Monthly Archives: July 2020
Shabbos 138-139 Relevance, context and destruction.
It is incredible to see how often the regular Torah learning we do, whatever the format, tends to be so applicable to current affairs.
Yet it is particularly chilling, as my colleague Rabbi Johnny Solomon pointed out in his recent daf post, to begin the 9 days with Agadot that describe the destruction we are mourning right now.
This comes in addition to the fact that the parsha we are about to read, always occurring before 9 Av, is the parsha with the word איכה (“how”- the name of the Megila we read on 9 Av which describes the destruction) in it, where Moshe accounts how he asked how he can possibly bare all the squabbles of the people on his own- we all know that the Beis hamikdash was destroyed due to שנאת חינם (causeless hatred) and the resultant infighting that it bred.
The Gemara tells how when our sages entered Kerem b Yavneh, the place to which the Sanhedrin was exiled after the destruction of Yerushalayim, they predicted that there will be a time where Torah will be forgotten from the people of Israel.
|It should be noted that Kerem b Yavne was the direct result of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai’s request to the Roman leader he had charmed )Gittin 56a), something that came to symbolize hope and continuity of Torah after the destruction, yet in this very place, Chazal has no illusions that this would last forever- they knew that it was only a matter of time till the environment of the exile would take its toll on our spiritual existence.
It is also interesting to note that they based this prediction on a passuk from the Navi (|Amos 8) where Amos prophesies as follows:
“הנה ימים באים נאם ה’ אלהים והשלחתי רעב בארץ לא רעב ללחם ולא צמא למים כי אם לשמע את דברי ה”
Days are coming, say Hashem Elokim, and I shall send a famine in the land, not a famine for bread, and not a thirst for water, but rather to hear the word of Hashem.”
“ ונעו מים עד ים ומצפון ועד מזרח ישוטטו לבקש את דבר ה’ ולא ימצאו”
And they shall wander from sea to sea and from North to East they shall float to find the word of Hashem, and they shall not find it.
Let us recall that Chazal were aware that they were not prophets and could not make such predictions about the future except by using their mandate to interpret existing prophecies such as this.
Yet Chazal do tend to take such predictions away from their most obvious context, and apply them to later periods in history as well, perhaps on the basis of the principle מעשה אבות סימן לבנים (the deeds of the fathers are a sign for the children. [see Ramban Bereishis 12/6])
The prophesies of Amos, as most of those who prophesied during the first Temple period, were presumably directed primarily at the coming destruction, namely the scattering of the 10 tribes by the Assyrians, the conquest of Yehuda and burning of the first Temple by the Babylonians, the Babylonian exile that was to follow, and the eventual redemption from it.
Yet Chazal were sitting during the period of the destruction of the second Temple, many years later, in Kerem b Yavne, and interpreted this prophecy as referring also to a later time, when they feared Torah would be completely forgotten.
We see another example of this approach in Chazal in the famous dispute between Rav Yehuda and Rabbi Zeira about leaving Bavel to go to Israel (Kesubos 111)
Rabbi Zeira intended to go up to live in Israel and was avoiding Rav Yehuda who held that it was forbidden to leave the exile and return to Israel till the messianic era.
He cited a verse in support from the Navi (Yirmiyahu 27/22) “בבלה יבאו ושמה יהיו עד יום פקדי אותם”
– “they shall be brought to Babylon and there they shall until the day that I redeem them.”
The context of this passuk was a prophecy about the first exile to Babylon, specifically the vessels of the Temple, but Rav Yehuda interpreted it as also referring to the later exile, and generating a general ban on leaving the place of exile until the time comes, an interpretation Rabbi Zeira rejected- the ensuing debate in that sugya serves as the most important classical source for studying the contemporary controversy over Zionism in the Torah world.
Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai protests the prediction of his colleagues in Yavneh, and brings a support verse of his own (Devarim 31)- “כי לא תשכח מפי זרעו” – “For it will never be forgotten from the mouths of his descendants.”
It needs to be pointed out, that whether the prediction of the sages of Yavne was to come true or not, the simple meaning of the verses do indeed seem to indicate that it indeed already come true towards the end of the first Temple period, during the reign of the wicked kings Menashe and Amon.
So complete was the spiritual destruction that those two kings wrought, that we are told (Melachim II 22) how when the righteous Yoshiyahu succeeded his wicked father Amon, a surviving Sefer Torah was found, and that when it was read, Yoshiyahu and the people broke into tears and repented.
Imagine a time when not one Jewish child, including the righteous king who was only 8 years old when he became king and 18 years old when the Torah was found, had every experienced the reading of a Torah, and the atmosphere when this happened again for the first time?
It is true that there are views in the Rishonim who do not understand what happened in this way, and attribute the shock and resulting repentance not to this being the last remaining Torah found, but to its being found open to a specific verse about destruction (see Rashi there) or to it being the original Torah written by Moshe Rabbeinu (see Abarbanel,) but this is indeed how the Radak, famous for following פשוטו של מקרא (the simple reading of the verses) understands the situation at the time.
This approach has many difficulties which need to be resolved, but it remains an important and possibly the most literal interpretation of events.
Perhaps the Redak is consistent with the “realistic” view of the other sages of Yavne, who then take it a step further and apply the words of prophecy that predicted it to a later time as well, based on מעשה אבות סימן לבנים.
The Rishonim who prefer not to take this approach could then be consistent with Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s “optimistic” view that the Torah could never be forgotten from the Jewish people.
After all, if as the Radak claims, the Menashe/Amon years where so bad that the Torah had indeed been forgotten from the Jewish people, how are we able to reconcile this with our view of an unbroken mesora (chain of transmission?)
Alternatively, perhaps even the sages of Yavne, though believing that this could happen in principle, where not willing to accept that it had already happened.
We daven, that it will NEVER happen.
Conversion therapy ban
All we need now is another coalition crisis.
Can parties not just respect the understanding that divisive changes to the religious/secular status quo will be avoided during this national emergency?
I have heard mainly terrible things about conversion therapy, and would never recommend it, but I have heards lots of bad things about gender reassignment therapy too, particularly in minors, and THAT is physically irreversible, not to mention abortion on demand .
Either people need to be given the democratic choice to make educated decisions about controversial treatments or government has to protect people from them, but picking and choosing based on religious and ethical debates that divide a population almost in two, is not democracy, it is simply exploitation thereof.
And even if I am wrong, and some argue that it is an essential feature of democracy, now is just not the time.
We are at war, and in war, we are supposed to unite against those who threaten us till we have neutralized the threat.
