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.

Eruvin 51 מדבר שקר תרחק and telling an untruth for people’s good

My next few daf posts, admittedly slightly behind, are dedicated in loving memory of our dear Rosh-Yeshiva of Yeshiva-college, South Africa, Moreinu haRav Avraham Tanzer of blessed memory, who passed-away peacefully last night in Johannesburg.

It is thanks to him, that I, and countless others, started on our journeys in Torah study as children, and that I, and so many others, have had a long and successful career in Torah Chinuch as adults.

I also hope to share in this forum some personal thoughts and experiences about my relationship with the Rosh-Yeshiva and what I have learned from him in the coming weeks, Hashem willing.

With wishes of comfort and a long and good life to his holy Rebbetzin, children, and grandchildren, and to all his family of students around the world.

Yoni Isaacson/Ramat Beit-Shemesh.

There is an incredible story with the two leading third generation Amoraim of Bavel, Rabbah and Rav Yosef, who were on a walking journey home on erev shabbos and realized that they would not make it to the techum of their homes before shabbos.

Rabbah relied on the leniency we have been discussing that allows a poor person ( a traveler being considered a poor person regarding this law) to set aside his shabbos base from a distance in a place that is within 2000 amos both of their current position and that of their home , thus allowing them to get home on shabbos.

Rav Yosef responded that he was not familiar with that place, and Rabbah suggested that he rely on the Beraisa that brings Rabbi Yosi’s view that if one of the travellors is not familiar with the designated place, his companion may declare the shabbos base on his behalf together with his.

The Gemara then notes that Rabbi Yossi was not really the author of the quoted Beraisa, but that Rabbah merely told Rav Yosef that he was in order that he would accept the ruling, given the stature of Rabbi Yossi.

We should note that Rav Yosef was not some newly religious zealot or regular community member who needed “permission” from a great Rav to do something .

He was Rabbah’s colleague, known also as רב יוסף סיני after his superior breadth of knowledge, as opposed to Rabbah who was known as עוקר הרים- ” an uprooter of mountains- after his superior analytical skills ( see Brachos 64a.)

It is simply mind boggling that Rabbah would attempt to mislead Rav Yosef in such a way and that Rav Yosef with his superior knowledge of Beraisa’s would be misled, unaware that the quoted Beraisa was not the view of Rabbi Yossi.

Whereas it is possible that this event occurred at the time in Rav Yosef’s life when illness had caused him to forget his learning (Nedarim 41a) , it seems beyond understanding how a leading sage like Rabbah, could “lie” about the authorship of a Beraisa to get Rav Yosef to listen .

The Torah is the ultimate truth, the true Kohain has the Torah of truth in his mouth (Malachi 2/6), the seal of Hashem is truth (Sanhedrin 64a) , and we are warned clearly in the Torah “מדבר שקר תרחק” – ” distance yourself from falsehood.” )Shmos 23/7)

This command is taken so seriously by Chazal that someone who knows the law is on his side but lacks 2 witnesses to testify in his favor is not permitted to bring a second witness just to stand there to strengthen the words of the other ( see Shvuos 31a)

We seem to see from here that truth is not simply a utilitarian means to an end but also a means in itself- even lying for the sake of justice is problematic.

Whereas the context of the passuk and the above quoted sugya is clearly focused on a court situation, the passuk is also interpreted in a broader sense as referring to gossip and talking falsehood in general (see Rishonim on the passuk and the discussion regarding a bride in Kesubos 17a for an example)

Despite the above, we cannot escape the fact that there are some exceptions to the command to stay away from falsehood.

Yaakov Avinu himself was told by his mother, presumably prophetically, to lie to his father about his identity.

Chazal too tell us that for the sake of peace, it is sometimes permitted not to tell the whole truth, and that even Hashem did so with Avraham and Sarah, the angel did with Manoach, and we erased Hashem’s name in the case of the Sotah, (Bamidbar Rabbah 11/6.)

They also taught that Torah Scholars are accustomed to “change” their story in 3 cases- regarding his personal life ( for modesty reasons,) regarding his hosts generosity( to prevent others from taking advantage of this generosity, and regarding his knowledge (for reasons of humility – (Bava Metzia 23b and Rashi there)

It appears that there are some values such as peace, humility, modesty and shielding others from being taken advantage of that are even higher values than telling the objective truth.

