Shabbos 86 “Pesachdik” Deodorant

Does one need to ensure that deodorants and perfumes used over Pesach do not contain chametz, typically wheat-based alcohol?

In general, the rule is that any chametz that is no longer fit for a dog to drink is no longer subject to the biblical prohibitions  of eating, owning , or benefitting from Chametz on Pesach  ( see Pesachim 45b and Shulchan Aruch O.C. 442/2) , though one who is crazy enough to actually eat it might still have transgressed a  rabbinical prohibition (see machlokes there )

As no dog in its right mind would drink deodorant or perfume, it thus seems obvious that there is no concern with such things over Pesach. 

Some, however,  have suggested that as the alcohol in the deodorant could technically be separated by chemical means , it is  thus theoretically still edible, but as pretty much anything  can be separated chemically with the correct process and halocho is generally based on the current status of an item, not a hypothetical status after a major chemical process , this seems to be somewhat of a stretch.

However , there is another concept that needs to be addressed , and that is the principle  of סיכה כשתיה ( anointing is the equivalent of drinking  .)

This principle is derived in a Mishna on our daf from a passuk,  and is applied to Yom Kippur  in particular, to the point that anointing oneself on Yom-Kippur is forbidden just like drinking is .

This comparison  is only partial though, and the severe punishment of kareit (excision ) that applies to one who eats knowingly and intentional on Yom Kippur certainly does not apply to one who anoints oneself – at most , it involves a regular biblical prohibition , at least , a rabbinical one based on a verse ( אסמכתא ) 

The question is whether this principle is unique to Yom Kippur, as implied by the Mishna’s precise wording , or applicable in other areas of halocho too, with the Mishna using Yom Kippur just as the main example of such application , for whatever reason .

If this principle  does indeed apply to Chametz on Pesach too, it would seem that anointing oneself with Chametz might be equivalent to drinking it, and thus forbidden .

However, even if this is true, one would have to investigate further whether this could create a biblical or even rabbinic prohibition on using deodorant or perfume containing chametz on Pesach.

This is because the biblical  prohibitions on Pesach only apply to chametz that is still fit for a dog to eat .

Even if anointing oneself with chametz that is fit for a dog to eat is forbidden like drinking is on Pesach , and not just as part of the prohibition of benefitting from chametz, seeing as the perfume is not fit for a dog to DRINK , there might  still be no prohibition to ANNOINT with it, at least biblically .

Even if it is still forbidden rabbinically to drink such unfit chametz, it doesn’t necessarily follow that Chazal extended their ruling to the already novel principle of סיכה כשתיה .

One would have to investigate whether

–  סיכה כשתיה merely means that  anointing is the same as drinking regarding the actual prohibition itself   ,


 -whether it is a broad enough comparison to mean that if it is FIT for anointing , it is ALSO  as if it is fit for drinking .

Only if the latter is true , would we say that seeing as perfume and deodorant is fit for anointing, it is considered as if it was fit for drinking, and thus anointing with it is forbidden.

One could also argue that deodorant is not used for classic anointing at all, which is to provide  a good fragrance, soften the skin,  or other pleasure, but simply to remove bad odor, which MIGHT be  permitted even on Yom Kippur. This depends on the scope  of the prohibition on Yom Kippur, which is in turn derived from the requirement to afflict oneself.

The latter argument is not straight forward, as most modern deodorants are dual purpose and many people indeed choose them based on their preferred fragrance,  using them even  when they are not particularly sweaty or smelly.  As such, it seems to me that such deodorants may indeed be viewed halachically as perfumes, though I have not come to any conclusion on the matter.

There is much to discuss about the first חקירה   we made regarding whether the rule of סיחה     כשתיה   applies only on Yom Kippur or in all areas of halacha.

Suffice to say is that given that this is a Chiddush, and the Mishna specifically mentions Yom Kippur alone, the burden of proof should be with one who wishes to claim that Yom Kippur is merely an example of the application of a general rule.

Examining the source for the rule, one comes to  the Passuk in Tehillim  109 , where David haMelech describes the curse that befalls those who forget Hashem and oppress the poor-וַיִּלְבַּ֥שׁ קְלָלָ֗ה כְּמַ֫דּ֥וֹ וַתָּבֹ֣א כַמַּ֣יִם בְּקִרְבּ֑וֹ וְ֝כַשֶּׁ֗מֶן בְּעַצְמוֹתָֽיו: 

(and the curse will come like his garment, and it will come like water inside him and like oil in his bones”)

In the passuk, oil which soaks into one’s bones through annointing , is compared to water in one’s insides (stomach) which is absorbed through drinking, hence the basis (though admittedly by the Mishna itself only a “zecher ladavar”) for the rule.

As the context is that of suffering, and the Mitzva of Yom Kippur is also that of self-affliction, it seems clear that the comparison is being made specifically in the context of affliction, not other things.

However, the room is still open to argue that if refraining from annointing with oil and the like  is considered a  requirement of  affliction like refraining from drinking water is, then the benefit obtained on Pesach from annointing with chametz , is also equivalent to the benefit obtained from drinking chametz.

If so, even if we do not expand the rule to include also  אסורי אכילה  (things that one is forbidden to eat or drink), perhaps we would at least extend it to אסורי הנאה , like Pesach.

Although  the prohibition of benefitting only applies to edible chametz, perhaps chametz which is fit for annointing  is also considered edible regarding the definition of benefit?

In practise, it seems that there are a lot of Chiddushim (novel ideas) required to forbid using deoderant or even perfume containing chametz alcohol on Pesach, and that it is probably fine.

I wrote this as a lomdishe analysis based mainly on this daf, without taking an encyclopedic view to the concept as is required to come to a full conclusion, but a quick look at parallel sugyos and the relevant Rishonim reveals that there is indeed some disagreement as to the scope of this rule .

