name of God, are treated in a more serious manner. Rabbeinu Ḥananel adds that this type of oath is the one that is specifically referred to in the Ten Commandments (see Shemot 20:6).

    The Talmud Yerushalmi quotes two different baraitot regarding these issues – one of them appears to hold the individual liable for making such a shevuat shav, while the other one appears to free him of any responsibility. The Yerushalmi distinguishes between cases by saying that it depends whether the person was ma’amid – if he “stands” – or not. This is explained as follows: If a person says a wild exaggeration and is challenged, if he recants then we understand that it was merely an exaggeration and he is not liable. If, however, he insists that what he said is true, and swears that it is so, then he is held liable for having taken a shevuat shav.

  30. Shevuot 30a-b: The Oath of Testimony
    The fourth perek of Massekhet Shevuot begins on today’s daf, and – as its name Shevuat HaEdut (The Oath of Testimony) indicates – its focus is on oaths taken in response to a demand that someone testify about something that he witnessed, and he refuses to testify. This law is based on the passage in Sefer Vayikra (5:1).

    The Mishna opens by listing who is included in this law and who is exempt from it. Thus, the law applies only to men and not to women, it does not apply to relatives who cannot testify nor to people who are removed from testimony because of forbidden acts that they committed (e.g. if they are robbers).

    The rishonim ask why we need a list of people who can and cannot testify, rather than sufficing with a simple statement that the law applies only to people who, theoretically, would be accepted as witnesses in a Jewish court. They explain that there are a number of situations where a person would be allowed to testify based on Torah law, but the Sages prohibited him from acting as a witness. The Mishna needs to spell out cases in order to emphasize that even though they are acceptable on a Torah level, we will not apply the laws of shevuat ha-edut to them since we would not accept their testimony in court.

    Rabbi Akiva Eiger points out that there are cases where a woman’s testimony would be accepted in court – e.g. a case of sota. Why don’t these laws apply to a woman who has witnessed something about which she can testify? He argues that the passage in the Torah emphasizes that these laws apply to an ed – someone who is a kosher witness. When a woman’s testimony is accepted in a Jewish court it is because she is a proper witness so much as it is because there are other factors that allow the beit din to accept her words.

  31. Shevuot 31a-b: Distance Yourself From a False Matter
    Mi-devar sheker tirḥak – “Distance yourself from a false matter” (Shemot 23:7).

    The Gemara on today’s daf offers a series of applications of this passage.

    Among them we find:

    When a teacher says to his student “you know that I would not lie, even if I was offered money; I have only a single witness to a loan that I made – please join the witness in testifying on my behalf” – how do we know it is forbidden to do so?

    Mi-devar sheker tirḥak

    When a judge hears testimony and know that the witnesses are lying, how do we know that he should not say “since the witnesses are testifying, I will rule accordingly and the responsibility will rest on their shoulders” (the language of the Gemara is that the kolar will be hung on the necks of the witnesses – a kolar being a metal chain that was put around the neck of prisoners)?

    Mi-devar sheker tirḥak

    When two litigants approach the court, one who is dressed in rags and the other dressed in expensive finery, how do we know that the court insists that the wealthy litigant either matches the clothing of the poor one or else must dress the poor man in appropriate garments?

    Mi-devar sheker tirḥak

    In this last case, the concern is that when the two litigants are dressed in radically different manners, the court will be unable to remain objective unless the discrepancy between them is minimized. The Ritva points out that the wealthy litigant will not be required to dress the poor man in an equivalent manner to himself, but the difference between them must be less obvious. The Ri”d argues that this ruling applies only if the wealthy litigant is the claimant, but if he is the defendant he will not be required to help his adversary with his dress; the Ri”az, however, disagrees with that position.

  32. Shevuot 32a-b: Taking Back One’s Own Property
    The Gemara on today’s daf relates the following case:

    A certain person grabbed a silver piece from his friend. He was brought before Rabbi Ami and Rabbi Abba was sitting before him. The claimant brought a single witness who testified that the defendant had taken the silver piece from him, a claim to which the defendant readily agreed saying: “Yes, I took it, but I was only taking back property that belonged to me!”