This does not apply to one’s own financial benefit, even when the law is on one’s side, as seen in the above quoted sugya in Shvuos, but does seem to apply in the above instances.

It seems from the case on our daf that this is the case when it comes to the welfare and/or convenience of one’s neighbor or colleague.

Given the extreme discomfort that being stringent would cause Rav Yosef, and possibly even some risk to his wellbeing, given his age and health, Rabbah was prepared to compromise on the absolute truth of the identity of the lenient opinion’s author, seeing as he was himself of that opinion in any case.

Given the various mitigating factors in this case, and the severity of making false statements in general, it is clear that extreme caution is required in applying this leniency to other situations, but we can certainly learn the importance of helping others be lenient when permitted in cases of inconvenience- as Chazal have taught us – כח דהתירא עדיף – the power of leniency is preferred )see eg brachos 60a), a principle that might be given new meaning by this story!

Rav Tanzer of blessed memory, embodied the combination of dedication to Torah, truth, and helping others that we learn from this story- It is see who spread the truth of Torah in South-Africa over almost 60 years, at first going from door to door begging parents to enroll their children in his once fledgling and now flourishing Torah school in an age where this was almost unthinkable for most parents.

Yet the same Rosh-Yeshiva was never unnecessarily stringent at other’s expense, and always applied the principle of כח דהתירא עדיף to make life as easy for people as the halacha allowed him to do, even if it meant following more lenient opinions that colleagues of his were uncomfortable with.

After all, if Rabbah went to such lengths for Rav Yosef whose spiritual motivation hardly needed protection, how much more so is this necessary in a time and place where undue stringency can hurt, chase away or burn-out the very people we try to bring near.

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 37 and 38 Yiftach’s daughter and ברירה

One of the many truly tragic stories in the Tanach is the case (Shoftim 11) of the daughter of the judge, Yiftach.

Yiftach rose from a difficult youth to become the leader of Israel. However, while he seemed to mean well, his lack of Torah scholarship was evident in what must surely go down as the most awful act of his life.

Before his final major military campaign recorded in Sefer Shoftim, the war against Amon, Yiftach promises Hashem that if he helps the campaign succeed, the first thing that exits the doors of his house to meet him on his triumphant return will be for Hashem, and he will offer it up as an עולה (burnt offering.)- וְהָיָה֙ לַֽיקֹוָ֔ק וְהַעֲלִיתִ֖הוּ עוֹלָֽה:

When he returns, his daughter comes out enthusiastically to greet him, and instead of enthusiastically embracing her, he tells her the awful news that his vow applies to her.

Despite her pleas, he is adamant that he is unable to go back on his vow, and after she is given 2 months of freedom in the mountains, we are told that he does what he had vowed to do to her.

There is much discussion amongst Chazal and the Rishonim as whether he actually killed her and offered her as a sacrifice, or whether he made her live a life of isolation and chastity, as well as regarding whether his vow was indeed binding or not.

After all, a vow to commit a transgression is generally invalid, and murder is certainly a transgression. In addition, a human being is not a valid “object” of a burnt offering, or any other sacrifice for that matter.

Furthermore, human sacrifice in general and child sacrifice specifically is condemned by the Torah.

It is also highly unlikely that Yiftach really considered the possibility that his daughter would be the one his vow would apply to (though it does seem strange that he did not do so, given its seemingly high probability), and this could make it an example of a halachically invalid type of commitment known as אסמכתא.

Chazal (Taanis 4) severely criticize Yiftach for not going to Pinchas to have his vow annulled, and Pinchas for not reaching out to him to do so.

Ironically, however, the implication of this is that at least according to this view, the vow was indeed valid.

One possible reason for this “vow” to be invalid might be related to the sugya of ברירה , which dominates our daf, and can also be found in many other places in the Shas.

The Mishna on 36a tells us that a person who is not sure which direction he will need to walk more than 2000 amos in on Shabbos, may place 2 “conditional” eruvin at the end of each side of his shabbos domain and stipulate the conditions under which each one will be valid.

