TALMUD. The 2nd Massechet – SHABBAT

Massekhet Shabbat – An Introduction to the Tractate   And God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it because on it He rested from all His work that God in creating had made.  (Genesis 2:3)  Six days shall you labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is Shabbat unto the Lord your God; you shall not do any manner of work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Shabbat day and hallowed it.  (Exodus 20:9-11)  Therefore, you shall keep the Shabbat, for it is holy unto you; every one that profanes it shall surely be put to death, for whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people.  (Exodus 31:14)  If you turn away your foot because of the Shabbat, from pursuing your business on My holy day, and call the Shabbat a delight, the holy of the Lord honorable; and shall honor it, not doing your wonted ways, nor pursuing your business, nor speaking thereof. Then shall you delight yourself in the Lord, and I will make you to ride upon the high places of the earth, and I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.  (Isaiah 58:13-14)  Thus said the Lord: Take heed for the sake of your souls, and bear no burden on the Shabbat day, nor bring it into the gates of Jerusalem.  (Jeremiah 17:21)  And if the peoples of the land bring ware or any food on the Shabbat day to sell, we would not buy from them on the Shabbat or on a holy day.  (Nehemiah 10:32)   Tractate Shabbat is the first and the largest tractate in the order of Moed. It deals with the halakhot of the most sacred day of all, Shabbat.   Numerous halakhot, veritable mountains of halakhot, are found among the mitzvot of Shabbat, both positive mitzvot and prohibitions. Included in these are mitzvot of biblical origin, those established by the Prophets, and many rabbinic decrees and ordinances. Shabbat has even been adorned with the aura of legend; it is a day of rest and sanctity, God’s gift to a treasured nation.   There are numerous facets to Shabbat in halakhah and aggada. However, one aspect is fundamental and central: Abstention from creative labor. The only way to achieve a proper grasp of Shabbat and its halakhot, ranging from Torah statutes to rabbinic ordinances and decrees issued throughout the generations, is by means of gaining an understanding of this fundamental principle.   The mitzvah to abstain from labor and the prohibition to perform labor on Shabbat are both closely tied to the biblical depiction of the creation of the world and God’s own abstention from work on the seventh day. The Shabbat of the Jewish people is, in a sense, an extension and emulation of the Shabbat of the Holy One, Blessed be He, from which our Shabbat draws its spiritual foundations. On the seventh day, God abstained “from all His work that God in creating had made.” In the Torah, the Jewish people were explicitly commanded to abstain from engaging in the construction of the Tabernacle on Shabbat.   There are two equally fundamental aspects to these activities that are essential to the comprehension of the concept of labor prohibited on Shabbat: They are both creative acts of tangible labor and work done with prior intent. These two fundamental principles are captured in the following halakhic terminology: Planned, thoughtful, creative labor was prohibited by the Torah, and: For all destructive acts, one is exempt. The exceptions to the latter principle are those actions that are destructive in the short term, but in the long term are actually preparations for constructive acts that will follow.   Labor on Shabbat is defined in this manner because of the aforementioned comparison between our Shabbat and God’s Shabbat at the end of the creation of the universe. The degree of physical exertion expended to perform a particular action is not taken into consideration, nor does it matter whether or not the action produces results or brings profit to the worker, or whether it serves as the means of one’s livelihood. It is for this reason that even activities in which the amount of energy expended is minimal and which serve only for enjoyment, e.g., writing or kindling a fire, are prohibited by the Torah and constitute labor, i.e., creating a tangible result with prior intent.   Most of the halakhot of Shabbat, which are comprised of thirty-nine primary categories of prohibited labor and their subcategories, are the elaboration and detailed enumeration of these major principles in the definition of the various types of creative labor and the establishment of their parameters and limits. The ordinances and safeguards instituted by the Sages of blessed memory merely strengthen and reinforce the proper observance of the Shabbat in practical terms. They determine how to refrain from prohibited labor and from any action that could potentially lead to performance of a prohibited labor.   Among the thirty-nine primary categories of labor enumerated with regard to Shabbat, there is only one that is anomalous, and its explication occupies a most significant place in the tractate of Shabbat: Carrying out an object from one domain to another. According to Torah law, it is prohibited to carry any object on Shabbat from the domain in which it is located to another domain. There is no element of physical exertion or toil involved in this labor, as one is liable even for carrying out minuscule objects. On the other hand, carrying out cannot be included in the category of truly creative labors either. In truth, this labor is in a category of its own, a distinct Torah law that underscores the nature of rest on Shabbat.   The term shabbaton means cessation of the creative activities that characterize the six active days of the week. Shabbaton also means silence, rest, cessation of the motility and hustle-bustle of the weekdays, cessation of the connection between the private domain of the individual and the public domain, and the transformation of the public domain into an environment of quiescence and tranquility. So that the tranquility of Shabbat will be complete, the parameters of these realms are delineated in a manner unique to Shabbat, unlike the definition of public and private domains in other areas of halakhah, i.e., property law and the halakhot of ritual impurity. It is both prohibited to carry objects from one domain to another and to carry objects within the confines of the public domain.   The subcategories and complex details of the prohibited labor of carrying out on Shabbat, along with the ordinances and decrees issued by the Sages to foster its observance, constitute a significant portion of the halakhot contained in tractate Shabbat.   Although the essence of Shabbat lies in the observance of its restfulness, which is manifested in the prohibitions against creative labor and carrying out from one domain to another, there are also positive commandments involved in the observance of Shabbat, beyond the mitzvah to sacrifice additional offerings in the Temple. These positive commandments are alluded to in the verse: “Remember the day of Shabbat to keep it holy.” The practical fulfillment of this mitzvah is multifaceted. It begins with the essential commandment of kiddush, sanctification of Shabbat over a cup of wine, along with the special liturgy and customs unique to Shabbat; and it extends to the reference to each weekday in terms of its relative distance from Shabbat. This mitzvah also includes the ordinance of taking delight in Shabbat, consistent with the words of the prophet Isaiah. This is accomplished by the enjoyment that is added to the Shabbat meal, the kindling of the Shabbat lights, and all means of celebration that do not conflict with the basic tenets of Shabbat observance.   According to the oral tradition transmitted through the generations, an entire framework of ordinances and safeguards, categorized under the rubric of shevut, was instituted in the days of the earliest Prophets to ensure proper Shabbat observance. Included in this framework is the decree against engaging in commerce on Shabbat, already mentioned in the Bible. The institution of additional Shabbat domains originated long ago, along with the designation of additional areas in which the movement and transfer of objects is prohibited. The details of these ordinances are specified in the tractate Eruvin.   Among the activities that fall into the category of shevut are both those prohibited due to their similarity to the prohibited acts of creative labor and those prohibited due to the concern that they might lead to the performance of a prohibited labor. The halakhot of “set-aside” [muktze], which prohibit the use of materials or utensils typically utilized in the performance of creative labor, fall into the category of shevut as well. The Sages also prohibited typical weekday activities, as it is inappropriate to engage in them on this sacred day. Therefore, tractate Shabbat is distinctive in its terminology. It distinguishes between liability and exemption by Torah law, between actions for whose performance one is exempt by Torah law but whose performance is prohibited by the Prophets and Sages, and actions that are expressly permitted.   The halakhot of Shabbat in general, their fundamental principles and their details, and the elucidation of those halakhot that deviate from those principles, e.g., matters of life and death or circumcision on Shabbat, are all explained in the twenty-four chapters of tractate Shabbat. These twenty-four chapters are not arranged systematically by subject matter, but rather are ordered based on association between similar matters and the chronology of the activities performed on Shabbat eve leading up to Shabbat and those performed on Shabbat.   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.

Shabbat 2a-b – The prohibition of carrying on Shabbat   Massekhet Shabbat opens with a discussion of the biblical prohibition of carrying out on Shabbat, a topic that is somewhat unexpected, in order to pique the interest of the reader. In terms of the overall framework of the tractate, it would have been more appropriate to begin with later mishnayot.   The prohibited labor to carry out a burden on Shabbat is alluded to in the Torah and explicitly stated in the Prophets. Although it appears in the list of prohibited labors in the Mishnah, it constitutes its own discrete unit, and its parameters are significantly different from those of the other prohibited labors. There are two fundamental aspects to the prohibited labor of carrying out. The most significant of these is the prohibition to carry an object from one domain to another, e.g., from the private to the public domain. The definitions of these domains with regard to Shabbat are distinctive, and their parameters are by no means identical to the definitions of domains in other aspects of halakhah, neither in terms of their ownership nor in terms of their use.   One only violates the Torah prohibition to carry out on Shabbat if he lifts the object from one place and places it in another place. As is the case with regard to the other prohibited labors, one who performs this action intentionally is liable for the punishment of karet. If he does so unwittingly, he is liable to bring a sin-offering.   Several reasons have been suggested to explain why the tractate opens specifically with the prohibited labor of carrying out from domain to domain. Some explain (e.g. Rabbeinu Tam, the Ran and the Rashba) that the reason is because the tractate, in general, is ordered chronologically and begins with a discussion of matters prohibited immediately when Shabbat begins. One of the matters that requires immediate attention is the prohibition of carrying out, and therefore it was necessary to cite this halakhah first. According to the Penei Yehoshua, since the matter of carrying out is derived from the verse, “A man should not go out of his place” (Shmot 16:29), which is mentioned in the Torah prior to the rest of the prohibited labors of Shabbat, the Sages introduced it earlier in the Mishnah.   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.   Shabbat 3a-b – Biblical prohibitions vs. Rabbinic ordinances   Two different expressions are used in the Mishnah to indicate that a given activity is not forbidden on Shabbat. The Gemara on today’s daf (=page) explains that with regard to the laws of Shabbat, the word mutar means that an action is permitted, while the word patur means that an action is forbidden by the Sages, but it will not incur punishment, since there is no biblical prohibition involved.   What if there is a conflict between a Rabbinic ordinance and a biblical prohibition? The Gemara presents the following quandary:   Rav Beivai bar Abayye raised the dilemma: One who unwittingly stuck bread in the ovenon Shabbat, as bread was baked by sticking the dough to the sides of a heated oven, did they permit him to override a rabbinic prohibition and remove it from the oven before it bakes, i.e., before he incurs liability to bring a sin-offering for baking bread on Shabbat, or did they not permit him to do so? Removing the bread is also prohibited on Shabbat. However, its prohibition is only by rabbinic law.   The fundamental dilemma is: May one violate a rabbinical prohibition in order to avoid violating a Torah prohibition or not?   This dilemma presented by Rav Beivai bar Abayye was considered to be one that remained unresolved. The Gemara attempts to reach a conclusion about this question based on a similar teaching that apparently prohibited someone whose hand was stretched from a private domain into a karmelit (an area that was considered “public” only on a rabbinic level) from pulling his hand back into the private domain. Ultimately this position is rejected by the Gemara, which concludes that the rabbinic ordinance can be violated by an individual in order to save himself from a biblical prohibition.   The ovens in those days were made of earthenware. The oven was ignited from below. Through a special opening, dough would be stuck to the sides of the oven for baking. Removing the bread from the oven was performed in a unique manner which, while not considered an actual prohibited labor, was viewed as a unique skill that was prohibited by the Sages.   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.