    Hearing the exchange of claims, Rabbi Ami mused: “How should the judges rule on this case? On the one hand, we cannot make him pay, since there is only a single witness. On the other hand, we cannot trust him to take an oath that he took what belonged to him (the ordinary ruling in a case where there is a single witness) since he has admitted that he is a thief?” Rabbi Abba responded that we will make him pay for the silver, since he is someone who is obligated to take an oath, and anyone who is obligated to take an oath and cannot do so, must pay.

    One question raised regarding Rabbi Ami’s musing is his assumption that the defendant cannot be trusted since he admitted his guilt in taking the silver. In fact, the defendant claims that his actions were totally within his rights, since he was just taking back his property, and there is only a single witness who accuses him of wrongdoing. Some manuscripts leave out the argument that the defendant is considered to be a thief, and instead simply have the Gemara read “he admits it.” The meaning of this statement becomes that he must pay since he cannot swear regarding this case. His inability to swear does not stem from the fact that he is a thief, rather it is because he cannot deny the testimony of the witness, since he has already admitted that what the witness said is true – he did take the silver.

  33. Shevuot 33a-b: A Witness in Part
    According to the Mishna on today’s daf the halakhot of shevuat ha-eidut – the laws governing cases where a person refuses to offer testimony, swearing that he does not have information that would be useful in court – only apply to monetary cases. Thus, were someone to swear that he had no information about whether someone was a kohen or a levi, even if he was lying, the laws of shevuat ha-eidut would not apply.

    Several possible sources for this law are mentioned in the Gemara, among them the teaching of Rabbi Yosei HaGelili, who examines the passage upon which these laws are based. In Sefer Vayikra (5:1) we find that someone who is a witness, that is, he saw an event or knows about it, will be held liable if he does not testify. Rabbi Yosei HaGelili derives from this that these laws apply only in cases where it is possible that a witness can see without knowing or know without seeing. These criteria can only be met in monetary cases. Only there can we find cases where:

    The witness can know without seeing, e.g. in a case where the defendant admits owing money to the plaintiff, the witness can testify that he heard the admission.
    The witness can see without knowing, e.g. when he sees money being counted out and handed to someone, but he does not know why the transfer is taking place. Is he lending money? Paying off a debt? Paying for a purchase?
    This latter case demands explanation, for if the witness only knows that money changed hands but does not know why the exchange was made, how can he testify?

    Rashi explains that we are talking about a case where the defendant says: “if so-and-so testifies that he saw you give me money, then I will pay you.” Others object to this explanation, since in such a case the obligation stems more from the defendant’s statement than the actual testimony.

    The Ramban and the R”i MiGash suggest that we are talking about a case where the defendant denies ever having received any money from the plaintiff, and the testimony of these witnesses will prove that he is a liar and cannot be trusted.

  34. Shevuot 34a-b: Seeing Without Knowing
    As we learned on yesterday’s daf the halakhot of shevuat ha-eidut – the laws governing cases where a person refuses to offer testimony, swearing that he does not have information that would be useful in court – only apply to monetary cases. Rabbi Yosei HaGelili derives this from the passage in the Torah (Sefer Vayikra 5:1) where we see that these laws apply only in cases where it is possible that a witness can see without knowing or know without seeing. Such criteria can only be met in monetary cases.

    In today’s Gemara, Rav Pappa suggests to Abaye that according to Rav Aḥa there may be cases where we find that witnesses can fulfill the need to know even without seeing, even in cases other than monetary cases. For with regard to a case where we see a camel in heat which becomes violent, should we discover that a nearby camel was trampled to death we can say with certainty that it was the camel who had been acting strangely who did it. Similarly Rav Aḥa would rule in a case where we find a person stabbed to death and another standing above him holding the bloody knife, that we can act with certainty and rule that he is the murderer, even if the witness did not see him commit the crime.

    The Gemara rejects this assertion, arguing that Rabbi Yosei HaGelili might accept Rav Aḥa’s ruling, but that we will still be unable to find a case where the witness sees the event but does not know the details in anything but monetary cases. This cannot be the case in capital cases, since the witness may see the murder take place, but he cannot know whether the victim was Jewish or not or whether the victim was healthy or, perhaps, he was a tereifa who would not live out the year, and therefore the murderer would not be liable.

    Tosafot point out that ordinarily we do not concern ourselves with the unlikely possibility that someone might be a tereifa, since the vast majority of people are healthy. They answer that we must be talking about a case where there are two people in front of us and we know that one of them is a tereifa. According to the Ramban we are discussing a case where the victim had a clear condition that may, or may not, have made him a tereifa.

