Pesachim 8 from Corona to Searching for chametz: Do Torah and Mitzvos protect us from danger?

Without prejudging this issue, I would like to daven that in the zechus of this and all the other learning we do, My dear father שליט”א , and teacher of so much Torah to so many, should have a refuah shleimah.

One of the most emotionally, politically, and religiously charged topics in Israel during the Corona outbreak has been the closure of shuls, Torah schools, and Yeshivos in order to prevent the spread of the disease.

On the one hand, preservation of life is one of the most sacred principles in Judaism, and one is not only permitted, but required, to transgress all commandments, except for murder, idolatry, and sexual immorality, in order to save lives (Yoma 85b,Sanhedrin 74a.)

On the other hand, not only is Torah study and prayer considered to be pillars of our and the entire world’s existence (Mishna Avos 1/2,) there is even some evidence that at least some Chazal considered both Torah and the commandments to have protective, or even healing power (see Sotah 21a.)

Despite this possibility, however, there is also a clear prohibition against intentionally using the words of Torah to heal  (see Shvuos 16b,Sanhedrin 90a/101a) opening the door to a third approach whereby learning Torah and performing mitzvot for their own sake might be permitted despite the existence of dangers in doing so, due to this protective power.

The subject is complex, and there are many sugyos that need to be studied to even get a superficial view of the issues involved.  In the context of a daf post like this, I wish to study the topic as it appears in this daf, what seems מוכרח (indisputable) from it, and what possibilities are left open.

Near the bottom of Pesachim 8a, the Gemara brings a Beraisa which states that we do not require a person to put his hand into holes and cracks in order to find chametz (rather a visual inspection with the candle is sufficient.)

The reason given for this is due to the danger involved.

The Gemara, in questioning what this danger is, rejects the possibility that it is the danger that a scorpion might be hiding in one of the holes and cracks, because it was normal to use these holes and cracks (in the walls) for storage (otherwise one would not be required to search there anyway, as only places where chametz is kept need to be searched.)

The rejection of this concern can be explained in two ways:

  1. One would not use holes and cracks for storage if scorpions were found in them due to the danger, so the danger almost certainly does not exist.
  2. There is indeed some danger of scorpions in the holes and cracks, but as it clearly did not stop one from using them for storage, it is clearly not enough of a concern to exempt one from the mitzva.

An important נפקא מינה (practical ramification) would be whether one is liable to take reasonable every-day risks for the sake of a mitzva.

If the reason that the danger factor is rejected is because we are referring even to places where scorpions are not find in holes in the wall used for storage, it could follow that in places where people used holes in the wall for storage despite the risk of scorpions (whether this is permitted or not,) there might still be no obligation to take this risk in order to perform the mitzva of בדיקת חמץ.

On the other hand, if the danger factor is rejected because we are dealing with places where despite the danger of scorpions, people still take the risk and use the holes, it would follow that in the case of a reasonable every day risk that people take, such a risk might indeed be obligatory for the sake of a mitzva like בדיקת חמץ .

It should be noted that given that, at least when בטול  is performed, בדיקת חמץ  is only דרבנן (a rabbinical requirement,) extending the exemption due to this level of danger to biblical obligations, though possible, should not be taken for granted based on this sugya alone.

After rejecting the possibility that the Beraisa is exempting one from searching holes or cracks in the walls for chametz, it concludes that we are dealing with searching in the holes formed in the heap of a collapsed wall.

Though it does not state precisely what the danger is, Rashi takes for granted that this concern is indeed due to scorpions, seeing as scorpions are far more common in garbage dumps and heaps.

Despite the more significant danger involved in this case, the Gemara is still troubled by the Beraisa’s exemption, due to the principle stated by Rabbi Elazer that     שלוחי מצוה אינם ניזוקין  (those on a mission to perform a mitzva are not harmed.)

This principle seems to indicate that a person merits protection while performing a mitzva, and that even if there is a real danger of scorpions in the pile,  the mitzva of בדיקת חמץ  will protect him.

It is important to stress that we see from here that this principle, whatever it means, applies even to a rabbinical mitzva!

After some give and take, the Gemara seems to accept the fact that although a real concern normally, the danger of scorpions is not sufficient to exempt one from the search, due to this rule.

It concludes that the danger mentioned is that once the mitzva is over and the protection it affords is no longer active, he might continue feeling for a lost item and get stung by a scorpion while doing so.

We see from here that whatever protective power a mitzva has, it ceases to function once the mitzva is complete, even if one does a voluntary action that one would not have done had he not performed the mitzva.

Alternatively, Rav Nachman bar Yitchak suggests that the danger referred to is not that of scorpions but of his non-Jewish neighbor, who might find his actions suspicious and suspect him of practicing witchcraft against him.

The Gemara once again attempts to refute this with Rabbi Elazer’s principle that שלוחי מצוה אינם ניזוקין  and concludes that “היכא דשכיח הזיקא שאני” (where danger is “שכיח”  , it is different.)

The word שכיח  is the Aramaic equivalent of the Hebrew “מצוי”, literally translated as “found or present” but most often refers to “common.” (note that in a similar discussion in Yoma 11a, the phrase  (fixed)קביע הזיקא  is used, and as the same prooftext is brought, it seems that the two are equivalent at least to some degree.)

It follows that  where the danger is common (such as a non-Jewish neighboring accusing a Jew of witchcraft,) as opposed to danger that is real but less common (such as a scorpion being present in the hole at the time or stinging one when he puts his hands in) the principle  may not be relied upon.

We can now attempt to list a hierarchy of dangers, regarding the applicability of the principle of שלוחי מצוה אינם נזוקין .

  1. A situation with no significant danger (such as holes in the wall in a place where scorpions are hardly ever found.)- There is no need for this principle, and it is obvious that the mitzva must be fulfilled.
  2. A situation where there is some risk of danger, but it is a normal risk accepted in every day life  (Equivalent or similar to what Chazal call “דשו בו רבים”  in other contexts such as Shabbos 129b and Yevamos 12b- It is possible that  here too there is no need for this principle, and the mitzva must be fulfilled even without it, but it is also possible that in the absence of this principle, there would be no obligation to take the risk, even if its permitted to do so voluntarily.
  3. A situation where the danger is significant enough that one would normally avoid it in every-day life, but not in the category of “common.”

The principle would require one to take the risk for the sake of a mitzva.

  1. A situation where the danger is common ,the principle is not relevant, and one is exempt from the mitzva.

The above analysis, though already complex, deals solely with the question of whether one is obligated to take risks to perform mitzvot and not whether one is permitted to do so voluntarily, a topic for another discussion.

It also fails to tackle the actual meaning and mechanism behind the principle, and the fact that we see In front of us many cases where people have been harmed, even by freak occurrences, in  the performance of a mitzva  (see Kiddushin 39b for example re שלוח הקן)

We have to bare in mind the possibility that the principle is less a statement of fact, and more of a halachik principle (as well as a kind of hope, blessing or prayer), which defines certain types of risk that one would normally avoid as obligatory when it comes to performing mitzvot.

The sugya ends with Rav being asked whether his students who live far away in the valleys should risk harm in order to go early and come back late from the study-house.

His response was that he took the responsibility for any harm that comes to them on himself.

Once again, there are two possibilities for understanding what he meant:

  1. Rav admitted that some risk was involved, but was prepared to take responsibility for the risk, given the enormity of the mitzva of Torah study. Such a willingness to risk other people’s lives would certainly require further discussion.
  2. Rav believed that due to Rabbi Elazar’s principle, there was no risk at all, and they would not be harmed (see Rashi who seems to understand it this way!)

Whereas this explanation appears easier to understand ethically, it is harder to understand on a factual basis.

