Eruvin 55 The extended techum and Table Mountain continued, and self-sacrifice for Torah

Today’s daf has a solid mix of aggadic material and a return to the technical rules regarding how to work out the extended shabbos domain of a city.

I wish to start with the halachik side of the daf, כדרכינו בקודש, even though some of  the aggadic material precedes it, and hope to return to the Agadot thereafter.

For the sake of clarity, the אגדה includes all content in the Talmud that does not involve the halachik (legal) process, including מדרשי אגדה  that comment on the narrative portions of the Tanach or complement them and ethical and other advice- see מבוא התלמוד attributed by many to Rabbeinu Shmuel haNagid, one of the first of the Rishonim  and published at the back of מסכת ברכות  for his exact definition, though note that his view on the source and authority of agada is subject to much debate amongst the Geonim, Rishonim and later authorities (my in-depth Hebrew article on this subject is currently work in progress.)

We have already learnt that the general rule is that the techum (shabbos domain) of a city in which one is permitted to walk on Shabbos  stretches to a maximum of 2000 amos (between about 800-1000 m) from the last house in the city’s halachik borders (recall that 2 houses separated by 141 amos or more of empty space might be considered halachically to be in 2 different “cities.”

We have also seen recently that this applies in theory, but that in practise, the distance one may walk from the last house of the city might be significantly more, for 2 reasons:

  1. The limits of the city proper might stretch significantly beyond the last house, such as when the shape of the city is irregular (non-rectangular or grid-like) in which case some open space might be included in these limits themselves.
  • The techum of the city, while theoretically stretching 2000 amos from the end of the city-proper, is effectively measured by placing a rectangular block at the corners of the city and not a circle, meaning that while the shortest this techum will extend is 2000 amos, at the diagonals, it will extend significantly more (by pythagorus.)

The first rule is not applied universally, and one needs to be familiar with all the different shapes discussed in the sugya and which other shapes would be treated like these shapes, before jumping into using this potentially very useful tool.

For example, while a circular city has a square circumscribed around it, including the empty-space outside the circle but inside the square in the city proper itself, and a trapezium seems to be  viewed as if it is was the smallest rectangle that it could fit inside, a rectangular city is left as is, and  a parallelogram could be more complex.

There is also some discussion as to whether the square needs to be on the North-East-South-West axis of the world or can face any direction.

One of the more fascinating shapes describes is the עיר העשויה כקשת – a city in the form of a bow (or rainbow.)

The Beraisa  initially taught us that we draw a fictitious line from the one extreme of the bow to the other (this line is known as the יתר and represents the string which would be pulled back by the arrow before the arrow is released ) and view all the empty space between this line and the houses of the city as part of the city-proper, measuring the techum from this line.

However, Rav Huna rules that this only applies if the length of this line is no more than 4000 amos, allowing someone whose shabbos base or house is in the middle of this line (the spot where the arrow would be placed)  to walk to the city within his own 2000 amos (see Rabbeinu Chananel for his full explanation.)

However, if the length of this line is more than 4000 amos, the empty space is not included in the city limits, and the techum is measured from each individual house.

According to Rabbah bar Rav Huna, the space between the bow and the middle of the line also needs to be less than 2000 amos in order to include the empty space in the city proper, but according to his son, Rava, this is not necessary, and Abaya supports  his lenient view, seeing as anyone in the city could reach the middle of the  line by walking first to the end of the city.

Tosfos suggests that  according to Rava son of Rabbah bar Rav Huna, if the distance between the bow and the line itself is less than 2000 amos, the 4000 amos  restriction on the length of the line might not apply due to the same reasoning of Abaya- the midpoint of the line could be accessed through the 2000 amos or less route to the bow itself- this too is subject to debate amongst the Rishonim.

Tosfos further assumes that the 4000 amos limitation on  a bow-shaped city does not apply to the case discussed earlier where a house or row of houses  protrudes outside the grid of the city. In such a case, even if it is more than 4000 amos to the fictitious parallel row of houses we draw on the opposite end, the empty space is included in the city proper. 

Although he attempts to explain the reasons for this distinction, he admits that the Ri (one of the two most senior Baalei haTosfos) holds that this limitation applies to that case as well. Once again, this topic has generated much discussion and debate amongst the Rishonim and can also affect L shaped cities.

Though there is so much more to learn and understand regarding the above and other related issues (those whose appetite has been whet might enjoy the extensive treatment of this issue in the Rashba, Ritva, Meiri and other Rishonim) ,it is now clear that including the empty natural space between the extremes of an irregularly shaped city is far more complex than it might have originally seemed.

We are not even close to theoretically allowing climbing table mountain on shabbos or Yom-Tov  even without the other multiple halachik challenges one would face (though as per accompanying images from google Earth, it seems that the “Lions Head” Mountain might fall completely within the techum of Cape Town City, and at least on Yom-Tov where carrying is less of an issue, with the guidance of the local Rabbis and eruv experts, the gorgeous trail up and down MIGHT indeed be permissible.

In the beginning of the daf, various explanations are given of the passuk “לא בשמיים היא ולא מעבר לים היא  ” – (it is not in heaven nor is it on the other side of the sea.)

I would like to focus for a minute on the explanation of רב אבדמי בר חמא בר דוסא  who derives by implication that although the Torah is indeed reachable for us, even if it were not, we would be liable to reach to the sky and cross the sea in order to get it.

There are times indeed when Torah goals seem unobtainable to us, and although we should be encouraged by the fact that in essence, they are vey much obtainable, we need to push ourselves and be prepared for self-sacrifice in order to achieve these goals despite how unobtainable they seem.

The Rosh Yeshiva זצ”ל , Rabbi Tanzer, was a prime example of someone for whom no goal was too far away when it came to his life’s mission of spreading Torah.

Starting with the literally huge distance diagonally over the Atlantic that he set out on together with his young wife, leaving behind their friends and extended families in an era of very limited communication for what was at first envisioned as a 2 year stint in Africa, he moved onto the virtually impossible goal of turning what was then a virtual spiritual wasteland into a vibrant Torah center.

This was not a job he fulfilled from the ivory tower of an office, or even a classroom, but one that took him literally from door to door begging parents to enroll their children in his fledgling Torah day-school.

Almost 6 decades later, the Yeshiva College campus has served  as the largest center of the Johannesburg Jewish Community and educated generations of students who span the Jewish world, from Rabbis and Torah teachers to businessmen and professionals, as well as some combinations of both.

Returning briefly to the more technical parts of daf, the rather superficial summary we have done above and the fastest reading of the daf reveals how an understanding of mathematics is essential to being able to make the complex calculations needed for taking full advantage of the shabbos techum- One also clearly needs some conception of how much a factor raw mathematics was in Chazal’s reasoning, something that only a good knowledge of both Chazal’s methodology and mathematics would allow.

Though those who knew him know that Rabbi Tanzer was first and fore-most a Rosh-Yeshiva who was most at home in the Beis-Midrash and who got the most joy out of those students who went on to become serious Torah Scholars, he always pushed his students to excel in their general education as well, creating a generation of students with the knowledge required not only for their chosen careers, but also for understanding many areas of Torah that are beyond the reach of those who lack this knowledge.

The Gaon of Vilna, broadly considered the greatest Torah figure in many centuries, was famous for stating that it is impossible to fully understand the Torah without understand all the forms of general (I prefer not to use the term secular) wisdom (see “haGaon” by D.E. Eliach for citation) , something he himself accomplished, and though neither he nor our Rosh Yeshiva would encourage one to give more priority to general studies than to Torah, chalila, I personally have found great benefit from the general education I received under Moreinu haRav Tanzer and his team, not just in my business, but most importantly in so many areas of my Torah Study.

Although reaching the wisdom of the Vilna Gaon is certainly like reaching for the sky, and building en empire of Torah like the Rosh Yeshiva did is certainly also above most of us, we can learn from him to be prepared to try our absolute best, and if we do so, the results will speak for themselves, with Hashem’s help!

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 148 The unhelpful rebuke and clapping hands and dancing on Shabbos

 
On our daf, Rava bar Rav Chanan asks Abaya about a Mishna (Beitza 36b) that says:
 
לא מספקין ולא מטפחין ולא מרקדין ביום טוב.
One may not “mesapeik”, “metapeiach”, or dance on Yom Tov.
 