  35. Shevuot 35a-b: Promises, Promises
    According to the Mishna on today’s daf if someone promises to give his friend a monetary gift, it does not have the same significance as someone who actually owes that amount of money to the person. Therefore, if the individual who claims that he was promised a gift demands that the witnesses to the promise step forward and testify, should the witnesses decline to testify, the halakhot of shevuat ha-eidut – the laws governing cases where a person refuses to offer testimony, swearing that he does not have information that would be useful in court – would not apply.

    Essentially, what the Mishna is teaching – as is noted in the Talmud Yerushalmi – is that a person who makes such a promise retains the right to renege on his promise as long as he has not given the present. The R”i MiGash goes so far as to rule that even if a formal kinyan – a formal agreement made with a symbolic act such as a handshake or a symbolic transfer of some item – had been made, the person who made the promise can still back out, since the kinyan was not made on the actual money, rather it referred to the promise itself.

    The Tosafot Yom Tov adds that this ruling is true even in a case where the individual to whom the promise was made was a poor person, which may be considered a case where the promise was a promise of tzedaka – charity. Although the Jewish court could step in and obligate him to keep such a promise, nevertheless they can only do so by means of social coercion (e.g. a ban or excommunication), but they cannot actually make use of their judicial powers to confiscate the money from him and give it to the poor man. This shows that the promise does not create an actual monetary obligation.

  36. Shevuot 36a-b: The Universally Applicable Oath on a Deposit
    The fifth perek of Massekhet Shevuot, Perek Shevuat HaPikadon, begins on today’s daf. According to the Torah (Sefer Vayikra 5:21-26), if someone has received something to watch and denies having it when the owner asks to get it back, swearing falsely, he will be obligated not only to return the object, but he will also have to pay an additional 20% as a penalty, and bring an asham (guilt) sacrifice in addition. This law does not apply only to situations of pikadon (deposit) – when the person was watching the object for his friend – rather it applies to virtually all cases where a person is holding his friend’s property and swears falsely that he is not. In fact, the sacrifice that is brought is referred to as an asham gezeilot – an asham sacrifice brought as atonement for robbery (the laws of this sacrifice and the associated monetary penalty are discussed at length in the seventh perek of Massekhet Bava Kamma).

    According to the Mishna, the laws of shevuat ha-pikadon apply to both men and women, whether they are related or not, whether the defendant is someone who is reliable and believed by beit din or not. Rashi, as well as other commentaries, suggest that this list is unnecessary. Given that the halakha discussed here involves someone who denies a monetary obligation it should be obvious that it applies equally to all. They argue that the Mishna includes this list for stylistic reasons, specifically in order to parallel – or contrast with – the Mishna at the beginning of the last perek (30a), where we learn that shevuat ha-eidut does not apply to all people equally.

    The Tiferet Yisrael, however, suggests that there may be a reason to mention each of these cases specifically. Since in Talmudic times women did not ordinarily control their own finances, I might have thought that a claim against a woman was not a true monetary claim. Regarding relatives, I may have thought that since they were likely in a position to inherit that claimant, perhaps the law should not apply. Finally, I might have thought that those whose oath would not be accepted in court may not be held liable for any oath that they take.

  37. Shevuot 37a-b: An Unusual Torah Law
    As we learned on yesterday’s daf according to the Torah (Sefer Vayikra 5:21-26), if someone has received something to watch and denies having it when the owner asks to get it back, swearing falsely, he will be obligated not only to return the object, but he will also have to pay an additional 20% as a penalty, and bring an asham (guilt) sacrifice in addition.

    This Torah law is particularly unusual because these punishments – including the 20% penalty and the asham sacrifice – will be applied even in cases where the perpetrator has taken the false oath on purpose, while sacrifices for atonement are usually brought only when the sin was done accidentally. The Gemara on today’s daf quotes Rav Kahana as asking whether in a situation where all of the requirements were in place for actual punishment – where the witnesses warned the perpetrator that his action is forbidden and that he will be punished for it – will the sacrifice to suffice, or, perhaps it will be replaced by malkot – lashes – that are the ordinary punishment for such an act, or, perhaps we should require both malkot and korban.