For example, if he suspects that a Torah scholar is coming to visit and he wishes to walk more than 2000 amos to greet him, but is not sure from which direction he will come, he may stipulate that “ if he comes from the east, the eruv in the east will be valid, if he comes from the west, the eruv in the west will be valid, if one comes from each direction, I can choose which way to go, and if one does not come at all, neither eruv is valid and my shabbos zone remains as is.”

Rabbi Yehuda agrees with the above but stipulates that if a Torah scholar comes from both sides and one is his Rabbi, the eruv in the direction from which his Rabbi is coming is valid. If they are both his Rabbis, Rabbi Yehuda agrees that he may choose which one to greet.

The Gemara understands that this is an example of a קנין (transaction) or חלות (status change) that is dependent on a future event, known as ברירה.

Unlike a regular conditional transaction which is dependant on a future event happening or not, this is a transaction where the uncertainty is not based on a future event taking place, but on the object to which this future event takes place.

In our case, the eruv food on which the legal mechanism of Eruv Techumim will fall is not determined at the time of the setting up of the eruv, or even at the time of its activation, during twilight of Erev Shabbos, but later on, retroactively, based on which direction the scholar comes from.

Although Rabbi Yehuda appears to agree with the Tana Kama that such a legal status change is valid, the Gemara notes that in other places, he clearly holds that such a mechanism does not work – a legal status change can not be applied to an item which is undetermined at the time of the status change.

Another example brought in the Gemara , from a Mishna, is the case of someone who buys wine from a כותי , also known as Samaritans.

These were the settlers with whom the Assyrians replaced the exiled 10 tribes of Israel in the Northern kingdom of Israel, who took on belief in Hashem after a plague of lions.

Their status as Jews was debated amongst Chazal, and at the time of this case, or according to the sages quoted here, were considered Jewish.

However, they were apparently not trusted when it came to separating tithes, and one who bought wine from them needed to separate them before drinking the wine.

The quoted Mishna discussed a case where the person wishes to drink the wine, but has not got sufficient vessels into which to pour the various tithes, and suggests a method whereby he may drink the wine already before these tithes are physically separated.

Unlike solid products, where it might be feasible to simply set aside a certain area of the basket full as tithes, liquids are by definition mixed together, and this not possible.

Yet Rabbi Meir expresses the view that one may make a conditional declarations, saying that whatever part of the mixture he will separate for each tithe in the correct amount will be considered retroactively to have been separated from now already.

After this, he may drink the wine, obviously leaving enough for the seperation.

In contrast, Rabbi Yehuda, Rabbi Yossi, and Rabbi forbid this.

The Gemara understands this debate to be about whether there is ברירה or not, in other words whether one may affect a conditional status change on parts of the wine before the specific part of the liquid mixture that this status change is to be applied to has been determined.

In order to reconcile Rabbi Yehuda with his view regarding Eruvin that there is ברירה, Ulah reads the Mishna in a way that Rabbi Yehuda agrees with Rabbi Meir’s permissive opinion!

There is also a suggestion on 37b that we rely on ברירה in rabbinical matters but not in biblical ones.

Coming back to the case of Yiftach, putting aside all the other issues that we raised, this seems at face value to be a typical case of ברירה.

Yiftach essentially effected a status change, from חולין (unsanctified) to הקדש (sanctified) on whichever חפצא (item) would later emerge first from his home to greet him.

This “item” later tragically turned out to be his daughter, but at the time of the vow, was not yet determined.

If this is true, it seems strange that I have struggled to find primary sources that link his conundrum to such a famous dispute.

Perhaps the difference lies in when the actual status change is to be affected.

In typical cases of ברירה , the status change is to be applied retroactively from the time of the condition.

If that was not the case, the eruv would not be valid at the critical time of twilight, and the wine would still be טבל (untithed produce) at the time when he drinks it!

Perhaps the debate around ברירה is limited to whether a status change can fall retroactively at the time the condition is made.

However, in a case where this is not the intention, maybe such a conditional pledge could be valid?