Shabbat 4a-b – Is it forbidden to throw on Shabbat?   We have already learned in the Mishnah that transferring an object from a public domain to a private domain is one of the forbidden activities on Shabbat. It is clear that carrying within a private domain is permitted. What if an object remains in a private domain and merely travels through a public domain? That question is dealt with on today’s daf (=page). The Gemara teaches:   One who throws an object from the private domain to the other private domain and there is the public domain in the middle, Rabbi Akiva deems him liable for carrying out into the public domain, and the Rabbis deem him exempt because the object merely passed through the public domain and did not come to rest in it.   In explanation of Rabbi Akiva’s position, the Gemara introduces the idea of kelutah me-mi she-hunhah damiah – that an object in airspace is considered at rest.   It is possible to identify two fundamental approaches in clarifying the essence of the halakhic principle that an object in airspace is considered at rest. According to Rashi and Rabbeinu Ĥananel, an object passing through airspace of a certain domain is considered as if it were placed on the ground of that domain. In the Jerusalem Talmud, on the other hand, this phrase was understood to mean that all the airspace in a certain domain is considered as if it were solid matter upon which the objects rest. The principle was formulated: The air within the partitions is like its substance, i.e., it is viewed as being like the ground beneath it.   According to Rabbi Akiva’s opinion, an object that passed, even briefly, through the airspace of the public domain is considered as if it came to rest in that domain. Therefore, one who threw the object has, for all intents and purposes, lifted the object from the private domain and placed it in the public domain, and he is liable.   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.

Shabbat 5a-b – Reading scrolls on the porch   There are four categories of “domain” with regard to carrying out on Shabbat:  A private domain is an area larger than 4 by 4 handbreadths, divided from the surrounding area by a fence at least 10 handbreadths high. One is permitted to carry within the private domain, which is considered to extend upwards to the sky.  The public domain is a place at least 16 cubits wide, through which many people (some authorities say 600,000) pass daily. The public domain is considered to extend 10 handbreadths upwards. On Shabbat one is prohibited to carry objects a distance of more than 4 cubits in the public domain. One is also prohibited to transfer objects to or from the public domain.  The third type of domain is an exempt place, which is an area less than 4 by 4 handbreadths that is separate from the surrounding area.  The Sages added a fourth domain, called a karmelit – an intermediate category of domain between a private domain and a public domain.   Some of these laws are exhibited in the following case that appears on today’s daf (=page).   One who was reading a sacred book in scroll form on Shabbat on an elevated, wide threshold and the book rolled from his hand outside and into the public domain, he may roll it back to himself, since one of its ends is still in his hand. However, if he was reading on top the roof, which is a full-fledged private domain, and the book rolled from his hand, as long as the edge of the book did not reach ten handbreadths above the public domain, the book is still in its own area, and he may roll it back to himself. However, once the book has reached within ten handbreadths above the public domain, he is prohibited to roll it back to himself. In that case, he may only turn it over onto the side with writing, so that the writing of the book should face down and should not be exposed and degraded.   In the case of a person on a threshold who was reading a sacred text written on a scroll and that scroll unrolled and landed on a karmelit (Mishna Berura), if one end of the scroll remained in his hand, he may roll it back to him. That is the ruling even if the threshold was a private domain, i.e., four by four handbreadths and ten handbreadths high, and the scroll unrolled into a public domain. This was permitted in order to prevent disrespect for the sacred text. However, if the book fell from his hand completely, he is permitted to roll it back only if it rolled into a karmelit.   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.

Shabbat 6a-b – Punishments for transferring objects from one domain to another   While discussing the four Shabbat domains (public, private, exempt and the Rabbinic karmelit, see yesterday’s daf, or page), the Gemara quotes a baraita that teaches   If he carried out an object on Shabbat from the private domain to the public domain or vice versa, if he carried in, if he did so unwittingly, he is liable to bring a sin-offering. If he did so intentionally and there were no witnesses to his act and he was not forewarned, he is punishable from the hand of Heaven with the punishment of karet. If he was forewarned and there were witnesses to his transgression, he is punished by the court and stoned.   In response to this teaching, the Gemara asks why there is a need to emphasize the punishments that are meted out. Surely we are aware that someone who performed a prohibited act on Shabbat will be punished with karet or stoning! The Gemara answers: This came to teach us in accordance with the statement of Rav, as Rav said: I found a hidden scroll in the house of Rabbi Ĥiyya in which matters of Oral Torah were briefly summarized, and in it was written: Isi ben Yehuda says: The primary categories of prohibited labor on Shabbat are forty-less-one, and he is liable only for one.   This obscure statement is explained by the Gemara to mean that there is one of the 39 prohibited activities on Shabbat that is not punishable by stoning; it remains a simple negative commandment. The baraita is emphasizing that the prohibition of transferring an object from one domain to another is not that activity – it is punishable by stoning.   Regarding the “hidden scroll” that was found by Rav: For many generations, it was prohibited to write the contents of the Oral Torah. Due to the exigencies of the time, it was decided to redact the Mishnah and write it down. Nevertheless, even when it was prohibited, Sages would summarize important matters in brief notes to help them remember. These scrolls were not published and were, therefore, referred to as hidden scrolls. According to the ge’onim, these scrolls were known as hidden because they were anthologies of halakhot that were not universally known, even though they were not concealed intentionally.   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.

Shabbat 7a-b – Shrubs and thorns in the public domain   On today’s daf (=page) the Gemara discusses whether a specific place located in a public domain retains the status of that domain if it is not commonly used by people in that place. The three possible exceptions discussed by the Gemara are a brick, thorns and shrubs (hizmei ve-higi) and excrement.   The Gemara cites the halakhah that Rabbah bar Sheila said that Rav Ĥisda said: If an upright brick was placed in the public domain and one threw an object from a distance of four cubits and he stuck the object to its side, he is liable for throwing in the public domain. But if the object landed atop the brick, he is not liable. Because the multitudes do not step on the brick, it is not a full-fledged public domain.  It was Abayye and Rava, who both said: And that is specifically when that brick is at least three handbreadths high, as then the multitudes do not step on it, and, therefore, even though the brick is standing in the public domain, it is considered an independent domain. However, thorns and shrubs, (hizmei ve-higi) even though they are not three handbreadths high, are not considered part of the public domain. Since people do not walk on thorns, those areas cannot be considered part of the public domain. And Ĥiyya bar Rav said: Even the place where there are thorns and shrubs in the public domain, if they were low, the place is considered part of the public domain. However, a place in the public domain where there are fecesis not considered part of the public domain, as people do not walk there. And Rav Ashi said: Even a place in the public domain where there are feces is considered part of the public domain, since ultimately people who are rushing to work do not take care to avoid it and will step on it.   Hizmei can be identified as the thorny bush Ononis antiquorum L. from the Papilionaceae family. It is a small thorny bush whose height is 25–70 cm and is commonly found in fields and riverbeds. The leaves of the plant are usually clover-shaped, and its side branches are thorny and tend to branch out.   Higi is the common shrub in the Papilionaceae family, Alhagi maurorum Medik, which is a thorny bush with smooth non-serrated leaves. It usually grows to a height of approximately 30 cm and can grow to a height of 1 m. It is commonly found in fields and salt marshes.   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.   Shabbat 8a-b – Transferring from a mysterious threshold   We learned above (daf, or page 5) that there are four domains regarding the laws of Shabbat – public, private, exempt and the Rabbinic karmelit. The Gemara on today’s daf presents a case and tries to determine which of the four domains is being discussed –   The Master said: A person standing on the threshold may take an object from the homeowner standing in the private domain and may give an object to him. Similarly, while standing there, he may take an object from a poor person standing in the public domain and may give an object to him.   This ruling appears difficult to the Gemara.   If the threshold under discussion is in a public domain how can he take an object from the homeowner? Isn’t he carrying out from the private domain to the public domain?   If, however, the threshold is in a private domain, how can he take an object from a poor person? Isn’t he carrying in from the public domain to the private domain?   Even if the threshold is a karmelit, how can he take and give an object ab initio? There still should be a rabbinic prohibition!   The Gemara concludes that the case is referring to a threshold that is merely an exempt domain, and therefore there is no prohibition at all. Such a case can be found where the threshold does not have an area of four by four handbreadths, and it is therefore not considered a domain with regard to liability on Shabbat. The Gemara compares this to a teaching presented by Rav Dimi:   And that halakhah is similar to that statement made when Rav Dimi came from Eretz Yisrael to Babylonia and he said that Rabbi Yoĥanan said: A place that does not have an area of four by four handbreadths and is set apart, it is permissible for both the people of the private domain and for the people of the public domain to adjust the burden on their shoulders upon it on Shabbat, as long as they do not exchange objects between them from one domain to the other domain.   Rav Dimi was one of the Sages who descended, or who would often travel from Eretz Yisrael to Babylonia, primarily to transmit the Torah of Eretz Yisrael to the Torah centers of the Diaspora, although occasionally, he traveled on business, as well. Consequently, many questions, particularly those concerning the Torah of Eretz Yisrael, remained unresolved, until the messenger from Zion would arrive and elucidate the halakhah, the novel expression, or the unique circumstances pertaining to a particular statement that required clarification.   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.