    Rashi presents a question that is taken up by many of the rishonim – why does the Gemara raise this question here in the case of shevuat ha-pikadon, when a similar question could have been asked in the last chapter with regard to shevuat ha-eidim? When witnesses deny that they know testimony, and take an oath to that effect, they will be obligated to bring a korban shevua – a sacrifice as atonement – even if the false oath that they took was not accidental!

    Rashi argues that we cannot construct a case where witnesses will warn someone that they should not deny knowing testimony, since no one can ever be sure whether those people really can or cannot testify.

    Tosafot reject this explanation and suggest that the question does not apply in the case of witnesses who swear that they do not know testimony, since those witnesses can always claim that at the moment that they took their oath they forgot that they could be witnesses.

    The Ritva adds that while in the case of shevuat ha-eidim the witnesses can never know what the people who are denying their knowledge of testimony are thinking, in the case of shevuat ha-pikadon it is sufficient for the witnesses to say “do not take an oath, since we know that you are holding the other person’s property.”

    In any case, the Gemara does not come to a clear conclusion in response to Rav Kahana’s question, and the ruling that remains is that no malkot are given in a case of shevuat ha-pikadon; under all circumstances an asham sacrifice will be brought if someone holding property that belongs to another swears falsely that he does not have it in his possession.

  38. Shevuot 38a-b: An Oath on a Partial Claim
    The sixth perek of Massekhet Shevuot, Perek Shevuat HaDayyanim, begins on today’s daf. The focus of this perek is those oaths that the beit din will impose on a defendant in situations where we do not have two reliable witnesses testifying against him. The most common case of such an oath is when the defendant offers only a partial denial to the claim made against him.

    One enigmatic rule in Jewish law is the law that distinguishes between two different responses to an accusation that one person owes money to another. The halakha is that if the defendant denies it entirely we believe him without requiring him to bring any further proof; if he denies that he owes all of the money, but admits that he owes part of it, then he must pay the amount that he admits to and then take an oath that he does not owe any more.

    Why do we trust the individual who denies it all, while making the person who admits that he owes some of the money take an oath?

    This question is raised in Massekhet Bava Metzia (3a-b), where Rabbah teaches ḥazaka en adam me’iz panav lifne ba’al ḥovo – we work with the assumption that a person will not have the temerity to deny his obligation to the face of the lender. Rabbah explains the thinking of someone who is modeh be-miktzat – who admits to being partially responsible – as follows. Perhaps he really does owe the money, but he does not have enough to pay at this time. Since he cannot face the lender and deny it all, he admits to partial responsibility, assuring himself that when he has the means to pay the full amount he will do so.

    Rashi explains that Rabbah’s teaching of ḥazaka en adam me’iz panav lifne ba’al ḥovo is based on the fact that after the lender has done the borrower such a good turn by loaning him money (we must remember that biblical loans do not accrue interest and offer no advantage whatsoever to the lender), the borrower could not possibly deny his obligation. Tosafot and the Ramban argue that Rashi’s explanation cannot be true, because the law applies not only to loans, but also to cases like when the lender is holding collateral and in the face of accusations from the borrower admits to only part of the claim. Their explanation of this halakha is that since ḥazaka en adam me’iz panav lifne ba’al ḥovo a person is unwilling to totally deny a claim in the face of someone who knows the truth.

  39. Shevuot 39a-b: A Trick With a Stick
    The Mishna (35b) teaches that when the defendant is required to take an oath he is warned that the oath is not his own, but is a biblical requirement made by God and carried out by the court. The Gemara asks why such a warning is necessary, and explains that it is because of kanya d’Rava – Rava’s stick.

    The story is told at length in Massekhet Nedarim (25a).

    Two people were arguing. One claimed that he had lent money to the other; the second one claimed that the loan had been repaid. Rava ruled that the borrower had to swear that he had repaid the money. The borrower went home, hollowed out a stick, and placed all of the money that he owed into the stick. He returned to the courtroom leaning on the stick and volunteered to hold a sefer Torah and swear that the money had been returned. He asked the lender to hold the stick, ostensibly so that he could hold the Torah. Taking the Torah in his hand he said, “I have returned all of the money that I borrowed from this man; he now has them in his possession.” The lender – knowing that this claim was untrue – became angry and in his anger broke the stick that was in his hand. It then became clear that the oath taken by the borrower was technically true, even though it was an attempt at trickery.