I  was happy to see that although the Chofetz Chaim in Biur Halocho (326/10) tends towards stringency even in regular אסורי אכילה like חלב  (forbidden fats), most contemporary poskim including Rav Moshe Feinstein zt’l  (O.C 3/62) and Rav Asher Weiss  יבדל לחיים  ( I have seen quoted from his Hagada siman 24 but have not got hold of one yet) seem to  hold that there is no problem with annointing  with inedible chometz materials , each citing various distinctions that I made in this analysis!)

( These daf posts are aimed to raise points for discussion and analysis based on a chosen idea on the given daf . They are written quickly, without sufficient time to be checked thoroughly  by myself or senior Talmidei Chachomim, and not meant for psak halocho- please message me privately if you require practical guidance in the relevant area and if I cannot help you myself, I shall  bli neder try direct you or your question to someone who can.

I hope that those who read them will give their input and help me improve on them)

Shabbos 84 “May Hashem save us from your opinion “

The ways of the Torah are described as “דרכי נועם ” , “the ways of pleasantness” (Mishlei 3/17), and one of the most basic rules for those of us who spread Torah is to speak gently and pleasantly to people, as Hillel was so well known for doing (see Shabbos 31a.) 

We also know very well the price that was paid by Rabbi Akiva’s students for not showing honor to each other (Yevamos 62b.)

We know that “תלמידי חכמים מרבים שלום בעולם “, “Torah Scholars increase peace in the world,” (Brachos 64a) and our saintly Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Azriel Chayim Goldfein zt’l was well known for quipping the obvious corollary , that ” if he doesn’t increase peace, he is NOT a Talmid Chacham.” 

Furthermore, we are told ( Eruvin 13b) that one of the reasons we follow Beis Hillel over Beis Shamai is because they would quote their words together with the words of Beis Shamai, and even quote Beit Shamai first !

The correct approach to other views according to that sugya,  is one of “אלו ואלו דברי אלוקים חיים ” ( Both these and those are the words of the living G-d), and this respect for other views is an intrinsic part of our approach to learning Torah .

Nevertheless, more than just occasionally, we are faced with what appears to be extremely harsh language by one scholar to the other .

For some of  very many examples:

 -In Brachos 32a, Rabbi Yannai tells Rabbi Chanina the reader “פוק קרא קראיך לברא” ( get out and read  your reading outside .)- this is a relatively common retort in the shas.

-At the end of שלושה שאכלו (Brachos 51b), Rav Nachman’s scholarly wife, offended at the Amora Ullah’s apparent chauvinism, responds  to his words by saying:

“ממהדורי מילי ומסמרטוטי כרמי  ( empty words come from peddlers and lice come out of old rags .) 

-Though not exactly the same, there is also the view that a Talmid Chacham who does not  “take revenge and bare a grudge like a snake” is not a Talmid chacham ” ( Yoma 23a.)

On our daf, there is a debate between Rabbi Ilai and Rabbi Chanina regarding the rule that a zav only causes impurity  when he sits on something that can be purified in a mikva ( as opposed to earthenware vessels than cannot be purified and certain types of simple wooden vessels like the מפץ  (see Rashi .)

Rabbi Ilai holds that so long as some things made of the same material ( namely wood ) can be purified in a mikva, even things of that material that cannot be purified in a mikva ( like the מפץ), can become impure.

Rabbi Chanina responds to what he seems to view as a ridiculous idea, by saying ” may Hashem save us from that opinion,”   to which Rabbi Ilai retorts in kind , that on the contrary :” may Hashem save us from YOUR opinion. “

Neither Chacham  seems to be satisfied with the usual respectful  give and take of the Talmudic discussion but seems to feel the need to speak extremely harshly and seemingly disrespectful about the other’s view.

It should also be noted that this debate is not  exactly about one of the main principles of belief, which makes this behaviour even more surprising. 

Interesting enough, the Masores hashas  points us to two other places where a similar exchange occurs, between the same two chachomim , both in masechtos commonly learnt in yeshivos –  and we really need to  take a deeper look  and try and find a common thread. (The case in Kesubos involves possibly giving someone a harsher death penalty than deserved, whereas the case in Bava Kama involves possibly making a thief pay back more than he needs to.)

But although these 3 cases must certainly hold clues as to when harsh language is indeed appropriate, it seems clear from them and so many other cases, that there is indeed a time for using such. 

Although counter examples can perhaps be found  the basic concept seems to me to be that in one’s relationship to people outside one’s immediate cozy learning environment , one has to always be extra careful with ones words and how one says things .

 Of course, there are times such as danger to life and public chillul Hashem where it is sometimes necessary to speak harshly in the public eye too, as did the Neviim, Chazal, and Gedolim through all the ages , but one needs serious סיעתא דשמיא to do this successfully and it is essential to show that one is not doing it out of ego or anger, but completely for the sake of heaven – much more to discuss in this regard, perhaps in a later post , Hashem willing .

In contrast, inside the walls of the Beis Midrash, more scope is giving for lively  and sometimes extremely strong “give and take ” so long as the argument is לשם שמיים .

As the Gemara says in Kiddushin (30b),  two Talmidei Chachamim who are fighting with each other over a halacha can temporarily become “enemies ” during the passion of the argument , and this is part of the passionate search for the truth, and is completely legitimate .

Similarly perhaps,  a Rebbe might use harsh language with his student in order to sharpen him and his thought process or stop him being lazy ( see Rambam hilchos Talmud Torah 4/5) – I would add that this is obviously ,provided he is confident that the student will be impacted positively by this and not negatively ( which in my experience is an extremely risky and often counter-productive strategy in our age.)

A Nasi may also be very strong with those under him in to strengthen the authority of the position ( see Kesubos 103b), as Rabban Gamliel did (perhaps going too far ) with Rabbi Yehoshua ( see Brachos 27b and parallel sugyos.) 