Although the Gemara does not elaborate on the level of danger that was involved in making this daily journey before dawn and after dark, it seems clear that it was great enough that people would normally be hesitant to risk it for non-mitzva related purposes, and despite that fact, Rav still encouraged them to come for the sake of Torah study and took the risk on himself.

It is also necessary to point out that the above analysis applies to an individual taking certain levels of danger on himself for the sake of a mitzva- none of these examples directly deal with endangering other people or the public in general for the sake of one’s own personal mitzva or Torah-study, or endangering the public for the sake of a public mitzva or public Torah study, though the above case of Rav and his students might come closest to this.

I do not intend to come to practical conclusions regarding the current situation from this analysis- there are far too many other sugyot to analyze  (see for example Yoma 11a which seems to include monetary risk in the exemption, Kiddushin 39b regarding שילוח הקן, Kesubos 77b regarding חולי ראתן, Sotah 21a regarding the מים המאררים ,as well as what might be a completely different approach to the entire idea of שלוחי מצוה אינם ניזוקין   in the Rambam and the Meiri)  and I leave this to senior Talmidei-Chachamim, but what seems certain from this sugya is that

  1. A certain level of significant risks that people normally try to avoid in their everyday lives wherever possible not only may, but MUST, be taken for the sake of mitzvot, even rabbinic mitzvot, and even more so for Torah study.
  2. There is a level of risk which may not be taken even for the sake of mitzvot.

Finding the balance between the above two levels of risk, is not simple, but is essential to make practical decisions in this and other situations.

Pesachim 5- 7 בל יראה ובל ימצא and the command of תשביתו

We have referred various times to the debate between Rashi and Tosfos on the first daf regarding the reasons for the requirement to search for chametz the night before Pesach.

Rashi explained that it is to avoid the prohibitions of בל יראה ובל ימצא.

Tosfos, in contrast, argued based on the Gemara (Pesachim 4b and 6b) that seeing as on a biblical level, בטול חמץ  is sufficient to remove it from one’s possession, AND בטול  is compulsory rabbinically, the search is not necessary to avoid these prohibitions and is rather a rabbinic requirement to avoid coming to eat chametz that one has nullified on Pesach.

On Daf 5, the Gemara analyzes the sources and parameters of these two related prohibitions and on Daf 6, it also records a debate amongst Tannaim as to how to fulfill the positive commandment of תשביתו (removing chametz from one’s possession.)

To make some order, let us summarize the various pessukim involved:

שמות פרק יב

(טו) שִׁבְעַ֤ת יָמִים֙ מַצּ֣וֹת תֹּאכֵ֔לוּ אַ֚ךְ בַּיּ֣וֹם הָרִאשׁ֔וֹן תַּשְׁבִּ֥יתוּ שְּׂאֹ֖ר מִבָּתֵּיכֶ֑ם כִּ֣י׀ כָּל־אֹכֵ֣ל חָמֵ֗ץ וְנִכְרְתָ֞ה הַנֶּ֤פֶשׁ הַהִוא֙ מִיִּשְׂרָאֵ֔ל מִיּ֥וֹם הָרִאשֹׁ֖ן עַד־י֥וֹם הַשְּׁבִעִֽי:

“For 7 days, you shall eat matzoth, but on the first day, you shall cease to have any seor (yeast) in your houses, as anyone who eats chametz will have his soul cut off from Israel, from the first day until the seventh day”

Here, we see a positive mitzva to remove all seor/chametz from one’s possession  before Pesach (the Gemara understands the “first day” here to refer to the day before Pesach, from midday and the word “but” to divide the day into two, half permitted to own chametz and half forbidden.

“Seor” refers to chametz that is no longer fit for a dog to eat but has turned into yeast which has the capability of causing other dough to become chametz.

שמות פרק יב

(יט) שִׁבְעַ֣ת יָמִ֔ים שְׂאֹ֕ר לֹ֥א יִמָּצֵ֖א בְּבָתֵּיכֶ֑ם כִּ֣י׀ כָּל־אֹכֵ֣ל מַחְמֶ֗צֶת וְנִכְרְתָ֞ה הַנֶּ֤פֶשׁ הַהִוא֙ מֵעֲדַ֣ת יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל בַּגֵּ֖ר וּבְאֶזְרַ֥ח הָאָֽרֶץ:

“For seven days, seor may  not be found in your homes, for anyone who eats “that which leavens”, his soul will be cut off from the congregation of Israel, amongst the stranger and citizen of the land.”

Here, we see a prohibition to allow any seor to be found in one’s house over the Pesach period, as well as the severe punishment of כרת  for one who eats seor or chametz on Pesach.

There also seems to be a hint to the Ran’s suggestion (see earlier post on Daf 2) that the reason for this prohibition is indeed to avoid the serious penalty for eating it.

שמות פרק יג

(ז) מַצּוֹת֙ יֵֽאָכֵ֔ל אֵ֖ת שִׁבְעַ֣ת הַיָּמִ֑ים וְלֹֽא־יֵרָאֶ֨ה לְךָ֜ חָמֵ֗ץ וְלֹֽא־יֵרָאֶ֥ה לְךָ֛ שְׂאֹ֖ר בְּכָל־גְּבֻלֶֽךָ:

“Matzoth shall be eaten for these seven days, and no chametz shall be ‘seen for/to you’ and no seor shall be ‘seen for/to you’ in all your borders.”

Here, we see a prohibition against any seor or  chametz “being seen for you” in all one’s borders.

What precisely this means, requires clarification, and based on the simple reading, it could refer to

  1. A prohibition against seeing any chametz
  2. A prohibition against seeing any chametz that belongs to you
  3. A prohibition against having any chametz that is or could be seen by you
  4. A prohibition against having any chametz in one’s possession, the word “יראה”  not referring to literally being seen, but rather to “appearing before one/being present” (as in “ולא יראה פני ריקם” regarding עליה לרגל.)

דברים פרק טז

(ד) וְלֹֽא־יֵרָאֶ֨ה לְךָ֥ שְׂאֹ֛ר בְּכָל־גְּבֻלְךָ֖ שִׁבְעַ֣ת יָמִ֑ים…..

“and there shall not be seen to you any seor in all your borders for 7 days”

This seems to be a repeat (as is common in Sefer Devarim) of the prohibition against seeing seor on Pesach.

Based on the Gemara (Beitza 7b,) most of the Rishonim seem to understand that the prohibition against seeing chametz or seor is one prohibition applicable to both chametz and seor (see for example רמבם סה”מ לאו ר   and סמ”ג עז-עח but see also סמ”ק לד-לה who counts them separately!)

Similarly, the prohibition against owning chametz or seor is also seen as one prohibition.

However, the relationship between the prohibition against seeing chametz/seor (בל יראה)  and the prohibition against owning (בל ימצא) is more subtle.

Although they are counted by the Rishonim as two separate prohibitions (see for example Sefer haMitzvos 200/201) the Gemara understands that they share parameters, and whenever the one applies, the other applies as well.

For example, even if one owns chametz that is hidden from sight, one transgresses BOTH prohibitions, even though one does not see it.

In addition to this “double prohibition,” there is also a positive command of “תשביתו”, removing chametz from one’s possession before Pesach, which one transgresses on failure to do so.

There is so much to go into regarding this “double” prohibition and its related positive commandment and we shall hopefully get a chance to get to understand them a lot more over the coming daf- in the meanwhile, I hope that this brief summary will help clarify some of the basics.

Pesachim 4 Searching for Chametz with an electric torch

The first Mishna of the masechta told us that the search for chametz needs to be done the night before Pesach by candlelight.

On our daf, Rav Nachman bar Yitchak explains that the reason the search was instituted the night before and not the day before Pesach is because

  1. People are usually at home at night
  2. The candlelight is good for searching at night.

The second reason might be required in order that we should not think that people who are at home during the day should be allowed to intentionally do their search then- even for them, the search needs to be done by candle and a candle is not that effective at night! (see Ritva, Meiri, Rabbeinu Yonatan and other who make this point.)