When one examines the original Mishna, one sees that these prohibitions are brought as examples of a general rule that all שבותים (rabbinical decrees relating to forbidden work) that apply on Shabbos, also apply on Yom Tov.
 
The Gemara there explains that these 3 decrees were all made because of the concern that one might come to fix כלי שיר (musical instruments) on shabbos.
 
This   would involve the biblical prohibition of מתקן כלי (fixing a vessel,) a תולדה (derivative) of the אב מלאכה (category of forbidden work) of מכה בפטיש (the final hammer blow.)
 
Whereas the meaning of the third of these actions is relatively clear ,  the Rishonim discuss what  מספק  andמטפח  are exactly- for purposes of this post, we shall go with Rashi’s definition in Beitza, that they refer to clapping hands and clapping one hands on one’s leg.
 
Both of these activities involve making sounds which accompany music, and like with  dancing, Chazal were concerned that if they were to be done on Shabbos, one would also come to fix the musical instruments they accompany should they break.
 
 Following the  principle of לא פלוג רבנן  (the Rabbis did not discriminate with their decrees,) it follows that even in situations where musical instruments are not present, seemingly harmless activities performed for the enjoyment of Shabbos and Yom-Tov, such as clapping hands or banging on the table to singing, or dancing, are forbidden.
 
Rava bar Chana’s question to Abaya concerned the fact that despite this, it seems to be common practise amongst the people to do so, yet we do not protest about it.
 
There is an obligation in the Torah of “tochacha”- rebuking one’s neighbor when he is doing something wrong (Vayikra 19/17)- so why is this not applied in this case?
 
Abaya answered that הנח להם לישראל מוטב שיהיו שוגגין ואל יהו מזידין – “leave the Jewish people alone: better they should transgress unknowingly rather than transgress knowingly.”
 
From his answer, it is clear that Abaya acknowledged that public practise was indeed incorrect, but justified the failure to protest with a general rule that when it comes to things that people are unlikely to follow even after rebuke, it is better to refrain from rebuking them in the first place and let their transgression remain in the far less severe category of שוגג    (unknowing transgression.)
 
Abaya brings another example where this rule applies from the laws of Eruvin, a fitting introduction to our next exciting masechta!
 
In order to be permitted to carry within a  מבוי  )side-street or alley that is closed on 3 sides, but open on one side to a public domain(, one has to place either a לחי  (upright pole) on one side of the entrance, or a beam across its width (the precise requirements and different opinions on the matter are discussed in the first chapter of Eruvin, see Mishna on Daf 11b.)
 
Rava had ruled  that one should not sit inside this מבוי  right by the לחי  in case something one is holding falls out of one’s hands, and rolls into the public domain, in which case one might come to retrieve it and desecrate shabbos.
 
 Abaya points out that people seem to ignore this ruling, sit in such places all the time, and no one protests. He explains that this is for the same reason.
 
The Gemara points out that this rule does not only apply for rabbinical prohibitions such as the above two decrees, but also to biblical prohibitions.
 
It gives the example of תוספת יום הכפורים (adding on to the fast by starting a little before nightfall) which is a biblical requirement, is ignored by many people, yet we still do not rebuke them for it.
 
Whether this would apply also to more serious biblical prohibitions and/or those that are explicitly mentioned in the Torah, such as eating on Yom-Kippur, lighting a fire on shabbos, or eating non-kosher animals requires more analysis.
 
 On the one hand, the Gemara does not seem to make any such distinction, on the other hand, from the fact that the example given is a relatively unknown biblical law derived by Chazal from דרשות  and possibly also not of the severity of eating on Yom-Kippur itself, it could be argued that this applies only to  less severe and/or lesser known biblical transgressions.  (see Rashba, Meiri, and others who indeed state that this rule does not apply to prohibitions which are explicitly stated in the Torah, and Rema O.C. 608/2 who rules this way.)
 
 
It is fascinating that this tendency to ignore this prohibition has followed us through centuries, and it is common practise to this very day among many observant Jews to ignore this prohibition and dance, clap, and bang while singing on shabbos.
 
While this is clearly reason not to rebuke people who are so accustomed to doing this that they are not likely to listen, it is certainly not justification for  Bnei Torah who are fully aware of the prohibition to intentionally ignore it.
 
Yet, one finds that many Bnei Torah and Torah scholars have also taken on this lenient practise over the centuries, and it is thus pertinent to try and find some reasons that justify this practise in the first place.
 
Below are a few possibilities.
 
1.    There is a well-known rule that אין גוזרין גזירה על הצבור אלא אם כן רוב הצבור יכולין לעמוד בה – Chazal did not make decrees on the community unless most of the community were able to bare it (Bava Basra 60b.)
 
What happens if Chazal made a decree, thinking that the community was able to handle it, but it later become apparent that it was too much for the community to handle and the decree never took hold?
 
The Rambam (Mamrim 2/6) rules that in such a case, the decree is null and void!
 
The Rambam goes further (Mamrim 2/7) and says that even if it appeared for a while that the decree was or might take hold, but in later generations it became clear that it had never taken hold, the decree may be annulled, even by a lesser Beis Din..
 
Although it seems from Abaya’s answer that he admitted that the decree had taken hold but simply didn’t see rebuke as being effective in this case, it is possible that in later generations it became clear that it has in fact never taken hold at all, and can thus be annulled. (I saw later that Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe O.C. 2/100) takes a somewhat similar approach to what I suggested here, with a few differences that might answer some of the outstanding issues.)
 
 
2.    It is possible that the things that even Bnei Torah do were never in the category of the forbidden decrees in the first place.
 
For example, it seems from a parallel sugya (Eruvin 104a), that not any noise is forbidden under this decree, but only “השמעת קול של שיר” – (making sounds of singing.)
 
Rashi explains that this refers to “הנשמע כעין שיר, בנעימה ובנחת”-the kind of sounds that sound like a song, with a gently rhythm. 
 
 
 
Later in the sugya, he goes further and explains that only soft, pleasant sounds that would help someone fall asleep are forbidden, but loud noisy sounds that would wake someone up are permitted.
 
As it is doubtful that the kind of noisy clapping and banging common amongst Yeshiva Bochrim and at a Chasidic Tisch (Friday night get-together with the grand Rabbi of the sect) would help anyone fall asleep, or be considered “pleasant” to the musical ear.
 
Such clapping or banging might thus not ever have been forbidden, seeing as it would not be done at any self-respecting musical event.
 
The Aruch haShulchan (O.C. 339/9) applies a similar idea to dancing, and claims that the type of dancing commonly done by Bnei Torah while singing  on Shabbos is not in rhythm to the music, and does not fit into the decree against dancing at all- see there for more details.
 
It seems to me that the wording of Rashi  )(Beitza 30a) back this distinction , as he defines מספקין   as “hand on hand”, מטפחים as “hand on the thigh”, and מרקדין as “with the legs.”
This seems to imply that dancing involves the same kind of accompaniment to the music as clapping does, namely in tune to the music, but with the feet, rather than the hands.
 
Otherwise, it is kind of spurious for Rashi to tell us that dancing is done with the legs!
 
If it wasn’t too much of novelty for me to make on my own, I would go further and argue that Rashi holds that מרקדין  is not simply referring to dancing movements, but to the sound one makes with one’s feet while dancing in tune to the music, and the main concern is this rhythmic sound generated by the dancing, not the dancing itself.
 
3.    Tosfos (Beitza 30a) rules that this decree only applied in Talmudic times where it was common for musicians to fix their own musical instruments on the spot if they broke, but in today’s times, where we are not trained to do that, and instruments are generally taken to professionals to fix, there is no such concern, and the decree does not apply.
 