HOWEVER , as the Gemara  in Kiddushin continues , they do not leave the study hall without becoming friends again, and this is the true test of whether this harsh talk was in the correct spirit or not .

True debates  for the sake of heaven  might indeed get heated, but they may never get personal.

Shabbos 83-85  Food for thought  over Shavuos 

I wish I had the time to prepare posts in advance for the coming dapim,  but Yom-Tov prep in the house also has to be done, so will have to try catch up next week.

Meanwhile , some food for thought and Iyun over the chag  from the dapim , with some relevance to shavuos ( as we get very close to the sugyot about Matan Torah!)

1. Items used for Avoda Zara are compared to a Nida regarding certain laws of impurity. 

The implication of the pesukim is that a Niddah is treated as rejected, “צא תאמר לו “

The Zav, Metzora, and Tamei Meis are also  treated seemingly harshly and physically  sent out from at least part of the camp.

Yet these are all people who do not seem to have done anything wrong.

It is true that  biblical צרעת is viewed by chazal as a punishment for lashon harah, but since when do we punish a person ourselves without warning or witnesses?

Being a Niddah is a natural process every woman goes through regularly , so why should she be considered impure for that , let alone be described in what seems to be such a harsh language?

More than this, it is normal for a man to become a Baal Keri even more  regularly , often daily , without necessarily doing anything wrong , so why is he treated as Tamei, to the point that at certain periods in history , he was not even allowed to learn Torah ( see Mishnayos in chapter 3 of brachos and related sugyos)

It seems that the Torah is trying to teach us something so important, that even normal and unavoidable biological processes are somehow used to illustrate it.

Can it perhaps be something to do with the value of life , which Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch famously related to virtually all types of impurity?

2.It is amazing how so many of us who have regular Torah learning programs, whether its daf yomi, amud yomi, shnayim bemikra , nach yomi, or whatever else, can testify to the fact that there is almost always something we can notice that is relevant to the time we are learning a particular piece .

Purity was a requirement for Kabbalas haTorah, and incredible , our dapim  in the days leading up to this shavuos and beyond have taken a major detour from matters of shabbos and focused on matters of purity !

Even more amazingly , our daf ends with some incredible Agadot about learning Torah- how one should never leave the Beis haMidrash, learn till the moment one dies , and “kill himself ” with exertion in order to master it .

May we merit to renew our acceptance of the Torah with the required devotion, motivation, and dedication to fulfill Chazal’s tremendously high bar that they set for us in this regard ! 

Shabbos 82  Health and safety  matters (excuse the pun)

On this daf, we are told how Rav Huna asked his son Rabbah, why he did not go to learn anymore by Rav Chisda, who was particularly sharp in his learning.

Rabbah replied that Rav Chisda used to always teach them “worldly matters”, and he preferred to focus on only Torah during his studies .

For example, he used to tell them that when one goes to the toilet, one should not sit down too quickly or push too hard, as it could cause injury .

Rabbah’s response was that he was teaching him matters of health (the life of people ) , and that was even more reason to go learn with him!

The most obvious explanation of this is that the Torah commands us to look after one’s health and safety and avoid danger, in the passuk

 ונשמרתם מאוד לנפשותיכם ( be very careful with your lives.) ( Devarim 4/9) 

The Rambam is generally presumed to hold that anything one does that is bad for one’s health or a danger to his life will usually be a transgression of this Mitzva ( See for example  Hilchos Deos chapter 4 and Rotzeach ushmiras hanefesh chapter 14 and 11/4, though he might also have other sources for this- another discussion for a different post, perhaps )

If the Rambam’s definition is correct, than anything which is health or safety related is part of this Mitzva and thus considered Torah, so Rabbah’s claim that he preferred to focus on “Torah” was ill informed, seeing as this very much WAS Torah !

In truth though, even if this particular passuk is not referring to avoiding physical danger, but rather spiritual danger as in its context (see Torah Temima on the passuk for different views on this ), there are plenty sources that avoiding danger is a Torah requirement, and in fact that it is MORE important than avoiding sin (חמירא סכנתא מאיסורא -see Chullin 10a.)

However, if one takes a more careful look, one still needs to explain :

1. What was Rabbah was initially thinking?- did he really not know that looking after oneself is a Torah requirement?

2. Why does Rav Huna say that it was even MORE reason to go? If health and safety is just another Mitzva , then why should it be even more important than learning Brachos  or Shabbos or Yevamos?

This is only one of many statements of Chazal that venture into the realm of health and medicine, to the point that one often finds what seem like clear contradictions between the views they express and those of modern medicine (more on this perhaps in a different post.)

In order to address this problem,  Rabbeinu Avraham son of the Rambam (Maamar al Derashos Chazal)  tells us that such contradictions should not worry us, as Chazal did not get their medical knowledge from any form of Torah  tradition or prophesy, but rather based their advice on the medical knowledge available to them at the time.

The Rambam himself wrote similar things regarding Astronomy (Moreh Nevuchim 3/14.)

Perhaps precisely for this reason, Rabbah was of the view that medical issues should be left to the doctors and Rabbis should focus on teaching Torah only, stating the mitzva to look after oneself , but not going into the practical details, which one should rather learn from the doctors of the time .

Rav Huna, however , knew that if Rabbis don’t take health matters seriously and teach it to their Talmidim, the talmidim won’t take it seriously, and it is therefore their absolute obligation to become as familiar as they can with the medical knowledge of the time, and under the guidance of their medical consultants, drill it into their students .

Alternatively, perhaps Rabbah held that such details, being subject to change as medical knowledge develops,  cannot be part of a timeless Torah ,that never changes .

Rav Huna taught him that although the facts and knowledge one has available to apply to the Mitzva might change , the Mitzva itself is timeless and part of that timelessness is the need to constantly apply new knowledge to how it is carried out.

In fact, Rav Huna might be suggesting that studying  a theoretical mitzva  which does not include practical ways of fulfilling it in each time and environment, is an inferior form of Torah study itself .