 He does not explain, however, why one cannot simply search during the day by sunlight- The assumption seems to be that searching with a candle is an intrinsic part of the mitzva.

Whether one explains like Rashi that the reason for the search is to avoid the prohibition of owning chametz on Pesach or like Tosfos that the reason for the search is due to a concern that one might come to eat chametz on Pesach that one has nullified, it stands to reason that the mitzva is goal-oriented and the main thing is that the chametz is found- how it is found should be less relevant.

As such, while we can understand that regular sunlight might not be suitable enough to achieve this purpose, any form of light which is at least as good or better for this purpose should be perfectly acceptable.

Whereas a candle might have been the most suitable item for this at the time that Chazal instituted this practise, a good quality easy to handle electric torch certainly seems to be even more suitable.

Although the Gemara (Pesachim 8a) gives various reasons why a flame-based torch (made up of more than one wick) may not be used, none of those reasons seem to apply to an electric torch which is more flexible, safe, and stable than a regular one-wick candle.

Yet there is also the possibility that whatever the reason Chazal required a candle, they instituted the mitzva specifically with a candle, and once they did that, the only way the mitzva may be fulfilled is with a candle.

Rashi, on our daf, gives us a “heads-up” and tells us that the Gemara later on actually derives the requirement to use a candle from a verse, strengthening the possibility that there might be more to this requirement than meets the eye.

Fast forward to Daf 7b, and Rav Chisda, later supported by a Beraisa, indeed derives the requirement for a candle from a string of גזירות שוות (comparisons based on similar language) which indicate that a search should be done with a נר  (candle.)

The Beraisa points out that this is not an actual proof but a זכר לדבר (a form of hint) and given that the whole requirement of the search is דרבנן (rabbinical,) it seems rather obvious that this is at the most an אסמכתא .

Nevertheless, the fact that Chazal were not satisfied simply to provide a practical reason why a candle needs to be used but chose to base the requirement on an elaborate string of דרשות, does seem to indicate that there is something deeper about this requirement above the simple reasoning that they gave.

The sugya there, however, proceeds to tells us that one may not use an אבוקה (torch made by a collection of more than one candle), sunlight, or moonlight for the search, but must use a candle, seeing as it is יפה (nice or suitable) for the search, the same reasoning given back on our daf.

This seems to shift the focus back to practical reasoning, and the Gemara in fact immediately points out that an אכסדרה  (outdoor structure/porch with lots of sunlight) or area in the house directly under an ארובה  (skylight) may indeed be searched by sunlight, a seemingly clear indication that the candle is less an intrinsic requirement of the mitzva and more a matter of utility.

The reasoning seems to be that there is usually not sufficient sunlight indoors to perform the search properly, but there is enough sunlight to render the candle ineffective – As such, the search is done at night where the superior light of a candle can be used.

In areas where the sunlight is strong enough to replace the candle, this is not necessary.

The Rishonim  (see, for example the Ran based on the Yerushalmi) are bothered by this leniency, however, given that the search is supposed to be done at night, for the two reasons mentioned earlier, so when would one ever come to do it by sunlight .

They reply that the Gemara is merely saying that for one who was unable to search at night at the optimal time, and is then required to do so in the day, sunlight is sufficient in an area that is exposed to plenty of it- in a case where the mitzva is already being performed sub-optimally and the candle does not have much effect anyway, whatever special relevance the candle has in the mitzva is outweighed by the superior impact of the sunlight.

Once we have admitted that this is already not the ideal way of doing the mitzva, the possibility again opens up that not only is the night an ideal component of the mitzva, but so is the candle itself, and that when the mitzva can be performed with a candle, even if there is an equally effective way of doing so, the candle should still be used!

Of course, even if this true, there is still room to argue that an electric light is considered to be a candle, at least for the purposes of this Mitzva, particular the original type with incandescent bulbs that actually burn (as opposed to fluorescent bulbs and modern day LED’s which do not.)

Although we have only come to study and raise the issues and not make halachik rulings, those interested in following up will note that some modern poskim seem to hold that the mitzva can indeed be fulfilled with an electric torch with a focussed light.

Some even seem to favor this as the concern for fires is lower and a more focussed search will thus result, but general practise seems to be to follow the longstanding custom of using a candle where possible, and amongst some, such as Chabad Chasidim, this is taking extreme seriously for more mystical reasons, which we have seen might indeed be at least hinted at in our sugya.

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.

Pesachim 3 The trade-off between clean and clear language

On the previous daf, the Mishna told us that we need to search for chametz by the light of a candle on “אור לארבעה עשר” [ lit: “the light of the 14’th.]

One of the first פסוקים  (verses) we learnt as children tells us how Hashem created “אור”  [“light”]  on the first day, called it “יום” [day], and called the “חושך”  [darkness], “לילה” [ night.]

As such, our first assumption when reading this Mishna would be that we need to search for Chametz during the day, or perhaps at first light, of the 14’th, i.e. the day before Pesach.

Yet, far from taking it for granted, the Gemara asks what “אור” is referring to, and brings a debate between Rav Huna, who says it is referring to “נגהי”  (Aramaic for “light”] and Rav Yehuda, who says that it is referring to “לילי” (Aramaic for night.)

Seemingly unbothered by the apparent bizarreness of Rav Yehuda “translating” a word “everyone” knows means “light” as “night-time”, the Gemara initially assumes that at least  Rav Huna holds that the mishna is referring to day-time, as would be our natural assumption.

Yet after bringing an array of פסוקים  that all seem to use the word “אור”  to refer to day-time, and offering seemingly forced alternate explanations of all them in a way that the word “אור”  itself might still refer to night, it brings various examples of usage in משניות  and ברייתות where the word clearly seems to refer to night.

Clearly choosing the later over the most obvious usage in the pessukim, the Gemara concludes that even Rav Huna agrees that the Mishna refers to night-time, but explains that in his town, the word “נגהי” was also used to refer to night-time.

Seeing as we are dealing with the usage of words by Chazal, it is not surprising that the Gemara chooses examples of its usage from Chazal over the simple meaning of its usage in the scriptures, but given that Chazal do sometimes use language differently to the scriptures (see for example B.M. 2a re “ראיה”), it seems strange that the Gemara feels the need to explain the פסוקים in a way that is consistent with their usage- perhaps the Torah simply uses “אור”  in its literal usage to describe light or day, and Chazal use it as a reference to “night”, for whatever reason?

The Gemara concludes that the reason why the Mishna (and by implication other statements of Chazal) use the word “אור”  in place of “חושך”  or “לילה” is in order to make use of “לישנע מעליה”  (lit. “superior language.”)

It bases this on Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s ruling that a person should never let a “דבר מגונה”- “degrading word” came out of his mouth.

This ruling is in turn based on the fact that Torah added 8 extra letters, despite the golden rule that it NEVER wastes letters or words, in order to replace the phrase ” בהמה טמאה” (impure animal )  with  “בהמה אשר איננה טהורה” (“ an animal which is not pure.”

This proof is followed by others from different Amoraim.

The school of Rabbi Yishmael then brings a similar rule requiring people to always speak with “לשון נקיה” (clean language.)

This is based on the fact that whereas something that a זב  (male impure due to an unusual emission) rides on (and thus becomes impure) is referred to as מרכב הזב (lit. something the זב  rode on), the equivalent by a woman is referred to as “מושב”  (lit. something she sits on.)

Rashi explains that seeing as riding an animal involves spreading one’s legs out to a degree, something normally considered immodest for a woman, the Torah prefers to use the more modest sounding “מושב”

They then bring another two verses to substantiate their claim, which the Gemara understand come to teach us that not only does the Torah, due to its extra sanctity, go out of its way to use clean language, but Chazal were also expected to do so.