It seems clear from the story that Yiftach never intended for the first “item” to leave his house to be sanctified retroactively, or even to be automatically sanctified from the time of emerging from the house.

Otherwise, he would not have been able to give her 2 months of freedom!

It appears more likely that his was simply a vow that he would later apply a status change to whatever item left his house first.

As such, there is no need to apply ברירה in order to make the status change valid.

He would simply be bound by his initial vow to LATER bring about that status change by declaring that “item” הקדש .

Seeing as the status change itself is not based on anything he said at the time when the item was undetermined, but on his later keeping his vow and sanctifying the item AFTER it had been determined, there is no issue of ברירה at all.

In order to test this theory, a thorough study of all the different sugyas relating to ברירה is necessary, something we will hopefully have a chance to do as we progress through the daf yomi cycle!

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 32 Halachic compromises for the greater good

Eruvin 32 Halachic compromises for the greater good

One of the greatest challenges facing Rabbis, educators, and religious outreach groups in our times is treading the line between the tolerant and open approach needed to bring and keep people close to Torah, and avoiding or limiting halachik compromises at the same time.

For example, many traditional shuls are based on the idea that the service inside is run on Orthodox lines but many people drive to shul on shabbos- Is a Rabbi permitted or supposed to encourage people to come to shul knowing full well that they will drive?

One of the greatest tools in the “kiruv” toolkit is sharing the incredible shabbos meal experience with those less observant, hereby drawing them closer themselves (in addition to the mitzva of הכנסת אורחים  [hospitality] , אהבת שלום בין אדם לחבירו , and so much more.)

Is it right to invite non-observant guests for shabbos meals for the above reasons, even if one knows that they will drive?

Sometimes, the Rabbi, educator, or kiruv worker is faced himself with the “need” to make halachik compromises of his own for the greater spiritual good of others- this is very common when it comes to being present in places where the standards of modesty are not in keeping with those of a place where he is normally permitted or encouraged to be present, or in interfaith or multi-denominational environments.

In come congregations, compromises might need to be made regarding the height or even presence of a partition between men and women, in order to encourage people to come.

Often, spiritual duties might require one to move one’s family to a small community with limited religious infrastructure, in order to bring spiritual life to that community.

There are many who take the approach that one’s own spirituality and halachik obligations always come first, and that compromising on those for the sake of someone else’s spirituality is not acceptable.

They might also take a stringent approach regarding encouraging others to do something in the long-term interests of their spiritual development, if it involves their desecrating shabbos or other commandments in order to do so, even if they are not shabbos observant in any case.

Others take a more “long-term” approach, stretching or even violating certain laws for the greater good of their own or other’s long-term spiritual survival, or to prevent them or others from an even worse prohibition.

Neither approach is straight-forward, and the correct Torah approach to this can probably be found in a spectrum between these two extremes, depending very much on the circumstances, and of course, how certain primary sources are to be interpreted- A great understanding of the relevant sources, and a lot of יראת שמים  (fear of heaven) are required to be able to make such decisions.

A discussion on our daf forms one of the most important Talmudic sources on the subject.

The case discussed is where a חבר (learned person) tells an עם הארץ   (ignorant person ) to fill up a basket of produce for himself from his farm.

The question is whether it may be assumed that the person first separated the required tithes, thus making it unnecessary to separate them before eating, or not.

Rebbe and his father, Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel, disagree on this.

Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel is of the view that we should not assume that tithes have been separated.

That is because there is a rabbinical decree against separating tithes in one place for produce in another, and we should thus not suspect the חבר  of having done so.

Rebbe counters that seeing as the עם הארץ  eating untithed produce is a far more stringent, biblical prohibition, we should assume that the חבר  compromised on the rabbinical requirement and separated tithes from a  distance after he gave permission to the עם הארץ  to collect the produce.

The Gemara seems to understand that according to Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel, it is forbidden to transgress a less severe prohibition in order to prevent someone else from transgressing a more serious prohibition.

In contrast, Rebbe seems to hold that it is permitted to transgress a less severe prohibition in order to prevent someone else from transgressing a more serious one.