Right now, Corona is neutralising us while we bicker amongst ourselves.
One doesnt need to be a prophet to make the connection between this and the time of year we are in.
Shabbos 137 The constructive wound and misaseik (unintentional melacha) revisited
I had the zechus recently to listen to a video-shiur by Rabbeinu haRav Osher Weiss שליט”א, on the subject of דבר שאין מתכוין and פסיק רישיה (forms of unintended melacha we have discussed before in various posts.)
He discussed a question which I have often been bothered by, that seems so obvious, yet doesn’t seem to be dealt with by the Rishonim (early commentaries) at all.
The question centers on what the source for the leniency of דבר שאין מתכוין is- after-all, seeing as it applies not only on shabbos but in other areas of halacha too (see earlier entries,) it can not simply be based on the requirement of מלאכת מחשבת.
He gave an explanation very similar to what I have myself suggested, obviously with better proofs, but started out by saying that whenever we encounter an obvious question that is not dealt with by the Rishonim at all, we should generally assume that the answer was so obvious to them that the question didn’t even begin.
It then becomes our task not simply to answer the question, but to explain why the answer is actually SO obvious.
Of course, before jumping to this approach, one needs to go through the entire shas with all the major Rishonim and be sure that the question was in fact not asked, at a minimum going through all related sugyas.
As I am not Rav Osher Weiss and do not have close to that level of knowledge, this is simply not possible for me, even with the help of the Masores hashas (cross-reference printed in most editions of the Talmud) and even with the Bar-Ilan search tool. As such, although I try to check for parallel sugyas and do my homework, I often simply miss something.
Here is an example of this happening to me:
We have established in this chapter that one is permitted to perform all essential actions that form part of the circumcision process on the eighth day from birth, even if it falls on shabbos.
In contrast, if the bris is delayed for whatever reason and not performed on the eighth day, one is not permitted to perform it on shabbos, and waits till the next day.
The Mishna discusses a case where a mohel had 2 different babies to bris, one whose eighth day fell on shabbos, and one whose eighth day fell on the next day.
Somehow, he made an error and circumcised the younger baby when he was only 7 days old on shabbos, and the older one the next day when he was 9 days old.
The Mishna rules that this is an example of desecrating shabbos בשוגג (in error) and he is required to bring a קרבן חטאת (sin-offering.)
However, we have seen earlier in our study of Shabbos (Shabbos 72), that there is a way of performing a melacha unintentionally, known as Misaseik, for which one is exempt.
Although this exemption could possibly apply with other transgressions that do not involve הנאה (pleasure), this exemption is particular applicable on shabbos due to the requirement for מלאכת מחשבת.
We have discussed a substantial debate between the Amoraim Abaya and Rava, as well as Rashi and the Tosfos, regarding under which precise circumstances a melacha is considered מתעסק and thus exempt from a korban.
To sum up, according to Abaya, the classic example is one who intends to lift up an item that is detached from the ground and lands up cutting (detaching) an item connecting to the ground.
He intended to perform a permitted action, namely lifting, and landed up mistakenly performing
1. a different action, namely cutting
2. on a forbidden object, namely something attached to the ground
This is very far from his original permitted intention, both in terms of the מעשה (action) and the חפצא (object the action is applied to) and he is thus exempt.
Rava is more lenient and holds that the classic example is one where one’s actual action is only different to one’s intended action in terms of the object it is applied to, not the action itself.
The classic case, according to Rava, is thus as follows: One intended to apply an action (namely cutting) to a permitted item (namely something detached from the ground, and landed up applying that SAME intended action, to a different object (something attached to the ground) that it is forbidden to apply that action to.
We also showed that Rashi (Kerisos 19b) interpreted the case Rava is referring to as one where he knew which item was permitted and which was forbidden, intended to cut the permitted detached item, but his hand slipped and he landed up cutting the forbidden attached item instead.
Seeing as his intended action was not applied to the intended object of his action, it is clear that לא נעשתה מחשבתו (his thoughts were not fulfilled,) and he is thus exempt.
However, if he intended to pick up a certain item thinking it was detached, and later discovered that it was really attached, it is considered as if his intentions were fulfilled, and is not considered מתעסק but rather שוגג ( a transgression action performed intentionally but unknowingly,) for which he is liable to bring a sin-offering.
The Tosfos, in contrast, understood that it is precisely this later case that Rava is referring to, pointing out that in a case where his action was not performed on the desired object, he would be exempt even if his intended object was also forbidden!
According to Tosfos’ explanation of מתעסק, the classic case is thus precisely when one intends to apply an action to an object which he believes is permitted, but after doing so, it becomes clear that it was in fact a forbidden object.
Surely the case of our mishna is a precise example of such a case, and should thus be exempt completely, rather than liable to a sin-offering as per the Mishna?
A person intends to perform an action (circumcision) on what he thinks is a permitted “object” (the 8 day old child) and later finds out that it was a forbidden “object” (the 7 day old child.)-
According to Abaya, seeing as he intended to do the action of circumcision, he would be liable.
According to the way Rashi understood Rava’s view, one could argue that the Mishna is not referring to a case where his hand slipped and circumcised the wrong baby (something rather disturbing and hopefully very unlikely,), but to a case where he thought the baby he was circumcising was the 8 day old when he was really the 7 year old .
Such a case would understandably result in liability.
Yet if we follow the generally accepted view of Rava according to Tosfos, the case of our mishna should be classic מתעסק and result in zero liability (at least as far as shabbos laws are concerned.)
I searched zealously through the various Rishonim on the daf, and although it is always possible that I missed something, I failed to find anyone who asks this seemingly obvious question.
I reached the point of frustration where I wondered whether this was an example of the type of question Rav Osher had referred to, whose answer is SO obvious to the Rishonim that the question doesn’t even beg asking , but I couldn’t figure out why- what was I missing.
In desperation, I started looked through the Achronim(later commentaries,)something I always prefer to do only once I have come up with my own approach to an issue (a very Maharal style approach I have learnt from my Rebbe, Rabbeinu haRav Blachman שליט”א )
I felt like such a fool when I saw that Rabbi Akiva Eiger, often considered as the king of the Achronim, points that that the Gemara itself asks this question in the main sugya of Misaseik (Kerisos 19b) and answers that this case is different, seeing as circumcision involves the prohibition of )עושה חבורה making a wound(, which falls under the melacha of שוחט ( slaughtering or taking a life, the blood spilled being considered a partial taking of life.)
Although a melacha performed with only a destructive purpose (מקלקל, see earlier post) usually does not result in liability, there is a view that there are 2 melachot to which this exemption does not apply, seeing as they are by definition destructive- wounding, and burning.