Furthermore, not only are the Rabbis due to their stature required to do so, but one is required to do so in every day talk as well!

Perhaps this could explain why the Gemara was not satisfied to simply take the verses that refer to “אור” at face value and explain the Mishna on the basis that Chazal use the word differently.

In the case in Bava Metzia, Chazal might have  used the word “ראיה”  in the every day sense as in “seeing” even though in the language of the Torah, it usually implies “דאתיא לידיה” – something that comes into one’s hand.

However,  the idea that the Torah would never be concerned about using ‘clean language” and Chazal would be was not something the Gemara could consider, as we have seen that the greater sanctity of the Torah should make it more concerned about such things, not less so!

As such, the Gemara needs to go out of its way to show that the Torah could also have used the word “אור” in place of night, and the places where it means “light” literally can be explained in other ways.

Yet in truth, it is hard to say that words like “night” and “impure” are examples of such unclean language, and as the Gemara itself points out, the Torah itself often uses such words such as “טמא”

The Gemara thus qualifies the requirement to use “clean language” to a situation where the clean language is just as short and concise as the “less clean” alternative, in keeping with the dictum of Rav that a person should always teach his students with  concise language.

The clarity of concise language usually thus takes priority over being particular over “clean language,” at least regarding talking to one’s students.

If so, how do we explain the fact that in the examples brought earlier, the Torah indeed added extra letters in order to make use of “clean language?”

Rashi explains that this was an exception the Torah made in order to teach us the importance of using clean language wherever possible, and Tosfos adds that had the Torah not done so in that case, we would not have known that we need to be particular about using clean language in cases where it does not affect the concise nature of the statement.

The incredible implication of this seems at face value to mean that if it was not for this special exception the Torah made, we would think that using “unclean language” even for no justified reason is acceptable?

Is it possible that bad language, of which it is said “כל המנבל את פיו מעמיקים לו גהינום”   (one who dirties his mouth gets a deeper spot in hell- Shabbos 33a) would be acceptable had it not been for this unusual exception made by the Torah?

It seems to be that we need to differentiate between truly dirty language and words like “night”, “impure” ,and “riding” (in the context of a woman) that can hardly be said to be objectively dirty or rude.

It might go without saying that the former has to be avoided in all but perhaps the most extreme or necessary cases, if at all (objectively “dirty” language is found even in Tanach in reference to idol-worship for example- see Sanhedrin 63b  “ליצנותא דע”ז.)

The later, however, is part of everyday language that often cannot be avoided.

So important , however, is the sanctity of one’s speech, that even remotely negative words should be avoided wherever possible, and the Torah breaks its golden rule of never using unnecessary letters that once in order to drive home this essential point (see  ר”ן ד”ה “לישנא מעליה”  who seems to take this approach.)

Negative language inevitably leads to negative thoughts and actions, and although the Torah doesn’t avoid negative statement where absolutely necessary to make a point, as the ultimate “לקח טוב”  (good gift or teaching,) positivity is at its core, and should be at ours as well!

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.

Pesachim 2 Bedikat Chametz and the biblical fence

The opening Mishna of Pesachim introduces the mitzva of בדיקת חמץ  (searching for Chametz) before Pesach.

The mishna tells us that אור לארבעה עשר בודקין את החמץ לאור הנר.

After much debate on this and the next daf, the Gemara concludes that אור לארבעה עשר refers to the evening of the 14’th of Nisan, and that the evening is referred to as אור  (literally light) in order to use לשון נקיה (clean language,) something I hope to discuss in tomorrow’s post.

As such, the Mishna is understood to mean that on the evening BEFORE Pesach starts, we need to search for any chametz with the light of a candle.

The reason for this search is subject to debate amongst the Rishonim.

Rashi explains that it is to avoid the prohibition of בל יראה ובל ימצא (owning chametz on pesach- see Shmos 12/19 and 13/7), and the Ran seems to understand that it is also connected to the positive mitzva of תשביתו (removing chametz from one’s possession- see Shmos 12/16.)

By searching for any remaining chametz in the house and burning it the next day, we make sure to avoid this prohibition (and fulfill the positive mitzva.)

It seems to follow that Rashi considers this to be a חיוב דאורייתא  (biblical requirement) due to the prohibition of owning chametz.

The Tosfos famously take issue with this based on a later sugya (Pesachim 6b) where Rav Yehuda rules in the name of Rav that one who has searched also needs to perform בטול חמץ  (nullify the chametz in his heart.)

Seeing as this is a requirement in any case, and מדאורייתא בבטול בעלמא סגי ליה (on a Torah level, annulment is enough to avoid the prohibition of owning chametz-Pesachim 4b), they dispute what they understand as Rashi’s claim that the search is necessary in order to avoid this prohibition. Indeed, the Gemara itself there states that בדיקת חמץ  is only a rabbinical requirement!

Instead, they explain that this a rabbinic requirement in case one sees chametz on Pesach that he has already annulled and comes to eat it- the prohibition of eating chametz carries the severe penalty of כרת and applies to all real chometz whether one owns it or not.

Whereas the Tosfos clearly saw Rashi as claiming that the search is NECESSARY in order to avoid the prohibition of owning chametz, it is possible to understand him simply as saying that the search is a legitimate and possibly preferable way of avoiding the prohibition- one can do so without it by nullification, but seeing as the search takes place first, in practise it has also removed any concern of this prohibition by the time the nullification comes along.

This is how Rishonim such as the Ran understand Rashi: The Torah requires the end result that we do not own chometz on Pesach, but Chazal determined how we get to that result, and due to the severity of the prohibition and the need to cover all bases, they required us to go through two processes- search and destroy, and nullification.

The Tosfos, on the other end, seem to hold that there was no need for Chazal to institute two methods to remove chometz from one’s possession, and that seeing as they made nullification mandatory, they must have required the “search and destroy” operation for other reasons. )It should be noted though that whereas the requirement to search is recorded in the Mishna, the requirement  to perform בטול is only recorded later in the early Amoraic period  by רב יהודה אמר רב, making this argument seem problematic unless the requirement for בטול  also goes back to the time of the Mishna and Rav was simply recording it, something that requires evidence.)

According to this view, one needs to understand why Chazal were so concerned about us coming to eat chametz that they required us to search for it and destroy it?

After all, there are many other things we are forbidden to eat or even benefit from, and Chazal made no such requirement.

The Tosfos suggest that this is because of the severe penalty prescribed for one who eats חמץ,  but are still faced with the fact that eating certain other foods such as חלב (forbidden fats) is also subject to the same כרת  punishment.

As such, they add another factor to explain this special stringency, namely the fact that chometz is something which people are not used to avoiding, given that it is permitted the rest of the year, and in addition to the severity of the penalty for doing so, this was enough reason for Chazal to set this prohibition apart from others and require search and destroy.

They also suggest that Chazal treated chometz more seriously than other prohibitions because the Torah itself did so- It is the only food subject to a ban of eating and benefitting from which is also subject to a prohibition against owning.

The simplest explanation of this idea is that  the fact that the Torah prohibited even owning chometz shows us that this prohibition is to be taken even more seriously than others- Chazal followed this queue and imposed the obligation to search and destroy in addition to nullifying it.

The Ran (דפי הריף א. ד”ה “ומה” ) is even more explicit and suggests that the reason the Torah itself forbade owning Chometz on Pesach was because people are not used to refraining from eating it the rest of the day, and combined with the severity of eating it on Pesach, the Torah took extra precautions to prevent this.

This idea is rather novel in that it would be a rare example of the Torah creating its own fence to protect another Torah commandment, something usually the mandate of Chazal.