As such, he tells his son, destined to become a leading Amora in his own right , that on the contrary, the fact that Rav Chisda doesn’t just teach the mitzva out of context, but emphasizes the  contemporary wisdom required to carry it out in each place and time, is EVEN more of a reason to learn by him, as such Torah is actually superior – it is not enough to learn about the Mitzva of being healthy- one has to study health itself in order to be able to fulfill the mitzvah properly , and that is not a secondary level of Torah, or a mere הכשר מצוה , but Torah itself !

This also explains the Mitzva of learning astronomy which we discussed in a previous post re כי היא חכמתכם ובינתכם , and is summed up incredibly by the famous statement of the Vilna Gaon  that “all categories of (secular) wisdom are required for our holy Torah and are incorporated with it” (See  “הגרא” מאת דב אליאך   chapter 19 for references and detailed discussion)

And while it could be argued that this is only necessary later in life once one has completed a basic understanding of Torah , perhaps also the initial feeling of Rabbah bar Rav Huna, it seems that Rav Huna was teaching him that, on the contrary, one has to study these wisdoms in one’s youth, at least as they come up, in order for one’s learning to be of a more superior quality!

P.s. one could go a simpler route and argue that Rav Huna was simply teaching his son that looking after one’s health is NOT just another Mitzva, but more important than other Mitzvos, given the precedent of וחי בהם and pikuach nefesh,  but one would then have to explain how Rabbah bar Rav Huna was not aware of such a simple principle such as “danger is more severe than prohibition .”

In light of recent events where we have seen plenty people who learn regularly but seem to be unaware of this rule, at least on a practical level, that might seem less far-fetched  than our initial feeling, but I would still rather not attribute such a view to any one of the Amoraim, even in their earlier years of study !

Shabbos 81   Toilet paper shortages 

One of the most challenging aspects of Gemora study today is being able to step into the environment in which Chazal lived – the agricultural and pre medieval jargon often feels irrelevant to us and makes it harder to internalize the timeless laws and values that they teach us.

As hard as it is to identify with an ox goring a cow, or share cropping, it is even harder to identify with areas of halacha that seem to assume an extremely primitive lifestyle .

For example, so much Talmudic discussion assumes that nighttime was a time without good lighting, and unsuitable for many activities, and candlelight was often an unreliable  luxury. 

When the Gemara (Brachos 2) assumes that poor people eat dinner early, due to not being able to afford candles to eat by, or discusses what to do when the candles go out during the Shabbos meal ( Pesachim 101a ) , it is kind of hard to identify in an era where electric light is taken for granted in all but the most undeveloped regions .

Yet sometimes, Hashem puts us in situations, where we suddenly able to identify with the sugya- the regular power outages in today’s South Africa, for example, which seem to love shabbos evening in particular, or those experienced even in modern New York in the aftermath of hurricane Sandy , suddenly showed us how we cannot and shouldn’t take it for granted – I am not saying this was Hashem’s reason, chalila, but there is no doubt that we are expected to learn whatever logical lessons we can from situations he puts us in .

One of the ” lighter”  though still depressing  moments during the horror of the Corona outbreak was the pictures of shoppers from Australia to Israel hoarding toilet paper, often leaving the shelves bare .

The prospect of running short of such an essential commodity in modern times in a modern country was incomprehensible prior to this pandemic, but we soon realised that nothing is to be taken for granted .

The truth is that for most of our history, toilet paper of the modern kind did not exist, and we seem to have managed just fine.

In fact , until recently, having one’s own built in toilet in the house was not the norm, and people used to set aside a demarcated area as an ablution spot, sometimes in ones courtyard and sometimes out in the fields .

This was often fraught with embarrassment and sometimes danger, and we were faced with all kinds of questions  regarding davening near a “toilet”, where to leave one’s Tefillin ( which people wore all day), how to ensure modesty, protect against the many demons that were believed to hang out in such places, and of course, on our daf, how to use one on Shabbos.

Finding a suitable toilet was often such a challenge , that in searching for the meaning of the biblical phrase “לעת מצא” – a Eureka moment , one of the Amoraim applies it to the moment one finds a suitable toilet  (Brachos 8a) – something hard to appreciate today, but that those of us who have spent hours on safari or driving through India, can certainly identify with more easily .

On our daf, there is a halachik discussion as to how to carry stones on shabbos required for use as “toilet paper.”

In the absence of that most essential of household commodities, the norm was indeed to use a stone, or perhaps a reed, for cleaning oneself .

Although such a discussion might have seemed mundane or even comical to us “moderns”, it is incredible how this suddenly seems more understandable after the events of this year.

Issues discussed include how to carry  below the minimum amount required to become liable for punishment , how to avoid the concern of tearing out grass, how to bypass the problem of Muktza, and of course the very important factor of כבוד הבריות ( human dignity ) and how it can push aside rabbinical prohibitions 

We daven that we shall merit to appreciate the daily things we take for granted, as well as  the wisdom of every word of the Torah, without having to be put in difficult and unimaginable circumstances chalila in order to do so!

Shabbos 80 Remembering the Temple and leaving the wall unplastered 

In our Mishna, we are told that the minimum quantity of thick sand that one is liable for transporting on shabbos is the amount needed to put on top of a trowel filled with plaster (and mix with it) to strengthen it before use in building .

The Gemara suggests that this Mishna must be the opinion of Rabbi Yehuda who holds that sand indeed does strengthen plaster. ( otherwise this would not be considered something of importance to be considered a punishable act .)

This view is reflected in a Beraisa which says that one is not permitted to plaster his house, as a sign of mourning for the Temple, unless one mixes the plaster with straw or sand to make it less effective  .

Rabbi Yehuda holds that it is forbidden  even if one mixes it with sand, as sand strengthens it .