 

Shabbat 9a-b – A threshold serving two domains   On yesterday’s daf (=page) we learned a baraita that discussed the unique status of a threshold. In the continuation of that baraita that is discussed on today’s daf, we learn –  A threshold serves two domains: When the entrance is open, the threshold is subsumed within the house and it is considered to be a private domain like the inside of the house. And when the entrance is locked, the threshold is not subsumed within the house, and it is considered to be a public domain like the outside.   Several explanations are offered to clarify this case. For example –  Rav Yehuda said that Rav said: Here we are dealing with the threshold of an alleyway open to the public domain on only one side. Although, by Torah law, it is considered a private domain, the Sages required him to establish a fourth symbolic partition on the side open to the public domain. This alleyway was covered, and this covering extended to part of the threshold in a manner that half of it is covered and half of it is not covered, and the covering is over the part of the threshold toward the inside. In that case, if the entrance is open, its legal status is like that of the inside, as it is considered as if there were a partition extending from the edge of the roofing above to below, based on the halakhic principle: Lower the partition. The opening of the alleyway is thereby sealed, rendering it a private domain. However, when the entrance is locked, it is no longer possible to consider the covering as a partition, and therefore the part of the threshold that is beyond the locked door of the alleyway is considered like the outside, i.e., like a public domain.   The halakhot of Shabbat and many other halakhot are dependent upon the existence of partitions. A solid, high partition that seals a certain opening is a definite boundary.  However, in reality, boundaries of that kind are not present in every case. Thus, the question arises: What constitutes a full-fledged boundary and what constitutes a symbolic boundary? The determining principles in this matter are complex, detailed halakhot transmitted to Moses from Sinai. The principle of lavud establishes that a space less than three handbreadths wide is considered sealed. The principle of gode, which means extend, states that certain boundaries are considered to be extended and lowered or extended and raised. Another principle that applies here is: The edge of the roof descends and seals, which states that the outer edge of the roof over a house or an alleyway is considered as if it descends and creates a partition that reaches the ground. However, the principle is relevant only when the roof has an edge of some sort, and when its area is more than four by four handbreadths.   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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129 Responses to TALMUD. The 2nd Massechet – SHABBAT

  1. Shabbat 129a-b – The importance and danger of bloodletting

    The Gemara on today’s daf (=page) discusses medicinal bloodletting.

    Bloodletting involves spilling small quantities of blood. It was used both as a cure and as a general preventive therapy that was believed to keep a person healthy. Bloodletting was based on an ancient system of medicine in which blood and other bodily fluid were considered to be humors, the proper balance of which was believed to maintain health. It was the most common medical practice performed by doctors on both humans and animals from antiquity through the late 19th century, a period of almost two millennia. Today it is well established that bloodletting is not effective for most diseases. The only remaining condition for which it is used is Polycythemia vera, a disease in which the body produces too many red blood cells.

    Even in Talmudic times the Sages recognized the potential danger involved in bloodletting, and there were several methods undertaken to reinforce the body afterward. Eating meat in general, and eating organs from the circulatory system in particular, e.g., the spleen, is useful in restoring lost blood and replenishing hemoglobin after bloodletting. Wine accelerates circulation, as does warming oneself by a fire. Based on this the Gemara relates the following about bloodletting and drinking wine.

    Shmuel, on the day on which he would perform the practice of bloodletting, they would prepare for him a dish of cooked spleen. Rabbi Yohanan would drink wine after bloodletting until the odor emerged from his ears. And Rav Nahman would drink until his spleen floated in wine. Rav Yosef would drink until the wine would emerge from the bloodletting incision. Rava would search for wine that was sufficiently aged such that three leaves had already grown over three years on the vine from which the grapes were picked.

    Rav Nahman bar Yitzhak said to the Sages: I beg of you, on the day that you undergo bloodletting, tell your households, your wives: Nahman bar Yitzhak happened to come to visit us. Due to the visit of the important guest, the women will prepare a large meal. The husbands will eat well, recover from the lost blood, and avoid endangering themselves.

    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.

  2. Shabbat 130a-b – Circumcision

    The nineteenth perek (=chapter) of Massekhet Shabbat, which begins on today’s daf (=page) focuses in its entirety on the laws of berit milah – circumcision – generally and on its performance on Shabbat specifically.

    The Sages received an oral tradition that the mitzvah of circumcision overrides Shabbat when it is performed at its proper time, on the eighth day after birth. Although all the Sages accepted this tradition, they disputed many details of its application. Such details include the handling of borderline cases, the precise definitions of the act of circumcision, and the actions necessary for its performance.

    Several issues arise with regard to circumcision on Shabbat. The first question pertains to situations in which it is not entirely clear whether there is a mitzvah to circumcise the child or whether the proper time for circumcision has arrived. Some Sages are of the opinion that circumcision overrides Shabbat only if there is absolutely no doubt as to its obligation. Others hold that in some circumstances an uncertain obligation to circumcise does override Shabbat, and these Sages debate which conditions are required.

    Another issue is whether the preparations for circumcision override Shabbat. The medical attention the baby will require immediately after the circumcision does override Shabbat, as his life could be endangered if he does not receive it. The Sages consider whether actions to prepare for the circumcision, such as bringing the knife and preparing it for use, also override Shabbat, and if so, which preparations are considered essential in this regard.

    Another essential issue pertains to how broadly circumcision overrides Shabbat. Does circumcision override Shabbat at every stage of the operation no matter how it is performed, and is anyone involved in circumcision exempt from Shabbat prohibitions? Or perhaps circumcision overrides Shabbat only when one completes the mitzvah properly and in its entirety? To address these questions it becomes necessary to clarify the scope of the mitzvah and to identify its obligatory components.

    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. Shabbat 131a-b – Overriding Shabbat to perform a mitzvah

    As we learned on yesterday’s daf (=page), when a child must be circumcised on Shabbat, the Shabbat prohibitions can be overridden by the mitzvah to perform the berit milah. On today’s daf we learn that Rabbi Eliezer believes that this is not a halakhah that is unique to circumcision; in fact there are many commandments that override the laws of Shabbat. For example, the Gemara teaches that such mitzvot as lulav, sukkah, matzah and shofar will all take precedence over Shabbat, if necessary. Rabbi Yohanan teaches, however, that –

    Rabbi Eliezer did not say with regard to all mitzvot that actions that facilitate performance of a mitzvah override Shabbat.

    This is not a fixed principle with regard to preparations for all mitzvot. Rather, each case must be considered on its own merits, and proof must be cited that this principle applies to a specific mitzvah.

    Which mitzvot do not override Shabbat even according to Rabbi Eliezer?

    Rav Adda bar Ahava said: The statement of Rabbi Yohanan comes to exclude attaching ritual fringes to his garment and affixing a mezuza to the doorway, which do not override Shabbat. The Gemara notes that that was also taught in a baraita: And they, Rabbi Eliezer and the Rabbis, agree that if one attached ritual fringes to his garment on Shabbat, and similarly, if one affixed a mezuza to his doorway on Shabbat, that he is liable.

    The Gemara explains this as follows:

    Rav Nahman said that Rav Yitzhak said, and some say that he said that Rav Huna, son of Rav Yehoshua, said: The actions that facilitate the performance of these mitzvot do not override Shabbat, since one can render the relevant objects ownerless.

    One is only required to perform these mitzvot if the objects, i.e., the garment and the house, belong to him. If he renders them ownerless, he is no longer obligated to perform these mitzvot.

    According to Rashi, who is of the opinion that there is an obligation to affix ritual fringes even to a garment not currently in use, rendering one’s garment ownerless is the only way to exempt oneself from the mitzvah to affix ritual fringes to its corners. According to other authorities, who rule that a garment which is not being worn is exempt from ritual fringes, either the Gemara chose one rationale from a number of possible explanations (Rashba), or this reason was chosen because it applies to both ritual fringes and mezuzah (Ramban).

    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.