  This is not completely without precedent- the אבות דרבי נתן  (chapter 2) understands that the Torah made a “fence” around the prohibition of forbidden sexual relations such as Niddah by prohibiting  קירבה(coming near) -sexually arousing acts such as hugging and kissing are thus forbidden on a Torah level as a restraint against sexual acts themselves.

Although the Ramban (השגת לספר המצוות לאו שנג), based on the view of רבי פדת (Shabbos 13a) understands this to be an אסמכתא  and the prohibition of “coming near” to be rabbinical in nature, the Rambam (ספר המצוות לאו שנג)  takes this literally and holds that it is a Torah prohibition punishable by lashes.

If we accept the Ran’s reasoning regarding בל יראה ובל ימצא and the Rambam’s regarding קרבה, the common denominator is clear- both eating chometz on Pesach and forbidden sexual relations are extremely serious prohibitions punishing by כרת, both are unusually hard to avoid (chometz because of habit and עריות  because of the power of the libido) and both have “satellite” biblical prohibitions to keep us far away from them!

If the Torah itself singled out these prohibitions by making its own biblical fences around them, and Chazal themselves followed with fences of their own, how careful should we all be to stay as far away as possible from them.

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.

Eruvin 105 Intellectual honesty opposed to a philosophy of leniencies

This short daf deals with various work needed for the maintenance of the מקדש , to remove impure items from it, and how and by whom it should be done.

This is based on a debate in the concluding Mishna of the Masechta regarding how to remove a dead שרץ  (creeping creature/bug) from the Temple.

The Masechta ends, however, by focusing on a rather cryptic statement in the final Mishna by Rabbi Shimon: מקום שהתירו לך חכמים משלך נתנו לך שלא התירו לך אלא משום שבות – “The place where the sages permitted it to you, they gave you from your own, as they only permitted it because of a rabbinical prohibition.”

Whatever the meaning of this statement, we might instinctively think that it has something to do with the debate in this Mishna itself.

Yet the Gemara understands this as a flashback to two other debates that Rabbi Shimon was involved in:

  1. Although the Chachamim hold that even if one stepped one אמה outside the תחום  (shabbos zone), it is forbidden to return, Rabbi Shimon allows a leeway of up to 15 אמות  because the people who measure the תחום  do not do so precisely and leave a safety net of this distance inside the תחום.

The first part of his cryptic statement thus reads:

“That which they (according to me) permitted you, ie 15 amos, was really yours to begin with, due to the safety net made by the measurers.”

  • Although Chachamim permitted retying a string that came loose on a musical instrument required for the Temple service, due to the rule of אין שבות במקדש , Rabbi Shimon forbade it, seeing as he held that this is a biblical prohibition, and only permitted tying it with a bow.

The second part of his cryptic statement thus reads:

“They only permitted  tying a bow which is a שבות, not tying a knot which (according to me) is a biblical transgression.

Rashi and Tosfos both explain that Rabbi Shimon makes these statements here because they are connected to his ruling regarding the string of an instrument.

Tosfos adds that this discussion was interrupted by listing the other things permitted because אין שבות במקדש  (there are no rabbinical prohibitions when it comes to Temple service) and Rabbi Shimon is now returning to explain his position there.

They both explain that Rabbi Shimon is going out of his way to stress that his leniency regarding the תחום  was not due to his taking shabbos lightly and a general policy of leniency, but because he felt it was objectively the correct ruling, seeing as the safety net was intentionally placed for that reason.

In contrast, when  it comes to making  a knot, he believed that a biblical prohibition was involved and only permitted a bow, in keeping consistently with the rule of אין שבות במקדש, even though the Chachamim were lenient.

Although both Rashi and Tosfos explain the positioning of Rabbi Shimon’s “clarification” of his approach based on the recent placement of the late dispute, it seems fitting that the Maseches concludes in this way.

After all, as we have seen so many times, Eruvin is not just about the technical and specific laws of Eruvin, but also about the power of rabbinical decrees as a whole and many global rules of psak halocho.

We have seen many leniencies when it comes to rabbinic decrees, such as ספק דרבנן לקולא, אין שבות במקדש, אין גוזרין גזירה לגזירה etc , as well as many exceptions to these rules.

Rabbi Shimon, in particular, is known for many leniencies in the rules of Shabbos, among them דבר שאין מתכוין מותר, מלאכה  שאינה צריכה לגופא פטור, לית ליה מוקצה,  גגות חצירות וקרפפים רשוצ אחת הן,  כתבי קודש  etc.

However, as we discussed early in the Maseches (see post on Eruvin 7,) halacha ideally should not be about having a philosophy of leniency or stringency, but rather about searching for the objective truth.

It is so fitting that such a Masechta should end with no other than the “lenient” Rabbi Shimon clarifying his position that his leniencies do not flow from any זלזול (making light of) the laws of Shabbos, chas veshalom, but from his objective view of the truth in each case.

Just like he was lenient so often in cases where he believed the truth required leniency, he was not afraid to be stringent against consensus when he felt that the truth required it.

Although a poseik might often be required to take local circumstances or even “meta-halachik” factors into account when issuing rulings, Rabbi Shimon, forever the idealist, seems to be teaching us that the ideal derech of a poseik and Talmid Chacham, namely intellectual honesty and objectivity, must never be forgotten.

הדרן עליך מסכת עירובין והדרון עליך

Its been an incredible journey, and we will miss you, as we temporarily move on to exciting new territory with Maseches Pesachim, Hashem willing, truly inspired and looking forward to the next round!

Eruvin 104 Soccer on Shabbos and when a גזירה’s reason doesn’t apply

One of the more contentious issues in many communities today is the question of children, teens, and even adults  playing  sports on Shabbos.

On the one hand, many argue that not only does this practise not confirm with the required atmosphere for the holiest day of the week, it also involves many other halachik problems.

On the other hand, most of these points could be arguable, and there is a strong argument that for many, they can certainly enhance their “oneg shabbos” , itself a major mitzva.

Some of the issues raised against playing games like soccer even in a private domain, are:

  1. Running itself is prohibited on shabbos. (see Shabbos 113a)
  2. The game is not in keeping with the spirit of shabbos and could even be in the category of forbidden weekday activities (see Peninei Halacha Shabbos 24/9 based on Rav A.I. Kook)
  3. Running on long  grass is problematic as one might come to uproot the grass while doing so, itself a forbidden melacha on shabbos. (see M.B. 336/25)
  4. Playing with a ball along the ground is prohibited on shabbos. (see M.B. 308/158)
  5. A ball is muktza (see S.A. O.C. 308/45)
  6. There is  a Midrash (Eichah Rabba parsha 2, possibly also referenced in the Yerushalmi  Taanis 4/5 ) that blames the destruction of the city טור שמעון on the fact that they played with balls on shabbos.

We saw in a recent post (see Eruvin 100)  that although walking in a rushed manner and running on shabbos are forbidden due to the passuk in Yeshaya forbidding weekday activities, in particular walking in a weekday rushed manner, running for the sake of a mitzva is permitted, as is running for “oneg shabbos” or even to get to an activity from which one will get “oneg shabbos.”

As such, the first 2 points seem less problematic, and although some have argued that given its nature as a commercial sport, soccer might be different to running and still be considered a weekday activity (Pninei halacha based on Rav A.Y. Kook ), this argument seems rather subject to debate, given that  both running and all sports are popular both privately and commercially.

In fact, given one’s busy school or work schedule during the week, they are actually far more popular on weekends than on “weekdays” and singling out sports like soccer as being particularly commercial in nature when it is a game played casually by young people in their backyards in most places in the world seems somewhat subjective.

We saw in that post that there is no issue with walking on grass on shabbos, even on long grass, and even with shoes with nails in them, due to the principle of דבר שאין מתכוין מותר.