The halachik weight of the Tosfos in Ashkenazi halacha is evident by the fact that the Rema (O.C. 339/3) brings this view, yet it is difficult for several reasons, among them:
 
a.    The biblical obligation to listen to the shofar on Rosh Hashanah or wave the Lulav on  Sukkot was pushed aside by a rabbinical decree out of concern that one might carry it  in the public domain to an expert who would teach him how to perform the mitzva (Rosh haShana 29b.) This shows that Chazal were not only concerned that one would come to fix something himself, but also that one would take it to an expert to show him what to do.  If this concern  pushes aside a biblical obligation, surely it would be enough to forbid voluntary actions such as these?  Although this seems like an obvious question, the major Achronim (later authorities) who take issue with the lenient view of the Tosfos do not seem to bring this as one of their concerns- perhaps this is because we do not compare one decree of Chazal to another, and the fact that they made such a decree specifically by Shofar, Lulav, Megila and nothing else could show that they had unique considerations in those cases (it should also be noted that this decree was made by the Amora Raba, many centuries after the tannaic decree against clapping and dancing.)
b.    The Gemara says (Beitza 5a) that anything that was forbidden by the decree of a court, needs another court to permit it, even if the reason for the decree no longer applies.  Elsewhere (Megila 2a,) it goes further and says that a later court may not annul the words of an earlier court unless it is greater in both wisdom and numbers.
The Rambam (Mamrim 2/2) learns a general rule from this and other places, that once Chazal have made a decree and the decree has taken hold, a later court may not annul it, even if the reason it was made for no longer applies, unless it is greater in wisdom and size.
He goes further and rules that decree made as a  סיג  (to prevent one transgressing a biblical transgression) cannot even be annulled by a later court that is greater both in wisdom and in numbers (even in the unlikely event that one is found.)
 
As  there was no such court in the time of the Baalei Tosfos, and there is also no mention by them of the decree being annulled,  even without the Rambam’s further stringency, it seems clear from this Talmudic rule that even if the original concern that we might come to fix musical instruments no longer places, the decree should remain in place.
 
 
Either one has to find a way to explain that despite the לא פלוג  principle, this decree never included  our modern circumstances in the first place, or one is forced to concede that the Baalei Tosfos have a different approach to the Rambam and indeed hold that decrees of Chazal can become permitted when the reason no longer applies in society at large.
 
Protagonists of the later suggestion would need to show that they apply the Talmudic principle that a later court cannot annul the words of an earlier court to something completely different to such decrees.
 
During the course of writing this up, I discovered that the Meiri (Beitza 5a) disagreed with the Rambam and holds that if the reason for the decree no longer applies, a later court may annul the decree even if it is inferior to the original one, and the requirement for the court to be greater in size and number only applies when the reason for the decree still applies!
 
Perhaps the Tosfos follow the approach of the Meiri and hold that seeing as the reason for the decree no longer applied in their time, they had the right to abolish the decree in their own courts despite their inferiority to the  courts of the Amoraim. Whether they did this explicitly (in which case it is somewhat missing from their words) or considered the common minhag together with rabbinic sanction thereof to be the equivalent of it being annulled requires further discussion, should this approach be followed (see the above quoted Igros Moshe where he makes the later suggestion.)
 
In practise, whereas many Talmidei Chachamim are indeed careful to stick to the parameters of the original decree, the Rema has brought the permissive ruling of the Tosfos, giving people permission to rely on it, and baring in mind all 3 above reasons for leniency and the fact that this is a dispute in a rabbinical prohibition, it seems that there is strong reason to permit leniency, certainly for the sake of Oneg Shabbos and Simchas Yom-Tov.
 
As everyone agrees (see O.C. 339) that clapping in a back-handed manner (with the top of one’s hand on the palm of the other hand) or banging without any rhythm at all is permitted, this is certainly a good solution for someone who wishes to satisfy all opinions, and for Sephardim who follow the rulings of the Rambam and Shulchan Aruch on the subject.
 
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 148 The unhelpful rebuke and clapping hands and dancing on Shabbos
 
On our daf, Rava bar Rav Chanan asks Abaya about a Mishna (Beitza 36b) that says:
 
לא מספקין ולא מטפחין ולא מרקדין ביום טוב.
One may not “mesapeik”, “metapeiach”, or dance on Yom Tov.
 
When one examines the original Mishna, one sees that these prohibitions are brought as examples of a general rule that all שבותים (rabbinical decrees relating to forbidden work) that apply on Shabbos, also apply on Yom Tov.
 
The Gemara there explains that these 3 decrees were all made because of the concern that one might come to fix כלי שיר (musical instruments) on shabbos.
 
This   would involve the biblical prohibition of מתקן כלי (fixing a vessel,) a תולדה (derivative) of the אב מלאכה (category of forbidden work) of מכה בפטיש (the final hammer blow.)
 
Whereas the meaning of the third of these actions is relatively clear ,  the Rishonim discuss what  מספק  andמטפח  are exactly- for purposes of this post, we shall go with Rashi’s definition in Beitza, that they refer to clapping hands and clapping one hands on one’s leg.
 
Both of these activities involve making sounds which accompany music, and like with  dancing, Chazal were concerned that if they were to be done on Shabbos, one would also come to fix the musical instruments they accompany should they break.
 
 Following the  principle of לא פלוג רבנן  (the Rabbis did not discriminate with their decrees,) it follows that even in situations where musical instruments are not present, seemingly harmless activities performed for the enjoyment of Shabbos and Yom-Tov, such as clapping hands or banging on the table to singing, or dancing, are forbidden.
 
Rava bar Chana’s question to Abaya concerned the fact that despite this, it seems to be common practise amongst the people to do so, yet we do not protest about it.
 
There is an obligation in the Torah of “tochacha”- rebuking one’s neighbor when he is doing something wrong (Vayikra 19/17)- so why is this not applied in this case?
 
Abaya answered that הנח להם לישראל מוטב שיהיו שוגגין ואל יהו מזידין – “leave the Jewish people alone: better they should transgress unknowingly rather than transgress knowingly.”
 
From his answer, it is clear that Abaya acknowledged that public practise was indeed incorrect, but justified the failure to protest with a general rule that when it comes to things that people are unlikely to follow even after rebuke, it is better to refrain from rebuking them in the first place and let their transgression remain in the far less severe category of שוגג    (unknowing transgression.)
 
Abaya brings another example where this rule applies from the laws of Eruvin, a fitting introduction to our next exciting masechta!
 
In order to be permitted to carry within a  מבוי  )side-street or alley that is closed on 3 sides, but open on one side to a public domain(, one has to place either a לחי  (upright pole) on one side of the entrance, or a beam across its width (the precise requirements and different opinions on the matter are discussed in the first chapter of Eruvin, see Mishna on Daf 11b.)
 
Rava had ruled  that one should not sit inside this מבוי  right by the לחי  in case something one is holding falls out of one’s hands, and rolls into the public domain, in which case one might come to retrieve it and desecrate shabbos.
 
 Abaya points out that people seem to ignore this ruling, sit in such places all the time, and no one protests. He explains that this is for the same reason.
 
The Gemara points out that this rule does not only apply for rabbinical prohibitions such as the above two decrees, but also to biblical prohibitions.
 
It gives the example of תוספת יום הכפורים (adding on to the fast by starting a little before nightfall) which is a biblical requirement, is ignored by many people, yet we still do not rebuke them for it.
 
Whether this would apply also to more serious biblical prohibitions and/or those that are explicitly mentioned in the Torah, such as eating on Yom-Kippur, lighting a fire on shabbos, or eating non-kosher animals requires more analysis.
 
 On the one hand, the Gemara does not seem to make any such distinction, on the other hand, from the fact that the example given is a relatively unknown biblical law derived by Chazal from דרשות  and possibly also not of the severity of eating on Yom-Kippur itself, it could be argued that this applies only to  less severe and/or lesser known biblical transgressions.  (see Rashba, Meiri, and others who indeed state that this rule does not apply to prohibitions which are explicitly stated in the Torah, and Rema O.C. 608/2 who rules this way.)
 
 
It is fascinating that this tendency to ignore this prohibition has followed us through centuries, and it is common practise to this very day among many observant Jews to ignore this prohibition and dance, clap, and bang while singing on shabbos.
 
While this is clearly reason not to rebuke people who are so accustomed to doing this that they are not likely to listen, it is certainly not justification for  Bnei Torah who are fully aware of the prohibition to intentionally ignore it.
 
Yet, one finds that many Bnei Torah and Torah scholars have also taken on this lenient practise over the centuries, and it is thus pertinent to try and find some reasons that justify this practise in the first place.
 
Below are a few possibilities.
 
1.    There is a well-known rule that אין גוזרין גזירה על הצבור אלא אם כן רוב הצבור יכולין לעמוד בה – Chazal did not make decrees on the community unless most of the community were able to bare it (Bava Basra 60b.)
 