    The Ge’onim explain that only in the case of an oath that is required by the Torah would a person hold the Torah in his hands while swearing; in cases where the oath is Rabbinic in nature, there is no need to hold a Torah. Thus, in our case, it would appear that there was no real need for the borrower to hold a Torah while swearing (someone who is a kofer ba-kol – one who denies that he owes anything – is only obligated to swear on a Rabbinic level).

    The Meiri explains simply that although he was not personally obligated to hold a sefer Torah in his hands, he wanted to do so, since he needed an excuse to hand the walking stick to the lender.

  40. Shevuot 40a-b: Admitting to Barley in the Face of a Claim of Wheat
    As we learned above (daf 38) the halakha is that a kofer bakol – a defendant who totally denies a monetary claim made against him – is believed without being required to bring any further proof; if he is modeh be-miktzat – he denies that he owes all of the money, but admits that he owes part of it – then he must pay the amount that he admits to and then take an oath that he does not owe any more.

    According to Shmuel, this ruling applies even in cases where the plaintiff demands two different things; for example, if he claimed that the defendant owed him wheat and barley and the defendant admitted only to the claim that he owed him wheat. Shmuel rules that he will have to pay the wheat that he owed and take an oath that he did not owe the barley.

    In a similar case Rav Anan quotes Shmuel as teaching that if the defendant was accused of owing wheat, and he immediately admitted to owing barley we check to see whether he appeared to be doing this in a tricky manner – in order to avoid being considered a modeh be-miktzat – or if he was clarifying the truth. If we find reason to suspect him, then he will be obligated to take an oath on the part that he denies, but if he appears honest in his admission it will suffice to pay the amount that he admits to.

    How do we decide if he is being honest or not?

    Rashi argues that it is entirely up to the beit din. The court can decide whether he was sincere in his admission or if he will be suspected of acting in this manner in order to avoid the oath that will be imposed on him as a modeh be-miktzat. If they feel that it was the latter situation, they can impose the oath on him. The Ramban says that we need to distinguish between a case where the plaintiff completed his accusation, claiming only that the defendant owed him wheat and the defendant admitted to barley and a case where the plaintiff was in the middle of his claim and the defendant jumped in to his words to make a different admission. In the former case we trust the defendant, while in the latter case his behavior will be viewed with suspicion.

  41. Shevuot 41a-b: Must a Loan Be Repaid in Front of Witnesses
    Must a loan be repaid in front of witnesses?

    When the original loan was made without witnesses, there is certainly no need for witnesses at the time of repayment. If, however, there were witnesses at the time when the loan was made, we find a difference of opinion in the Gemara. Rav Pappi quotes Rava as saying that in such a case the repayment must be made in front of witnesses, while Rav Pappa quotes Rava as saying that it does not need to be made in front of witnesses unless there was a specific condition made by the lender at the time that the loan was made. Even in such a case, if the borrower claims that he paid the loan back in front of witnesses, he will be believed even if he cannot produce them (e.g. if he says “I paid you back in front of witnesses but they have since traveled across the sea.”).

    Although our Gemara concludes with Rav Pappa’s statement that the borrower would be believed to say that he paid the loan back in front of witnesses, some of the rishonim had alternative readings of the Gemara. Rabbeinu Ḥananel as well as the Ri”f and the R”i Migash had manuscripts that concluded with Rav Pappa saying that the borrower is not believed to make such a claim. On the other hand, Rav Sa’adia Ga’on has the reading that appears in our Gemara, and the Rambam claims that he found 500 year-old manuscripts in Egypt that have that reading.

    The Sefer Hafla’ah suggests that that the difference of opinion on this matter stems from different understandings of the meaning of the condition that the lender made at the beginning of the loan. According to the Rambam, he simply was insisting that the repayment be made in a formal way – in front of witnesses – and if the borrower insists that he fulfilled that condition, we have no reason not to believe him. The Ri”f, however, understands that the original condition that was made showed that the borrower was not trusted by the lender, which is why he insisted on witnesses to the repayment. Thus, if the witnesses cannot be found, the borrower cannot be believed.