The Gemara refutes this suggestion and says that it is possible that even the Chachamim who argue with Rabbi Yehuda would accept the ruling in the Mishna, as the act of weakening the plaster is considering for its benefit so that it can be used for plastering one’s home.

It follows from this discussion that everyone agrees that there is a prohibition against plastering one’s house  even during the week without adding something to the cement that weakens it , and this prohibition was made in order to make us remember that we are in a constant state of mourning for the destroyed Temple , שיבנה במהרה וימינו .

The truth is that this prohibition is also brought in Bava Basra 60b,  and there  is a different Beraisa that is also brought  there that says that plastering the house is only permitted if one leaves a square of 1 armlength  unplastered.

We need to clarify whether this is a second condition, both of which are required , or whether anyone of the two is sufficient. A third option is that the authors of the two statements actually disagree with each other, and only one of the two conditions would work at all.

This is also part of a list of decrees that Chazal made after the destruction for the same reason , including refraining from serving one dish at a meal, putting ash on the head of a חתן (groom), leaving out a stone from women’s jewelry  , and based on Sotah 48a and Gittin 7a,  refraining from playing musical instruments (a topic for another post, Hashem willing .)

Although the custom to break a glass at a wedding might be a derivative of these customs, and there are some pious people in Yerushalayim  in particular that do indeed have unplastered squares in their homes, it does not seem to be common practise to follow all these things, and given that these are based on explicit rulings in the Talmud, this requires some serious explanation.

One possibility is that these decrees never actually caught on and were not accepted by the majority of Jews at the time, due to their being too harsh.

Although this might seem surprising, the Rambam does in fact rule (Mamrim 2/6-7) that if Chazal make a decree and it is not accepted by the majority of the people at the time, it is null and void!

He even rules further than even it appears to have caught but a later court din finds that this is not so, they may annul it, even if they of lesser stature than the court that enacted it .

However , we see  from our daf ( and the sugyas in Bava Basra and Sotah ) that this rule was discussed many years later by the Amoraim of the Gemora, and no mention is made of the possibility  that it didn’t catch on.

It is clear from the same  Rambam (Mamrim 2/2)  that once a decree was accepted , the decree remains in force and cannot be annulled ( though see Kesef Mishna there who toys with the idea that if the decree indeed was later dropped by the people because they could not  handle it, it may also be annullable- he rejects the idea mainly because of a Rashi that implies otherwise , itself an interesting point regarding his methodology .) 

Furthermore, the Rambam himself brings this rule, together with the others ( Taaniyos 5/12) and rules that it is only permitted if one leaves a square Ama unplastered – he doesn’t seem to clearly mention the heter of mixing the plaster with sand or straw ( why this is so requires an analysis  of the sugya and Rambam outside the scope of a daf post, but see the נוסעי כלים on the Rambam for a detailed discussion about this, or  preferably try work it out yourself first!)

However, he does make it clear, based on the Gemora, that if one buys a house already plastered , there is no need to remove a square Ama’s worth  of the plaster .

As most of our houses are bought already plastered, this could explain why we do not see these unplastered squares in most people’s homes.

However , it seems that if one builds a home from scratch, as people certainly do still do, one would be required to leave the square unplastered, as per the Gemara and the Rambam.

Yet many religious people do not seem to do this either, and many or all of the other decrees mentioned in the Gemara AND brought by the Rambam also do not seem to be  universal normative practise .

This is even more bizarre given that these laws are brought by the Tur and Shulchan Aruch as well( O.C 560.)

Although discussed by various Poskim, including the Chayei Adam, Mishna Berura  and the Tzitz Eliezer regarding music (15/33) , I am not aware of any halachically convincing explanation for this .

Shabbos 79 No-one is immune from financial temptation 

On our daf, we continue dealing with the question of whether a loan document ( שטר חוב)  that has already been paid back has any residual use to the lender or not. 

This will of course impact on liability for transferring it on Shabbos .

Typically, a person who borrows money will sign a document together with witnesses which the lender will then keep as proof of the loan. 

When the borrower pays back the loan, the document could be returned to him, or destroyed , or a שובר ( type of receipt ) could be signed and given to the borrower.

Given that documents were  written on animal hides   and involved a degree of expense (paper was not cheap and readily available as it is today,)  it stands to reason that the lender might wish to keep the document to use to cover a container with, or for some other use.

Yet we see an opinion that this is forbidden, presumably even if the borrower trusts him and agrees.

One opinion goes further and says that it is forbidden even if a שובר is written !

Rashi brings a passuk in Iyov as a source for this prohibition , which says “Corruption  should not dwell in your tent .”

Without discussing the propriety of using verses in the Navi or Kesubim as basis for laws, and whether this is a דרשה גמורה or a  kind of אסמכתא, It is clear that Rashi understands that even though someone is honest, and even trusted by the other side, it is forbidden to bring oneself into financial temptation.

Financial temptation  is one of the things that no-one is immune from – ” as bribery blinds the eyes of the wise and corrupts the words of the righteous ” ( Devarim 16/19,)  and although this is far from actual bribery, the temptation to claim back a repaid loan a second time, coupled with the chances that the borrower might lose his receipt , is enough reason to forbid the lender from retaining the loan document , even though it has some permitted  financial utility to him.

It could be noted that  according to Rashi at least, this is not a concern of חשד, or that people will suspect him of corrupt intent, as there is already an accepted source in the Chumash itself for the need to avoid any suspicion, namely ” and you shall be clean with regards to Hashem and Israel ” ( Bamidbar 32/22).

Rather, the passuk in Iyov is revealing to us that even if a person would not be suspected of wrong doing , he is not allowed to bring himself to any temptation to be corrupt .

It can be illustrated from various sugyas that the need to stay away from any financial temptation, or even the slightest financial suspicion,  applies to the greatest of people- in fact, the greater one is, the more squeaky clean one is expected to be.

In Brachos 5b , we are told how Rav Huna had 400 barrels of wine turn to vinegar. 