The Gemara in Kerisos says that seeing as מקלקל is not an exemption for these melachot, NEITHER is מתעסק.
There we go- I forget a Gemara I had learnt- question asked, question answered.
Yet this answer needs some serious explaining- after all, these melachot might not be subject to the exemption of מקלקל, but that is because they are by definition mainly destructive acts.
Yet the other exemptions based on מלאכת מחשבת do apply to them, so why shouldn’t מתעסק?
Furthermore, if we accept that answer of the Gemara in Kerisos as final and authoritative, we will be faced with a סתם משנה (anonymous Mishna) that supports the view that מתעסק בחבורה חייב (one is liable for an act of Misaseik that involved wounding,) which has major implications for this melacha as well as the other melacha singled out, namely making a fire.
Even more problematic is the fact that in the main sugya of מקלקל בחבורה (Bava Kama 34b,) Rabbi Yochanan rejects the view that one is liable for such a purely destructive act even for these melachot and applies the obligation to situations where there is a need for the result of the action.
Making our Mishna reliant on this view thus places Rabbi Yochanan in direct opposition to a סתם משנה, whereas he is the one who always stressed the fact that we always rule like a סתם משנה.
There is much more to discuss before we can answer these questions, but that’s it for now….
Shabbos 135-136 The Androgonus and the Transgender
One of the biggest social changes that have taken place in recent years in the western world , together with the greater acceptance of homosexual lifestyles ( a topic for a different occasion but touched on briefly in our earlier post on lesbianism,) is the acceptance of “non-binary genders” or transgender identity.
This gives greater recognition to a small but vocal minority of people who see themselves as neither male nor female in the classical sense of biological features , but as a combination of both, neither, or the opposite of their biological gender.
Although this might seem radical to most conservatives, it is an undisputed fact that
The Torah has always recognized at least 4 different genders or gender permutations- male, female, Androgynous, and Tumtum.
The Androgynous is generally understood to refer to someone who has both male and female sexual organs, whereas the Tumtum is one who has no visible external sexual organs, and whose actual biological gender is thus unknown.
All 4 of these genders are based on biological features, as opposed to the more common phenomena of people who are today known as “transgender” , who generally have biological features of one specific gender and other characteristics of the opposite gender.
As such, finding precedent in the halachik treatment of the Androgynous and Tumtum for a halachik approach to the transgender is far from simple.
Whereas it is certainly worth exploring whether transgender people might indeed fall into one of these two halachik categories despite this fact, at a minimum we should be able to learn something from them regarding the Torah’s approach to what is called in today’s language “gender diversity.”
The Mishna on daf 135 tells us that one may not perform a circumcision on an Androgynous on Shabbos, even on the eighth day, when a male infant may be circumcised despite the shabbos restrictions.
The Gemara learns this from the words את בשר ערלתו -his uncircumcised flesh- namely definitely uncircumcised flesh and not possibly uncircumcised flesh.
The understanding seems to be that seeing as it is not clear whether the Androgynous is considered to be a male despite having the physical symptoms of one, his male organs are not considered halachically to be indisputably male.
As such, even though he needs to be circumcised out of doubt, the obligation is not certain enough to permit the circumcision to be performed on shabbos .
This is quite a jump, given that the Androgynous is generally understood as being someone with both types of genitals- as such, surely we should consider him as one who definitely has “uncircumcised flesh.”
In fact, we could ask a stronger question here : if the Androgynous is not definitely a male and thus not definitely subject to circumcision, then obviously he cannot be circumcised on shabbos- how could one push aside shabbos when the mitzva is subject to doubt?
If so, why is a specific word in the passuk needed to exclude him?
If on the other hand, he definitely has the status of both a male and a female, then his “flesh” certainly has the status of uncircumcised male flesh and the מעוט ( exclusion) in the passuk should not affect him anyway.
Leaving these questions for another time (but refer to Tosfos who deals with them,) the starting point for any discussion about the status of an Androgynous is the fourth chapter of Bechoros, dedicated entirely to this subject.
In the first Mishna, we are told that an Androgynous is sometimes treated like a male, sometimes like a female, sometimes like both, and sometimes like neither.
Some examples given there are that
1. regarding the impurity of a zav or a niddah, he can become impure in either case, as a zav if he has the appropriate type of unhealthy emission, and as a niddah when seeing menstrual blood ( a double whammy.)
2. Regarding the laws of Yichud (seclusion,) he is not permitted to be alone with a male or female, other than his permitted spouse. (Another double whammy)
3. He is permitted to marry a female but not a male.
4. He is permitted to wear male clothes but not female clothes.
5. He is liable to keep all commandments that a man is liable to keep
6. He is treated equally to everyone else regarding any damages or injuries done to him and in all matters of civil law.
7. He does not inherit together with his brothers as if he is a woman but does not get supported from the estate either like girls do (another double whammy). In the absence of other siblings, he inherits everything like any other child would.
8. He may not be sold either as a Jewish slave or maidservant (an advantage perhaps.)
It seems clear from the pattern of these rules that they are based entirely on halachik reasoning, derived from verses or halachik logic, and not on any specific ethical, political, or emotional agendas as to how Chazal felt they should be treated .
Although Chazal were fully aware of the existence of non-binary genders, emotional factors like concern for their plight, though almost certainly present, played minimal or zero role in the way they related to members of these genders- they treated it as a legal matter and acted according to the normal rules of ספק (doubt .)
This was despite the fact that some of these rules undoubtedly placed further limitations and inconveniences on their lives than those placed by the Torah on others.
On the other hand, as far as relating to them on a human level outside these halachik factors, it is clear that they were treated like anyone else , all the laws against harming or offending people applied equally towards them, and no stigma whatsoever was applied to them.
Whether today’s many categories of genders recognized in many circles can fit into the halachically recognized genders or not, it seems clear from the halachik treatment of these already recognized minority genders that even if they could, one can expect little wholesale halachik flexibility for them- they would be treated as a normal part of society with the kindness that all in society deserve, but it would have little bearing on their halachik status.
This would be assessed purely on halachic grounds, albeit hopefully applying the golden rules of כח דהתירא עדיף (the power to permit is greater) and דרכיה דרכי נועם (her ways are the way of pleasantness) to make life as bearable as possible for them.
It goes without saying however, that if there are issues of either primary or secondary depression and other mental illnesses with the potential to be life threatening, which unfortunately seem to be very common in the transsexual community (whether this is innate or a result of how they are treated is not relevant for this purpose) , all the rules of pikuach nefesh would be applied.