What happens if Chazal made a decree, thinking that the community was able to handle it, but it later become apparent that it was too much for the community to handle and the decree never took hold?
 
The Rambam (Mamrim 2/6) rules that in such a case, the decree is null and void!
 
The Rambam goes further (Mamrim 2/7) and says that even if it appeared for a while that the decree was or might take hold, but in later generations it became clear that it had never taken hold, the decree may be annulled, even by a lesser Beis Din..
 
Although it seems from Abaya’s answer that he admitted that the decree had taken hold but simply didn’t see rebuke as being effective in this case, it is possible that in later generations it became clear that it has in fact never taken hold at all, and can thus be annulled. (I saw later that Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe O.C. 2/100) takes a somewhat similar approach to what I suggested here, with a few differences that might answer some of the outstanding issues.)
 
 
2.    It is possible that the things that even Bnei Torah do were never in the category of the forbidden decrees in the first place.
 
For example, it seems from a parallel sugya (Eruvin 104a), that not any noise is forbidden under this decree, but only “השמעת קול של שיר” – (making sounds of singing.)
 
Rashi explains that this refers to “הנשמע כעין שיר, בנעימה ובנחת”-the kind of sounds that sound like a song, with a gently rhythm. 
 
 
 
Later in the sugya, he goes further and explains that only soft, pleasant sounds that would help someone fall asleep are forbidden, but loud noisy sounds that would wake someone up are permitted.
 
As it is doubtful that the kind of noisy clapping and banging common amongst Yeshiva Bochrim and at a Chasidic Tisch (Friday night get-together with the grand Rabbi of the sect) would help anyone fall asleep, or be considered “pleasant” to the musical ear.
 
Such clapping or banging might thus not ever have been forbidden, seeing as it would not be done at any self-respecting musical event.
 
The Aruch haShulchan (O.C. 339/9) applies a similar idea to dancing, and claims that the type of dancing commonly done by Bnei Torah while singing  on Shabbos is not in rhythm to the music, and does not fit into the decree against dancing at all- see there for more details.
 
It seems to me that the wording of Rashi  )(Beitza 30a) back this distinction , as he defines מספקין   as “hand on hand”, מטפחים as “hand on the thigh”, and מרקדין as “with the legs.”
This seems to imply that dancing involves the same kind of accompaniment to the music as clapping does, namely in tune to the music, but with the feet, rather than the hands.
 
Otherwise, it is kind of spurious for Rashi to tell us that dancing is done with the legs!
 
If it wasn’t too much of novelty for me to make on my own, I would go further and argue that Rashi holds that מרקדין  is not simply referring to dancing movements, but to the sound one makes with one’s feet while dancing in tune to the music, and the main concern is this rhythmic sound generated by the dancing, not the dancing itself.
 
3.    Tosfos (Beitza 30a) rules that this decree only applied in Talmudic times where it was common for musicians to fix their own musical instruments on the spot if they broke, but in today’s times, where we are not trained to do that, and instruments are generally taken to professionals to fix, there is no such concern, and the decree does not apply.
 
The halachik weight of the Tosfos in Ashkenazi halacha is evident by the fact that the Rema (O.C. 339/3) brings this view, yet it is difficult for several reasons, among them:
 
a.    The biblical obligation to listen to the shofar on Rosh Hashanah or wave the Lulav on  Sukkot was pushed aside by a rabbinical decree out of concern that one might carry it  in the public domain to an expert who would teach him how to perform the mitzva (Rosh haShana 29b.) This shows that Chazal were not only concerned that one would come to fix something himself, but also that one would take it to an expert to show him what to do.  If this concern  pushes aside a biblical obligation, surely it would be enough to forbid voluntary actions such as these?  Although this seems like an obvious question, the major Achronim (later authorities) who take issue with the lenient view of the Tosfos do not seem to bring this as one of their concerns- perhaps this is because we do not compare one decree of Chazal to another, and the fact that they made such a decree specifically by Shofar, Lulav, Megila and nothing else could show that they had unique considerations in those cases (it should also be noted that this decree was made by the Amora Raba, many centuries after the tannaic decree against clapping and dancing.)
b.    The Gemara says (Beitza 5a) that anything that was forbidden by the decree of a court, needs another court to permit it, even if the reason for the decree no longer applies.  Elsewhere (Megila 2a,) it goes further and says that a later court may not annul the words of an earlier court unless it is greater in both wisdom and numbers.
The Rambam (Mamrim 2/2) learns a general rule from this and other places, that once Chazal have made a decree and the decree has taken hold, a later court may not annul it, even if the reason it was made for no longer applies, unless it is greater in wisdom and size.
He goes further and rules that decree made as a  סיג  (to prevent one transgressing a biblical transgression) cannot even be annulled by a later court that is greater both in wisdom and in numbers (even in the unlikely event that one is found.)
 
As  there was no such court in the time of the Baalei Tosfos, and there is also no mention by them of the decree being annulled,  even without the Rambam’s further stringency, it seems clear from this Talmudic rule that even if the original concern that we might come to fix musical instruments no longer places, the decree should remain in place.
 
 
Either one has to find a way to explain that despite the לא פלוג  principle, this decree never included  our modern circumstances in the first place, or one is forced to concede that the Baalei Tosfos have a different approach to the Rambam and indeed hold that decrees of Chazal can become permitted when the reason no longer applies in society at large.
 
Protagonists of the later suggestion would need to show that they apply the Talmudic principle that a later court cannot annul the words of an earlier court to something completely different to such decrees.
 
During the course of writing this up, I discovered that the Meiri (Beitza 5a) disagreed with the Rambam and holds that if the reason for the decree no longer applies, a later court may annul the decree even if it is inferior to the original one, and the requirement for the court to be greater in size and number only applies when the reason for the decree still applies!
 
Perhaps the Tosfos follow the approach of the Meiri and hold that seeing as the reason for the decree no longer applied in their time, they had the right to abolish the decree in their own courts despite their inferiority to the  courts of the Amoraim. Whether they did this explicitly (in which case it is somewhat missing from their words) or considered the common minhag together with rabbinic sanction thereof to be the equivalent of it being annulled requires further discussion, should this approach be followed (see the above quoted Igros Moshe where he makes the later suggestion.)
 
In practise, whereas many Talmidei Chachamim are indeed careful to stick to the parameters of the original decree, the Rema has brought the permissive ruling of the Tosfos, giving people permission to rely on it, and baring in mind all 3 above reasons for leniency and the fact that this is a dispute in a rabbinical prohibition, it seems that there is strong reason to permit leniency, certainly for the sake of Oneg Shabbos and Simchas Yom-Tov.
 
As everyone agrees (see O.C. 339) that clapping in a back-handed manner (with the top of one’s hand on the palm of the other hand) or banging without any rhythm at all is permitted, this is certainly a good solution for someone who wishes to satisfy all opinions, and for Sephardim who follow the rulings of the Rambam and Shulchan Aruch on the subject.
 
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 140 Domestic matters- from the dining-room to the bedroom


 
On this daf, we find some statements of Chazal which seem to throw a curveball at certain aspects of our modern frum society.
 
I wish to focus on two of these:
 
There is a tendency amongst young adults who become more “frum” (observant) than their parents or Rabbis to take on new stringencies at the expense of their relationships with their seniors.
 
For example, many yeshiva students or Kollel students return home and although their home has always been halachically kosher, refuse to eat their parents food seeing as it is not up to the “higher standards” of kashrut they have taken on.
 
Sometimes such students even refuse to eat at the homes of their community Rabbis or high-school mentors, or insist that they buy food with a specific hechsher (kosher certification) that they eat.
 
Some people even refuse to let their children visit their grandparents on their own or eat in their homes, even though they have always been strictly kosher and shabbos observant.
 
Whereas there is certainly space for taking on chumros (extra stringencies) under certain situations, so long as it does not make one appear arrogant, or undermine accepted authorities, it is clear from various statements of Chazal that this should never be at the expense of appearing to make light of one’s parents or Rabbis, and that it is better to compromise on these stringencies when necessary rather than offend them or imply that their standards are not high enough.
 
There is a dispute at the beginning of our daf regarding mixing mustard that has already been “kneaded” before shabbos with its own liquids.
 