  4. Shabbat 132a-b – When a positive mitzvah overrides a negative one

    As we have learned, the mitzvah to perform circumcision overrides the prohibitions of Shabbat. This rule does not fit into the usual rubric of aseh doheh lo ta’aseh – that a positive mitzvah overrides a negative one – since Shabbat is not simply a negative commandment; it is a positive commandment, as well. For this reason the Gemara on today’s daf (=page) brings a number of different opinions offering different sources for this law. The Gemara also discusses other cases where positive and negative commandments stand in contradiction and rulings must be made based on setting priorities. For example, the mitzvah of circumcision will be performed even if it involves cutting off a leprous sign on the child’s foreskin, but someone suffering from leprosy may not perform the Temple service even though it is a mitzvah. The Gemara explains:

    Rather, Rav Ashi said that this is the reason that leprosy does not override the Temple service: Where do we say that a positive mitzvah overrides a negative mitzvah? It is in cases like circumcision in a case of leprosy, or alternatively, tzitzit (ritual fringes) and kilayim (diverse kinds of wool and linen), as at the time the negative mitzvah is uprooted, the positive mitzvah is fulfilled in the very same action, e.g., when the ritual fringes are woolen and will be attached to a linen garment, a prohibited mixture is created. However, here, in the case of a person afflicted with pure symptoms of leprosy cutting off his symptoms to enable his involvement in the Temple service, it is different, at the time the negative mitzvah is uprooted, the positive mitzvah is not yet fulfilled, as cutting off the symptoms is only a preliminary action that enables him to serve. In that case, the positive mitzvah does not override the negative one.

    The cases of ritual fringes and diverse kinds cited here are not classic examples of positive mitzvot overriding negative mitzvot, because both cases mentioned here are derived from a particular source. The halakhah in the case of leprosy and circumcision is derived from an a fortiori inference, and the halakhah in the case of ritual fringes and diverse kinds is based on a juxtaposition of verses. Nevertheless, the following principle learned from these cases applies to other laws: The positive commandment overrides the negative commandment only when the fulfillment of the positive commandment is simultaneous with the violation of the negative commandment (Ramban; see Me’iri).

    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.

  5. Shabbat 133a-b – Placing the showbread on the table in the Temple

    As a segue from the ongoing discussion about circumcision, the Gemara turns its attention to the showbread in the Temple.

    Four priests would enter the Sanctuary every Shabbat to arrange the showbread, two of whom had two orders of six loaves each in their hands, and two had two bowls of frankincense in their hands. And four priests would precede them; two came to take the two orders of bread left on the table from the previous week, and two came to take the two bowls of frankincense. Next, those bringing the loaves and bowls into the Sanctuary would stand in the north of the Sanctuary, facing south, while those carrying the loaves and bowls out would stand in the south of the Sanctuary, facing north. These slide the old bread along the table, and these place the new bread on the table, and as a result, the handbreadth of this one would be alongside the handbreadth of that one, so that the requisite amount of bread would always be present on the table, as it is stated: “And you shall place on the table showbread before Me continuously” (Shemot 25:30).

    Rabbi Yosei said: Even if these priests were first to take the old bread off the table entirely, and only afterward were these priests to place the new ones on the table, this too would fulfill the requirement that the showbread be on the table continuously. It is unnecessary to ensure the uninterrupted presence of the showbread on the table.

    The showbread, which was placed on the sacred table in the Sanctuary (Shemot 25:23–30), was comprised of twelve loaves arranged on wooden slats in two stacks of six loaves each. Atop each stack or, according to another opinion, between them, were two bowls of frankincense. The showbread remained on the table from one Shabbat to the next. Every Shabbat the priests would remove the old bread and replace it with new bread. The old bread was divided among the priests and eaten. The dispute between Rabbi Yosei and the Sages is with regard to the proper interpretation of the word “always” (Shemot 25:30) with regard to the transition from the old loaves to the new ones.

    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.

  6. Shabbat 134a-b – Circumcising a red or pale child

    If a baby displays signs of possible illness, and the circumcision might be dangerous, the baby is not circumcised at the appointed time. As an example of this, the Gemara relates a number of stories about Rabbi Natan’s ruling in such cases:

    Rabbi Natan said: On one occasion, I went to the coastal cities, and one woman came before me who circumcised her first son and he died, and she circumcised her second son and he died, and since she feared circumcising the third due to concern that he might die as well, she brought him before me. I saw that he was red. I said to her: Wait until his blood is absorbed into him. She waited until his blood was absorbed into him and then circumcised him, and he lived. And they would call him Natan the Babylonian after my name.

    Rabbi Natan further related: On another occasion I went to the state of Cappadocia, and a woman came before me who circumcised her first son and he died, and she circumcised her second son and he died. Since she feared circumcising the third due to concern that he might die as well, she brought him before me. I saw that he was pale. I looked at him and I could not see in him the blood of the covenant, i.e., he had a blood deficiency. I said to her: Wait until blood enters him. And she waited and then circumcised him, and he lived. And they would call his name Natan the Babylonian after my name.

    Several medical explanations were proposed to identify the diseases from which the babies seen by Rabbi Natan were suffering. With regard to the child who was red, some presume that the children of that family suffered from a rare hereditary blood disease known as purple disease, purpura hemorrhagica. The child who was pale was probably sick with hemolytic jaundice of the newborn, which is also hereditary.

    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.

  7. Shabbat 135a-b – The status of an androgynous

    We learned in the Mishnah: If there is uncertainty whether or not to circumcise a baby, and likewise in the case of an androgynous (a hermaphrodite baby), one does not desecrate Shabbat to perform the circumcision of an androgynous even on the eighth day following the birth.

    The Sages taught in a baraita: The verse states: “And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised” (Vayikra 12:3), and they interpreted the verse: “His foreskin” indicates that only the circumcision of his halakhically certain foreskin overrides Shabbat, and the circumcision of a halakhically uncertain foreskin does not override Shabbat. And by means of the same inference from the termhis foreskin, derive that circumcision of his definite foreskin overrides Shabbat, and circumcising the foreskin of an androgynous, with regard to whom there is uncertainty whether or not circumcision is required, does not override Shabbat.

    Rabbi Yehudah says: The circumcision of an androgynous overrides Shabbat, and if he is not circumcised, when he reaches majority he is punishable by karet. Rabbi Yehudah interprets the verse in the following manner: His definite foreskin overrides Shabbat; however, the circumcision of one born at twilight does not override Shabbat.

    Medicine recognizes two types of androgynous. A true androgynous has both male and female sexual glands, while a Pseudohermaphrodite has the appearance of both male and female sexual organs, although the individual actually has only one set of sexual glands. According to the Sages, the challenge in both of these cases is that we cannot be certain that we are dealing with a male child who is obligated in the commandment of circumcision. Rabbi Yehudah agrees that in situations where it is not clear that there is an obligation to perform circumcision, e.g., if we are uncertain as to whether the baby was actually born on Shabbat, Shabbat cannot be overridden. Nevertheless he interprets the passage in Sefer Bereishit (17:10) as offering a broad requirement to circumcise “every male among you,” which, he argues, includes an androgynous.

    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.

  8. Shabbat 136a-b – How long must a baby live before it is deemed a viable child?

    How long must a baby live before it is not deemed to be stillborn? This question is raised by the Gemara regarding the laws of circumcision, but is applied to other areas of Jewish law, as well.

    It was stated that the Sages discussed the following question: What is the ruling in a case where a baby died within thirty days after birth, leaving its mother a childless widow, and before they decided whether or not she was obligated in levirate marriage, she stood and was betrothed to another?

    Ravina said in the name of Rava: If she is the wife of an Israelite, meaning she became betrothed to an Israelite, who may marry a woman who has undergone ĥalitzah, she performs ĥalitzah due to uncertainty. Given that the child may have been stillborn and therefore never considered alive, in which case she would be obligated to undergo levirate marriage or perform ĥalitzah, by performing ĥalitzah, she removes any doubt and can remain with her new husband. However, if she is the wife of a priest, she does not perform ĥalitzah, as if she were to perform ĥalitzah she would be prohibited to her husband the priest. Since there are those who hold that the baby is considered alive from the moment of its birth, based on that opinion, she is exempt from performing ĥalitzah, after the fact.

    Rav Sherevya said in the name of Rava: Both this, the woman married to an Israelite, and that, the woman married to a priest, perform ĥalitzah, as the prohibition against marrying a woman not released from her bond of levirate marriage is a stringent one, and the fact that her husband is a priest is not taken into consideration.

    The laws of levirate marriage and ĥalitzah appear in the Torah (Devarim 25:5–10) and are articulated at length in tractate Yevamot, which is devoted to this topic. The basic concept is that if a man dies with no living descendants, his wife is obligated by a levirate bond to her husband’s brother. The brother must either take her as a wife through levirate marriage, or sever the bond by means of the ceremony of ĥalitzah. As long as the levirate bond is intact, it is prohibited for her to marry a different man, and if she does so, as long as her marriage continues she is performing an ongoing transgression. Although the halakhot of levirate marriage and ĥalitzah are not like those of a regular marriage, and a woman who has undergone ĥalitzah is not prohibited to marry a priest by Torah law, the Sages decreed that the legal status of a woman who undergoes ĥalitzah is that of a divorcée, in the sense that it is prohibited for a priest to marry her.

    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.

  9. Shabbat 137a-b – Blessings and prayers at the circumcision ceremony

    The Sages taught in a Tosefta that one who circumcises a child recites: “Who has made us holy through His commandments, and commanded us concerning circumcision.” The father of the circumcised child recites: “Who has made us holy through His commandments, and commanded us to bring him into the covenant of Abraham, our father.” Those standing there recite: “Just as he has entered into the covenant, so may he enter into Torah, marriage, and good deeds.”

