Shabbos 107 Spontaneous generation – can Chazal be wrong?

One of the biggest controversies to ever hit the modern religious world revolved around the banning of the books of Rabbi Nathan Slifkin, also known as the “Zoo Rabbi.”

At the time a loyal, though perhaps somewhat naive graduate of the mainstream Chareidi (“Ultra-Orthodox”) “Midrash Shmuel” Yeshiva, he had written some fascinating books on animals in the Tanach and Talmud as well as the often related subject of Science and Torah.

The young and talented Rabbi was totally unprepared for the tsunami of condemnation and eventual book-banning that was to be unleashed on him from some of the most senior Talmidei Chachamim (Torah scholars) in the Chareidi world- some of the main alleged crimes : suggesting that Chazal (our sages) sometimes erred on scientific matters as well as that the age of the universe and the story of creation did not need to be taken literally.
It is important to note that these suggestions were not his own, but were based on earlier authorities, among them some leading Rishonim and Achronim.

One of the leading Yeshiva Heads in the Israeli Anglo Chareidi world, haRav haGaon Moshe Meiselman wrote a very large almost encyclopedic book, “Torah, Chazal, and Science” in order to refute these ideas and support the condemnations, and article upon article has been written since refuting and counter-refuting the bans.

An entire movement to restore the “Rationalist Judaism” approach of the Rambam and others that this ban seemed to have condemned together with the books was started by Rav Slifkin, and many old ghosts in the centuries of debate on the subject have been reawakened, for better or for worse .

I am generally in favor of giving the benefit of the doubt to anything an expert Talmid Chacham says, even if I disagree personally, and as Bnei Torah, we are obligated to try our best to understand the words of all Gedolei Yisroel ( great Torah scholars of Israel)

As such, and given that the subject and its many ramifications held a lot of personal interest to me as well, I spent a lot of time back then collecting information on the subject and trying to make some sense of it myself, in the way I received from own Rabbis, namely by starting with the primary sources themselves .

I do not wish to take a stand one way or another in this forum regarding who was right, but one thing I am pretty certain of after my own studies is that we are dealing with two very different legitimate approaches amongst the earlier authorities, which while perhaps not as binary as some believe, are certainly extremely difficult if not impossible to reconcile.

I also do not believe that this debate has anything to do with whether Chazal could be wrong or not.
It is clear and undebatable that Chazal could theoretically make mistakes- even the greatest humans can!

The masechta of Horayos and its related pessukim in Vayikra deals specifically with members of the great Sanhedrin, the greatest of the great, making mistakes.
Even Moshe Rabbeinu, whose level of prophecy was qualitatively and quantitatively in a different league to all prophets- פה אל פה אדבר בו – made mistakes, for which he was ultimately denied his life’s dream of entering Eretz Yisroel.

The debate seems to be more over how to relate to an apparent conflict between our observed reality, as described by science, and reality as Chazal describe it.

Whereas those described as “rationalists” would tend to take observed science as a given and assume that Chazal simply were not privy to these observations, those who subscribe to the principle that everything that Chazal said was guided by some form of divine inspiration or assistance, would tend to assume that our scientific observations are simply based on faulty science or powers of observation and Chazal always get the benefit of the doubt .

On our daf, we are thrown right in the deep end, with the debate between Rabbi Eliezer and Chachamim whether can is liable for killing lice on shabbos.

Killing a living creature is generally forbidden under the melacha if נטילת נשמה (taking a life,) which falls under the category of שוחט, (slaughtering).

Why then should there be a distinction between lice like creatures and other living creatures?

Rav Yoseif concludes that this is because of the general rule that a forbidden shabbos melacha must resemble what was done in the work of the Mishkan.

Rabbi Eliezer holds that being a living, mortal creature is itself enough of a similarity to the rams that were slaughtered for their skins to be used in the mishkan, to be include
The Chachamim, on the other hand, hold that the similarity has to be more precise- it has to be a living creature that reproduces, just
like the rams in the mishkan.

The Gemara explains that seeing as lice do not reproduce, the Chachomim do not include them in the prohibition.
Before we proceed, we really should try understand why the ability to reproduce should be so significant that it puts creatures that do not do so in a totally different category to those that do. Why is this function any more significant than being able to run or fly or swim or produce live young?

It seems that the reproductive function is not just any other function of the body, but according to Chachamim part of the essential definition of what a living species is about.
A species without that function is thus although still technically a living creature, qualitatively an entirely different type of creation and cannot be compared to the rams of the mishkan.

Given that in modern biology, one of the main definitions of life is the ability to reproduce, at least on the cellular level, this seems even more fascinating.

One should note that this requirement applies to the species as a whole- there is no suggestion here that an animal or person who as an individual is not able to reproduce is considered any less “living ” than one who can.

Anyone who has read the sugya until here must surely be bothered immediately by the assumption of the Gemara that lice do not reproduce.
Firstly, anyone with children know what an issue it is to get rid of lice, how their eggs(nits) are particularly resistant to removal, and how they certainly reproduce from one louse to enough to literally crawl all over one’s hair
Secondly, any junior biology student knows that all living species reproduce.