When his colleagues came to visit him, they told him to look into his affairs to see what he might have done to deserve it (important to note that this is not the way one should normally talk to people who are suffering and it might be a transgression of the prohibition of אונאת דברים – see Bava Metzia 58b)

After some give and take , he asked them if they heard anything negative about him, and they replied that they had heard that he did not pay his sharecropper his share in the yield.

Rav Huna replied that the sharecropper  stole more than the value of his share already, so he had no claim .

They replied that despite this, when one steals from a thief, one tastes the taste of theft ( see Rashi there.)

He then agreed to pay the sharecropper and the vinegar became wine again ( or was sold for the price of wine.)

The message seems to be that even though Rav Huna was within his legal rights , after all , the law is that  one is permitted to take  back what is his himself without going to court ( see Bava Kama 27b  re עביד איניש דינא לנפשיה ), someone of his level certainly has to be completely above any chance of suspicion – the mere fact that people suspected him of wrong doing was reason for him to lose a fortune of money . 

There is another law which prohibits lending money without witnesses, as one could be causing the borrower to sin by defaulting on the loan (  Bava Metzia 75b.) 

The Gemara tells a story where Ravina  asked if that even applies to someone who lends him money, given that he is honest and would never default. 

He was told that it applies even more so to him, as he is extra busy and could “forget.”

Although some of these cases refer to suspicion and some to temptation or even forgetfulness, all of them show that no matter how great one is, one cannot rely  on his greatness to take even the smallest chance of financial impropriety or suspicion.

If only we could live up to even part of these high expectations!

Shabbos 78   What is considered שכיח (common)   and its role in halacha 

(I have indulged  the common English  translation here for שכיח but obviously much meaning is often lost in translation and it would be more correct to at least use the hebrew equivalent that Chazal use, namely “מצוי” ) 

Our Gemara has been spending a lot of effort in determining the minimum quantity of various things that one would need to transport on shabbos in order to be subject to the relevant penalties.

The general rule that has been established so far is that we identify the minimum amount that is useful for its required purpose and that becomes the cut-off point. 

What happens, however, if something has a common use that requires a certain quantity, but also a less common, or uncommon use that requires a lesser quantity ?

Do we go by the higher quantity that is required for its common use , or are we stringent and go by the lower quantity required for the less  common or uncommon one?

As an example, water is used for many purposes – it is used for drinking , washing, cleaning or soothing wounds, cooking , and much more .

Drinking water is clearly a more common use than using it for a wound , given that people need to drink multiple times a day, but hopefully are not wounded that often  .

Abaya formulates a rule whereby whenever an item has a common and an uncommon use , the common use is the one that counts .

Therefore , even though both wine and milk can be used for healing, for which smaller quantities are sufficient , we go by the quality required for having a meaningful drink, namely a reviis ( or a quarter reviis for wine that needs to be diluted as discussed earlier.)

However, when an item has 2 common uses, we go by the smaller of the 2 quantities.

 ( he does not state whether they need to be equally common however , and whether common is an objective or relative term is an important discussion I hope to be able to address another time, and at least touch on here.)

As a result , when it comes to honey which is commonly used both for healing and eating, we go by the smaller amount  that is useful for putting on a wound .

However, Abayas rule is challenged by our Mishna, which says that the minimum quantity of water is the amount one used for eye ointment, significantly less than the amount used for a significant drink.

It is clear to all that drinking is a much more common usage of water than spreading eye ointment !

Abaya answers by limiting the scope of our Mishna to people in the Galil, who were poor, and would never use wine or milk for wounds.

For them, using water for a wound is thus also considered common, and the lower amount needed for that is what counts as far as shabbos is concerned .

Rava also seems to accept Abaya’s rule, but gives an alternative answer, whereby the scope of the Mishna is not limited but applies to everyone.

His reasoning is that seeing as according to Shmuel, wine and milk can cause long term harm to the eye when used in ointment and water does not, people prefer water for such purposes, and thus healing is also considered a common use of water .

How though do we define “שכיח” or “common” regarding this and other halachot?

Firstly, it is important to clarify that whereas we are indulging the use of the English word common as a translation for the Aramaic “שכיח” , what is important for the sugya is not the Oxford definition of the English word, but the halachik definition of the original Aramaic  word.

It is well known that one of the main criteria Chazal use to decide whether to make a decree against a certain action A in case it leads to a biblically prohibited action B, is how   common this forbidden result in fact is.

It should  also be known to any student of Bava Kama that the amount of liability  one has for damages done by one’s animal depends on how common (מצוי) , the damage is, and thus how much one was expected to guard it .

When it comes to entering dangerous situations , we also know from various sugyos ( for example Pesachim 8)  that when damage is common, a person may not rely on being protected by the Mitzva that he is performing. 

In addition, the requirement to check whether something is not kosher or not ( like checking a slaughtered animal  in various vital organs to see it does not bare signs of being critically injured before slaughter  ( a טריפה), is dependent on how common such injuries are ( see Rashi, Chullin 12a) , as is the requirement to check for bugs in fruit and vegetables ( see Rashba  on same sugya though he admits Rashi disagrees ) – the generally accepted rule there is that a “common” minority or “מעוט המצוי” of problematic  cases is enough to require checking, at a rabbinical level, even though biblically, a majority is required. 

It is not certain that the same definition of “common” would apply to all the above situations, but it certainly would be nice to find more rather than less consistency in the usage of the term – unfortunately I am unable to provide this right now .

However, let us at least try to define the term as much as possible within the scope of our current daf and sugya .

There are two major possibilities that stand out:

1. Common is defined by the person, or people who use the item.  If people  commonly  or perhaps most commonly use an item for purpose A, then even if they also use it for purpose B, we go by A and not B.

2. Common is defined by the purpose  the item serves .

If the purpose is  commonly or possibly  most commonly served by item A, then even if it is also sometimes served by item B, item A’s minimum required quantity is tied to that purpose , even if it has another equally, or possible more common purpose with a higher required amount .