There are 3 opinions:
1.      One may mix it further with water but only with one’s hands
2.      One may fix it further with water even with a kli (instrument)
3.      One may not mix it further at all
 
Although there might be no actual melacha of לש ( kneading,) seeing as it is already in kneaded form, it appears that there is a concern for עובדין דחול  , things that resemble weekday activities, a topic for another discussion.
 
The Gemara tells how Abaya’s mother made such a mixture for him on Shabbos and he refused to eat it.
 
It then tells how Zeira’s wife made such a mixture for his student, Rav Chiya bar Ashi, and he too refused to eat it.
 
Zeiri’s wife did not take this lying down, and reprimanded him strongly with the words: “I made it for your Rebbe (her husband) and he ate it, and you won’t eat it?”
 
We see a similar idea in a מרגלא בפומיה (favourite statement) of Rava (Brachos 17a):
 
מרגלא בפומיה דרבא: תכלית חכמה תשובה ומעשים טובים; שלא יהא אדם קורא ושונה ובועט באביו ובאמו וברבו ובמי שהוא גדול ממנו בחכמה ובמנין
 
“It was a pearl in the mouth of Rava: the goal of wisdom is repentance and good deeds- that a person should not learn verses and Mishna and kick aside his father, and his mother, and his teacher, and one who is greater than him in wisdom and numbers”
 
Rava makes it clear that the end result of growing in Torah learning needs to be practically recognized in one’s good deeds, not a new-found sense of arrogance where he views himself as superior to his parents, teachers, and superiors.
 
Such “frumer arrogance”  does no service to his learning, but makes Torah look like something elitist and offensive, and is to be rigorously avoided.
 
In another sugya (Yevamos 114a,) the Gemara discusses whether one is obligated to prevent a child from eating forbidden foods.
 
However one learns the conclusion, one case that is agreed upon is that if a חבר  (Torah scholar’s) son goes to visit his עם בארץ  (ignorant) grandparents, he need not be concerned about him being fed possibly  untithed produce by less observant grandparents.
 
The assumption was generally that most עמי הארץ  (ignorant people) separated their tithes, but a significant minority did not, and Chazal thus decreed that any produce brought from such people , known as דמאי  , needs to be tithed out of doubt before eating.
 
Yet in such a case of children visiting their grandparents, they were lenient and allowed them to eat in their homes without such a concern.
 
Although it seems from the context that we are dealing with minor children who are not yet obligated in mitzvos, the fact that even those who require one to stop children from transgressing waived the rabbinical concern of דמאי  while they visiting their less observant grand-parents is telling.
 
Let us recall that we are dealing here with grandparents who kept some level of kashrut, but were also suspected of using untithed produce!
 
If Chazal told Torah Scholars to allow their children to visit grandparents in the category of עמי הארץ  , despite real halachik, albeit rabbinical, concerns, how much more so should this apply to grandparents and teachers who are fully observant, but simply do not follow additional chumros that they have taken upon themselves!

2
 
Another phenomena we find in parts of the religious world, is a total avoidance of discussing anything sexual in nature, particular with children and teenagers.
 
There are some Torah schools that even forbid the study of biology, seeing as it includes sections about human anatomy and the reproductive system, and many frum parents and teachers refrain from giving their children a healthy, Torah- based  sex education, because of the false belief that such things are inappropriate for anyone, at least before marriage while sexual activity is forbidden.
 
Not only does such an attitude foster an unhealthy sense of self in teenagers and young adults, it is also totally contrary to the view we see both in Tanach and Chazal.
 
Although the Torah is very clear about what types of sexual behaviour are permitted and what is forbidden, and Chazal stress in many places the importance of modesty and avoiding temptation, there is an equally strong emphasis on educating  people about such things, from a relatively young age. Although they use euphemisms wherever possible, they do not do so at the expense of the clarity of the message being given over.
 
From the beginning, the young child is taught how, amongst other things,

  • the first man ‘knew’ his wife and had children
  • the generation of the flood behaved immorally
  • Noah’s son Ham “saw” his father’s nakedness, interpreted by one view in Chazal as sodomizing him
    -Sarah was abducted and taken to Pharaoh’s house
  • Reuven slept with his father’s concubine (or mixed up his beds at best)
  • Dina was raped by Shechem
    -Yehuda’s two sons, Er and Onan, died for spilling their seed on the ground rather than impregnating their wife
  • Yehuda went to someone he thought was a prostitute
  • Yoseif was seduced by Potiphar’s wife and according to a view in Chazal, almost gave in.
     
    The above is just in Sefer Beraishis, usually completed in the early years, if not first year, of primary school.
     
    A tour through the rest of Chumash, and of course the rest of Tanach, reveals an equally uncensored view of life, some striking examples being
     
    –          The section on forbidden relationships read on Yom Kippur afternoon
    –          The mass seduction of the people by the Mideanites and the case of Pinchas
    –          The gruesome story of פלגש בגבעה (concubine of Giv’ah)
    –          The rape of Tamar by David’s son Avner
    –          David’s seduction by Avigail, as interpreted by Chazal
    –          David’s sin with Batsheva
    –          Shlomo’s excesses with his many wives
    –          Many references to sexual excesses in the later Neviim.
    –          The parable of the prostitute in הושע
    –          The allegorical שיר השירים (songs of songs,) filled with sensual imagery.
    –          The highly sexualized narrative in מגילת אסתר (the book of Esther.)
     
    Ironically, the neglect of Tanach study in certain sections of the religious community has led to a high level of ignorance of many of these incidents, as has a sanitized form of studying them.
     
    The later is perhaps most symbolized by the Artscroll’s “non literal” translation of Shir haShirim with the excuse that it was never meant to be understood literally, is all parable, and “holy of holy”- forgetting the fact that there is a reason the book is written with such metaphors in the first place
     
    Yet while the Tanach has been neglected, often using the non-authoritative testament of Rabbi Eliezer (see Brachos 28b and Rashi there) as an excuse, while ignoring the clear halachik requirement to divide one’s Torah-learning hours  into 3, including a third for Tanach study (Kiddushin 30a), the same cannot be said for Talmud study, which occupies most of the time of the young Ben-Torah.
     
    It is impossible to learn even the first masechta in the Shas from cover to cover without encountering numerous explicit sexual discussions.
     
    One of the most graphic, is the description of Rav Kahana hiding under his teacher, Rav’s bed while he was engaged in enthusiastic sexual foreplay with his wife, justifying his action to the infuriated (and obviously mortified) Rav  by the need to learn Torah (how a Ben-Torah should act in the bedroom.  Brachos 62a)
     
    It is doubtful that anyone in the Torah world would, or should , even consider such a direct form of sex education today, but it just goes to show how far Chazal were prepared to go in order to educate themselves about such matters, at the correct time, so long as it was with holy intentions.
     
    In a similar vein, our daf has another mind-blowing graphic description of how Rav Chisda prepared his daughters for their married life (let us recall that one of his daughters married the leading Amora of the next generation, Rava!)
     
    It tells precisely how he told them to engage in arousing foreplay with their husbands, and although it is a clear Gemara, I will show enough respect to our more sensitive readers to refer them back to the Gemara itself for more details…
     
    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 115-116 Saving Holy scrolls, amulets, and the Torah of a heretic