How could Chazal possibly say something which every school child today knows is completely incorrect?
Furthermore, even if we accept the “rationalist” claim that much of modern science was not known to Chazal and that they based their claims and halachik decisions on the science of time, surely anyone was able to notice the nits that almost always accompanied hair lice and that they eventually hatched into lice ?

Rav Slifkin and many others have gone to great lengths to point out, however, that this claim was not unique to Chazal, but was in fact the commonly accepted view amongst scientists, philosophers, and the masses until very recently in history, when Louis Pasteur proved that even microorganisms do not generate spontaneously but have to be able to be generated by “parents” of their own type .
Not only lice, but certain worms, and even rodents were believed to generate spontaneously from sand, sweat, air, or rotting food, and the connection between nits and lice, as incredible as it sounds, does not yet seem to have been made .

In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, or any tradition to the contrary, why would Chazal not have made this assumption, the same way that they seem to have assumed that a flat circular earth was the center of a spherical universe and the sun and stars moved around it?

The continuation of the sugya, however, makes it clear that Rav Yosef’s student, Abaya did indeed question this almost universally accepted assumption that lies did not reproduce, and made the connection, at least in passing, between nits and lice.
It also seems he did this not based on their own observations, which do not seem to have been any superior in this regards to that of conventional wisdom, but based on an earlier statement of Chazal (the Amora Rav in Avoda Zara 3b) which implies that lice do in fact hatch from eggs!

At this stage, it seems, at least on a superficial reading, that chazal had correct biologically information which was not known to contemporary science and questioned the science of their times based on that.

However, the Gemara seems unwilling to concede that contemporary science was wrong, and instead interprets the earlier as referring not to lice eggs, but to an entirely different species, called the eggs of lice.

Are we seeing later Amoraim themselves resorting to a forced interpretation of an earlier authoritative statement in order not to contradict the contemporary science of their time?

Shabbos 105 and 106 מקלקל, anger management, and discipling the family.