  42. Shevuot 42a-b: Biblical Oaths and Rabbinic Oaths
    The Mishna on today’s daf lists a number of items that will not be subject to Biblical oaths in beit din. Among them are slaves, financial documents, land, and consecrated items. Furthermore, in cases where these items are stolen, there is no payment of monetary penalties (for example, double payments when an object is stolen; payments of four or five times the capital when the stolen item was cattle or sheep). Thus, even in situations where ordinarily the Torah would require an oath, e.g. there was a single witness or the person was modeh be’mikzat – he admitted to owing part of the claim – no oath will be required in these cases.

    According to Rabbi Shimon, another case that is removed from the laws of oaths is a case of kodashim – consecrated items that belong to the Temple such that the person holding them is not responsible for them. If, however, he is responsible for them, i.e. he will have to replace them if the animal dies, then the laws of oaths will apply.

    The clear ruling of the Mishna notwithstanding, there was a well known tradition among the Ge’onim that required an oath in these cases on a Rabbinic level. Rav Hai Ga’on excluded kodashim from the Rabbinic oath, however, arguing that oaths only make sense in the context of a challenge or disagreement between people. The Rambam disagrees, requiring an oath even in cases where someone is challenged with regard to kodashim. He argues that we cannot allow people to take kodashim less seriously than they take ordinary monetary situations. The Ri”d distinguishes between a situation where the Temple treasurer is the suspect, where we do not require an oath and a case where an ordinary person is accused of stealing from the Temple, where under circumstances that would ordinarily require that an oath be taken, e.g. if a single witness testified that he stole, he would be required to take an oath on a Rabbinic level.

  43. Shevuot 43a-b: Measurement of a Claim
    We have already established that a modeh be-miktzat – a defendant who admits to part of a monetary claim made by the plaintiff – will have to pay what he admits that he owes, and in addition will have to take a Biblical oath that he does not owe the part that he denies.

    According to the Mishna (42b) there are certain limitations to this rule. Specifically, it only applies to claims that are measurable by size, weight or amount. On today’s daf Rava adds that not only the claim made by plaintiff, but also the admission of the defendant must meet this requirement. Thus, the case that is taught in the Mishna, where the claimant argues that he gave the defendant a kis maleh – a wallet that was entirely full – and in response the defendant says “I do not know what was in the wallet, but I am returning it as I received it,” would not be considered to be a case of modeh be-miktzat, even if it had less than the amount that the plaintiff claims was in it.

    The Gemara continues by quoting a baraita that supports Rava’s teaching. One of the examples presented by the baraita contrasts a case where the claim is made that a large menora was given for safekeeping and the defendant admits to having received a small menora vs. a case where the claim is made that a menora weighing ten litrim was given and the defendant admits to a menora of five litrim. In the first case there is no need for an oath to be taken, while the second case is considered modeh be-miktzat since the discussion was about the weight of the object.

    In explaining the difference between the two cases, Rabbi Shmuel bar Rav Yitzḥak suggests that we are dealing with a case of a menora shel ḥuliyot – a menora made of pieces – and that the plaintiff admitted to having received a smaller number of pieces than was claimed.

  44. Shevuot 44a-b: An Oath Allowing a Plaintiff to Collect
    Although the only oaths that we find in the Torah are those that allow a defendant to swear and free himself from a monetary obligation (see Shemot 22:10), nevertheless the Sages of the Mishna established oaths that would allow a plaintiff to swear and by doing so, to receive payment. These oaths are described in Perek Kol HaNishba’im, the seventh chapter of Massekhet Shevuot, which begins on today’s daf.

    There are a number of categories of people who are nishba ve-notel – who take an oath and collect their claim. One such situation is when there are raglayim la-davar – when there are strong reasons to think that the claim of the plaintiff has merit. Such cases include situations like an employee who claims his wages or a storekeeper whose records show that money is owed to him.

    Although the Mishna lists such cases with the words ve-elu nishba’im ve-notlim – “these are the ones who can take an oath and collect,” Tosafot point out that the list is not exhaustive, as we find other cases where a similar rule applies, e.g. a creditor who comes to collect from the children of the person who owes him money after his death.

    Tosafot explain that the cases listed in our Mishna are only those where the oath was instituted by the Sages for the benefit of the plaintiff, that is to say, cases where he would ordinarily have been unable to collect the money owed to him and the oath instituted by the Sages allows him to collect the money that he is owed. There are other cases of nishba ve-notel where the person should have been able to collect even without an oath, and the institution of an oath was an additional demand made on the plaintiff by the Sages. Such cases of nishba ve-notel are not included in our Mishna.