We also saw that although the Mishna Berura forbids running on long grass and consider it פסיק  רישיה, this does not apply on short grass, and the Aruch haShulchan disagrees strongly and permits running on short grass as well- we also  analyzed the basis for this disagreement in classical sources.

Even on long grass according to the Mishna Berura, this would at worst only be rabbinically prohibited as פסיק רישיה דלא ניחה ליה  , seeing as one derives no benefit from any grass uprooted during the game.

The fifth point is a sugya in its own right, and needs to be dealt with separately, but the Rema (O.C. 308/45) rules that this is not an issue in any case, and the sixth point is aggadic material which needs to be understood but is not necessarily halachically relevant. Indeed, it is not mentioned by most Rishonim and Achronim at all ( see though Aruch haShulchan O.C. 38/70  who does bring it into the discussion.)

For the purposes of this post, I would like to focus  on point 4, which is based on a discussion on this very daf.

The Gemara has been discussing the prohibition of השמעת קול, making sounds with objects (as opposed to the voice) on shabbos, which is rabbinically forbidden in case on comes to fix a musical instrument.

The Gemara has been entertaining the later rejected  possibility that not only קול של שיר, the kind of sounds that accompany song are forbidden, but even other sounds, such as knocking on the door, making noise to wake someone up ,clapping hands to scare away birds, or drawing water with a wheel-run device are also forbidden.

One of the attempted proofs the Gemara brings is from a ruling of Rav quoted by Rav Yehuda that women who are accustomed to play with hazel-nuts  (rolling them like marbles, which Rashi explains was a common pastime for ladies) may not do so on Shabbos.

The Gemara at first assumed that this is because of the sounds they make and that this ruling is proof that even non song-related noises are forbidden.

It rejects this proof by explaining that the reason for this rabbinical prohibition is completely different, and is due to the concern that they might fill-in any holes in the courtyard ground that get in the way of the game (where the hazelnuts could be trapped.)

This could involve the melacha of building (indoors or perhaps in  courtyard) or ploughing (outdoors.)

It brings further evidence that this must be the reason from the fact that Rav Yehuda also forbade rolling apples along the ground, though they do not make noticeable sounds like hazel nuts.

However, it is very possible that this decree is limited to

  1. Women who play this game commonly, and not others for whom the concern is not so common
  2. Hazelnuts and apples which are relatively small and easily trappable in small to medium sized holes in the ground, and not larger spherical   objects such as a melon or a modern-day soccer balls (I am using this term for the sake of clarity although it is not a precisely accurate description for these items.)
  3. Situations and/or times where the ground used is usually already smooth and/or it is not common for players to smooth the ground out before or while playing.

Due to points 2-3, playing soccer is clearly rather removed from the decree that formed the basis for Rav’s ruling, and applying this prohibition thus seems to be quite a stretch.

Although one might argue from the case of the apples that the decree was not limited to small spheres such a hazel-nuts but included round items of all sizes, it is just as likely that it included items as large as apples, but not significantly larger, as argued in point 2 above

The issue raised in point 3 requires much analysis:

There is a general rule of אין בית דין יכול לבטל דברי בית-דין חבירו אלא אם כן גדול ממנו בחכמה ובמנין  – one court may not annul the words of an earlier court unless it is greater than it in wisdom and numbers  (Megila  2a ) .

 This and the related rules of

  1. 1.        כל דבר שבמנין צריך מנין אחר להתירו  (Beitza 5a-anything voted as forbidden by a court/group of authorities  requires another vote to permit it)


  •  לא פלוג רבנן (B.M 52a-the Rabbis do not differentiate between different cases in their decrees but rather make blanket rules )

seem to preclude annulling a decree such as this just because the concern of smoothing out holes does not apply commonly in a friendly soccer game.

Yet, there are various times where Tosfos argues that decrees do not apply in our day precisely because the reason for the decree is not relevant in our day.

For example, they argue that the prohibition of clapping, banging, and dancing even to song does not apply in our time because we are not expert in making/fixing musical instruments anymore and there is no concern one would do so (Beitza 30a ד”ה “תנן” )

They also argue that

  1.  the  prohibition of drinking מים מגולים  did not apply in their time as snakes were not common )Beitza 6a)
  2.  a bird used for children’s entertainment might not be muktza (Shabbos 45b),
  3.   the prohibition of entering into a partnership with idol-worshippers did not apply in his day seeing as the concern that they would make one swear by their idols was not relevant )Sanhedrin 63b ד”ה “אסור”, though the exact point Tosfos is making there is subject to much debate)

Whereas the question as to how the Tosfos are able to do this despite the principles quoted above requires a serious analysis, and one commonly suggested explanation is that they are not suggesting that the decree no longer applies but that the circumstances at hand are SO clearly different to those under which the decree was made that they were never included by Chazal in the decree in the first place.

While even this less controversial explanation of the approach of the Tosfos might not be accepted by many other Rishonim, there appears to be some precedent for it on our very daf.

One of the things that our Mishna permitted in the Mikdash as part of the long list of rabbinic prohibitions mentioned in our perek that do not apply there, was drawing water from certain pits with a wheel.

The implication of the Mishna is that this would be forbidden rabbinically  outside the Mikdash , and after suggesting that this is due to the prohibition against making sounds, the Gemara answered that it is out of concern that one might come to draw water to water his garden or ruin.

Despite this, the later Amora Ameimar permitted drawing water in such a way in the town of Mechoza, because there were no gardens or ruins there, until he saw that they used it for other forbidden purposes, such as soaking flax.

This seems to indicate that a later authority  (Ameimar) may permit something forbidden by an earlier authority (in this case none other than a Mishna) because the circumstances under which the decree was made do not exist.

The approach of the Tosfos thus seems clearly anchored in precedent, and even in the unlikely scenario that the decree against playing with hazelnuts and apples on a rough surface extended to larger spheres on a smooth surface, in a time and place where it is not common to play soccer on surfaces one would need to smooth during the game or directly before, there would still be reason to argue that such far-removed circumstances were never included in the decree in the first place.

Given the multiple reasons for leniency mentioned above and the fact that we are dealing with at most a rabbinical prohibition, forbidding soccer for reasons of this decree thus seems to be a rather stringent approach to the question.

We can also add to this the fact that the Tosfos on our daf say that even in the circumstances described on our daf with hazelnuts and apples, we should not protest and women and children who do this due to the principle of מוטב שיהיו שוגגין ואל יהיו מזידין , and there is strong argument that this principle also applies to teenage boys and other males who are also unlikely to listen.

At the end of the day, there are certainly worse things that kids could be up to these days, and although there might be other halachik, ideological, and policy issues that need to be taken into account before permitting it, this particular concern certainly doesn’t seem like cause for a major confrontation with them.

Having said this, achieving some balance is important- Given that Shabbos and Yom-Tov are supposed to  be special opportunities for spiritual pursuits such as davening, learning Torah, singing songs of praise, and strengthening the family, and not just for physical enjoyment, it seems clear that if these essential aspects of shabbos are replaced chas veshalom by sporting activities, this is a serious lack of כבוד שבת and is certainly forbidden.

As such, even if we permit  (or turn a blind eye to) kids playing sports during the afternoon while adults would usually be resting, it is essential to gently encourage and educate them to be a full part of the shabbos experience, both in shul and at home.

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

Eruvin 97-98 and 103 שבות במקדש וכתבי קודש

Eruvin 97-98 and 103  שבות במקדש וכתבי קודש

One of the main themes in the later part of this concluding chapter of Eruvin is the rule that אין שבות במקדש – there are no rabbinical prohibitions of Shabbos in the Temple.