The Mishna on 105b discusses the melacha of קורע (tearing).
The biblical prohibition applies to tearing something for constructive purposes, such as tearing threads in an imperfect garment to sow it up again correctly. (Tearing toilet paper might fit into this category but is a subject of its own.)
However, our Mishna tells us that if this is done out of anger, mourning for a relative, or for any destructive purpose, one is exempt, and has only transgressed a rabbinical transgression.
Our sugya debates the question of whether tearing something out of mourning or in anger is considered a constructive act or not.
Simply using our own logic, there seems to be logic on both sides – on the one hand, one is not making the torn item into anything that can be used for a constructive purpose as a result.
On the other hand, there might be a constructive result from the action itself, in that one fulfills one’s obligation to tear one’s clothes to mourn a relative, as well as one’s psychological need to grieve.
Similarly, tearing something out of anger might fulfil a constructive purpose, such as calming oneself down.
It appears from our Mishna that it is not considered constructive.
However, the Gemara brings a Beraita which is of the opinion that one is liable for such actions, indicating that they are halachically considered constructive.
The Gemara concludes that if one tears a garment for a relative that one is liable to tear for, the action is considered constructive because one has discharged his obligation by this action.
However, if one tears for a relative that one has no obligation to tear for, the action is not considered constructive, seeing as he has discharged no obligation by so doing.
The Gemara adds that the same applies to anyone that it is a mitzva, even if not an absolute obligation, to tear one’s clothes for, such as a חכם (scholar) or an איש כשר (righteous man)
How the above two are defined halachically requires further discussion of course.
The exclusion of a relative one is not obligated to tear for seems to make it clear that emotional therapeutic value is not enough to be considered a constructive act on its own, without actually fulfilling a mitzva.
However, we are still face with a contradiction between our Mishna and the Beraisa regarding tearing something in anger.
One would think that based on the law regards relatives, we have already settled the fact that tearing simply for emotional or therapeutic benefit is not considered a constructive action as far as liability on shabbos in concerned, and is still considered מקלקל.
Why then does the author of the Beraisa hold that one is indeed liable for this, in contrast to the author of the Mishna who holds that one is not?
At first, the Gemara tries to explain that this dispute is not actually based on whether it is מקלקל or not, but rather on whether one is liable for מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופא.
The Mishna which exempts someone who tears out of anger is not doing so because of מקלקל, but rather because it reflects the view of Rabbi Shimon who holds that one is exempt for מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופא , a melacha done for a constructive purpose but for one other than its usual purpose as derived from the Mishkan, the classic example being digging a hole because he wants the dust, rather than the hole itself( see Shabbos 73b.)
Here he has no need for the torn garment itself, but rather for the emotional relief or indulgence of his anger he feels from tearing it, making it classic מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופא.
According to this suggestion, The Beraisa which says that one is liable for this simply reflects the view of Rabbi Yehuda that one is liable for מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופא.
(We should note at this point that should this suggestion be accepted, we would have a סתם משנה (anonymous Mishna) that is in accordance with Rabbi Shimon, which all things being equal, would be a very strong reason for the poskim to rule like him- but that’s for another time!)
The issue with this suggestion is that it totally ignores the exemption of מקלקל, which certainly seems to apply
i. based on logical analysis
ii. based on the previous conclusion that emotional benefit is not considered a constructive purpose regarding melacha
iii. Based on the wording of the Mishna which seems to base the exemption on מקלקל explicitly. ( one would then have to say that מקלקל mentioned in the Mishna is a totally new exemption, not the reason for the previous too exemptions and others like it, which while not illegal, certainly doesn’t seem to be the simple reading of the Mishna.)
The Gemara rejects this suggestion based on the fact that Rabbi Yehuda himself does not disagree with the exemption of מקלקל, which clearly seems to apply here.
It then suggests that perhaps the Beraisa that says one is liable for tearing something out of anger actually holds that tearing out of anger is constructive, in that it appeases his יצר (inclination).
This is a full 180 degree turn in which the Gemara acknowledges that at least according to the Beraisa, emotional therapeutic benefit might actually be considered constructive regarding melacha (it is possible to learn that even our Mishna would acknowledge that but exempts it due to מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופא , but once we have found an acceptable way to reconcile the two views without reference to this debate, particularly as the Mishna does seem to given the reason for the exemption as מקלקל, it seems more likely that the Mishna would disagree simply on the point as to whether emotional benefit is constructive, and holds that it is not, which is reflected by the fact that its exempts one who tears out of mourning as well.)
The Gemara doesn’t seem so bothered by the suggestion that emotional benefit might be considered constructive in general ( to the point that we would then need to explain the difference between the emotional benefit of indulging or discharging one’s anger which one is liable for and that of fulfilling one’s need to grieve which is exempt even according to the Beraisa in the absence of a mitzva.)
Yet it rejects that suggestion that tearing out of anger might be constructive flat out for a different reason- indulging one’s anger is NEVER constructive .
It brings the very strong statement of Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri that a person who tears or breaks something out of anger is considered like one who has worshipped idols -The way of the יצר הרע (evil inclination) is first to make you indulge your anger by destroying something and then to make you do other sins.
Rav Avin goes further and interprets the verse “לא יהיה בך אל זר “ (“there shall not be in you a strange god” -Tehillim 81/10) as referring to the evil inclination within everyone.
Indulging one’s evil inclination in the hope that it will go away afterwards is not viewed as a constructive action, rather as a catastrophic form of מקלקל.
This concept in also seen regarding the inclination for sexual relations.
The Gemara (Sanhedrin 107a) relates how David heMelech requested a test from Hashem, so he could also be regarded on par with the אבות (the three forefathers), and mentioned in the first blessing of the עמידה (silent standing prayer.)
It relates that Hashem agreed to this, and even warned him that the test would involve a woman.
David haMelech though that he would indulge his sexual drive in a permitted way that day by sleeping with all his wives, so by the time the test came, it would be worn out.
However, this was of no help. And he failed the test of Batsheva miserably.
The Gemara explains that he forgot the simply rule that אבר קטן יש באדם משביעו רעב
מרעיבו צמא ( a man has a small organ, if he starves it, it is satisfied, but if he indulges it, it is hungry.)
Hence engaging in too much sexual indulgence, even in a permitted way, is not constructive at all, and rather than getting tired of it eventually, simply leads to a person being addicted and chronically obsessed with it.
Now to return to our sugya- so under what circumstances could tearing something in anger be considered constructive and liable, as per the ruling of the Beraita?
The Gemara concludes with something that could seem very shocking in our modern, liberal world: performing certain actions that appear to be out of anger in order to instill fear in the members of one’s household, not out of uncontrolled anger indulgence, are indeed constructive and one would be liable for them on shabbos.
The Gemara gives some examples, but we will have to leave that to further discussion- please don’t copy any of those actions without getting suitable practical rabbinic AND legal advice!
(p.s. Another unresolved issue regarding מקלקל is seeing that injuring a person is basically always destructive (as well as being a prohibition outright,) how could one ever be liable for wounding a person on shabbos, something we know from various places that one is certainly liable for? The discussion on 106a resolved around this.
Our long-standing discussion about whether a שבות דשבות על ידי ישראל is permitted or not might also find some precedent in our Mishna, as it does indeed seem to be a case of both מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופא and מקלקל, which according to Rabbi Shimon should actually be a שבות דשבות! Lots to say on this, but its late…)
These posts are intended to raise issues and stimulate further research and discussion on contemporary topics related to the daf. They are not intended as psak halacha.

Parshas KorachSome pigs are more equal than others

Korach’s biggest claim against Moshe and Aharon was “the whole nation is holy, why do you need to lift yourselves above them.”

It is clear that this argument was flawed, because it was the will of Hashem that certain  people with the correct traits be given a leadership role, and that society not be based on anarchy.

As Chazal said in Pirkei  Avos- one must daven for the welfare of the government, for without  them, each man would swallow his neighbor  alive .

Yet the biggest sin of Korach does not seem to be one of  promoting equality  or even anarchy, but one of exploiting the fight for equality for his own agenda.

Korach was not against the concept of having a powerful leader, he was simply angry that he had not been appointed as one!

מעשה אבות סימן לבנים – the actions of the fathers are a sign for the children .

How often in history have radical leaders pretended to be fighting for freedom and equality, but actually just landed up replacing one imperfect government with a far more repressive one?

Human nature remains human nature and there is nothing new under the sun!