A Nafka Minah would perhaps  be in our case, the case of water , (as well in the case of honey mentioned in this sugya, but I leave that to you to consider .)

If the first definition is used, then the important factor will be what water  is commonly used for. 

However , if the second definition  is used , then the  relevant factor will be whether water is a commonly used item for the purpose that the least amount of it is required for , namely eye ointment .

It seems more likely to me  from the answers of Abaya and Rava, and this is indeed how Rashi seems to learn, that  the second definition is what counts .

Even the people of the Galil, according to Abaya, and all people according to Rava , clearly use water more often for drinking than for wounds .

Yet the fact that when ointment is required for a wound, water is the item of choice and a commonly ( perhaps most commonly ) used item, ointment is considered a common use of water regarding our rule, and the smaller quantity required for it is what counts !

( p.s. The door is not necessarily closed on the first option, assuming that “common” has some objective rather than relative definition, which does not fit water being used for ointment in the הוה אמינא   but does in the מסקנה . Any suggestions are very welcome )

Shabbos 77/ Parshas Bamidbar Machlokes in metzius and the size of an olive

It is a generally accepted rule in the world of “lomdos” (analytical learning)  that even where a dispute amongst Chazal appears to be about facts [can a child father a child or not ,is one example of many (Sanhedrin 69a) as is דם מפקיד פקיד או מחבר מחבר ( Kesubos 5b) ] , if it is something that can be readily checked, we attempt to show that the argument is really based on something other than just superficial facts ( is someone who has matured to the point that he can father a child still considered a child, or is דם perceived halachically as if it is מפקיד פקיד or מחובר מיחבר , for possible, if not problematic examples )

When the dispute is about facts that cannot be easily verified by observation , like some historic arguments ( like how old biblical figures were at certain times ) or unobservable phenomena , there is no need to do this, as the dispute can simply be explained as being based on different interpretations of the evidence or pessukim.

On this daf, we learn the chiddush of Rabbi Nosson that whilst the minimum quantity of wine required to transgress the melacha of carrying is a reviis, if the wine is conjealed to the point that it is more solid than liquid, the minimum measure of a kezayis  applies instead. 

The Gemora understands that this is because when a reviis of wine congeals, it shrinks to a kezayis.

Rav Yoseif then suggests that this view is the same as that expressed by Rabbi Yossi son of Rabbi Yehuda regarding the blood of an animal that dies without halachik slaughter (a neveila)

A kezayis of flesh from a neveila can make someone impure, but what about liquid blood?

Beis Shamai holds that blood of a neveila is considered like the flesh and does not cause impurity, whereas Beis Hillel holds that it does.

Rabbi Yossi holds that even Beit Hillel require at least a reviis of blood to make someone impure, because if a reviis of blood were to congeal, it would shrink to a kezayis.

Rav Yoseif understands from this that both Rabbi Nosson and Rabbi Yossi agree that a reviis of liquid is the equivalent of a kezayis of solids.

However- Abaya questions this assumption, and suggests that on the contrary, they may in fact totally disagree.

He points out something that students of physics should recognize, namely the fact that not ALL liquids are equal (nor are all solids.)

Blood as a liquid is much thicker than wine as a liquid, and therefore it does not have to congeal as much to become solid.

It therefore follows that if a reviis of wine is required to produce a kezayis of congealed wine, less than a reviis of blood is required to produce a kezayis of congealed blood.

and if a reviis of blood is indeed required to produce a kezayis of congealed blood, then MORE than a reviis of wine is required to produce a kezayis of congealed wine.

If so, it follows that the amount of liquid blood and wine respectively that are required to produce a kezayis of the congealed equivalent is actually a matter of dispute between Rabbi Nosson and Rabbi Yossi!

This appears to be a classic example of a machlokes metzius (factual dispute) that should be easily checked out by experimentation, rather than debated.

We also need to explain what Rav Yoseif himself was thinking- surely he was not unaware of the basic fact that blood is thicker than wine?

I think that one can perhaps explain Rav Yoseif’s view by way of the important principle that Halachic rules are very often NOT based on precise facts, measurements, or statistics, but rather on fixed approximations based on perceptions.

When it comes to working out the required dimensions of a round Sukkah (Sukkah  7b) or of a round beam on top of an eruv (Eiruvin 13b), the Mishna simply applies a round ratio of 3 to 1 between the circumference of a circle and its diameter, substantially less than even a reasonable estimation of pi, which at the time of Chazal was historically already known to about 2 decimal places. (see also Bava Basra 14b)

Whereas Tosfos in Eruvin are bothered by this discrepancy, and seem to understand that the Mishna and certainly the accompanying sugya are taking the ratio of 3 to be precise, the Tosfos haRosh there actually suggests that Chazal are intentionally imprecise, based on precedent from the passuk describing the pool that Shlomo built.

We see from there that in at least some areas of halacha, the Torah does not require precise measures that fit absolute scientific reality, but rather simply estimations that Chazal taught us, which are perceptibly close to the real measurement but simple enough to apply across the board.

This principle is actually applied  by the Chazon Ish in very novel ways to issues relating to the dateline (subject of 2 previous posts) , whereby he allows it to follow the coastline and deviate somewhat from the 90 degrees he claims is its absolute geographic position.

Perhaps, Rav Yoseif believes that the relationship between solid and liquid measurements is also an example of a case where the Torah allows for an estimation, and we are not required to make allowances for the precise density of the liquid or the solid.

Similarly, perhaps Abaya holds that either there is simply no justification for applying such estimations in this case, or that the variance in density and resulting solid size is too high to be comparable to the pi analogy.

Perhaps a similar idea can be used to explain the machlokes that Abaya sees in Rabbi Nathan and Rabbi Yossi’s rulings, in that they are not debating the facts- both agree that neither a reviis of wine or blood is the precise equivalent of a kezayis of their congealed version.