There is much more to discuss on this, and many more relevant sugyos to learn, but for an interesting suggestion regarding the connection between the androgynous and transgender, see Minchas Osher where Rav Weiss deals with the fascinating question of someone whose father “transitioned” to being a female, and changed his name from “Ronny” to “Ronit”.
The question is how he should be called in his kesuba (marriage document)-” ben roni” or “ben ronit.”
It is complex, and I dont want to act as a spoiler, but will try paste a picture of the teshuva when I am home bli neder!
Shabbos 134 Autonomy, Submission, and ירידת הדורות revisited.
On this daf, the Mishna tells us that it is permitted to wash the child before and after his bris.
It then tells us that one may sprinkle water on him with one’s hands but not with a vessel.
Although it is not normally permitted to wash one’s entire body in warm water on shabbos (a subject for its own discussion,) this prohibition is waived, presumably due to pikuach nefesh considerations.
Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria goes further and permits one to wash the child again on the third day, if it falls on shabbos, because the third day is usually the hardest time during recovery.
The Gemara notes an apparent contradiction in the words of the Tana Kama (first opinion.)
One the one hand, we are told that it is permitted to wash the child properly, but we are then told that one may only sprinkle water on him with one’s hands.
The Amoraim debate how to reconcile this contradiction.
Rav Yehuda and Rabbah bar Avuha understand that the second part of the Mishna is coming to explain the first part- the washing permitted in the first part refers to sprinkling with one’s hand only.
Rava, on the other hand, is unconvinced.
He believes that the word “washing” referred to in the first part is precise, and refers to a proper wash, not just sprinkling.
As such, he interprets the Tana Kama’s words as permitting normal washing with warm water before and after the bris, but only sprinkling with the hand on the third day.
According to this interpretation, Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria then comes and permit regular washing even on the third day.
A Beraisa is then brought which supports Rava’s interpretation.
The Gemara then relates that this question was brought to Rava and he ruled according to his view, permitting regular washing of the infant.
Rava became ill, and he blamed his illness on himself for going against the view of his seniors, Rav Yehuda and Rabbah bar Avuha, who held that the Mishna only permitted sprinkling water with the hands.
This story needs some explanation: Is a later Amora really not allowed to disagree with an earlier one? In general, the golden rule is that Amoraim(sages of the Talmud) may not disagree with Tannaim (sages of the Mishna), but the entire shas is filled with cases where later Tannaim disagree with earlier Tannaim and later Amoraim disagree with earlier ones! Moreover, under certain conditions when this happens, the rule is even that הלכה כבתראי, the law follows the later authority!
Not only that, but there are many cases of Rabbi’s who have reached an independent status in their own learning, disagreeing with their own Rabbis (Reish Lakish being one of the most common examples in his regular debates with Rabbi Yochanan!)
Furthermore, is this not a transgression of the prohibition of superstitious behaviour, namely basing one’s actions on logically unrelated signs with no evidence of cause and effect (see Sanhedrin 66a.)
It seems clear from an earlier analysis we did (at least according to Rambam,) that the dictum אם ראשונים כמלאכים אנו כבני אדם אם ראשונים כבני אדם אנו כחמורים (If the early one’s were like angels, we are like people, if they were like people, we are like donkeys- Shabbos 112,) is not meant to be a halachik statement preventing a later authority from differing with an earlier one, but rather a statement about a general trend.
We have discussed this in a previous post, and also noted how in a different sugya (Brachos 20), Rav Papa asks Abaya why it is that the earlier generations merited to experience miracles, and their generation did not.
Rav Papa pointed out that it cannot be because they knew more Torah, as Rav Yehuda’s generation were focused on the part of the Talmud that focusses on damages, and they were focused on all 6 sections of the Talmud.
It also could not be that they understood it better, as Rav Yehuda expressed great difficulty with a certain Mishna while they were able to expand on it with ease.
Yet Rav Yehuda only needed to remove his shoe for rain to come, and their generation could daven all day and nothing happened!
Abaya responded that Rav Yehuda’s generation sacrificed themselves to sanctify Hashem’s name (did risky things to preserve the honor of the Torah) and their generation did not.
It seems from there that the superiority of the earlier generations lies NOT in their breadth of knowledge, nor in their greater analytical ability, but rather in their מסירות נפש (self-sacrifice.)
It also is not likely to be coincidental that Rava was of the same generation of Abaya, and had disagreed with a ruling of Rav Yehuda, the very Amora that Abaya had praised for his superior self-sacrifice, but NOT for his superior learning.(though see our earlier post on daf 112 where we brought the view of the Rosh that the rule of הלכתא כבתראי applied only from Abaya and Rava onwards, and not to the period of Rav Yehuda!)
Perhaps Rava was not concerned so much about the fact that he had disagreed with a senior of his, but that he had disagreed with TWO of his seniors, with none of his own colleagues supporting him, possibly without being sure enough of his own position.
It is one thing to have the authority, or even the knowledge, to disagree with one’s seniors, and to use that right where necessary.
It is another thing completely to do this lightly, without being completely sure that it is the correct thing to do.
When disagreeing with a group of scholars who are both his seniors and more numerous than himself, the question is not only whether one MAY do so, but whether one should.
Perhaps Rava, while aware of his own status and ability to disagree, once faced with his illness , had second thoughts, and was modest enough to look at things from scratch and consider that maybe his more numerous and older antagonists were indeed correct.
The continuation of the sugya shows that this was indeed the case.
Rava’s colleagues expressed surprise at his recanting, pointing to the fact that a Beraita had been quoted supporting his interpretation of the Mishna.
It is likely that Rava too was aware of that Beraita and took it into account when making his decision.
Yet even with what appears to be good evidence against one’s seniors, one needs to have a very strong degree of certainty that the evidence is irrefutable.
Rava replied to his colleagues that even though the Beraita did indeed support him, he saw that the wording of the more authoritative Mishna supported Rav Yehuda and Rabbah bar Avuha better, and therefore had serious reason to reconsider his ruling.
We see from this that though one should have very strong evidence before disagreeing with a plurality of those who came before you, once one has that evidence, an event which could be seen as a sign that one was wrong should not on its own be a reason to recant- that could even be a transgression of the prohibition of superstitious behaviour!
At most, it should serve as a sign that one should look again at the evidence and be open to the possibility that he was wrong.
