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.