On Daf 115b, we are told that even though it is permitted to save holy scrolls from a fire on Shabbos (understood by the Gemara as moving them to somewhere which only involves a rabbinic transgression), blessings and amulets, even if they contain scriptural verses with Hashem’s name, are not included in this leniency, and must be left to burn.
One possible reason for this is that they simply do not have the necessary level of holiness warranted to transgress shabbos for, albeit on a rabbinical level.
This could be backed up by the parallel sugya (Shabbos 61a) which proves that even they are not holy enough to warrant shabbos transgression, they certainly do require burial if damaged, and leaves open the possibility that one might even be forbidden to take them into the toilet.
Another possible, though, is that there is actually something wrong with these things and/or the person who wrote them, and although the earlier sugya would require a rather creative reading in order to justify such an interpretation, there is certainly much evidence pointing in this direction as well.
Rashi, as an example of a verse written in such amulets, gives the example of כל המחלה אשר שמתי במצריים לא אשים עליך (all the illnesses that I placed on Egypt, I shall not place on you- Shmos 15/26 ), an apparent סגולה (charm) against illness.
Yet we cannot ignore the fact that this is the very example used by the Mishna (Sanhedrin 90a) which, if chanted to cure a wound, renders the chanter part of the unenviable group of people who have no share in the world to come!
Although the Gemara there, and elsewhere (see earlier post on the subject) limits the scope of these harsh words to one who spits in the process, it is clear from the parallel sugya (Shvuos 15b) that using words of Torah to cure people is still completely forbidden, even if it doesn’t always warrant such a harsh punishment.
Furthermore, the Rambam (Avodah Zara 11/12) appears to ignore the opinion in the Gemara that limits its scope to one who spits, and rules that chanting pessukim for healing purposes is not only completely forbidden under the prohibition of superstitious practices, but also a form of כפירה (denial of the Torah…) in that he turns words of the Torah, which are supposed to be medicine for the soul, into medicine for the body… (See Kesef Mishna who deals with this at length.)
Perhaps it is this kind of amulet or “blessing scroll) which is being referred to here, and that should be allowed to be burned, given that the writer showed almost heretical beliefs, as did the wearer?
In truth, on daf 116a, we are told similar things about a Sefer Torah written by a מין (heretic)
In a truly shocking statement, the Gemara tells us that a Sefer Torah written by a heretic is not be saved on Shabbos, and should be allowed to burn, together with its pessukim and divine names.
In fact, Rabbi Tarfon goes a step further and declares that should such a Torah come into his hands, he would physically burn it himself!
In discussing how it is possible to allow the name of Hashem to be destroyed, against the biblical prohibition of לא תעשון כן לשם אלוקיכם (do not do so [what you do to idolatry] to Hashem your G-d [Devarim 32/33 ], the Gemara replies that we learn this using a קל וחומר (fortiori) from the case of the סוטה (woman suspected of being unfaithful.
Just like the parchment with Hashem’s name on it is erased in order to make peace between man and wife (i.e. prove her innocence), so it can surely be erased due to the impact that the writers heresy has on the relationship between the Jewish people and our father in Heaven (by showing that we are faithful to him and reject a Torah written by one who is not,)
There is SO much to analysis here, so many nuances in the text, but one issue that needs to be stressed immediately is the need to define what a “heretic” is- it is clear from this sugya (and Rashi’s explanation of it) that this does not refer to anyone who practices idolatry, but only to someone who has experienced the truth of belief in Hashem and his Torah and intentionally rejected it- a very rare, if not non-existent phenomena in our times.
Yet even still, It is hard to imagine that a scroll that is physically identical to the Torah we all live by, and contains the same names of Hashem, can be allowed to burn, or even intentionally burnt, simply because of the heretical beliefs of the person who wrote them.
It seems, at least from here, that the notion of “accept the truth wherever it comes from,” which seems to be the simple meaning of the Mishnaic dictum איזהו חכם הלומד מכל אדם (Who is wise, one who learns from every man,” ]Avos 4/1] is rejected by Chazal, at least in this case.
Whatever happened to the idea that דברי תורה אינם מקבלים טומאה (words of Torah do not become impure?), the basis for the accepted view of Rabbi Yehuda ben Beseira that a baal keri does not have to go to mikva before learning Torah or davening (Brachos 22a and Chullin 136b), but also used by the Rambam to permit even a Nidah to touch a Torah? (Tefillin ,Mezuzah,veSefer Torah 10/8)
This rules implies that a Torah cannot be impurified by virtue of an impure person touching it, so why should a person of impure views (heresy) invalidate a Torah simply by being the one to write it?
In addition, how do we explain the words and actions of Rabbi Meir, who continued to learn from his Rebbe, Elisha ben Abuya, now known as אחר ( someone else) , after he became a heretic, On the basis that he removes the dirty peel and eats the clean fruit on the inside. (Chagiga 15b)
How do we explain the way the Rambam so often quoted Aristotle in matters that he agreed with him on, using similar arguments, if the words of a heretic are to be burnt?
The late Chief Rabbi Dr Hertz of the British empire, in his famous Chumash which was arguably the most used English translation in the pre-Artscroll days, makes use of this dictum and even quotes friendly Christian bible scholars in his commentary when he feels what they say is appropriate, something he admittedly received much criticism for, particularly with the rise of the Artscroll generation, but also by senior Talmidei Chachamim.
In fact I recall this very debate as a teen growing up in Johannesburg, where the Hertz Chumash was the gold standard for English translations in the traditional Orthodox Shul’s of Johannesburg, and was used all the time by my father שליט”א at home and many other leading Rabbis in the community.
My high School Rebbe, Rav Eliezer Chrysler, שליט”א, is one of those Talmidei Chachamim who truly made a long-lasting impression on me in many great ways, even if we have not always agreed on ideological matters.
He is a man who displays one of the greatest examples of Ahavas Torah (love of Torah) I have ever seen, to the point that he used to give his daily Yomi class to a tiny group of dedicated people at a time when daf Yomi was not exactly well known in South Africa ( I was not one of those committed people, unfortunately.)
There were times when no-one showed up for the shiur, but he nevertheless continued as usual, literally giving the shiur into the tape recorder!
Rabbi Chrysler comes from the English Chareidi Gateshead school, as unsurprisingly, used to often discourage us from using the Hertz Chumash, due to his quoting the explanations of “heretics,” a view that I myself took on for at least a large part of my youth, and still certainly take into account, but which is arguable, given the very limited definition of a “heretic” referred to earlier on. (it could be that it was bothered more by the idea that the commentaries were of non-Jewish origin than necessarily written by heretics, based on the dictumחכמה בגויים תאמין תורה גויים אל תאמין [Eicha Rabbah 2/13])
Yet in another twist and turn in this fascinating discussion, when it comes to learning Torah from someone who is not a good role-model, Chazal take an even stronger stand and rule that “If your Rabbi appears to you to be similar to an angel, then learn from him, otherwise do not learn from him.” (Chagiga 15b)- This is indeed the difficulty the Gemara there raises with Rabbi Meir’s actions!

It is unlikely that this requirement for a Torah teacher to be a perfect role model in all ways can be taken literally, at least on a pragmatic level, and in case, people are not supposed to be angels as evidence by the famous rule of לא ניתנה תורה למלאכי השרת (the Torah was not given to angels.)
In fact, in a seemingly contradictory statement, Chazal tell us that if you have seen a Talmid Chacham who has sinned at night ]Brachos 19a] (probably a reference to sins in the sexual realm, such as forbidden sexual acts, or wasting of seed ) , do not think badly about during the day, as he has probably done Teshuva.
This shows clearly that we do not expect Talmidei Chachamim to be sin free like angels, but rather to not only accept their teshuva, but to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they have done Teshuva, rather than make them prove their angelic qualities. (It seems obvious that this does not apply to one who is a danger to others, or one who refuses to acknowledge his errors and has clearly NOT done teshuva.)
Yet at a bare minimum, the statement quoted earlier can be seen to giving a very message as to how students can and should demand the highest standards of example-setting from their teachers.
Perhaps, the answer lies in the type of flawed individual we are dealing with.
To sin is human, and even great people sin. They are to be held to account and liable to repent, but not rejected once they have done so.
However, when a person shows intrinsic negative character traits, it is a completely different matter.
One’s teacher might indeed be forgiven for sins, particular those that do not harm other people, but he certainly must be expected to show almost angelic character traits- after all, דרך ארץ קדמה לתורה (polite behavior comes before Torah.)
The classic heretic of our Gemara is completely rejected not because of his sins, or even his worship of idols, but because he shown the worst possible character traits possible- a lack of הכרת הטוב and rejection of what he knows to be true.
His sin is so severe because, to paraphrase the pessukim quoted by the Gemara, he has seen the truth of Hashem and his Torah, but deliberately thrown it behind the door, out of the way.
Such a person cannot be a Rebbe, nor can his Torah be saved, and his Torah is in fact so tainted that Rabbi Tarfon would have physically burnt it himself.
As the Neviim ,various statements of Chazal, and of course the Rambam among others have stressed so many times (think for example of the Midrash which describe the blood pouring out of the curtain when the enemy entered the Temple), holy items and practices are not magical charms- they only holy because they serve as a way of improving our relationship with Hashem- when they fail to do this, they are as good as burnt already.
In contrast, it can be argued that someone who has sinned by using words of Torah to heal, but who has good intent and certainly has not rejected Hashem and his Torah, should not be in the category of a heretic to the point that we would physically burn his amulets, and Rabbi Tarfon certainly did not make any suggestion that amulets should be burnt- their products do not have the necessary level of holiness to override the shabbos, but they if damaged, they certainly should still be treated with respect and buried.
One must of course, still take into account Rambam’s harsh words which indeed do seem to equate using Torah to heal with heresy- perhaps he would hold that abusing the truth of Torah which a person has experience for physical gain (particularly when money is made from them ) is also a sign of bad character traits which deserve the most severe of sanction.
Yet the truth is that as pointed out in earlier posts, the Rambam himself follows the Gemara in allowing amulets from proven experts to be worn on shabbos for at least for protection, probably for psychological reasons, and it is doubtful that he would condemn one who writes them to help someone, even on a psychological level, as a heretic.
As such, I tend towards preferring our earlier suggestion, that the reasons for allowing amulets to burn are completely different from the reasons for allowing the Torah of a bona fide heretic to burn, or even physically burning it.