As Chazal said, though admittedly in a slightly different context אע”פ שאין נחש יש סימן (even though we do not base our actions on superstitious interpretations of events that happen, one can see them as a sign! (Chullin 95b)
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 133 דבר שאין מתכוין revisited and bugs in vegetables
In previous posts, we have discussed the famous rule that when performing a permitted activity, one does not need to be concerned about it being accompanied by an unintended forbidden activity, so long as that forbidden activity is not פסיק רישיה (inevitable.)
For example, one is permitted to drag a bench along the ground even though it might make a ditch while being moved, seeing as this is not inevitable.
We have also shown that this leniency applies not only on shabbos, but also in other areas of halacha.
For example, a Nazir is permitted to scratch his beard even though some hair might fall out. This is because his intention is not to remove hair, but rather simply to scratch his beard, and the hair removal, though likely, is not inevitable.
We have also questioned whether the exemption of מתעסק, another category of unintended melacha, would apply to someone who intends to eat a fruit and unintentionally lands up swallowing an insect with it.
Though the rabbinic requirement to perform reasonable checks before eating fruit that are commonly infested is certainly not waived by such an exemption, in cases where checking sufficiently is impossible or involves extreme exertion, such an exemption could be very helpful, at least in combination with other reasons for leniency.
Even more helpful than this leniency which might mitigate the halachik concerns but would not permit the action לכתחילה,would be showing that we can apply the leniency of דבר שאין מתכוין to this situation, seeing as such actions are permitted even לכתחילה.
Let us formulate it as follows:
A person wants to eat a raspberry. He has fulfilled the basic obligation to check it for insects, but has been told that they often hide in inaccessible places or camouflage so well that checking and removing them all is close to impossible, or would take so much time that it would simply not be viable.
The person intends to perform a permitted action- eating raspberries, which the Torah permitted.
There is a concern that while performing this permitted action, he might land up eating a bug, which is biblically prohibited (by multiple transgressions.)
It is presumably not inevitable that he will eat the bug, as there might not be a bug there, or it might have crawled or fallen out before he eats it.
(Some might argue this is actually a case of ספק פסיק רישיה , seeing as if there is indeed a bug, one will definitely come to eat, and there is indeed a well-known debate whether ספק פסיק רישיה has the same permitted status as דבר שאין מתכין or is forbidden like פסיק רישיה .
However, even one argued that it was indeed פסיק רישיה , if would certainly be a פסיק רישיה דלא ניחא ליה (inevitable but unintended result that one derives no benefit from at all, which according to some opinions is permitted and according to the more accepted stringent view is only rabbinically forbidden, making this a ספק פסיק רישיה דלא ניחיה ליה about which we should be able to apply the rule of ספק דרבנן לקולא , or even a ספק ספיקא, given the views that both ספק פסיק רישיה AND פסיק רישיה דלא ניחיה ליה are permitted. )
Surely we can apply the principle of דבר שאין מתכוין מותר and allow one to eat the fruit, seeing as one has no intention to eat the bug, if it is indeed there?
However, when one examines this more carefully, it is not a typical case of דבר שאין מתכוין, but more similar in some ways if anything to מתעסק.
In classic דבר שאין מתכוין, one intends to do a permitted action like dragging a bench and is concerned about a possible DIFFERENT secondary prohibited action, such as digging a groove.
In our case, one intends to perform the permitted action of eating a fruit and is concerned that one will come to apply the SAME action to a prohibited object, namely the bug.
(In Brisker terminology, in typical דבר שאין מתכוין, one intends to perform a מעשה של היתר and is concerned about a secondary מעשה של אסור.
In our case, it is the same מעשה one is concerned about, and the issue is the חפצא של אסור (prohibited object) on which the same מעשה will fall.)
In order to apply the leniency of דבר שאין מתכוין which is already a חדוש (novel idea,) one would need to find a precedent for its application even when we are dealing with the same action, namely eating, an action one clearly intends to do, and the only lack of intent is for the secondary application of this same intended action to an unintended object, namely the bug.
This would still be different to מתעסק in that the forbidden eating (the bug) would be secondary to the intended permitted eating (the fruit), not in place of it (intending to eat something kosher and eating something non-kosher [the issue of נהנה aside])
I believe that we find exactly the precedent we are looking for on our daf!
Our daf discusses why it is permitted to perform a bris when there is a leprous lesion on the area about to be cut.
There is a biblical prohibition against cutting off such a lesion, and we have concluded that because there is also a positive command to avoid doing so, the normal rule of עשה דוחה לא תעשה (a positive command pushes aside a negative one, cannot be applied to permit the bris.
Instead, the view of Rabbi Yoshiya is brought who learns this from a passuk.(the stressing of the word “בשר” – even if it has a lesion.)
The Gemara asks why this is necessary, seeing as it should be a case of דבר שאין מתכוין!
One has intention to cut off the ערלה (foreskin) in order to perform the mitzva of bris mila, and the cutting off of the lesion is only an unintended secondary action that accompanies it!
The Gemara answers that the permissive verse is still required seeing as this is an example of פסיק רישיה- an inevitable forbidden result.
We see that if not for the concern of פסיק רישיה (for example if the lesion was not on the site of bris but close to it,) this would indeed be a case of דבר שאין מתכוין.
Yet when we examine the case, we see that this is similar to the case of the fruit and the bug- one wishes to “cut” the ערלה and the SAME action, namely “cutting”, is also likely to be unintentionally applied to a forbidden object, namely the צרעת (lesion.)
If the rule of דבר שאין מתכוין did not apply to such a scenario, the question would not even begin, the Gemara would at least have given this as the reason it does not apply.
It indeed seems to follow from this Gemara that the leniency of דבר שאין מתכוין indeed applies also when the forbidden secondary action involves the same מעשה (act) as the permitted one!
It thus seems to follow that so long as one has fulfilled the rabbinic requirement to check commonly infested fruit before eating them, one should be permitted to eat it even if there is a real concern that some bugs might still remain.
This could even apply when checking is biblically required, such as when the majority of the species are known to be infested, so long as there is no פסיק רישיה.
If so, we can ask why there is even a rabbinic requirement to check fruit at all? Why not just rely on the leniency of דבר שאין מתכוין in the first place, something which no contemporary poseik I am aware of seems to suggest?
I believe that the answer lies in the way that the various Rishonim understands the prohibition of removing a leprous lesion.
The Rashba notes that the case on our daf does not appear like דבר שאין מתכוין- he actually says that it is more like מלאכה שאינה צריכא לגופא seeing as one intends to perform the action of cutting but not for the purpose of removing the lesion , rather in order to perform the מילה.