Or perhaps the reviis to kezayis ratio is only true of some hypothetical congealable liquid with a density somewhere between that of wine and blood, and the dispute is on which side of the line to estimate?

One thing we seem to see  for sure from this daf at least, is that there is a direct relationship between the side of a kezayis and  that of a reviis, and if one follows a certain view as to the size of the kezayis, one should certainly follow the same view in regards to the size of a reviis!

in this parsha, we are told that 20 is the determining age for maturity regarding being counted in a census, going to the army, etc.

We also know from numerous sources (among them a few daf ahead in our Masechta), that it is also the also the determining age for liability to punishment in the hands of heaven.

We know from the Torah sheBaal Peh that when it comes to many other matters, including the obligation to perform mitzvos and liability to punishment in Beis Din, the cut-off age is 13.

Although it is clear and obvious that there is a huge variation in maturity amongst different 20 year olds, and different 13 years olds, we see here clearly that at least to some extent, halacha is not determined by precise objective factors, but by fixed estimations- the same argument can be applied to most halachik measurements.

However, unlike what we saw regarding pi and perhaps the other examples we mentioned, the actual age or measurement provided by the Torah here appears to be absolute- a minor who is one minute younger than 13 will be exempt , and one 13 or older will be liable.

A young man 1 day younger than 20 will be exempt from the army, and one day later will be recruited.

I suggest that wherever it is simply and straightforward to make a fixed precise measure, this is indeed what the Torah does, but when it is impossible (like in the case of pi) or extremely difficult for people to use  a precise fixed measure, an estimated fixed measure is provided instead.

so much to say still, but shabbos beckons- please share your thoughts either way.

Shabbat Shalom and Yom Yerushalayim Sameach

Shabbos 76 Diluting wine used for a blessing 

On our daf, we discuss the minimum amount of something one needs to transfer on shabbos in order to be liable to punishment.

The  previous Mishna taught us a general rule that something needs to be in a useful quantity  ( worth putting away or כשר להצניע ) in order to cause liability, which fits in well with the concept in general of מלאכת מחשבת , although it should be noted that prohibitions generally come with a minimum שעור    (measurement) that causes liability , not just shabbos prohibitions and these measures are derived from verses and/or oral tradition (הלכה למשה מסיני  עירובין ד.)

It should also be noted that although one is not liable to the prescribed punishment for a transgression that involves less than the minimum amount, we hold that it is still  biblically forbidden to perform such  a transgression  with less than the minimum measurement(חצי שעור אסור מן התורה ) 

When it comes to transferring wine on shabbos, the minimum amount the Mishna requires to be liable to punishment is “the amount required to mix a cup with.”

Wine was generally very potent and thus diluted before use, and the amount required to mix with water to make up one drinkable cup of wine was considered useful or important enough to make one liable for carrying it.

But what size cup are we dealing with?

The Gemara brings a Beraisa which says that it is referring to a minimum size כוס של ברכה , the cup used for  ברכת המזון (the blessings after a bread meal.)

Seeing that after dilution, the cup needs to contain a reviis of the mixed product (etween 86 and 150 ml depending on which opinion is followed ), a quarter of a reviis is sufficient for this .

Not only was it normal to dilute wine before drinking, but Rava was off the opinion that if the wine was not diluted properly , it is not considered wine at all.

This requirement is also the view of Rabbi Eliezer expressed in a Beraisa in שלושה שאכלו  (Brachos 50a)

Yet near the end of the same perek  (Brachos 52a ), we are told  by Rabbi Yochanan that the כוס של ברכה  has a number of requirements, one of them being that it should be “חי ” ( live or undiluted)

How do we reconcile that with our Gemora which clearly says that the wine not only should be diluted 3 to 1, but needs to be?

One possibility, brought by Rashi there, and quoted by Tosfos on our daf, is that the wine only needs to be undiluted when poured into the cup, but after that, it can and should be dilute.

The weakness of this answer is that the word “חי” is now not referring to the cup at the time of the blessing, but only at the time it is poured.  We would then need to prove that it is already considered a כוס של ברכה  from the time of pouring ( and what if he poured it for something else, diluted it, and then decided to use it for כוס של ברכה? The כוס של ברכה  cannot be פגום  (blemished) but being poured for the sake of כוס של ברכה doesn’t appear to be one of the requirements listed in Brachos …) 

An alternative answer brought by Tosfos is that “חי” means partially diluted as opposed to fully diluted, not completely “neat.” Tosfos brings an example of such usage from the law of the בן סורר ומורה (rebellious son), who is only liable if he drinks a certain quality of undiluted wine, yet it is taken there to mean partially diluted.

The initial ברכת הזמון is thus said on a only partially diluted cup which qualifies as חי, after which it is further diluted in the correct quantity.

Yet another answer brought by Tosfos from the sages of Narbonne, is that “חי” in this context does not mean “undiluted ” but rather whole or complete, in a similar way that eating an ant whole ( as opposed to crushed up) is referring to as חי , in the context of דין בריה ( the rule that one is liable for eating a complete forbidden creature even if it is smaller than the usual required quantity for liability ( a kezayis)

What is interesting is that in all 3 answers, Tosfos  seems to take  Rava’s requirement  that the כוס של ברכה be diluted at 25% wine and 75% water as authoritative in all situations , and leaves the Beraisa in Brachos about it needing to be חי subject to interpretation and limitation.

What should we do today? How much stronger was their wine really compared to ours, and how does that affect the halocho?

It seems logical that a weak 6% alcohol wine certainly does not require diluting, but what about a strong wine with 14% alcohol?

Even if their wine contained as much as 28% alcohol, more like our whiskies, 14% should then surely require at least 50% dilution?

Is it even possible to have wine that is 56% alcohol?  Does it depend only on alcohol percentage but also on age?

and who would really want to ruin a good merlot by diluting it?