    And the one who recites the additional blessing says: “Who made the beloved one holy from the womb, marked the decree in his flesh, and gave his descendants the seal and the sign of the holy covenant. Therefore, as a reward for this, the living God, our Portion, commanded to deliver the beloved of our flesh from destruction, for the sake of His covenant that He set in our flesh. Blessed are You, Lord, Who establishes the covenant.”

    The one who recites the blessing is a designated individual, whether the person who performed the circumcision or any other person, who holds a cup of wine in his hand and recites an additional blessing over the circumcision. Some authorities explain that the rationale for the second blessing is that since this mitzvah was already fulfilled by the Patriarchs, the Sages instituted a special blessing in their honor (Tosefot Rid).

    Regarding the additional prayer that is added Tosafot explain that the statement “Who made the beloved one holy from the womb” alludes to all of the Patriarchs. Some commentaries suggest that Rashi says this entire blessing refers only to Yitzhak, because he was the first to be circumcised at eight days. Yitzhak is described as beloved in the verse “Your son…whom you love” (Bereishit 22:2; Me’iri). There is also a dispute over the word tzadi, vav, heh that appears in this blessing: Some commentaries explain that it should be pronounced tzaveih, and it is a request that God save us from the punishments of Gehenna. That reading appeared in many prayer books.

    The ge’onim and others, however, read it as tzivah, past tense, in praise for an event that already took place.

    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.

  10. Shabbat 138a-b – Torah at the end of days

    The Gemara relates that Rami bar Yeĥezkel asked Rav Huna to relate a number of teachings that he had heard from Rav. One of them was a homiletical piece about Torah study.

    With regard to Torah, Rav Huna related that Rav said: The Torah is destined to be forgotten from the Jewish people. It is stated at the conclusion of the curses in the Torah’s reproof: “And the Lord will make your plagues astonishing, and the plagues of your seed, great plagues of long continuance, and evil diseases of long continuance” (Devarim 28:59). This term of astonishment, mentioned in the verse in addition to the explicit punishments, I do not know what it is. But when the verse states elsewhere: “Therefore, behold, I will continue to astonish this people with wondrous astonishment, and the wisdom of its wise will be lost, and the understanding of its men of understanding shall be hidden” (Yeshayahu 29:14), you must say: This astonishment is referring to forgetting the Torah.

    Some commentaries explain Rav’s statement as follows: The Torah is destined to be forgotten if the Oral Law is transmitted by word of mouth, rather than being written down. Therefore, it is imperative to commit the Oral Law to writing to prevent it from being forgotten (Korban Netanel).

    The Sages taught a similar idea in the Tosefta: When our Sages entered the vineyard in Yavne, they said: The Torah is destined to be forgotten from the Jewish people, as it is stated:

    “Behold, days are approaching, says the Lord God, and I will send forth a hunger in the land, not a hunger for bread and not a thirst for water, but for hearing the words of the Lord” (Amos 8:11). And it states: “And they will drift from sea to sea, and from north to east they will roam to find the word of the Lord, but they will not find it” (Amos 8:12).

    “The word of the Lord” in this context bears many meanings. “The word of the Lord”; that is halakhah. “The word of the Lord”; that is the end of days. “The word of the Lord”; that is prophecy. All these will be lost from the Jewish people.

    Since “It is the honor of God to conceal a matter [haster davar]” (Mishlei 25:2), and the end of days is known to God alone and to no one else, this statement should be interpreted to mean that the word of God [devar Hashem], i.e., that which is uniquely His, is referring to the end of days (Iyyei HaYam; Ein Ya’akov).

    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.

  11. Shabbat 139a-b – Will the Torah really be forgotten?

    As we learned on yesterday’s daf (=page), Rav Huna related that Rav said: “The Torah is destined to be forgotten from the Jewish people.” This position is somewhat surprising, and an opposing view was taught in another baraita that appears on today’s daf.

    Rabbi Shimon ben Yoĥai says: Heaven forfend that the Torah should be forgotten from the Jewish people, as it is stated: “And this song shall answer to him as a witness, for it shall not be forgotten from his seed” (Devarim 31:21). Rather, how do I explain: “They will roam to find the word of God, but they will not find it”? It means that they will not find clear halakha and clear teaching together, but rather there will be disputes among the Sages.

    The concept of “clear halakhah” may be understood as follows: As long as the Great Sanhedrin met in the Chamber of the Hewn Stone in the Temple, every legal discussion concluded with a vote that determined the halakhah. After the destruction of the Temple, the number of disputes increased (Tosefot Rid). Some commentaries emphasize the problem to be that clear halakhah cannot be found in one place; rather, people will be forced to seek answers in many places, as in each place they will know only a bit.

    Following this teaching, the Gemara continues with other statements about judges and their legal decisions.

    It was taught in a baraita that Rabbi Yosei ben Elisha says: If you see a generation that many troubles are befalling it, go and examine the judges of Israel. Perhaps their sins are the cause, as any calamity that comes to the world comes due to the judges of Israel acting corruptly, as it is stated: “Please hear this, heads of the house of Jacob, and officers of the house of Israel, who abhor justice and pervert all equity, who build up Zion with blood, and Jerusalem with iniquity. Their heads they judge for bribes, and their priests teach for hire, and their prophets divine for money; yet they lean upon the Lord, saying: Is not the Lord in our midst? No evil shall befall us” (Micah 3:9–11).

    The Gemara comments: They are wicked, but they placed their trust in the One Who spoke and the world came into being, the Almighty. Therefore, the Holy One, Blessed be He, brings upon them three calamities corresponding to the three transgressions for which they are responsible, as it is stated in the following verse: “Therefore, because of you, Zion shall be plowed as a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the Temple Mount as the high places of a forest” (Micah 3:12).

    One explanation of the fact that people who placed their trust in the Almighty are called wicked is because they believed that since God determines the world order and planted the evil inclination within each person, individuals do not bear responsibility for their actions (Ahavat Eitan).

    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.

  12. Shabbat 140a-b – Medicines on Shabbat

    The Sages prohibited taking medicines on Shabbat – unless the individual is suffering from a condition that might be life-threatening – due to the concern that the medicine may be prepared by grinding herbs in a forbidden manner. If, however, the medicinal product is one that is enjoyed by healthy people, as well, then there is no prohibition.

    The Mishnah on today’s daf (=page) teaches:

    One may not soak asafoetida in lukewarm water to prepare a medicinal drink from it; however, one may place it into vinegar like a standard spice.

    The Gemara asks: For what purpose is soaked asafoetida prepared?

    The Gemara answers: As a cure for heaviness of the heart. One who feels a pain in his heart drinks asafoetida. The Gemara relates: Rav Aĥa bar Yosef felt heaviness in his heart. He came before Mar Ukva to ask his advice. Mar Ukva said to him: Go drink the weight of three shekels of asafoetida in three days. He went and drank on Thursday and Shabbat eve. In the morning, he went and asked in the study hall if he could drink it on Shabbat. They said to him:

    The Sage from the school of Rav Adda taught, and others say, that the Sage from the school of Mar bar Rav Adda taught: A person may drink asafoetida on Shabbat, even a kav or two kav, and he need not be concerned about the decree prohibiting medicine, because asafoetida is drunk by healthy people as well.

    Ferula assafoetida, also known as devil’s dung or giant fennel, is a perennial plant of the umbel family. It has a thick root and a stem with leafed branches. The asafoetida grows to a height of 6-9 feet. It is native mainly to Afghanistan and the neighboring regions. The plant grows for several years until it blossoms and produces fruit, after which it dies. Medicinal asafoetida is manufactured from the resin found in the root of the plant. It was used, and is still used today, as a medicine in the form of powder, creams, pills, etc., both for intestinal diseases and for strengthening the nervous system. In certain places, asafoetida is even used as a spice. Consumption of asafetida in amounts of more than a gram is dangerous and can lead to poisoning.

    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.

  13. Shabbat 141a-b – When can you move a stone on Shabbat?

    The twenty-first perek (=chapter) of Massekhet Shabbat deals with a topic that has already been introduced earlier in the tractate, the laws of set-aside [muktzeh] – items that are set aside and may not be handled on Shabbat – though from a fresh perspective. Here, too, the discussion is not about different items that are set aside, but about particular categories of items that all agree may not be moved on Shabbat because they are not utensils and are not fit to be handled. It was clear to the Sages that such items may not be handled directly; the discussion in this chapter primarily addresses the question of whether it is permitted to move these types of set-aside items, and set-aside items generally, through another object or for the sake of something else.

    The first example offered in the Mishnah on today’s daf (=page) teaches:

    A person may take his son in his hands on Shabbat, and even though there is a stone, which is a set-aside item, in the child’s hand, it is not prohibited to pick up the child.

    The Gemara discusses why the father may pick up his son even though the child is holding a stone, assuming at first that it is because the stone is considered to be batel – negated – in the context of the child. This position is rejected, however, and another possibility is suggested.

    The Sages of the school of Rabbi Yannai say: You cannot infer from this Mishnah that the stone is negated and therefore it is permitted to move it. Rather, the Mishnah is referring to a baby who has longings for his father.

    It is permitted for the father to move the stone because if the father does not lift him, the baby might take ill. Some commentaries explain that the baby longs for the stone and would cry if his father would take it from him. Therefore, the Sages permit the father to carry both of them (Tosefot Rid).

    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.

  14. Shabbat 142a-b – Clothing on Shabbat

    While it is forbidden to carry in a public area that has no eiruv on Shabbat, clearly a person can wear clothing without concern for this prohibition. The explanation for this is that clothing become batel (=nullified) with respect to the person who is wearing the clothing.