  45. Shevuot 45a-b: The Sages Defend Workers’ Rights
    As we learned on yesterday’s daf the Sages of the Mishna established oaths that would allow certain plaintiffs to take an oath and to collect money that is owed to them. Among the cases mentioned in the Mishna are a nigzal and neḥbal – someone who was the victim of theft or of violence that led to damage – as well as cases of a worker who claims wages that are due to him.

    The Gemara chooses to ask why this arrangement was made for a worker. Apparently the Gemara does not ask about cases of nigzal or neḥbal since in those cases we can well understand that the defendant is considered to be potentially unreliable, so the only one we can turn to for a reliable oath is the plaintiff. In the case of a worker and his employer, there is no reason to suspect that one is more reliable than the other, so why should we trust the oath of the worker rather than demand an oath from the employer that would free him of his obligation to pay? Such an oath would parallel the Biblical oaths that always free the defendant from paying!

    The first response of the Gemara is that this oath was instituted because the worker needs these wages in order to survive. In response to the challenge of the Gemara that the employer should not be punished out of concern for the needs of workers, the Gemara concludes that the oath is given to the worker since the employer is so overwhelmed with the responsibilities of his business and his workers that we assume that the worker is more likely to remember whether or not he was paid.

    Although the Gemara introduces this second reason with the word ela – “rather” – which usually indicates that the first reason is rejected and is replaced with the second reason, in this case many rishonim, including Rabbeinu Ḥananel, the Ri”f and the Ramban, view the two explanations as complementary. Thus, the establishment of an oath in the case of a dispute over wages was instituted because of the Sages concern for the livelihood of the worker; the reason that it was given to the worker rather than to the employer was because the Sages understood that the employer was less likely to remember since he was so busy tending to the affairs of his business.

  46. Shevuot 46a-b: Items Typically Lent or Rented
    In a situation where two people argue over the ownership of an object – one claims that he rented it or lent it to the other, and the second one says that he bought it – several different issues must be considered. For example, is this an object that is ordinarily rented or lent? Even terms like these need to be defined. While the Rambam understands that an object that is rented or lent refers only to things that are made specifically for that purpose, e.g. a very large pot that is not used for ordinary cooking, but would only be used when preparing for an out-of-the-ordinary meal. Such a pot would be purchased by someone specifically with the intent that it would be available to others for occasional use. Most rishonim, however, understand that concept more broadly and any item that is commonly lent to others would fall into that category.

    A specific example of something that is lent or rented is mentioned by the Gemara as something that Rava once collected from orphans – from the children of someone who had borrowed them from another. In that case he made them return a pair of scissors and books of aggadic teaching, both of which are identified as things that are commonly lent or rented.

    Rashi understands that the books of aggadic teachings are the only books that we anticipate that someone would lend out, since they are used only occasionally. Books on topics of halakha, however, which are referred to on a regular basis, we assume would not be lent to others, since they would become worn with use. Tosafot reject Rashi’s interpretation and argue that books of aggadic teachings are mentioned because we may have thought that they were not lent to others since they are studied only occasionally. Other books that are commonly referred to are certainly lent out. The Ri”d distinguishes between a Sefer Torah that is not readily lent to others, since there is concern with the erasure of even a single letter; other books, however, are commonly lent without concern.

  47. Shevuot 47a-b: Those Who Cannot Be Trusted
    Among the people who are nishba ve-notel – who can take an oath affirming the veracity of their claim and collect – are plaintiffs whose adversaries in court are people who are suspect and cannot take an oath themselves. Thus, in cases where the defendant would ordinarily have been obligated to take an oath and free himself from payment, if the defendant is a gambler like a dice player, or mafriḥei yonim – “people who make birds fly” – he cannot. Similarly, if he is someone who markets produce from the Sabbatical year, the plaintiff will take an oath in court and collect.