His classification of this as מלאכה שאינה צריכא לגופא requires its own analysis but it is his answer that is most relevant here- he says that the prohibition from the Torah is not simply to cut the lesion but rather to intentionally purify himself by removing the lesion.
Seeing as he is cutting for the sake of the Mitzva of Milah and not with intention to purify himself, he has no intention for the prohibited action at all- there is a primary action of cutting off the ערלה and a secondary unintended action of purifying himself- if this was not פסיק רישיה, it would thus be a classic case of דבר שאין מתכוין.
On the other hand, if there was indeed a prohibition of cutting off the lesion, and not of purifying oneself by so doing, this would not be דבר שאין מתכוין but rather מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופא and thus prohibited.
This definition of the prohibition of removing a leprous lesion is a huge chiddush, which the Rashba no doubt has his own proof for, and it is clear that according to this approach, this case can no longer serve as a precedent for our case with the fruit and the bugs.
What is also clear though, is that this is not the way most authorities define this prohibition- the Rambam, for example (Sefer haMitzvot 308 and Tumat Tzaraat 10/2) , and the Chinuch( Mitzva 584) define the prohibition simply as removing the signs of leprosy, ie the lesions.
Similarly, the Ritva brings 2 alternative answers to the Rashba’s question, which does not take this approach at all, and in fact suggests, in the name of the Ramban, that this is indeed a case of דבר שאין מתכוין, seeing as intention is to cut the milah, not the lesion, and the lesion is not all over the area of the מילה- almost exactly like our case with the fruit and the bug!
As such, defining our case as דבר שאין מתכוין seems to be subject to a dispute amongst Rishonim, and there is little wonder why Poskim are loathe to rely on it לכתחילה .
Indeed, the Rashba is amongst the most stringent of the Rishonim regarding the requirement to check even species that are not mostly infested but only have a מעוט המצוי (common minority) of members infested, unlike Rashi, Tosfos, and possibly even the Rambam, who seem to hold that the requirement to check only applies where the majority of a species is infested (See my Hebrew Iyun for more on this.)
As common practise is to follow the Rashba, it seems that we cannot be lenient and rely on דבר שאין מתכוין in the first place.
Once however, reasonable checks have been performed, the views that this is indeed דבר שאין מתכוין certainly seems weighty enough to allow one to eat the fruit, even if there is still a concern of undetected bugs being present, even more so in conjunction with the many other reasons (for a different discussion) to be lenient.
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 132 עשה דוחה לא תעשה and מצוה הבאה בעבירה- Does the end justify the means?
On this daf, we discuss the reason why one is permitted to perform a bris on Shabbos, despite the fact that the forbidden melacha of making a wound is an inevitable part of the removal of the foreskin.
We also discuss why it is permitted to perform a bris on someone who has a leprous lesion on the site of the bris.
Various reasons are given for the former, but the most accepted view seems to be that of Rabbi Yochanan who learns it from the passuk וביום השמיני ימול, (on the eight’s day he shall be circumcised), the derasha being “even on shabbos.”
The later is also derived from a similar דרשה- “בשר אע”פ שיש שם בהרת ” but there is also a view that it is because the positive command of performing a bris pushes aside the negative command of cutting off a leprous lesion,
This in turn, together with the permission to wear linen tzitzit on a woolen garment or vice versa, seems to serve as examples of a general rule by which a positive mitzva pushes aside a negative one – עשה דוחה לא תעשה (see the long sugya in the beginning of Yevamos for a more detailed discussion regarding the source for and parameters of this rule.)
There is, however, another commonly applied rule, which seems to state the complete opposite, and that is the rule of מצוה הבאה בעבירה (A mitzva that comes in/with/from a sin.)
The most famous example of this is found in the Mishna (Sukkah 29b) where we are told that a stolen Lulav is not fit for fulfilling the Mitzva.
Not only does one get punished for stealing the Lulav, but one also does not get the reward for taking the Lulav- not only do the ends NOT justify the means, the means invalidate the end!
Why does one simply not apply the former principle of עשה דוחה לא תעשה and say that the positive commandment to take the Lulav pushes aside the prohibition of stealing, not only validating the ends (the mitzva of Lulav,) but also the means (stealing it.)
The most obvious distinction can also be found on our daf.
The Gemara is dealing with a case where a person wants to perform service in the Temple but is impure due to a leprous lesion.
It wants to know why the rule of עשה דוחה לא תעשה cannot be applied to allow him to remove the relevant lesion in order to fulfil the mitzva of the divine service.
Rav Ashi answers that the rule of עשה דוחה לא תעשה only applies when one transgresses the prohibition at the SAME time as one performs the Mitzva.
The logic might be that an action needs to be defined one way or another as either something positive or something negative.
The Chidush (novelty) of this rule is that when ONE action contains both a Mitzva and an aveira, the action is defined as positive, based on the mitzva, rather than negative, based on the aveira.
However, where two separate actions are involved and the prohibition does not take place simultaneously with the mitzva but rather beforehand, like in this case where a person first removes a lesion in order to later be able to perform the service, this reasoning does not apply, and the original prohibition cannot be permitted.
It thus follows from the chiddush of מצוה הבאה בעבירה that seeing as the original prohibition was not permitted at all, the mitzva that is fulfilled later as a result of the prohibition is also not considered a mitzva at all.
Similarly in our case, seeing as the Lulav is first stolen and only used afterwards for the mitzva, the rule of עשה דוחה לא תעשה does not apply, and the rule of מצוה הבאה בעבירה then comes and invalidates even the mitzva.
The problem with this approach is that it could technically be possible to perform the mitzva of lulav at the same time as he steals it.
If one grabs a Lulav from someone on Sukkot and at the same time as he makes the קנין גזילה (symbolic act that affects the transaction, in this case giving it the status of a stolen object,) he has intention to fulfil the mitzva of taking it, the rule of עשה דוחה לא תעשה should surely apply?
Perhaps the answer lies in another rule we have learnt on our daf, namely the reason the Gemara itself has issues with deriving the permission to perform a bris on the site of a leprous lesion: אין עשה דוחה לא תעשה ועשה – a positive commandment can not push aside a prohibition which also involves a positive commandment.
In the case of stealing, there is not only the negative commandment against stealing, there is also the positive command to return whatever one has stolen.
So long as one is still in possession of stolen property, one has not only transgressed the prohibition of stealing, but has avoided the command to return it.
If a person steals a lulav and simultaneously takes it, he is not only transgressing the prohibition of stealing the Lulav- he is also avoiding the Mitzva of returning it.
Thus the rule of עשה דוחה לא תעשה cannot possibly apply, and the rule of מצוה הבאה בעבירה prevents one from fulfilling the Mitzva.