Shabbos 104 the limits of Prophetic authority

On our daf, we are told an incredible idea about the letters in the aleph bet (alphabet)
The 5 letters that change form at the end of a word (מנפצך) were not always like that!
The open form of the letters used at the beginning and in the middle of words were actually a newer innovation of the נביאים prophets! (Rashi points out that in a parallel sugya (Megillah 2b), the claim is that the closed form at the end of the word was the later addition- see there for how he resolves this.)
It is the closed form of the letters that we only use at the end which were actually the original, and the prophets for some reason introduced the open form everywhere except at the end of the word!
The Gemara takes major issue with this statement, calling on the passuk ” אלה המצוות” (“THESE are the laws” – Devarim 36/13 )which teaches us that only the commandments given to Moshe at Sinai were valid and from then on, no prophet could innovate anything else- אין הנביא רשאי לחדש דבר .
The Gemara replies that both forms actually existed already, the prophets simply decided which form to use at the end of the word and which form to use in the rest of the world.
That too is rejected, seeing as even such a decision would be considered an innovation, which prophets may not make.
The Gemara finally concludes that both forms of the letter as well as where they were to be used were indeed given over to Moshe, but they were forgotten, and the Nevi’im (prophets) reestablished them.
In a different sugya, even the reading of the Megila , a Mitzva instituted by the prophets Mordechai and Esther, was subject to scrutiny by Chazal (Megila 14a) , and they pointed out that none of the Nevi’im added to anything in the Torah except in this case, due to a קל וחומר (fortiori logical argument) that they found.
From our daf, however, we see that this rule doesn’t only apply to introducing new Mitzvos, but also applies to changing the form of the Hebrew letters, or even deciding when each form should be used!
As similar concept is found in the beginning of Bava Kama (2b) , where the Gemara tries to derive that נגיחה (goring) must be done with the horns of an ox to be considered נגיחה , from a Passuk in Navi (Melachim I 22/11.)
The wicked king of Israel, Achav, has convinced the righteous king of Yehuda, Yehoshafat, to go to war with Aram to claim back Ramot Gilad, which they had occupied.
All the false and/or idolatrous prophets tell Achav exactly what he wants to hear, namely that he will succeed, but Yehoshafat insists that he look for a surviving true prophet of Hashem from whom to seek council.
Meanwhile, one of these “yes men”, Tzidkiya ben Kenaanah, takes two large metal horns and told Achav and the people that they would use these horns to “gore” the enemy into submission
The true navi, Michayahu, in contrast, predicts that the war will be a disaster and advice them to stay home.
For this, he is imprisoned by Achav’s men, and the two kings lead their troops into battle together.
(We see similar treatment of our great prophets who refuse to give people the false sense of comfort that they want and speak truth to power, in many places in Tanach, one of the most famous being the horrendous incarceration of Yirmiyah but the last king of Yehuda, Tzidkiya, for similarly breaking ranks with all the false prophets and advising surrender to the approaching Babylonians.)
Back to the horns of Tzidkiya, Chazal derive from here that the word יגח ( yigach), refers to injuring with the horns.
However, another source from the Chumash is also given for this, and the Gemara explains that this is because one might counter that דברי תורה מדברי קבלה לא ילפינן – one may not derive words of the Torah from the words of Kabbalah (the term used by Chazal for prophecy, but that’s another discussion!)
In the end, the Gemara still accepts this proof, seeing as we are not deriving any laws per se, but simple learning the meaning of a word (גלוי מלתא) which is acceptable.
Here, we were not attempting to derive new mitzvas from the Neviim, but simply some details of the laws mentioned in the Torah through a גזירה שוה ( Masoretic comparison based on similar language) – namely that the damages that the Torah is referring to need to be by the horns of the ox ,in order for the relevant laws to apply.
Yet even this is not considered valid, and the only thing that we can actually apply from the words of the Nevi’im to Torah matters is shedding light on the meaning of words used in the Torah- this is not through a גזירה שוה but simply a גלוי מילתא.
However, it does not take much to see that this cannot be so straight forward as it looks.
So many new laws of Shabbos, including the mitzvas of honoring and enjoying shabbos (כבוד ועונג שבת ) as well as the prohibition of עובדין דחול ( weekday activities that are not melacha but inappropriate for shabbos) are derived from the famous speech of Yeshayahu, which we read as the haftarah from Yom Kippur (Yeshayahu 58/13.)
In addition, Chazal tell us )Shabbos 24b) that Shlomo haMelech instituted נטילת ידים (washing hand before eating bread)and Eruvin, mentions many decrees made by various biblical figures, and of course, made so made so many decrees of their own!
Even the Mitzva of Chanukah, instituted by Chazal long after the period of prophecy, is accepted, due to the biblical injunction to follow the Torah leadership and prohibition against going against it (Shabbos 23a).
Why could the same not apply to a relatively simple matter of the shape of the letters, or learning how נגיחה is done?
Perhaps the key lies in the famous words of the Rambam (Mamrim 2/9), where he asks how it is possible for Chazal to make decrees against things the Torah does not forbid, when there is a prohibition to add or subtract from the Torah.
He notes that the prohibition of adding to the Torah applies to making new laws and making out as if they are biblical laws.
However, so long as they are clear that they are rabbinical laws, there is no issue, and on the contrary, it is part of their mandate (probably from the passuk לא תסור and ושמרתם את משמרתי.)
The same argument might be applicable not only to the decrees the Rambam mentions, but also to entirely new rabbinical mitzvas, though one would want to explain why the Rambam fails to mention this.
The case we see on our daf is not a new rabbinical mitzva or decree, but an actual change in the biblical laws as to how to write a sefer-Torah and other holy scrolls.
Similarly, the case in Bava Kama is not a new rabbinical form of liability for damages, but a derivation by גזירה שוה of the details of biblical laws, from verses in the prophets.
In truth though, even without having thoroughly examined each sugya where the idea of אין נביא רשאי לחדש דבר is mentione, I see a major issue with using this approach- the case of Megillah has no pretensions of being a biblical Mitzva, but is a מצוה מדברי סופרים ( a commandment initiated by the prophets or sages.)
If so, why was a קל וחומר argument needed in order for Mordechai and Esther to initiate it?
Surely it should have been permitted without such an argument for the same reason as Chanukah was!