Rebbe was so confident in his ruling, that he said that his view seemed more logical than his father’s. Although it seems obvious that he felt that way (otherwise he would not have disagreed with him,) it is possible that Rebbe was making this statement using his authority as sealer of the Mishna, indicating that his approach is the final word.

To what extent this is a general rule, as opposed to a more limited concession, requires serious analysis.

As Tosfos points out, it is clear that this cannot be the case under all circumstances.

We know this from a famous case (Shabbos 4a) where the Gemara discussed someone who unknowingly placed unbaked bread in the oven on shabbos.

One suggestion briefly entertained there was that someone else could be permitted to remove it before it becomes baked to the point that the first person will have desecrated shabbos.

It seems  that we were not dealing with loaves of bread baked in baking pans, but a pita-style bread that was placed directly on the oven floor or rack.

As a result, removing the bread from the oven (רדית הפת) was considered a skilled activity rabbinically forbidden on shabbos.

The Gemara unequivocally rejected that suggestion, taking for granted that אין אומרים לאדם חטא כדי שיזכה חברו – we do not tell someone to sin in order that his friend should get merit.

In both cases, we are discussing transgressing a rabbinical prohibition in order to save someone else from transgressing a biblical one, yet in our case, Rebbe disagrees with his father and permits it, while in the case in Shabbos, there is no dissent and it is clearly forbidden.

In truth, there are many other places where halachik compromises seem to be permitted for greater objectives,  among them:

1.       Even though freeing a Canaanite slave was forbidden, it was permitted  (or more narrowly interpreted) under certain circumstances to allow him to fulfill the great mitzva of פרו ורבו (Gittin 41b)  or to allow him to make a minyan (Brachos 47b.)

2.       Greeting one’s neighbor with Hashem’s name was permitted (Brachos 54a) based on the verse עת לעשות לה’ הפרו תורותיך   (it is a time to act for Hashem, go against his Torah (Tehillim 119/126).)  The value of making Hashem’s name a vessel of peace seems to have overridden the concern of saying his name in vain or alternatively, redefined it as not being in vain.

3.       The sons of Shaul was put to death for their role in the starvation of the Givonim, in order to avoid a Chillul Hashem( Yevamos 79a- (“מוטב שיעקר אות אחת מן התורה ואל יתחלל שם שמים בפרהסיא”

4.       One of the sources (albeit rejected as the primary source) for permitting the desecration of Shabbos to save a life  (Yoma 85b)  is in order to allow him to keep many more shabbosim in the future (חלל עליו שבת אחת כדי שישמור שבתות הרבה ) – it is possible that this applies not only to preventing physical danger to life, but also preventing  a life-time of non-observance of shabbos, a discussion that comes up in various halachik discussions on the subject.

In our two cases, the Baalei Tosfos offer two ways of reconciliation:

1.       The fundamental difference between the two cases is that in our case, the חבר  is the one who initially put the other person in danger of sinning- as such, he is permitted to transgress a lesser prohibition in order to fix up what he did.  According to this approach, there is no general permission to transgress a lighter prohibition to save someone else from a more serious one, except in a case where one is guilty of causing him to perform that more severe prohibition.

2.       Based on various other sugyas, Tosfos takes issue with the former explanation, and takes a different approach. Here, the general rule is that one is permitted to transgress a lighter prohibition to prevent someone else transgressing a more serious one, except in a case where that person was negligent in the first place, like in the case where he put something into the oven at a time that even he knew was very close to shabbos.

These two approaches obviously have huge ramifications for our discussion in general, and whichever approach is accepted, it will be important to define clear criteria for what is considered a light or severe transgression. This could be based on various factors, among them

1.       Whether it is biblical or rabbinical

2.       The severity of the punishment

3.       Whether it harms someone else or not

4.       How many people are affected

5.       Whether each prohibition is relatively short- term or long-term

6.       How many prohibitions are entailed

There is so much more to discuss, but hopefully this serves a reasonable introduction to what is a very complex and important issue.

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 12-13 Tolerance, the origins of dispute, and “”אלו ואלו

In the Mishna on 12b, there is a 3-way dispute between Beis Shamai, Beis Hillel, and Rabbi Eliezer, regarding what is required to mark the open fourth side of a מבוי closed on the other 3 sides.