In truth, The rule of מצוה הבאה בעבירה also seems to be found in other cases where the prohibition is performed at the same time as the Mitzva.
For example, one who eats מצה של טבל (matza from untithed produce) on Pesach, one does not fulfill the Mitzva of eating matza, even though the prohibition of eating untithed produce has been performed simultaneously with the mitzva )Pesachim 35a)
However, the Gemara brings a separate passuk to prove this, and although our argument could possibly also be applied to the case of טבל too, seeing as there is also a positive mitzva to separate the various tithes, we will leave that till Pesachim bli neder.
All this is on the level of technical halachik pilpul.
Yet on an ethical level, the fact that we clearly do not apply the rule of עשה דוחה לא תעשה to stealing, or as far as I am aware, other מצות בין אדם לחבירו can easily be understood.
It is one thing to trade-off one mitzva with another when both are between man and Hashem.
However, if your mitzva will be at the expense of someone else, this goes against the very idea of what mitzvot are supposed to accomplish and is also a tremendous Chillul Hashem.
On such things, Hashem says “”חדשיכם ומועדיכם שנאה נפשי (my soul has hated your new-moons and your festivals- Yeshayahu 1/14/)
Going into the 9 days, this message is more relevant than ever.
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 130-131 Shabbos מכשירי מצוה ,Corona,and drawing the line
Shabbos 130-131 Shabbos מכשירי מצוה ,Corona,and drawing the line
Our Daf starts a new Mishna and a new chapter, but it is connected to the last Mishna of the previous chapter which taught that all actions that form an essential part of the process of מילה (circumcision,) may be performed on shabbos, when the bris is performed on time, namely on the 8’th day.
In this Mishna, Rabbi Eliezer, and Rabbi Akiva dispute to what extent this permission goes.
Rabbi Eliezer goes further than the previous mishna, and rules that not only may one perform all essential parts of the circumcision process, but also preparations for the process, such as bringing the knife through a public domain, or even cutting wood to burn into coals in order to burn the knife before use, if one did not do so before shabbos.
Rabbi Akiva, on the other hand, rules that any preparation that could have been done before shabbos, may not be done on shabbos, and only things which could not be done on shabbos, may be done on shabbos.
Rashi explains that Rabbi Akiva holds that only things that are directly part of the circumcision process may be done on shabbos, seeing as the process itself can only be done on shabbos, but things are preparatory to the process, known as מכשירי מילה , may not, seeing as they can be done before shabbos.
It seems from the way that Rabbi Akiva makes this distinction, that he limits the definition of the circumcision process itself to things which can only be done on the day of the circumcision, and considers everything else to be in the category of מכשירי מילה (preparation for the circumcision process), which is not permitted.
On Daf 131a, Rabbi Eliezer goes further and incredibly extends this permission to transgress shabbos in order to prepare for most other mitzvot that apply biblically on shabbos, such as lulav, matza, and shofar, though not for writing tefillin and mezuzot!
We have a similar debate regarding performing melacha for food purposes on Yom-Tov (Megila 7b)- The Tana Kama holds that that one may only do melachot that are part of the food preparation itself, such as slaughtering an animal or lighting a fire, but not to source or prepare objects needed for this process, such as sharpening a knife or chopping wood.
In contrast, Rabbi Yehuda holds that one may even perform מכשירי אוכל נפש, melachot need to prepare for the food-preparation process on Yom-Tov.
Unlike Rabbi Eliezer regarding מכשירי מילה, though, Rabbi Yehuda limits this leniency to preparations that could not be done before Yom-Tov.
Later in our perek (Shabbos 137b,) the Gemara indeed says that Rabbi Eliezer holds like Rabbi Yehuda but goes even further than him and permits even preparations that could not be done before-hand.
All these opinions based themselves on Pesukim, and it is not clear that the two debates are logically connected to one another but let us at least examine the possibility that these are indeed connected conceptually.
According to Rabbi Akiva regarding מילה and the Tana Kama regarding Yom-Tov, only things directly part of a normally forbidden action that has been permitted by the Torah, are included in the permission. According to Rabbi Eliezer regarding מילה and Rabbi Yehuda regarding Yom-Tov, even preparatory actions for the permitted act are allowed.
How do we determine whether it is part of the action, or simply preparatory?
According to Rabbi Akiva, Things which can be done only on the day of the permitted action itself, are considered part of the action itself and permitted, whereas things that can be done the day before are not considered part of the action itself, but rather preparatory to the action, and may not be done.
Rabbi Eliezer either agrees that things that can be done before shabbos are not considered part of the action, but rather preparations, but permits preparations too, or holds that even preparations that can be done before shabbos are considered part of the permitted action and may thus be done.
Regarding yom-Tov, the debate seems somewhat different.
Both Chachamin and Rabbi Yehuda agree that actions preparatory to the food production process that could have been done before Yom-Tov are not permitted, and both agree that things that could not be done before Yom-Tov, are considered preparatory and not part of the actual food production process.
Their argument is not about what is considered part of the actual process and what is only considered preparatory, but only about whether such preparations that can only be done on Yom-Tov are permitted on Yom Tov , and is based on how they interpret the pesukim in that context.
whatever we conclude, in both cases, we see that the more stringent opinions draw the line long before the more lenient opinions in terms of the scope of what the Torah permits.
This is not surprising, as if this were not done, one leniency could lead to another, and one could land up spending the whole shabbos or Yom-Tov doing melacha.
If we follow Rabbi Yehuda and permit מכישירי אוכל נפש that can only be done on shabbos, what is to stop us permitting מכשירין דמכשירין (preparations for preparations) or permitting מכשירין that can be done before shabbos?
Yet despite this concern, the view of Rabbi Yehuda was accepted on Yom-Tov, whereas the extreme leniency of Rabbi Eliezer on shabbos was not. (see relevant sugyos)
Once again this seems to be based primarily on his status as a שמותי, explained by Rashi to mean either of the school of Beit Shamai, which we do not follow, or someone in שמתא (excommunication,) due to his refusal to accept the majority view of Sanhedrin in the famous argument over the stove of Achnai (Bava Metzia 59b.)
Yet there are times that despite this, we do rule like Rabbi Eliezer, and perhaps there is also an underlying logical reason his view was rejected as well.
Perhaps, the slippery slope is indeed a factor here- if we go so far as to allow one to cut wood in order to burn coals in order to forge a knife, which he indeed permits, what is to stop us allowing a person to perform any melacha in order to get paid in order to buy the knife, effectively destroying the entire shabbos?