For example, one may

  1. use a bolt that is attached to the door but drags on the floor to lock a door  (Eruvin 102a)
  2. return the bottom hinge of a door to its place (Eruvin 102b)
  3. put a bandage back on (Eruvin 102b)
  4. retie the string of a musical instrument that broke (according to those who permit מכשירי מצוה  ( see Gemara Eruvin 102b-103a)
  5. Cut a lesion off the hands of a kohain with one’s hand (Eruvin 103b)
  6. Scatter salt on the ramp (Eruvin 104a)
  7. Draw water from certain pits (Eruvin 104a)

When required for Temple service, even though they all involve rabbinic prohibitions and are not permitted elsewhere.

This leniency is limited to rabbinically forbidden actions that are needed for the Temple service, and do not apply to actions done for personal benefit, even if they are performed in the Temple.

Although, due to our many sins, we do not have a Temple today, this rule might not be completely irrelevant in our times, at least according to certain views.

The Gemara (Eruvin 93a) discusses the converse of the above-mentioned case, namely whether a שבות  needed for the Temple service may be performed outside the Temple.

For example, may one cut off a lesion from a kohain outside the Temple to make him fit for the service inside the  Temple?

Rav Yosef claims that this would not be permitted!

Yet Rav Safra brings an earlier Mishna (Eruvin 97b)  to dispute this claim.

We have learnt that if one was reading from a holy scroll on the איסקופה (threshold of his house), assumed at this point to be a private domain, and the scroll rolled to the ground of the public domain below, so long as one is still holding it in one’s hand, one may roll it up again.

This is because it has not yet “rested” in the public domain, being still in his hand, and although there would normally still be a rabbinic prohibition against doing so in case it falls from his hand and he comes to bring it in from a public domain, a biblical prohibition, when it comes to כתבי קודש  (holy books), this שבות  does not apply.

Rav Safra  amazingly assumes that the sanctity of holy books has the same law as the Temple service, due to their sanctity (see Rashi on Eruvin 93) and attempts to derive from here that in the face of such concerns, the rule of אין שבות במקדש  extends to outside the Temple too.

According to this interpretation of the rule, it does not refer to the geographic location where the שבות  is concerned but rather to its purpose- There is no שבות  when it comes to matters of sanctity!

In fact, the Gemara (Eruvin 98a) actually first explains that this lenient ruling is based on the view of Rabbi Shimon that כל דבר שהוא משום שבות אינו עומד בפני כתבי הקודש- “anything rabbinically forbidden regarding shabbos does not stand in the face of holy writings.”

However, Rav Safra’s proof is rejected (Eruvin 93a) based on the Gemara’s conclusion (Eruvin 98a) that the mishna was dealing with an איסקופה כרמלית  , not one that is a private domain.

Seeing as bringing it back into this כרמלית  from theרשות הרבים  would only be rabbinically prohibited, one is permitted לכתחילה  to roll it back so long as it is still in one’s hands without being concerned that it will  fall from his hands- this is in keeping with a general rule of אין גוזרין גזירה לגזירה (see Tosfos Eruvin 98 ד”ה “אלא”  who discusses this in more detail.)

As such, there is no proof from this Mishna that one may perform a שבות  needed for the מקדש  (or sanctity) outside the מקדש  .

However, while the Gemara rejects Rav Safra’s proof that such a שבות  may be performed even outside the מקדש, it does not seem to question his analogy between Temple service and holy writing (though see Tosfos haRosh Eruvin 93a ד”ה “ולאו” .)

As such, should we conclude from other sources, as Rav Safra continues to attempt to do and Abaya seems to concede, that שבות דמקדש  may be performed even outside the מקדש, it might follow that holy writings may be recovered outside the מקדש  as well, so long as no biblical transgression is transgressed.

However, not only does Rava (Eruvin 93b)  seem to conclude that we have no proof that a שבות במקדש  may be performed outside the Mikdash, the conclusion of the Gemara on Eruvin 98 seems to be clear that we do not follow Rabbi Shimon’s leniency regarding כתבי קודש .

As such, it seems that there is no blanket rule that one may perform a rabbinical prohibition for the sake of holy writings on Shabbos, and on the contrary, the default rule seems to be that it is forbidden in cases where there is a concern of coming to a biblical prohibition.

Yet as Tosfos (Eruvin 93a) points out, the Gemara (Eruvin 97a) permits bringing in Tefillin that one finds in the public domain and are in danger of desecration, 4 amos at a time, something normally rabbinically forbidden.

He concludes that there are indeed times when   שבות  might be permitted for the sake of holy writings, such as in that case where they are in danger of actual desecration.

Tosfos haRosh goes further and suggests that when holy writings are in danger of desecration in the street, it is the equivalent of שבות במקדש במקדש  – a שבות  regarding the מקדש  INSIDE the מקדש, a rather abstract concept that requires further analysis.

In our case, however, it might not be dignified for the holy writings to be left in the public domain, but they are not in danger of actual desecration.

Although only Rabbi Shimon permits a שבות  in the latter case, everyone seems to agree that it is permitted in the former, an application of the rule of אין שבות במקדש  even in our day- Holy books are evidently the closest thing we have to a Temple!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

Eruvin 101-102 bolting the door, minhag, and the new Rav in town

In our earlier post on Eruvin 74-75, we discussed the situation where a community had received a lenient ruling which it followed and was later given a more stringent ruling by a new authority.

We noted the ruling of the Rema that a new Rav may indeed repeal the lenient ruling of a previous Rav, and that this might also apply to repealing an earlier stringent ruling.

The later might be more problematic, given the general rule (Pesachim 51a ) that דברים המותרים ואחרים נהגו בהם אסור אי אתה רשאי להתירן לפניהם  – things that are permitted but others were accustomed to forbid, one is not permitted to permit in front of them.

If this is the case for a stringency that a community took on by itself, how much more so should it be the case for something which they took on because of a ruling from their previous Rav!

In our Misha at the bottom of Eruvin 101, there is an explicit reference to a similar situation where Rabbis repealed existing lenient or stringent practices, though it is not clear whether the original practise was based on an earlier ruling of a Torah scholar, or simply developed over time.

The mishna continues to discuss actions that might resemble the מלאכה  of building on shabbos, including inserting a bolt whose one head is large enough to use to pound food (and thus considered a useful vessel already ) into a door in order to lock it (I have followed Rashi’s explanation here for the sake of brevity but this is a complex discussion in the Rishonim in its own right.)

The  Gemara later makes clear that if the bolt is already permanently connected to the door and is easily moved without the rope breaking (see Rashi and other Rishonim who give different explanations) even Rabbi Eliezer permits locking the door with it, as doing so no longer resembles building.

In contrast, if it was already connected to the door, but cannot be moved without the rope breaking (once again following Rashi’s explanation) , Rabbi Eliezer forbids doing so, seeing as it is not properly connected already, whereas Rabbi Yossi permits, seeing as it already has the features of a useful כלי and doing so does not resemble building.

The Ritva explains that this is because a person does not usually permanently set aside a useful כלי  as a bolt and it is clear to all that this is only a temporary fix and not an act of building .

Fascinatingly, both Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yossi bring support for their view from an incident in the shul in Teverya.

Rabbi Eliezer reported that the original custom in that shul was to lock the door with such a bolt, and when Rabban Gamliel and the elders came, they forbade it.

In contrast, Rabbi Yossi accounts that the original custom had been not to do so, and that when Rabban Gamliel and the elders came, they permitted it!

Although they do not appear bothered at all by the fact that according to Rabbi Eliezer, Rabban Gamliel and the elders forbade something against the existing custom to permit it, Tosfos are bothered by how according to Rabbi Yossi, they permitted something against the existing custom to forbid it.

This is because , as mentioned above, we have learnt (Pesachim 51a) that if something is permitted but others have treated it as forbidden, it is forbidden to permit it in front of them.