    On yesterday’s daf (=page) we learned:

    Rava said: If one carried out a living baby to the public domain on Shabbat, and a purse was hanging around the baby’s neck, he is liable for carrying out the purse.

    The Gemara asks: And let him be liable for carrying out the baby as well.

    The Gemara responds: Rava holds in accordance with the opinion of Rabbi Natan, who said: A living being carries itself. Therefore, one who carries a living being from one domain to another is not liable.

    The Gemara asks: And let the purse be negated relative to the baby; and he should be exempt for carrying out the purse as well. Didn’t we learn in a Mishnah: One who carries out a living person on a bed is exempt even for carrying out the bed, because the bed is secondary to the person? The same should be said with regard to the purse, relative to the baby.

    The Gemara answers: In a case where a bed is relative to a living being, the living being negates it, as the bed is needed to carry the person and is secondary to him. However, in a case where a purse is relative to a baby, the baby does not negate it, since it is independently significant.

    On today’s daf the Gemara applies this reasoning to cases of wearing clothing:

    It was taught in a baraita in accordance with the opinion of Rava: On Shabbat, one who carries out his clothes to the public domain while they are folded and placed on his shoulder, and his sandals on his feet and his rings in his hand, not on his fingers, is liable. And if he was wearing them, he is exempt for all of them, as they are negated relative to him. One who carries out a person with his garments on him, and his sandals on his feet, and his rings on the fingers of his hands, i.e., wearing all of his clothes and jewelry in the typical manner, is exempt, whereas if he carried them out as they are, i.e., the person was holding his clothes in his hands, he is liable for carrying out the clothes, just as Rava said.

    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.

  15. Shabbat 143a-b – Squeezing on Shabbat

    The twenty-second perek (=chapter) of Massekhet Shabbat begins on today’s daf (=page) and its main concern revolves around different types of prohibitions subsumed under the category of shevut (=a Rabbinic prohibition). Here, too, there is no single theme that unites all the topics addressed, although most of them deal with food preparation on Shabbat.

    One of these issues relates to the laws of squeezing on Shabbat. Squeezing is not listed as a primary category of prohibited labor. Its prohibition is not based on the act of squeezing alone; indeed, squeezing can be a subcategory of at least two primary categories of labor, depending on the circumstances: It can be a subcategory of the labor of threshing, which is defined abstractly as removing the desired contents from within an unwanted wrapping or shell, and it can be a subcategory of the labor of whitening, when the squeezing is performed in the process of washing.

    The relationship between squeezing and threshing is not completely clear and uniform. For example, in the practical discussions regarding milking animals on Shabbat, the question arises as to the extent to which one should understand milking as a form or subcategory of squeezing or threshing. This leads to the question of whether milking should be viewed as a Torah prohibition or a rabbinic decree. Similarly, it is necessary to delineate the fine differences between types of squeezing that can be viewed as a subcategory of threshing and other types of squeezing that are externally similar to the first type but differ with regard to the intent of the person squeezing or the purpose of the act itself.

    One of the cases that appear in the first Mishnah is this law:
    One may not squeeze fruits on Shabbat in order to extract liquids from them. And if liquids seeped out on their own, it is prohibited to use them on Shabbat. Rabbi Yehudah says: If the fruits were designated for eating, the liquid that seeps from them on Shabbat is permitted. There is no concern lest one purposely squeeze liquids from fruit that is designated for eating. And if the fruits were originally designated for liquids, the liquids that seep from them on Shabbat are prohibited.

    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.

  16. Shabbat 144a-b – Squeezing onto food

    Recommended practice on Shabbat is to refrain from squeezing a lemon into tea, although it would be acceptable to squeeze lemon onto sugar, which will then be placed in the tea. What is the explanation for this halakhah?

    On today’s daf (=page) we learn:

    Rav Yehudah said that Shmuel said: A person may squeeze a cluster of grapes on Shabbat into a pot with food in it, and it is not considered squeezing a liquid but rather adding one food to another; however, he may not squeeze the liquid into an empty bowl. Rav Ĥisda said: From the statement of our Rabbi, Shmuel, we learn that one may milk a goat into a pot of food on Shabbat, because it is not considered to be the manner of squeezing that is prohibited as a subcategory of the labor of threshing; however, one may not do so into an empty bowl. The Gemara deduces: Apparently, he holds that liquid that comes into food is not considered liquid, but rather, it is food.

    The commentaries explain that the prohibition against squeezing juice, which is a subcategory of the labor of threshing, primarily involves separating food from waste. However, the parts of the grapes that remain after juicing are considered waste only if the intent was to use the grapes exclusively for their juice. Therefore, if one squeezes juice from grapes into another food, it is merely considered a form of food preparation in which one transfers food, i.e., the grapes, into another dish. The difference between squeezing juice into a pot or into a bowl is that there is food in the pot. When the juice is squeezed into a pot of food, the juice becomes part of that food. It is considered food that was merely separated from its original source. On the other hand, if one squeezes the juice into an empty bowl (or into a liquid, like tea), it is clear that the purpose is to remove the liquid from the fruit, which is prohibited.

    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.

  17. Shabbat 145a-b – Testimony permitting a priest to eat a firstborn animal

    As a segue from the Gemara’s discussion about squeezing on Shabbat the discussion turns to hearsay testimony. It is clear that in limited cases (e.g., when a woman’s ability to get married depends on it) such testimony is accepted. Can it be accepted to determine the status of a blemished firstborn animal?

    The Torah commands one to give the firstborn offspring of kosher animals to a priest. During the Temple period, unblemished firstborn animals were offered as sacrifices, and their meat would be eaten by the priests. Blemished firstborn animals also belonged to the priests, and the priests could eat them as non-sacred meat once experts determined that the blemish is permanent.

    Priests were suspected of purposely causing blemishes to firstborn animals so that they would be allowed to eat them. Consequently, the Sages decreed that priests could not eat the meat of a firstborn animal without testimony to the cause of the blemish. Since this testimony was required only to alleviate suspicion, the Sages were lenient with regard to its requirements.

    We learn in the Gemara:

    A dilemma was raised before the Sages about a related matter: With regard to hearsay testimony in testimony permitting a priest to eat a firstborn animal, what is the halakhah?

    After the destruction of the Temple, the Sages decreed that if a priest has the firstborn offspring of a kosher animal and it becomes blemished, he must bring witnesses to testify that he did not cause the blemish. As noted, priests were suspected of violating the prohibition against inflicting a wound on firstborn animals to enable them to eat the animals. The question here pertains to a case in which there is no one available who can testify that he saw firsthand how the animal was blemished, but there is someone who heard from an eyewitness how the blemish was caused.

    The Gemara teaches that Rav Ami prohibited accepting hearsay testimony in this case, and Rav Asi permitted doing so.

    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.

  18. Shabbat 146a-b – Opening packaging on Shabbat

    It is generally accepted that it is permissible to open packaging in order to get access to food or other products that are needed for Shabbat. What is the source for this leniency?

    The Mishnah on today’s daf (=page) teaches:

    A person may break a barrel on Shabbat in order to eat gerogerot (=dried figs) from it, provided he does not intend to make a vessel. And one may not perforate the plug of a barrel to extract wine from it; rather, one must remove the plug entirely to avoid creating a new opening for the barrel. This is the statement of Rabbi Yehudah. And the Rabbis permit puncturing the plug, but they too restrict this leniency and say that one may not perforate the plug of the barrel on its side.

    There is a dispute with regard to the rationale for the leniency that allows the barrel to be broken on Shabbat. Rashi explains that it is based on the fact that breaking a barrel is a destructive act that does not constitute a violation of Torah law. The Ran and other commentaries add that destructive acts are only permitted ab initio in cases of this kind, where one performs the act to fulfill a Shabbat need. As noted in the Mishnah, one important exception is a situation where opening the package will create a vessel, e.g., where it will now be used for storage. This would be considered a creative act, which is forbidden on Shabbat.

    Regarding the discussion about dried figs it should be noted that the Hebrew term usually used for dried figs that were pressed together is deveilim. By using the term gerogerot, the Mishnah teaches that even if the figs were only somewhat attached due to their having been packed tightly together, it is permitted to bring a utensil to cut them apart and to open the barrel (Adderet Eliyahu).

    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.

  19. Shabbat 147a-b – The dangers of a life of comfort and pleasure

    The Mishnah on today’s daf (=page) discusses the laws of bathing on Shabbat, which leads to an aggadic tradition about the dangers of pursuing a life of comfort and pleasure. The Gemara relates:

    The wine of Phrygia [Perugaita] and the water of the Deyomset deprived Israel of the ten lost tribes. Because the members of these tribes were attracted to the pleasures of wine and bathing and did not occupy themselves with Torah, they were lost to the Jewish people.

    The Gemara relates that once Rabbi Elazar ben Arakh happened to come there, to Phrygia and Deyomset, and he was drawn after them, and his Torah learning was forgotten. When he returned, he stood to read from a Torah scroll and was supposed to read the verse: “This month shall be for you [haĥodesh hazeh lakhem]”(Shemot12:2), but he had forgotten so much that he could barely remember how to read the Hebrew letters, and instead he read:

    Have their hearts become deaf [haĥeresh haya libbam], interchanging the similar letters reish for dalet, yod for zayin, and beit for khaf. The Sages prayed and asked for God to have mercy on him, and his learning was restored.