Whereas we have been working until now under the correct assumption that the lenient view requiring only one post on either side is authoritative, we see that though this is the view of Beis Hillel, Beis Shamai require a post and a beam, and Rabbi Eliezer requires 2 posts, one on each side.

In an early post )Shabbos 130b), we discussed the way Rabbi Eliezer was referred to by the Gemara there as a שמותי , a term that the Yerushalmi quoted in the second explanation in Rashi there, as well as in Tosfos, understood to mean that he belonged to Beis Shamai.

However, as we also know )Avos 2/9) that Rabbi Eliezer was one of the greatest students of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai, who received his tradition from both Hillel and Shamai, it is very possible that he had influence from the scions of both houses.

In this Mishna, it seems that Rabbi Eliezer was neither bound completely to either Beis Hillel or Beis Shamai, but fiercely independent.

This is somehow despite the fact that he took such pride in the fact that he never said anything that he never heard from his Rabbi (Sukkah 28a.)

This can be explained by the fact that his tradition came directly from Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai who learnt from both Hillel and Shamai, as mentioned above, and thus sometimes was in line with Beis Shamai and sometimes with Beis Hillel.

It can also be that what he meant was not that he heard every precise ruling from his Rebbe, but that he always followed the methodology he learnt from his Rebbe, no matter what conclusion it led to, thus ironically adding to his independence in the realm of practical halacha.

It is a common experience that independents, despite often being revered on both sides of the aisle, usually struggle for acceptance on either side.

Perhaps Rabbi Eliezer was both great and confident enough to have his feet in both worlds, but still able to interpret the Torah and rule according to his own view, even taking a separate stand from both strong “councils of sages.”

Even for the usually tolerant members of Beit Hillel, despite his having learnt from some of their teachers, he was never “Beis Hillel” enough, but a “שמותי”

This independence and consequent lack of acceptance came to a head in the case of the stove of Achnai (Bava Metzia 59b), where his refusal to accept the majority opinion of all the other sages resulted in his virtually unprecedented excommunication, which according to the first explanation in the above-quoted Rashi, was the reason for his being called a שמותי”” , from the word “שמתא” (excommunication.)

The truth is that lacking the safety in numbers that members of both main parties tend to have, independents often suffer the most, and are treated more harshly by members of the dominant party than members of the opposition are treated, even if their ideologies are somewhere in-between.

Whereas Rabbi Eliezer’s independence was virtually stamped out by his colleagues, who burnt all the things that he had declared pure, Beis Hillel are lauded towards the end of daf 13b for their respectful attitude to the views of Beis Shamai, not only quoting their views, but even mentioning them before their own, as illustrated in a Mishna in Sukkah brought by our Gemara.

My beloved son, Noam, asked me the other night, while learning mishnayos Shabbos together, why Beis Shamai are mentioned first so often in Mishnayos even though Beis Hillel are more authoritative.

I answered that this could very well be a reflection of this tolerant attitude first illustrated in the Mishna in sukkah quoted by our Gemara, which Rabbi Yehuda haNasi, a direct descendant of Hillel, carried on when he compiled the Mishna.

This tolerance of the other side, is given in our Gemara as the reason that the view of Beis Hillel became normatively accepted over that of Beis Shamai- In order for one’s view to be accepted, it seems important that one is open-minded, respectful, and confident enough to hear, consider, and even quote dissenting views. This shows that this view was acquired after fully considering all sides and without automatically putting down the other side and is thus a view worthy of acceptance.

Our Gemara points out that this preference given to Beis Hillel was not because the rulings of Shamai were not legitimate, but rather for the above reason- objectively speaking, “אלו ואלו דברי אלוקים חיים”-“these and those are the words of the living G-d!”

It might seem logically impossible that two seemingly contradictory views can both be considered objectively part of the divine Torah, but this seems to be precisely what the Gemara is saying.

The Torah is the word of the “living G-d” and thus constantly branching off into different explanations and possibilities.

So long as different views are all based on the “מסורה”, that living chain of transmission that goes back to Moshe at Sinai, it is not so much the actual conclusion that makes them legitimate, but the way that was achieved.