Seeing as the member of that shul were long accustomed to prohibiting this, how could Rabban Gamliel and the elders come and permit it?

Their answer could have  far-reaching ramifications for the authority of minhagim in general, and we shall hopefully get the chance soon again in Pesachim to discuss this issue in more detail.

For our purposes, we shall note that Tosfos distinguishes between a custom which people took on because they mistakenly believed something was actually forbidden, and a custom which people took on as an extra chumra despite knowing that it was actually permitted.

In the former case, their minhag was taken on due to error, and one may certainly permit it to them.

In the later case, no error was involved, and one may not later permit it.

Tosfos understands that according to Rabbi Yosi, the members of the shul refrained from locking the door with such a bolt because they mistakenly believed it was forbidden, and Rabban Gamliel and the elders were well within their rights to correct their error and permit it!

What is still unclear is what the reason was for their initial error? Was it simply ignorance on their part, or was it because another Rabbi had mistakenly (at least in the view of the later Rabbi) told them that it was forbidden (as Rabbi Eliezer indeed held?)

If the later is true, it would solve our original problem of how a new Rabbi can permit something forbidden by the previous Rabbi if in his view, the previous Rabbi was wrong.

It is also possible, however, that seeing as the community was doing the right thing by following their Rabbi at the time, their stringent practise cannot be seen as an error, and in such a case, the new Rabbi may not permit it.

The role of rabbinic authority in the acceptance of minhagim is itself worthy of much discussion, and as mentioned, I hope to continue this when we reach the relevant sugya in Pesachim, Hashem willing!

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

Eruvin 100 Running on grass on Shabbos

This is one of those daf that are  filled with an array of different colorful topics not directly related to Eruvin per se, spanning from other shabbos laws to advice regarding marital intimacy.

One of them is the prohibition of climbing or making use of trees on Shabbos and Yom-Tov.

The Gemara also brings a Beraisa that says that one may not even walk on grass on Shabbos, apparently in case one uproots it while walking.

This supports a ruling to that effect of Rami bar Aba in the name of Rav Assi, who bases this on the passuk )Mishlei 19/2)  “ואץ ברגלים חוטא”- one who is “אץ” with his legs is a sinner.

Rashi explains that this implies that walking can be considered a sin and doing so on grass on shabbos is precisely such a case.

The Gemara brings another Beraisa that rules to the contrary that walking on grass on shabbos is permitted.

The Gemara gives several options to reconcile these two Beraisa’s:

  1. The stringent  Beraisa is talking about walking on moist grass, which Rashi explains is forbidden, whereas the other is talking about walking on dry grass which Rashi explains is considered as if it has already been uprooted. Perhaps this is because dry grass  does not grow, is no longer deriving much nourishment from the grounded and detaching it might thus not fall under the מלאכה  of קוצר (harvesting) which includes detaching anything from the place where it grows.
  2. The one Beraisa is talking about during the dry season, and the other is talking about during the wet season.
  3. The stringent  Beraisa is talking about someone who is not wearing shoes. Rashi explains that the grass gets stuck around his toes and is easily torn.
  4. The stringent Beraisa is talking about one is who wearing shoes with nails in the bottom which cause grass to be torn .
  5. The stringent Beraisa is talking about walking on long grass which is more easily uprooted.

Though there appear to be some differences in the גירסא  (wording) of the above distinctions, they seem to be conclusively rendered mute by the Gemara that concludes that “today” that we follow Rabbi Shimon who holds that דבר שאין מתכוין מותר, it is permitted under all the above circumstances.

We have discussed multiple times in our posts on Maseches Shabbos the rule of דבר שאין מתכוין- when an otherwise permitted action might result in an unintended  secondary forbidden action.

Although Rabbi Yehuda and the Amora Rav forbid such an action, Rabbi Shimon and the Amora Shmuel permit it, and many Amoraim rule accordingly, including the later authority Rabbah- one of the only 3 times he supports a leniency of Shmuel against a stringency of Rav.

In our case, one wishes to perform the ostensibly permitted action of walking on grass, and there is a concern that while doing so, one will unintentionally transgress a second forbidden action of uprooting the grass

As we also know from various places, when the secondary forbidden action is inevitable, it is known as פסיק רישיה  and even Rabbi Shimon forbids the otherwise permitted action .

As such, it should follow from our Gemara’s application of Rabbi Shimon’s leniency to walking over grass in all these different circumstances that it does not consider uprooting the grass to be an inevitable result even when the shoes have nails in them or where the grass is long! (Alternatively, this could serve as a proof for the view of the ערוך who permits פסיק רישיה דלא ניחה but that is for a different discussion!)

If so, it seems that Rami bar Aba and Rav Assi who applied the passuk in Mishlei to this act, in line with the stringent Beraisa, must have held like Rabbi Yehuda and his view and accompanying דרשה  from the passuk is rejected together with the stringent Beraisa.

A very practical question involves whether this lenient ruling applies to running on grass as well.

On the one hand, the pressure exerted by running on the grass is certainly greater than that exerted by walking, both because of the speed as well as the different mechanism of running.

On the other hand, it is certainly not clear that running on short grass with regular shoes is more likely to uproot the grass than running on long grass with nailed shoes, and if the later is not considered פסיק רישיה, the former might not be either.

In addition, if there was a distinction between walking and running, one would expect the Gemara to make that distinction- it would be a perfect way to reconcile the two Beraisa’s!

One might counter that running is already forbidden on Shabbos as a weekday activity (see Shabbos 113a) but running  to learn, shul  or for the sake of another  mitzva is permitted (see Brachos 6b and Rif’s girsa there) , as is running for עונג שבת   (סמ”ק רפא) , so that argument seems rather mute.

If it was indeed פסיק רישיה  to run on grass on the way to shul, for example, one would expect the Gemara to say so at some point.

The Biur Halacha (O.C. 336/3) however, brings the סמ”ג  (לאוין סה) , who quotes the Yere’im as bringing our Gemara as a proof that one should not walk on grass on shabbos where it is impossible not to uproot it while walking!

He quotes others who questioned these words of the סמ”ג  based on the seemingly obvious fact that the Gemara rejected the view that forbids walking on grass because we follow Rabbi Shimon, implying that it does not consider it to be פסיק רישיה  under any circumstances- after all, this is how most of the Rishonim seem to have learnt the sugya!

He suggests that the סמ”ג  and יראים were bothered by the fact that the Gemara rejected all the distinctions made to reconcile the stringent Beraita with the lenient one, because we follow Rabbi Shimon, but did not reject the derasha of Rabbi Assi that started the discussion.

They therefore assume that Rabbi Asi’s derasha is still upheld and he must be referring to running on tall grass, which is considered to be  פסיק רישיה.

Based on this reasoning, he cautions in  the Mishna Berura (O.C. 336/25)  against running on long grass on Shabbos.

This seems to be quite a chumra, given that it is based on a distinction not made by the Gemara, as well as a novel interpretation of a סמ”ג  and יראים  that we do not see in most of the Rishonim (see Aruch haShulchan 336/21 who indeed rejects this stringency for these reasons,) but it opens the door to the possibility that under certain circumstances, there is a distinction between running and walking, and even when running is permitted on shabbos, for a mitzva or oneg shabbos, it might be problematic where uprooting the grass appears closer to inevitable.

Would the Mishna Berura extend that stringency to other types of running that might be closer to פסיק רישיה  such as running on regular grass without shoes or with nail-studded shoes?

Seeing as his ruling is already novel, and he never mentioned such obvious possibilities, it seems that even if we follow his stringency, we should apply the rule of אין בו אלא חדושו (we do not extend a novelty beyond what is stated,) unless it is clear to us under certain circumstances that there is a case of פסיק רישיה.

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