    And that is what we learned in a Mishnah that Rabbi Nehorai says: Exile yourself to a place of Torah and do not say that it will follow you, as if you are in a place of Torah, your colleagues will establish it in your hands, and do not rely on your understanding alone. It was taught: Rabbi Nehorai was not his name, but rather Rabbi Neĥemya was his name; and some say that Rabbi Elazar ben Arakh was his name and his statement was based on the personal experience of forgetting his Torah due to his failure to exile himself to a place of Torah. And why was he called Rabbi Nehorai? It was because he would illuminate [manhir] the eyes of the Sages in halakhah.

    Rabbi Elazar’s error resulted from the similarity between the letters reish and dalet, yod and zayin, and beit and khaf. The Gemara relates the details of the error to underscore that even Rabbi Elazar ben Arakh, who was likened to an ever-flowing spring, reached so lowly a state when he left the company of the Sages (Maharsha).

    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.

  20. Shabbat 148a-b – Prohibiting commercial activity on Shabbat

    The twenty-third perek (=chapter) of Massekhet Shabbat begins on today’s daf (=page), and its focus is the rabbinic decree against commercial activity on Shabbat.

    The prohibition of commercial activity on Shabbat is one of the earliest known decrees enacted by the Sages to protect Torah law. This decree is generally explained as a protective measure to prevent writing on Shabbat, as commercial activity generally requires writing in order to record and approve legally binding transactions. Although Torah law does not prohibit commercial activity itself on Shabbat, commercial transactions often entail numerous activities that are prohibited on Shabbat, such as carrying objects from one domain to another, fixing utensils or completing their production, and handling objects that may not be handled on Shabbat.

    As the decree prohibiting commercial activity was already widely known and accepted in talmudic times, this chapter examines the scope of the prohibition and seeks to determine precisely which activities fall under the decree. In addition to prohibiting direct and explicitly formulated business transactions, the decree also encompasses related activities, such as hiring workers and granting or receiving a loan. However, since the source of this prohibition is rabbinic, there are instances where there is room for leniency, such as when the commercial activity is for the sake of a mitzvah or when there is no concern for possible violation of Shabbat.

    An example appears in the first Mishnah of the perek:

    One may borrow jugs of wine and jugs of oil from another on Shabbat, as long as one does not say the following to him: Loan me. And similarly, a woman may borrow from another loaves of bread on Shabbat. And if the lender does not trust him that he will return them, the borrower may leave his cloak with him as collateral and make the proper calculation with him after Shabbat. And similarly, on the eve of Passover in Jerusalem, when it occurs on Shabbat, one who is procuring a Paschal lamb may leave his cloak with him, i.e., the person from whom he is purchasing it, and take the lamb to bring as his Paschal lamb, and then make the proper calculation with him after the Festival.

    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.

  21. Shabbat 149a-b – Gambling at the dining room table

    The Gemara on today’s daf (=page) restates the Mishnah at the end of yesterday’s daf as teaching:

    A person may draw lots with his children and his family members at the table, and he may even do so with a large portion against a small portion. What is the reason for this? It is in accordance with the ruling that Rav Yehudah said that Rav said.

    Rav Yehudah quoted Rav as saying that since all of the money really belongs to the head of the household, there is no problemusing money as an educational device, and even lending money with interest is permitted within the family. The Gemara continues:

    Although with one’s children and family members, yes, this is permitted, with others it is not. What is the reason for this? It is in accordance with the ruling that Rav Yehudah said that Shmuel said: Raffling a large portion against a small portion is prohibited to do for other people, even on a weekday. What is the reason? Due to the prohibition against gambling with dice, which is prohibited by rabbinic law as a form of theft.

    Dice players, who are professional gamblers, are among the people that the Sages disqualified as witnesses. The Sages disagreed with regard to the rationale for this halakhah, with the Gemara in Massekhet Sanhedrin (daf 25) offering two explanations for this. Rami bar Ĥama 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. Therefore, one who takes money in this fashion is considered a robber by rabbinic decree. Tosafot offer a somewhat similar explanation. 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. Thus, even according to those who say that money won through gambling is not considered stolen, gambling is nonetheless considered despicable behavior.

    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.

  22. Shabbat 150ab – Sensitivity to speech on Shabbat

    Quoting a passage in Sefer Yeshayahu (58:13): “Nor pursuing your business, nor speaking of it” the Gemara explains that one must be careful about the topics of his conversation on Shabbat. At the same time the Gemara explains that although speaking about business on Shabbat is generally prohibited, it is permitted in certain cases because the verse is understood as forbidding “your business,” but the business of Heaven, that is, matters which have religious significance, one is permitted to speak of.

    What falls under the category of “the business of Heaven”? The Gemara explains:

    Rav Ĥisda and Rav Hamnuna both said: It is permitted to make calculations pertaining to a mitzvah on Shabbat, and Rabbi Elazar said that this means that one may apportion charity for the poor on Shabbat. And Rabbi Ya’akov bar Idi said that Rabbi Yoĥanan said: One may attend to activities necessary for saving a life or for communal needs on Shabbat, and one may go to a synagogue to attend to communal affairs on Shabbat. And Rabbi Shmuel bar Naĥmani said that Rabbi Yoĥanan said: One may go to theaters [tarteiot], and circus performances [kirkesaot], and courthouses [basilkaot] to attend to communal affairs on Shabbat.

    What sort of communal affairs took place in these settings?

    Permission to enter theaters and circuses on Shabbat was not limited to public gatherings at which important decisions were made relating to the city, but also applied to entrance during performances. The entertainment that took place in the theaters and circuses of Talmudic times were not identical to today’s activities. The source of the word kirkesaot, for example, is from the Latin circus, meaning an arena where fights between animals or between animals and humans were staged for the public. At times, Jews were brought out before the audience either as a form of public disgrace or to participate in matches with gladiators or with animals. Oftentimes, it was possible for the crowd to save the lives of the fighters, and for this reason attending these events was considered a matter of saving Jewish lives and protecting the community.

    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.

  23. Shabbat 151a-b – Benefitting from the activities of a non-Jew on Shabbat

    In Talmudic times, it was customary for Jews and gentiles to play musical instruments during a funeral procession to intensify the feeling of mourning. It is apparent from the discussion in the Gemara that flutes were an essential component in preparing to bury the dead in an honorable fashion. The Mishnah teaches:

    One may wait for nightfall at the Shabbat boundary to attend to the needs of a bride and the needs of a corpse, such as to bring him a coffin and shrouds. If a gentile brought flutes on Shabbat in order to play music during the eulogy and funeral procession, a Jew may not eulogize with them as accompaniment, unless they were brought from a nearby location within the Shabbat boundary and transporting them did not include any violation of halakhah.

    The prohibition of amira le-akum – asking a non-Jew to perform forbidden Shabbat activities – is a complicated question. According to the Mekhilta there may be a Biblical prohibition involved, based on the passage in Sefer Shemot (12:16) that teaches that “no manner of work should be done in them” i.e., even if performed by a non-Jew. Nevertheless, the accepted ruling is that the prohibition is only of Rabbinic origin, an ordinance established in order to limit the possibility that a Jew will mistakenly perform a forbidden activity himself.

    There are two separate issues that need to be dealt with in such cases:

    1. Requesting that the non-Jew perform the forbidden action, and

    2. Benefitting from a forbidden action that was performed by the non-Jew, even if no request is made.

    In order to avoid these issues, the ruling in the case of our Mishnah is that if a gentile brought flutes or anything else to be used for a Jewish burial on Shabbat, one must wait the amount of time that it takes to bring these objects from a nearby location before using them after Shabbat. If the location from which the objects were brought is known, one must wait the amount of time it takes to bring them from that specific place (Rambam Sefer Zemanim, Hilkhot Shabbat 6:5; Shulĥan Arukh, Oraĥ Ĥayyim 325:15).

    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.

  24. Shabbat 152a-b – The challenges of aging

    In a lengthy aggadic passage on today’s daf (=page) the Gemara addresses old age:

    Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi said to Rabbi Shimon ben Halafta: For what reason did we not greet you during the Festival the way that my fathers greeted your fathers? This was a polite way of asking Rabbi Shimon ben Ĥalafta why he had not come to visit Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi. He said to him: Because I have grown old, and the rocks on the road have become tall, and destinations that are near have become far away, and my two feet have been made into three with the addition of a cane, and that which brings peace to the house, namely, the sexual drive which motivates a couple to make peace, is no more.

    The Gemara describes examples of the weakness and illness that accompany old age. The protrusion of the hip bone is particularly noticeable when an elderly person suffers from weight loss as a result of the weakness of old age, known as senile marasmus.

    The metaphors used by Rabbi Shimon ben Ĥalafta have been interpreted in a variety of different ways. According to the midrash in Vayikra Rabbah“destinations that are near have become far away” means that the ears that could once hear well, can now only hear with difficulty and from close by. The Anaf Yosef interprets “that which brings peace to the house” as a phrase that is referring to digestion, which makes peace within one’s body. If one cannot properly digest his food, he suffers significant discomfort and a lack of internal peace.

    Regarding how aging affects one’s cognitive abilities, the Gemara distinguishes between people who are constantly active in their thinking and those who are not:

    It was taught in a baraita that Rabbi Yishmael, son of Rabbi Yosei, says: As Torah scholars grow older, wisdom is increased in them, as it is stated: “With aged men is wisdom; and length of days brings understanding” (Iyyov 12:12). And as ignoramuses grow older, foolishness is increased in them, as it is stated: “He removes the speech of men of trust and takes away the understanding of the aged” (Iyyov 12:20).

    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.