Shabbos 102 The evasive מכה בפטיש (hammer-blow)

Shabbos 102 The evasive מכה בפטיש (hammer-blow)

One of the most difficult categories of forbidden work on Shabbos must be the melacha of מכה בפטיש, literally “striking with a hammer.”

After all, when a hammer is used constructively, it will usually be used as part of other forbidden categories of work, such a building, and when it used to destroy things with no positive intention, it will usually be מקלקל (a destructive action,) which is only rabbinically prohibited .

Yet this is indeed list in the Mishna (Shabbos 73a) as one of the 39 categories of work forbidden on shabbos, and it is essential to understand what it is.

The Mishna on our daf lists this melacho as one of those which has no minimum quantity required for liability.

Rashi gives both a general rule and an example of this melacha.

He gives the example of the hammer blow given to a stone by those who hew stones, after it has been cut out of the rock but not completely detached .

The stone is then hit with a hammer which causes it to detach and fall from the rock surface.

This is the final stage in the act of hewing a stone, and Rashi then tells us the general rule that the final stage of any melacha makes up the melacha of מכה בפטיש . He told us this rule back on daf 73a as well.

In truth though, numerous difficulties can be raised with both the rule and the example.

Firstly, as Tosfos points out, a forbidden category of melacha needs to involve an action performed in the work of the mishkan, and no quarry work was involved in that at all ( there were no stones in the mishkan, and constructing an altar from hewn stone was actually forbidden- note also how the Aron, Menorah, and Shulchan were all made of one single piece of beaten gold, and NOT of anything that had been cut into parts and then joined together !)

Secondly, if מכה בפטיש is the final stage of any מלאכה, surely it is already included in that מלאכה itself , and why should it get its own category? Does that mean that any melacha done from start to finish would incur two punishments , one for that particularly מלאכה , and one for completing it ? If so, one would expect that to be discussed .

However, this definition of מכה בפטיש does not originate with Rashi, but actually goes back to the Talmud itself (Shabbos 75b) where Rabbah and Rabbi Zeira both tell us that anything that involves completing a מלאכה is מכה בפטיש.

Tosfos appropriately does not disagree with the rule cited by Rashi, but chooses rather an example that did take place in the work of the mishkan , namely the final hammer blow given to strenghen the vessels of the mishkan once they were ready .

Does this melacha perhaps apply to the final act in a creative process even if that process does not involve a forbidden melacha ?

If so , where do we see such an example – after all, if it is a creative act of work that wasn’t in the mishkan, it will usually be included in the toladot of that melacha .

The key might lie in a Yerushalmi often quoted by our teacher, haGaon haRav Osher Weiss שליט”א ( various teshuvos on electricity in מנחת אשר חלק 1 וחלק 3 for example )

The Yerushalmi (Shabbos perek 7/ halocha 2) accounts that Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish spent 3 and a half years studying the matter of 39 melachos.

They found 39 Tolados ( derivatives) of each melacha.

Whatever melacha they were able to fit into one of those, they included in one of those .

Those that they could not include in one of those were included in מכה בפטיש .

It seems clear from this Yerushalmi that there exists NO melacha that is not forbidden on shabbos.

Every possible melacha, however it is defined, either falls under one of the 39 categories, their derivatives , or the מלאכה of מכה בפטיש.

Rav Weiss himself suggests the relatively radical idea that for this reason, any activation of an electric circuit fits under the prohibition of מכה בפטיש .

Although the Bavli gave a different definition, namely גמר מלאכה, and the rule is that one does not follow the Yerushalmi when it contradicts the Bavli, he contends that it is possible that the Bavli did not mean to exclude these “left out” melachot from מכה בפטיש but simply to also include the completion of any melacha .

However, as he himself is fully aware, many poskim before him rejected this possibility, and were most likely fully aware of this Yerushalmi.

Far from me with my barely existent understanding of the subject to argue, but those who do not follow this view regarding electricity have all these Poskim to rely on ( of course, electricity remains forbidden for numerous possible other reasons given, but there could be many נ”מ)

Perhaps what the Yerushalmi really means is that COMPLETING any melacha, even one that doesn’t fit into the forbidden categories, is still forbidden because of מכה בפטיש .

However it follows from this classification that unlike other melachot, some of which one could transgress just by doing some or most thereof ( even if one is sometimes exempt due to “בעשותה” ) , one would have to actually complete the goal of these “left out” melachot in order to transgress.