    The Gemara in Massekhet Sanhedrin (25a) offers two explanations for mafriḥei yonim – “people who make birds fly.” One approach is to explain that it is pigeon racing; the other approach suggests that it is ara – that is, training a pigeon to entice other birds to follow it. The Ran explains that these two reasons are dependent on how we define the underlying problem with gambling. The Mishna taught that a mesaḥek be-kuvya – a dice player – is disqualified from testifying in court. Rami bar Ḥama taught that the problem with a dice player is one of asmakhta – when gambling, neither side thinks that he will lose which will lead to a situation where the winner takes the loser’s money against his will. It is possible that in different types of betting players recognize different levels of possibility that they might lose. The Mishna therefore needs to mention different types of gambling separately. Rav Sheshet, on the other hand, taught that the problem with a dice player is that he is eino osek be-yishuvo shel olam – that someone who makes his living by gambling is not involved in positive community activities. This explanation applies equally to dice playing and pigeon racing, so according to this approach we must have an alternative explanation for the case of mafriḥei yonim.

    The practice of ara – where a hunter trains his animals to entice others to return with it – would be permissible in settings where the animal brings wild animals back to its owner. The problem comes when the trained bird entices domesticated birds to return with it. Those domesticated birds that grow up in dovecotes are considered to be the property of the person who raises them – at least on a rabbinic level. Thus, someone who lives in a city or another populated area and trains his birds to bring home other birds, is assumed to be a thief and cannot be trusted to testify in court.

  48. Shevuot 48a-b: Requiring an Oath Without a Claim
    According to the Mishna there are a number of people who the court will require to take an oath even though there is no claim against them. These people include:

    Partners
    Sharecroppers who get a percentage of the produce
    An apotropus – a legal guardian appointed by a parent or by the courts to protect the interests of orphans
    A woman who is in charge of the financial workings of the household
    A ben bayit – someone who is a consistent guest and has free access to a household
    The Gemara on today’s daf clarifies that there has to be some level of claim, and that the Mishna’s intent is to teach that even if there is a ta’anat shema – even if the plaintiff raises a suspicion – it is enough for the court to obligate the defendant to take an oath. While ordinarily the beit din will only take seriously a ta’anat bari – a claim that is made by the plaintiff with certainty – given the close relationship that exists in these cases we recognize that a person might feel that it is his right to take something extra and the court is willing to require an oath based on a weaker claim.

    With regard to the ben bayit, the Gemara quotes a baraita that explains that we will not obligate someone to take an oath simply because he comes and goes in the home on a regular basis, rather the Mishna is referring to someone who has a position of financial responsibility in the home, e.g. he brings in and out workers or merchandise. The Meiri explains that an ordinary ben bayit cannot be made to swear that he did not take anything from the house, since we do not work with the assumption that people are thieves. It is only if there is reason to suspect that the individual may believe that he is within his rights in taking something that we are willing to suspect him of overstepping his rights.

  49. Shevuot 49a-b: Being Responsible for Another’s Belongings

    The final perek of Massekhet Shevuot begins on today’s daf. Perek Arba’ah Shomrim focuses on the oaths required by the Torah when someone is holding someone else’s property, either because he was watching it for him or because he had permission to use it.

    According to the Torah (Shemot 22:6-12), the level of responsibility for which a shomer – someone who accepts responsibility to guard his friend’s object – is liable, depends on the personal gain that the shomer receives. The Mishna on our daf enumerates four types of shomrim and their level of responsibility. They include:

    A shomer ḥinam (unpaid bailee) – who does not derive any personal gain or benefit from watching the object. In the event that the shomer ḥinam performs his duty responsibly and the object is lost or stolen, he can take an oath that he guarded it properly and he will be free of any further responsibility (see Shemot 22:6-7).

    A sho’el (borrower) – who borrows the object for his own use, without payment. He is responsible for anything that happens to the animal, and will have to pay full restitution to the owner (see Shemot 22:13). Only if the animal died in the course of normal work will he be free of responsibility to pay, if he takes an oath that that is what happened.

    A shomer sakhar (paid bailee) – who gets paid for watching the object, and

    A sokher (renter) – who pays rent to use the object.

    According to the tanna of our Mishna, in these last two cases the shomer will be responsible if the object is lost or stolen, but not if an ones – an unexpected accident – takes place. The Torah’s examples of ones are if the animal dies, breaks a leg or is taken captive, and if the shomer sakhar or sokher takes an oath to that effect, they will not have to pay.

    The case of sokher does not appear in the Torah, and the Gemara presents a disagreement between the tanna’im as to whether he is similar to a shomer sakhar as appears in the Mishna, or to a shomer ḥinam.

    The laws of the four shomrim are discussed at length in Massekhet Bava Metzia and they are mentioned here in the context of explaining their obligations regarding the oaths that they must take.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

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