  25. Shabbat 153a-b – Working with animals on Shabbat – I

    The twenty-fourth (and final) perek (=chapter) of Massekhet Shabbat begins on today’s daf (=page). The halakhot discussed in this chapter relate primarily to what may and may not be done for animals on Shabbat. Some of these issues have already been addressed in earlier chapters, and Chapter Five was devoted to clarifying the laws of transporting items that are on an animal from one domain to another on Shabbat. This chapter addresses a more limited and specific issue, namely, the details of the prohibition of driving a laden animal on Shabbat. For example, what is the source of the prohibition? The Gemara considers whether the Torah expressly forbids driving a laden animal, whether the prohibition stems from a rabbinic decree not to make use of animals, or whether it is derived from the positive command to allow animals to rest. Similarly, the chapter examines the severity and scope of this prohibition.

    With regard to the topic of driving a donkey on Shabbat, the Gemara cites that which Rami bar Hama said: With regard to one who drives his laden animal on Shabbat, if he does so unwittingly, he is liable to bring a sin-offering, and if he does so intentionally, he is liable to be executed by stoning. The Gemara asks: What is the reason for this ruling? Rava said that the verse states: “You shall not perform any manner of labor, neither you…nor your animal” (Shemot 20:9). From this he derived: His animal is similar to himself; just as he, if he performed a prohibited labor on Shabbat unwittingly, he is liable to bring a sin-offering, and if he did so intentionally, he is liable to be executed by stoning, so too, if he performed a prohibited labor by means of his animal, if he did so unwittingly, he is liable to bring a sin-offering, and if he did so intentionally, he is liable to be executed by stoning.

    Rava’s explanation notwithstanding, the ruling quoted in the name of Rami bar Ĥama is ultimately rejected, as we will see on tomorrow’s daf.

    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.

  26. Shabbat 154a-b – Working with animals on Shabbat – II

    On yesterday’s daf (=page) we learned that Rami bar Ĥama believes that working an animal on Shabbat is no less severe than when a person works himself. Others disagree.

    Rabbi Yoĥanan said: One who drives a laden animal on Shabbat is exempt from any punishment.

    The Gemara explains:

    For driving the animal unwittingly, he is not liable to bring a sin-offering because all of the prohibitions in the Torah were juxtaposed to the prohibition of idolatry, from which the principle is derived that one is liable only for actions that he himself performed.

    And for driving the animal intentionally, he is also not liable to be executed by stoning, as we learned in the Mishnah: One who desecrates Shabbat by performing a matter that for its unwitting performance one is liable to bring a sin-offering, and for its intentional performance one is liable to be executed by stoning. By inference, for a matter that for its unwitting performance one is not liable to bring a sin-offering, for its intentional performance one is not liable to be executed by stoning.

    The Gemara argues that an individual who makes an animal work on Shabbat is not even liable to receive lashes:

    Even though the Torah explicitly warns against performing labor on Shabbat, it is a prohibition that was fundamentally given, not as a standard prohibition punishable by lashes, but rather as a warning of court-imposed capital punishment, and for any prohibition that was given as a warning of court-imposed capital punishment, if the death penalty is not imposed for any reason, one is not flogged for its violation.

    In principle, one who violates a Torah prohibition after being forewarned by witnesses is flogged with forty lashes. However, there are certain categories of prohibitions for which one is not punished with lashes. One such type is called “a prohibition that was given as a warning of court-imposed capital punishment.” In other words, a prohibition whose punishment is explicitly articulated in the Torah as court-imposed capital punishment is excluded from the punishment of lashes. This is patently clear in a case where one is actually sentenced to death. Based on the principle that two punishments are not imposed for one transgression, the one being punished receives the more severe punishment, i.e., execution.

    The same principle applies to a case where the death sentence cannot be administered for some reason, e.g., where there was no forewarning. Since this prohibition possesses an element of the death penalty, it is classified as a prohibition that was given as a warning of court-imposed capital punishment, and there is no possibility of punishment by lashes.

    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.

  27. Shabbat 155a-b – Feeding animals on Shabbat

    On today’s daf (=page) the Mishnah turns its attention to feeding animals on Shabbat. The Mishnah teaches:

    One may not forcibly overfeed a camel on Shabbat and one may not force-feed it, even if in doing so he does not overfeed the camel. However, one may place food into its mouth.

    One may add water to bran used as animal feed, but one may not knead the mixture. And one may not place water before bees or before doves in a dove-cote, because they are capable of finding their own food; however, one may place water before geese and chickens and before hardisian [hardeisiyyot] doves.

    The question of feeding an animal depends on one’s responsibility for that animal. This is clarified in the following teaching that appears in the Gemara:

    One may place sustenance before a dog on Shabbat, but one may not place sustenance before a pig. And what is the difference between this and that? In this case of the dog, responsibility for its sustenance is incumbent upon you, and in that case of the pig, responsibility for its sustenance is not incumbent upon you, as no Jew raises pigs.

    The Me’iri argues that the Gemara’s intention is to permit feeding a dog even if the person does not own it. He explains this based on the verse concerning the halakhot of an animal with a condition that will cause it to die within twelve months [tereifa]: “You shall cast it to a dog” (Shemot 22:30), basing himself on the idea that the dogs were rewarded for their behavior during the Exodus: “Against any of the children of Israel shall not a dog whet his tongue,” (Shemot 11:7).

    The Me’iri also notes that the discussion about feeding animals would not be applied to people. Thus, even if it is prohibited to feed an animal on Shabbat if one is not responsible for its sustenance, it is permitted to give a gentile food in one’s courtyard despite the fact that responsibility for his sustenance is not incumbent upon a Jew. The Sages draw a distinction between the cases. A Jew is required to treat gentiles well in order to encourage good relations, much as he gives charity to both gentiles and Jews. Furthermore, since people are considered more important than other beings, the Sages permit giving food to a gentile on Shabbat in order to preserve human dignity.

    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.

  28. Shabbat 156a-b – Astrology in the Talmud

    On today’s daf (=page) the Gemara turns its attention to the question of astrology and the influence of the stars on people.

    Astrology, which was considered to be a serious science over the course of many generations, was highly developed in Babylonia. Nevertheless, the Talmud discusses astrology relatively infrequently and when it does, the discussion is on the level of folklore, lacking development or complexity. This is apparently because most of the Sages maintained that the constellations do not control the Jewish people. Some of the qualities ascribed here to various astrological signs are related to the visible qualities of the stars themselves, like the qualities attributed to the sun and the moon. Those born under the sign of Venus are ascribed certain qualities because the luminaries were hung on that day. This may be explained because the conclusion of Shabbat is the time associated with Venus, and it is also the time when, according to the Rabbis, fire was discovered by people. Mercury is described as the sun’s scribe because even the early astrologers were aware that it was the closest planet to the sun. Saturn is generally regarded as a sign related to misfortune, even though it is ascribed a different meaning here. Jupiter is considered a sign of fortune and righteousness. Mars was considered to be a sign of war and murder, because of its red color and because of its association with the Roman god Mars.

    Do the stars truly affect us?

    The Gemara relates:

    It was stated that Rabbi Ĥanina says: A constellation makes one wise and a constellation makes one wealthy, and there is a constellation for the Jewish people that influences them. Rabbi Yoĥanan said: There is no constellation for the Jewish people that influences them. The Jewish people are not subject to the influence of astrology. And Rabbi Yoĥanan follows his own reasoning, as Rabbi Yoĥanan said: From where is it derived that there is no constellation for the Jewish people? As it is stated: “Thus said the Lord: Learn not the way of the nations, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the nations are dismayed at them” (Yirmiyahu 10:2). The nations will be dismayed by them, but not the Jewish people.

    Many commentaries discussed Rabbi Ĥanina’s opinion and concluded that he does not mean to say that everything is determined by one’s constellation. He himself stated: Everything is in the hands of Heaven, except for fear of Heaven; i.e., the choice between good and evil remains in the purview of human beings.

    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.

  29. Shabbat 157a-b – Nullification of vows

    The final Mishnah of Massekhet Shabbat focuses on the nullification of vows on Shabbat.

    A father or husband may nullify his daughter’s or his wife’s vows on Shabbat, and one may request from a Sage to dissolve vows that are for the purpose of Shabbat. Failure to dissolve the vow will compromise one’s fulfillment of the mitzvah to delight in Shabbat.

    The halakhot of vows and their nullification are stated in the Torah (Bamidbar, Chapter 30) and explained in an entire tractate, tractate Nedarim. In essence, when either a young woman still under her father’s auspices or a married woman takes a vow, her father or her husband respectively can nullify the vow on the day that he hears it if he does not approve of it. The Sages explained based on the verses that this is permitted only in certain situations. Only vows taken with regard to matters between the woman and her husband or between the young woman and her father can be nullified. Vows that do not affect the woman’s relationship with her husband or father cannot be nullified. Vows may not only be nullified; one may also request that a sage dissolve his vow. Although this does not appear explicitly in the Torah, the Sages found allusions to it in the same portion.

    One who took a vow can request that a single Sage or a court of three dissolve it. Tractate Nedarim deals extensively with the problems that arise in this process. The standard scenario involves the person who took the vow declaring that he did not initially anticipate that it would be so difficult to fulfill the vow, and had he known, he would not have taken the vow in the first place. There is no designated time frame for dissolving one’s vows and one can request that his vows be dissolved at any time. There are also some vows that a Sage cannot dissolve, e.g., a vow made to another person, which would require that person’s agreement to dissolve it. In addition, a vow cannot be dissolved if it was taken before a large group and was contingent on their agreement.

    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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