If one learns this way, there is no disagreement between the bavli and the Yerushalmi at all- מכה בפטיש indeed includes all “left all” melachos , but only the completion of them.

In fact, it is also stated in the same halacha on the Yerushalmi that גמר מלאכה is מכה בפטיש,

Admittedly, this might not be the simplest reading of the Yerushalmi, but it allows for a simpler reading of the Bavli and also avoids the need to say that the Bavli and Yerushalmi have such a basic difference in understanding the melacha, one that the Rishonim do not seem to mention at all ( though see the Rambam , for example in Pirush haMishnayos to perek 7 which Rav Osher suggests as a support for his words .)

Of course , we would now have to test all the examples given in the gemara of this melacha, as well as those on our daf that Rav and Shmuel argue about, before we can really see if this thesis can stand its ground .

We would also need to define exactly what מלאכה is , and what kind of גמר מלאכה is meant by the Gemara- is it the completion of any melacha, just the completion of a כלי, or just the completion of a מלאכה not already included in the 39.

Lots of work to do, but its late …

Shabbos 100 Relative versus objective movement

Shabbos 100 Relative versus objective movement

On this daf, we have a number of interesting discussions that touch on physics and make an impact on the laws of shabbos.

One of the recurring themes in this Masechta is that in order to transgress the biblical prohibitions of transferring an item from one domain to another, one has to both lift it up from one domain and put it down at rest in the other.

If the item never comes to rest in the forbidden domain, one will generally only have transgressed a rabbinical prohibition at a maximum. (One exception is the rule of קלוטה כמי שהונחה דמי according to some opinions in the Gemara.)

We are told that if one draws water from one domain and puts it down in another on top of water (such as in a river or pond) , even though the water actually mixes and flows with the other water and never “rests”, its is considered to have rested, as this is the way of water.

Rashi adds that if one were to pickup or splash water from a body of water, it would similarly be considered uprooting it, even though it was never really at rest.

Water by its nature is constantly moving (unless absorbed by a solid) and that is halachically considered its natural state of rest!

In contrast, if one picks up a solid item such as a nut from one domain and puts it down in another domain on top of water, so that it flows on the surface of the water, and never rests, one is exempt from the biblical prohibition, as the solid never comes to its natural state of rest, which is a state of stillness.

Rava then asks an interesting related question:

What would happen if our famous nut is picked up from one domain and placed inside a container floating down a stream of water in another domain?

The item is at rest in the vessel, but the basket is moving with the water.
Is this considered to be an act of הנחה (putting to rest) the nut, seeing as it is stationary relative to the container it is in, or is it considered not to be at rest, seeing as it is inside a moving container?

By Rashi’s extension, we could then also ask whether lifting up the item is considered an act of uprooting, seeing as the item is in its natural state of stillness within the vessel, or whether it considered as if it always was moving, seeing as it was inside a moving vessel!

The Gemara leaves this question unresolved.

What exactly is the uncertainly of the Gemora?

It seems clear that the doubt concerns whether an item’s halachik state of rest or movement is defined in absolute terms, or relative to the surface it is dependent on for support.

On the one hand, it seems that this status must be relative- after all, all items and beings at “rest” on the surface of the Earth, are essentially only at rest relative to the Earth- in more “objective” terms, they are all moving at an incredible speed around the Earth’s axis as well as around the sun!

Yet halacha considers such items or people to be fully at rest.

However, if one takes a closer look, there is another possible reason why this is so.

Perhaps in general, halacha defines “at rest” as objectively “at rest”, unless the items’ natural state is to be in constant movement, like water.
Seeing as the natural state of anything on the surface of this planet is to be moving with the planet, that too is considered its natural state of rest.

However, it is not the natural state of a nut to be inside a vessel floating down the river- perhaps in such a case, we go by an item’s objective state, and thus do not consider it to be still but rather moving!

To formulate this in more formal Brisker format:
Is the reason why an item at rest on the surface of the Earth is halachically considered to be “at rest” because
i. Halacha goes by relative state, not objective state, and relative to the Earth, it is indeed at rest, just like a nut inside a container floating down a river is at rest relative to container it is in.
ii. Halacha usually goes by objective state, but just like water’s natural state of rest is a state of movement, so to any terrestrial item’s natural state of rest is one of moving with the sun.

The Nafka Minah (practical difference) would be that now infamous nut inside the container:
If option 1 is correct, then the nut will indeed be considered to be at rest, even though the container it is in is moving.
If, on the other hand, option 2 is correct, the nut will be considered to be moving and NOT at rest, unlike a terrestrial item that moves with the earth.

The next question of the Gemara is about two liquids with different densities on top of one another, such as oil and wine.

Is this considered like a solid on top of a liquid, or a liquid on top of a liquid.
There is no time left for this fascinating issue today, but it raises a very interesting question:

What happens when water of one density is transferred to a body of water of different density in a different domain?

Sound Impossible? Then you obviously haven’t been to the “Meeting of the waters” in Brazil!
But I leave that for further discussion- hint: color….

One other curveball- I have assumed in this analysis that Chazal were aware/believed that the Earth revolves around its orbit and/or around the sun. Is this a fair assumption, or way off track?