I also suggest that we should differentiate between a person who sins like all people do, even perhaps with a degree of heresy, but afterwards repents or at least comes from a sincere place, and someone whose flawed character traits lead him to deny the Torah he believes in, for the sake of his own convenience.
Let us recall that according to Chazal, the Jewish people never worshipped idolatry because they believed in it, but rather in order to permit forbidden sexual relationships to themselves )Sanhedrin 63b)- although this is sometimes quoted as a relative positive, according to what we have said, it might actually be a negative- they experienced the truth of Torah , had absolutely no intellectually honest way of rejecting it, and knew that idolatry was meaningless, yet threw their beliefs behind the door in order to be able to live a lifestyle antithetical to Torah values.
Perhaps, this is why Rabbi Meir was able to still see the good in his Rebbe and learn the good things from him- Elisha ben Abuya was probably not the classic heretic of flawed character described here who knew the truth but conveniently and/or intentionally buried it.
He was more likely a very sensitive and great individual who lost his faith due to very traumatic experiences he encountered. His peels had become dirty, but he was clean and sweet on the inside!
This can be backed up by the case which is blamed for his heresy- the boy who climbed up to the roof on his father’s intructions to perform the Mitzva of שלוח הקן (sending away the mother-bird), which together with honoring parents is a specific mitzva for which long life is promised, and fell off the tree and died.
This might be somewhat comparable to the holocaust survivor who was simply unable to come to terms with the horrors he saw and how they could reflect the promises made by the Torah, particularly given the facts that the pious and religious Jews of Eastern Europe were amongst those most affected.
This heresy is incorrect and not to be encouraged, but it is also not to be condemned in the same way- it is a heresy that stems from a beautiful and sensitive character, and such people are still redeemable, still role models in other areas and worthy of learning from, and ultimately to be drawn close, not pushed away.

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 114 Shabbos clothes, The definition of a Talmid Chacham and Chillul Hashem

Our daf continues to discuss the Mitzva of having special clothes for Shabbos, based on the famous Pesukim (Yeshayahu 58), read as the Haftarah for Yom Kippur.

These Pessukim teach us that just like Hashem is not just interested in the technical aspects of the sacrifices, but is even more concerned about the concept behind them, the “spirit of the sacrifices” so to speak, so also when it comes to Shabbat, it is not only the technical specifications about whether something is considered a forbidden melacha that are important, but also the special sanctity of the day- the “spirit of shabbos, “ so to speak.

As such, we are required not only to refrain from biblical forbidden melacha on shabbos and their rabbinically related prohibitions, but also to refrain from things that are associated with the vibe of the weekday (עובדין דחול) and to engage in activities that are special for shabbos and that are in keeping with the sanctity of the day.

This is not an extra chumra (stringency), as many mistakenly believe, but a complete מצוה מדי סופרים (Mitzva of the prophets or later sages), that is binding on everyone, and that might also affect biblical law (possibly a גלוי מלתא as to what is included in the biblical requirement of תשבות, but that is for a different analysis!)

In addition to avoiding any business transactions or even business related talk, walking quickly in long steps or running (see previous daf), one of these requirements is that one’s shabbos clothes should not be the same as those worn during the week, and our daf brings a source in the Chumash itself that changing one’s clothes is a sign of respect from the Kohanim who needed to change their clothes between cleaning out the ashes and performing the actual offerings.

The logic given is that one should not use the same vessel he has used to mix a drink for his master to serve one’s master with.
Similarly, part of the mitzva of honoring shabbos referring to in Yeshayahu, must surely include putting on special clothes that befit the sanctity of the shabbos.

Often, I see people, children and teens in particular, who come to shul on shabbos wearing weekday clothes, such as jeans and t-shirts, and although it is clearly preferable that they come dressed that way rather than not come at all,I believe that parents and Rabbis should use common sense where appropriate to encourage those who are likely to listen to wear the appropriate formal and special attire for Shabbos.

I also often see people, once again children and teens in particular, changing out of their shabbos clothes after lunch on shabbos, and going to play sports in shorts, t-shirts, and the like.

This is a more complex issue, which involves the question of which, if any, sports are permitted or forbidden on shabbos, and whether they fit into the requirement to avoid weekday activities and focus on things appropriate for the day.

If, and only if, one is able to permit such activities as part of עונג שבת, subject to any halachik restrictions involved, are we able to deal with whether it is permitted to change into weekday clothes for such activities.

On the one hand, just like running might be permitted for youth because that is their עונג שבת (enjoyment of the day,) rather than a stressful weekday activity, perhaps wearing comfortable clothing suitable for such activities might also be.

On the other hand, it is possible that any activity that cannot be performed comfortably in shabbos clothes (other than resting or sleeping obviously) might be a weekday activity by definition!

In addition to clothes being a way of highlighting the honor of shabbos and the divine services, they are also a way of highlighting one’s honor for davening(prayer) , and the honor of the Torah , as represented by Talmidei Chachamim (Torah scholars.)

As such, Talmidei Chachamim traditionally wore special clothing, and were expected to be particularly careful not to have any dirt or stains on their clothes.

The later not only fails to show honor to the Torah they represent, but causes a terrible Chillul Hashem, and as a result, the Gemara uses the very harsh expression חייב מיתה (deserving of death) for one who does so.

This is based on the verse משניאי אהבו מוות (those who make people hate me, love death-Misheli 8/36)
As Rashi explains, when a Talmid Chacham appears dirty, it causes people to hate the Torah that he represents, and ultimately Hashem himself!

These words might seem harsh, but they certainly convey the sensitivity that a Torah society should show to cleanliness, and that a person who is looked up to by others, should highlight in himself.
This presumably applies not only to a stain, but also wearing torn or smelly clothing, or giving off bad body odor or breathe.

Although it is logical that all of us should show sensitivity to this essential value, it is clear from our sugya that the more of a Talmid Chacham one is, the more careful one needs to be.
At this point, this begs the question- how do we define a Talmid Chacham, at least as far as this rule is concerned?

Does this apply only to one of the Gedolei haDor (leading Torah sages), to anyone with a good general knowledge of all areas of Torah, or perhaps to someone with a high level of knowledge in one area of Torah, someone who serves as a community Rabbi or Torah teacher, or anyone who studies Torah daily or who is more knowledgeable than average?

On our daf, Rabbi Yochanan presents 3 definitions of a Talmid Chacham:

  1. A Talmid Chacham on the level that one would return lost property to him without him being requirement to produce simanim (identification signs), as long as he says that he recognizes it- Rabbi Yochanan identifies this as someone who is careful to turn over his shirt if he put it on the wrong way.
  2. A Talmid Chacham who is worthy of being appointed as a פרנס (leader) of the community- this is defined as someone who can be asked a halacha in any area of the Torah and is able to answer, even in less commonly studied areas like the “minor tractate” of Kallah.
  3. A Talmid Chacham whose labor the community is required to perform on his behalf (possibly meaning to support)- Anyone who puts asides his own concerns and focusses on the concerns of heaven.

It seems from the above definitions that the term “Talmid Chacham” is not only used to describe a person’s actual knowledge, but also his trustworthiness, reputation, and self-sacrifice for divine matters (see our earlier post on ירידת הדורות for an interesting parallel.)