Even in matters of pikuach nefesh, and avoiding dangerous situations, we have seen that Chazal have drawn the line at certain points.
Where the chances of danger to life are negligible and there is no limit to how much melacha one can do to avoid such negligible chances (like running around killing wasps on shabbos,) Rav Huna places limits on pikuach nefesh (Shabbos 121b.)
When an everyday activity that involves a small risk has been accepted by society as a normal part of life (דשו בו רבים ), we have seen that such risks can become halachically acceptable- if we don’t draw a line somewhere, we would need to spend all day locked at home forever, and even that has its dangers(Shabbos 129b.)
Every leniency or stringency must be constantly balanced in order to prevent other key values from being unproportionally affected, and to prevent a slippery slope.
During the current Corona plague, we are constantly faced with the question of how far to go to contain it.
If we go to far, we can land up stopping normal living entirely and create even greater economic, social, educational, spiritual and psychological dangers.
If we do not go far enough, we risk countless deaths and the ultimate destruction of the health system and economy as well.
For example, when we give people space to go out as long as they keep a 2 meter distance between one another and wear masks, they decide that they do not need to wear masks if they keep a distance, or to keep a distance when they are wearing masks.
Some decide that neither precaution is necessary.
When we open schools with no distancing on condition that masks are worn, we land up relaxing the need for masks when the weather is too hot, and that causes the next wave of the plague.
The Torah always implores us to strike the right balance, and Chazal are tasked with working out exactly where and how it does so. We need to try and do our best to follow their example.
Shabbos 129 Safeik Pikuach Nefesh
Our Daf deals with the question when a nursing woman is permitted to eat on Yom Kippur.
Unlike a pregnant woman , one who is in the birthing process or immediate post-birth process, a woman who has recently given birth and/or is nursing is considered to be in immediate danger and is not always exempted from fasting.
In this regard, Rav Yehuda quotes Shmuel who says that as long as the womb is still considered “open”, we insist that she eats whether she says that she needs to or not. Thereafter, whether she says that she needs to eat or not, we do not feed her, the assumption being that it is no longer dangerous for her to fast.
The Gemara notes that this is only the version of his ruling that Rav Ashi taught. However, Mar Zutra had a different version of this ruling, whereby even after the womb has closed, we feed her for as long as she says that she needs to eat.
Ravina asked Mereimar which version of the ruling is to be accepted, and he told him that we follow the lenient ruling of Mar Zutra, seeing as ספק נפשות להקיל (we are lenient in case of any doubt regarding danger to life.)
At first glance, it might seem from this that Rav Ashi rejects the view that in case of doubt of danger to life, we are stringent, and do not desecrate the shabbos, and that we only desecrate shabbos in a case of certain danger.
However, it is very difficult to accept that this is indeed his view, given the well-known and universally accepted view amongst earlier authorities that in case of any real doubt of danger to life, we are always lenient.
For example, the Mishna (Yoma 83a) brings the rule of Rav Matya that if someone might have been covered by a rockfall, or might still be alive, we desecrate shabbos to free him, because ספק נפשות להקיל and the Gemara concludes that no one disputes this.
In addition, it is clear from the sugya there that even when most experts (including the patient) say that an ill person need not eat on Yom Kippur, we follow 2 who say that he does, and where the patient and doctor disagree, we always follow those who says he needs to eat.
It seems hardly likely that one of the latest and most authoritative Amoraim would rule against all of that.
It thus seems more plausible that Rav Ashi agrees in principle with the rule of ספק נפשות להקיל but holds that after the womb has closed, there is not even a doubt anymore- we can assume she is not in danger.
However, this puts this into the irreputable category of a מחלוקת מציאות (debate in a factual matter which can easily be researched)- surely both Rav Ashi and Mar Zutra were able to gather enough cases where nursing women were endangered by fasting to either both see at least some doubt or both agree that there is no real concern?
The next step in the yeshiva-style lomdus (analysis) would usually be to show how the argument is not about facts but about how the halacha relates to the facts.
We could suggest that both Rav Ashi and Mar Zutra agree that there is a small danger involved at this stage but differ as to whether this degree of danger is indeed considered a valid ספק halachically.
At the end of the day, there is always some small risk to anyone who fasts, yet nobody suggests that no one should ever fast because of this concern- it is clear from the fact that the Torah requires a regular person to fast that such risks are not only acceptable, but are meant to be taken for the sake of the Mitzva of fasting.
We have also seen the view of Rav Huna (Shabbos 121a) who disagrees with his son, Rabbah bar Rav Huna’s disapproval of those who are “pious” and do not go round killing snakes and scorpions on shabbos, because the risk is small and there is no end to how much time we can spend killing wasps and the like on shabbos.
As such, we are forced to conclude that there is a line somewhere between what is considered a reasonable though doubtful concern for saving life, for which we certainly desecrate Shabbos and other Mitzvos , and far off and never-ending concerns which are not sufficient reason to justify doing so- After all, if we took all far-fetched concerns into account, it would lead to a situation where shabbos in constantly being desecrated out of paranoia.
It is in this grey area between reasonable concern and exaggerated concern that there is room for debate- everyone has to draw the line somewhere, and just as Rabbah bar Rav Huna and Rav Huna drew it in different places, so do Rav Ashi and Mar Zutra.
Although the criteria are not necessarily the same, this trade-off has relevance to another common question, namely what level of risk is one permitted to take in the course of normal living? – one of the main springboards for this question is the sugya of דשו בו רבים on the other side of our daf, which I hope to have time to address in the future, Hashem willing.
It is also possible that given that the level of risk is in a grey area, even medical experts might have different views on the subject, and different surveys or other sets of evidence could lead one to different conclusions, something we have seen so much lately during the endless debates amongst experts in medicine, virology, epidemiology, statistics, and pretty much everything else.
As such, there is also room to say that Rav Ashi and Rav Zutra do indeed differ enough regarding the facts, and not just regarding where statistically the halachik red line is drawn.
Many of us, myself included, are often frustrated or annoyed at the amount of seemingly ridiculous halachik questions going around regarding pikuach nefesh- after all, we have always been taught this rule of ספק נפשות להקיל – in other words, if you have any doubt, just assume its pikuach nefesh and act accordingly.
Although in situations when one does not the time to ask questions and wait for answers before acting, this dictum remains the golden rule, we have seen from the above that there is indeed a grey area or very fine line between real concerns and halachically insignificant ones, and there is thus still certainly room for some give and take on the subject, when, and only when, there is no immediate urgency to act- תורה היא וללמוד אני צריך!