Shabbos 99 Defining the public domain, and the great Eruv controversy

Shabbos 99 Defining the public domain, and the great Eruv controversy

In the first chapter (Shabbos 6a), we were introduced to the 4 רשויות (domains) of Shabbos, roughly as follows:

  1. רשות היחד
    (private domain)- an area at least 4 טפחים (hand-breadths) wide that is either raised at least 10אמות (arm-lengths) above the ground, surrounded by partitions of that height, or sunken into the ground at that depth.
  2. רשות הרבים
  • large and busy thoroughfares and markets, and מבואות (quieter side streets) that open to them
  1. כרמלית
    ( some examples given there are the sea, open valleys and a כרמלית proper, but this is generally understood to mean a place that is too open to be a private domain and too quite to be a public domain.
  2. מקום פטור
    an exempt area.

We are also told that transferring an item from a private domain to a public domain, vice-versa, or 4 Amos within a public domain is a biblical offense.
On the other hand, transferring an item from either a private or public domain to a Carmelis or vice-versa, or transferring an item 4 Amos within a Carmelis, is only a rabbinical prohibition.

Although obviously we treat rabbinical prohibitions very seriously, we have mentioned numerous times that there are still certain leniencies with them that do not apply to biblical prohibitions, one of them being the idea of a שבות דשבות , an action that is only rabbinically prohibited for two separate reasons.

Such things, are permitted for the sake of Mitzva, great need, or to prevent suffering, at least when done by a non-Jew, and according to some opinions, even when done by a Jew (see earlier posts on שבות דשבות)

An example could be asking a non-Jew to carry or transfer something in, into or from a Carmelis, or according to the more lenient views, by a Jew in an unusual way in or into a Carmelis.

Pulling a pram with a child that is able to walk on his own inside a Carmelis could also be such an example, due to the rule of חי נושא את עצמו (a living person carries himself), perhaps to be discussed in another post.

Another important distinction would be in the case of a ספק (doubt) if an action is forbidden or not – the golden rule being that in doubt regarding a biblical rule, we need to err on the side of stringency, but when it comes to a biblical rule, we may be lenient out of doubt.

Perhaps the most important distinction between a רשות הרבים and a כרמלית is in the laws of Eruvin, which largely rely on the fact that the Eruv is made in an area in which it is only rabbinically forbidden to carry, such as a Carmelis, and not a רשות הרבים, where making an Eruv is far more problematic.

As such, accurately being able to tell the difference between a רשות הרבים and a כרמלית is essential and makes a major impact on daily shabbos life.

As usual, the main factors we consider in this distinction, are the properties of the דגלי מדבר (the biblical encampment of Israel), which are the basis for the מלאכה of הוצאה being performed in the work of the Mishkan, and thus qualifying as a forbidden category of work.

3 of the most commonly accepted distinctions between the two, are as follows:

  1. A רשות הרבים needs to be at least 16 Amos wide, like the space in which the wagons passed (5 for each wagon, 5 for the space between them plus one extra for the Levi, as per our daf!)
  2. A רשות הרבים must be open, not even covered at the top by a roof, as per the camp of Israel.
  3. A רשות הרבים needs to have at least 600,000 people, like the population in the camp of Israel.

The first condition, namely the minimum width, is universally accepted, and based on an explicit statement on our daf, as well as in a Mishna (Bava Basra 99b), which according to Rashi, has its source in the reasoning mentioned on our daf.

The second condition has actually been the matter of debate on the previous daf, but seems to be the consensus of the poskim.

In contrast, the third condition has been and remains the subject of MUCH controversy.
On the one hand, there is NO specific source for this requirement in the Gemara.
It is only in some of the (mainly) Ashkenazi Rishonim (early commentators) that we see this requirement.
Although this could be a logical extension of the comparison to the biblical encampment, as mentioned above, as Rashi explicitly says (Rashi, Eruvin 6a) , it actually seems to be contradicted by our daf, which tells us that the ground underneath the wagons was considered a רשות הרבים – it is kind of hard to imagine 600000 people fitting into that space!
It is also a rather difficult suggestion, given that there were only 600000 men in the biblical camp, but far more people when women and children are included- as such, if we going for this rule, lets go even further and make the minimum number far higher! (see Tosfos Eruvin 6a who brings and resolves these difficulties.)

As such, the (mainly) Sephardi Rishonim, such as the Rambam (Shabbos 14/1), Ramban, and others (see Beit Yosef 345 for a list) , do not mention this requirement at all, and it remains a major debate to this day (see Shulchan Aruch 345/7 who brings both opinions, the more lenient one only as a יש אומרים (secondary opinion.)

In practice, mainstream Ashkenazi practice is to treat cities, or even neighborhoods within cities, that do not have at least 600000 people , as a כרמלית , and to allow regular simple Eruvin in such places (see for example Taz O.C. 345/6) , though there are certainly some Ashkenazim who, like many of their Sephardi brethren, are stringent.

For more, see for example Aruch haShulchan 345/14 for a lengthy treatment on this controversy in the Ashkenazi world, and compare Birkei Yosef with Yalkut Yosef on the same siman regarding what normative Sephardi practice should be.

These posts are intended to raise issues and stimulate further research and discussion on contemporary topics related to the daf. They are not intended as psak halacha.