When it comes to appointing someone as Rabbinic leader, the person is expected not only to have the correct character traits (which should go without saying, after all דרך ארך קדמה לתורה), but also have total knowledge of the entire corpus of Jewish law, to the point that he can answer any questions that come his way.

As the Gemara later says, in order to be a local community Rabbi, such knowledge in one מסכתא (tractate) is actually sufficient (presumably he will then have the skills to look up or refer questions in area outside his expertise) , and to be the Rosh Yeshiva (presumably of the entire country or nation), such knowledge of the entire Torah is required, as per Rabbi Yochanan’s definition.

However, there are other traits that make the title of Talmid Chacham appropriate for someone:

When it comes to trusting his honesty as a Talmid Chacham is supposed to be trusted, the fact that he has the reputation of an honest and generally well-learned figure is sufficient. (the later requirement being my own assumption, as it is unlikely than any honest person would be referred to as a Talmid Chacham without any minimum level of Torah wisdom/knowledge)

When it comes to giving him the support needed to carry on his holy work, his level of learning and reputation is less of a factor, and his motivation and self-sacrifice is what counts the most.
Seeing as the laws we have discussed regarding being clean and presentable are based on preventing Chillul Hashem and thus dependent very much on the person’s reputation, it seems logical that the appropriate definition for the purposes of this law would be anyone with the reputation of being a Torah personality, such that one would trust his honesty in monetary matters.

As such, it is possible that in today’s time, anyone who is a Ben Torah- someone whose life-center is the study and application of Torah regardless of what trade or profession he follows, might well be in the spotlight of the majority who unfortunately do not yet fit into this category.

In a world where the majority of Jews are not yet observant unfortunately, this argument could possibly be applied to ALL “frum” (religiously observant) people.

As such, anyone in this category needs to be particularly concerned about how he presents him/her self, and of course even more so, about how he/she behaves!

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 108-109 Matters of hygiene, wasting semen, and cutting off hands

At the end of our daf, a Beraisa is brought quoting Rabbi Muna in the name of Rabbi Yehuda.
Amongst other things, Rabbi Yehuda is quoted as saying someone who touches his eye, nostrils, ears, mouth, sexual organ, an open vein (from bloodletting) or anal opening should have his hand chopped off.
The first question to ask is why Rabbi Yehuda takes this so seriously??!
It is immediately apparent that these are all examples of places where infection can easily enter the body, and it seems logical that this has something to do with the seriousness with which Chazal took hygiene.
Whereas Rashi explains that this is because the רוח רעה (the evil spirit) that is on the hands before washing in the morning , whatever that means, could damage these places, there is no need, at least in the context of this sugya, to assume that this is something supernatural- it could simply be invisible physical micro-organisms (a broader treatment of the usage of this term and that of מזיקין ושדים [harmful forces and demons] might reveals issues with such an interpretation, but that’s for another discussion.)
What is clear from Rashi is that this harsh statement is limited to before one has washed one’s hands.
It is not clear whether this ruling is meant to be taken literally- usually such statements are not, the rule of עין תחת עין (an eye for an eye) being the אב לכולם ( father of all such non literal punishments), and the frequency of such actions would also make it somewhat impractical, but we HAVE seen cases of such penalties literally being carried out!
The Gemara (Sanhedrin 58b) discusses a person who likes to hit people habitually.
Various opinions are given as to how to handle such a person, and Rav Huna opines that his hand should be chopped off, basing himself on the passuk (verse) וזרוע רימה תשבר (and a violent hand will be broken- Iyov 38/15.)
The Gemara proceeds to tell us that Rav Huna carried this out in practice with someone, and most of the Rishonim (early commentators) understand that he did this literally (note the Meiri who suggests that it might have been a monetary payment equivalent to the value of his hand!)
There is a debate between Rashi and Tosfos in that sugya as to what halachik basis Rav Huna had for such an action.
Rashi explains that this was an application of the courts right to impose a meta halachik punishment not actually mandated by the Torah, in order to stop a current danger to society (Sanhedrin 46a)- the passuk brought would thus be only an אסמכתא (in short, a relatively weak basis in the pesukim for what remains a non-biblical law- though this definition is subject to a discussion in its own right.)
This fits in with the rule we have discussed before (Bava Kama 2b) that we do not derive Torah laws from the rest of the Tanach.
Tosfos and Tosfos haRosh both suggest, based on another sugya (Niddah 13b) that Rav Huna held that this was actually the Torah law.
Although they admit that this is problematic in view of the principle cited above, an examination of at least part of the cited sugya in Niddah is now in place.
The Mishna (Niddah 13a) makes the cryptic statement that the more a woman checks herself with her hand to see that she is not a Niddah(menstruant), the more praiseworthy she is. In contrast, a man who does this to see that he is not impure, should have his hand cut off.
The Gemara asks why this is so serious, and answers that it is because it could cause someone to spill his seed in vain, which Chazal viewed as a serious prohibition.
The Gemara (Niddah 13b) asks whether this statement is meant to convey an actual law (דינא תנן) or a curse (לטותא תנן)
The Gemara then brings Rav Huna’s ruling regarding our bully as an example where such language is actually a law, not just a curse.
Although they admit the difficulty poised by the rule of דברי תורה מדברי קבלה לא ילפינן, Tosfos and Tosfos haRosh both argue that this wording implies that according to Rav Huna, this is an actual law, at least in the case of the bully, not an example of an extra judicial punishment by the court.
Now that we have mentioned this sugya, we can return to our sugya and ask why the prohibition of touching one’s sexual organ is grouped together with all the other body parts which should not be touched for health reasons- surely the reason mentioned in Niddah puts it in its own category?
One could argue that health is treated more stringently than prohibition (חמירא סכנתא מאיסורא ) , and that in our sugya which is dealing with touching body cavities WITHOUT washing hands first, this reason was given priority.
However, it needs to be noted that some rather extreme measures were suggested by various Tannaim to avoid the prohibition of wasting seed .
These include seemingly crazy suggestions such as leaving a thorn in one’s flesh, or urinating without holding one’s sexual ,(please discuss this with a serious and down to earth Talmid Chacham before putting into practice- they are usually not be taken at face value) it is hard to say that simple hygiene which so many people are lax about would be more important to Rabbi Yehuda than this consideration.
Perhaps this concern is what pushes Rashi to say that in his opinion, the prohibition of touching one’s sexual organ on our daf is not because of רוח רעה, but because of the concern for spilling semen in vain.
Other Rishonim who hold like Rashi’s initial suggestion might not rule like these extreme opinions- there is indeed some debate amongst Chazal around them, but that requires further analysis.
There is much to discuss on all these topics, and we shall have further opportunity to do this, Hashem willing, but I believe that in the context of the above discussion, a number of things can be argued:

  1. Whether the concern of Rabbi Yehuda was because of some sort of supernatural dangerous force or simple hygiene, it is clear that washing one’s hands before touching parts of the body that are conduits for infection is to be taken extremely seriously.
  2. Although extremely harsh and barbaric punishments such as cutting off people’s hands are certainly not meant to be the norm, Chazal were certainly open to any methods necessary to save society from chaos and anarchy.
  3. There is much to discuss regarding the nature, scope, and reasons for the prohibition of intentionally spilling seed in vain.
    For example, is the desire on the part of a married couple for non vaginal sex, a single male’s overpowering desire to masturbate occasionally for sexual release, fertility testing and treatment, or sex with a condom when needed , really considered spilling seed “in vain?”

Some Rishonim |(See Tosfos, Yevamos 34b and Rambam, introduction to 7’th chapter of Mishnayos Sanhedrin for example) certainly appear to limit the scope of the severe prohibition somewhat (for a future analysis, Hashem willing.)

However, it seems clear from this sugya (at least according to Rashi) and the sugya in Niddah, as well as other sources which we should get to discuss soon, Hashem willing, that even basic needs such as urinating , thorn removal, and checking oneself might be affected by concern for this prohibition ( at least according to certain Tannaim), a point raised by Rav Moshe Feinstein zt’l in a Teshuva )Even haEzer 1/63.)

This does seem to prove that the definition of “in vain” and its severity is somewhat broader than what some interpret the above Rishonim to mean.

One could attempt to counter Rav Moshe’s proof, and I have a possible idea of how to do so, but who wants to take on Rav Moshe….

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


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