Shabbos 98 Miracles and technical matters

Shabbos 98 Miracles and technical matters

את חטאי אני מזכיר היום
I have admitted before that technical matters are not my strong point, and like many others, I usually tend to glide over the more technical sections of the Tanach and Talmud, without really understanding what is going on.

Hence, when it comes to Parshas Teruma, and other similarly styled parshiyos , I have a particularly hard time getting though the required weekly שניים במקרא ואחד תרגום (reading the weekly portion twice in Hebrew and once in the Aramaic translation/commentary of Onkelus.)

The depth of the technical descriptions of the makeup and precise dimensions of the Mishkan and its vessels simply are not recognized easily by me, and even when they are , the required level of focus and mental visualization usually proves too much for me- I thus usually land up making do with a quick leining- style reading and move on to the more conceptual or contemporary topics that seem to match my talent set better.

However, one takes oneself with wherever one goes, and such human weaknesses always come back to haunt us, not only each year, but also whenever we get to parts of the Talmud that analyze these matters, which given the nature of the Shas, can pop up in the most unexpected places.

Seeing as so much of the laws of Shabbos are derived from the work of the Mishkan, it is inevitable that at some point, they will lead back to the technical descriptions in the relevant verses of the same.

Our daf is one of those moments, and a discussion of whether a public domain covered by a roof is similar enough to the public domains in the biblical camp of Israel to be considered as such regarding the law of passing and carrying, takes us to a discussion of the wagons that were used to transport the components of the Mishkan, in particular its beams, and status of the enclosed space between them.

This in turn takes us to a discussion of the properties of the beams themselves and the bars that reinforce them, which brings us to a rather cryptic passuk that describes the central bar.

Each beam was 10 Amos (handbreadths) tall, 1.5 Amos wide, and 1 Amah thick (at least at the base.)

20 beams thus made up the 30 Amos length of the Mishkan on both the North and South side.

Another 6 beams made up the 10 Amos width, with 2 other beams on either side to fill the gaps.

Various bars were placed along the length of the planks, with one central bar in the middle.

The passuk tells us (Shmos 26/28) “והבריח התכון בתוך הקרשים מבריח מן הקצה אל הקצה” (and the main bar in the midst of the beams should run from one end to another.)

The simple meaning of this verse seems to imply that the wooden bar ran all the way from the south-eastern corner of the Mishkan, to the north-eastern corner, making a perfect right-angled turn twice along the way, a somewhat challenging if not impossible task for any carpenter, as Rashi on our daf points out.

So much so, that a Beraisa teaches that the middle bar of the Mishkan was put and held in place miraculously!

Tosfos, however, quotes the ר”י (Rabbeinu Yitchak, one of the leading Tosafists, who brings another Midrash that holds there was no miracle here at all.

It explains simply that the 2 lower and 2 upper rows of beams each contained 5 separate beams- One went from the south-east corner half -way down the southern wall of the Mishkan, another from there till the south-west corner. Another then covered the western wall, and the other two similarly covered the northern wall.

The main “beam”, in contrast, consisting of only 3 separate beams, one for each of the 3 walls, and when the passuk says that it went from one end to the other, it means from one end of each wall to the other end of the same wall, not along the entirety of the 3 walls!

Whereas this is far from the simple meaning of the verse, and requires one to interpret “the main beam” as the 3 “main beams of each wall”, as well as the “5 beams” of each side as the “5 sets of beams of the southern and northern side and one set of beams of the western side”, it allows us to explain this completely naturally without resorting to a miracle.

This seems to illustrate that the debate over how common miracles are and whether to try and interpret seemingly miraculous descriptions in the sacred texts in a natural way where possible, commonly largely ascribed to the Rambam and the Ramban (for another post) , is in fact a much older debate, amongst the sages themselves!

Another example of this can be found in the story of Rav Huna and his wine cellar (Brachos 5b)

The Gemara tells how a financial tragedy befell Rav Huna (who seems to have been either a wine merchant or a very serious collector), where 400 barrels of wine went rancid (turned to vinegar.)

On visiting him to, two other Amoraim respectfully advised him to investigate his financial affairs to see if he had done something to deserve this huge loss.

After some debate, he admits to something seemingly rather minor (and perhaps not even strictly forbidden-another post some time bli neder) and commits to making it right.

One opinion then tells us that that a miracle took place and the vinegar turned back into wine!

Another narrative is then suggested that it did not really turn back into wine, the price of vinegar simply went up and matched the price of wine!

While the later case shows a debate as to whether the reward he received was through a supernatural miracle, or an unlikely natural event that took place at the precise time it was needed, also a form of miracle, albeit a natural one, we again see two different views regarding whether to interpret events as supernatural miracles, or to explain them in a natural way where possible!

When one studies the original Talmudic sources in depth and breadth, rather than just reading summaries of far-reaching debates and controversies amongst the Rishonim and even contemporary authorities , one often sees how the debate can be traced back much further than one originally thought.

The later Amoraim after do that with a dispute amongst earlier Amoraim, with the claim of כתנאי (claiming that this argument is actually based on an earlier debate amongst the Mishnaic sages)

Is there any reason why we should not attempt to do the same with the disputes amongst the Rishonim?!