Not every alternative view has halachik legitimacy- only those that can be justified based on previous stages in the tradition.

Both Beis Hillel and Beis Shamai were required to back their views up with pessukim in the Torah, or oral traditions dating back to Moshe at Sinai, and the same applies to those that come after them.

It is not tolerance alone that gave Beis Hillel their authority, as reading this sugya in isolation might imply. In other places, their authority is derived on their greater numbers and on the “voice from heaven” )see Eruvin 7a for example) that proclaimed that the halacha is like them.

In fact, in the earlier sugya in this masechta, it seems that before this voice from heaven, one was permitted to choose which one of these great schools of Torah to follows, and that according to those who did not consider a voice from heaven to be authoritative, such as none other than Rabbi Yehoshua himself, this was permitted even after this voice from heaven, despite the other factors in Beis Hillel’s favor!


We have explained the idea of “אלו ואלו” with the understanding that in matters subject to debate, there is no objectively true answer, but both sides are legitimate “Torah”- the superiority of Beis Hillel is only practical, and as a result of the traits they possess, their superior numbers, and the voice from heaven.

Yet the Rambam appears to limit this idea significantly.

According to him (Mamrim 1/4), matters mentioned explicitly in the Torah or received orally through tradition tracing back to Moshe’s revelation at Sinai are never subject to debate.

Only matters that are derived though Chazal’s use of the rules for interpreting the Torah, can be subject to debate.

Even the later, were subject to the final ruling of the great court, so long as that court was still functioning, and debate was only legitimate until such a ruling was given.

Once it ceased to function, such matters that had not yet been resolved became subject to debate again.

Given that many or most of the disputes between Beis Shamai and Beis Hillel occurred at a time when the great court was still functioning, it follows that these disputes were subject to a final ruling by that court.

It is those rulings, according to the Rambam, not the tolerance of Beis Hillel or the voice from heaven, that were authoritative.

This fits well with the view that the main reason for their greater authority was their superior numbers, which would have allowed them to dominate the great court they were part of.

How the Rambam would explain the other reasons given for their authority, is subject to further analysis- it is possible, that as might often be his way, he simply regarded one source to be more authoritative in keeping with other accepted rules of halacha, and rules accordingly.

It is also possible that it is precisely that tolerance and extra willingness to engage in respectful debate that swung the majority of the Sanhedrin, including the “independents” towards their side, and that the “voice from heaven” was the מכה בפטיש (final blow) that brought them to this decision.

This also explains the harsh treatment meted out to Rabbi Eliezer by the members of Beis Hillel.

According to the Rambam above, even matters that were subject to dispute, were eventually concluded by the Sanhedrin while it functioned , and thereafter, no-one had the authority to act to the contrary.

Their opinions were still recorded out of respect, but they were now out of the realm of accepted halacha.

They might still have theoretical value in the study-halls, and even be considered “the words of the living G-d,” but the option for anyone to rule accordingly was now closed.

It follows that in post Sanhedrin times, debate in practical halacha is possible once again, and there is no threat of excommunication for those who follow their own or other minority views, but only in matters that had not already been decided by the Sanhedrin, and in matters that fit the Rambam’s strict criteria for debate.

If so, given that the Talmud itself was sealed by Ravina and Rav Ashi long after the Sanhedrin had ceased to function, how do we explain the universally accepted binding authority given to it by all followers of the מסורות?

We will have to leave this for a difference discussion, but a good place to start is the introduction of the Rambam himself to the Mishna Torah, the great masterwork we just quoted from.

Does everyone agree with the Rambam’s strict criteria regarding which matters are subject to debate, and does the huge collection of debates scattered throughout the Mishna and the Gemara back up this very strong claim? This too, will need to be left for a later discussion.

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.

Shmuli Phillips Ari Kahn Johnny Solomon

Eruvin 2 Introduction, Technical measurements and clean language.

I was discussing my daf posts with my friend and colleague, Rabbi Matthew Liebenberg of Claremont Shul, Cape-Town, and he tried to warn me that keeping up the pace and variety of posts will be much more challenging when we get to Eruvin, which is known as a particularly complicated and technical masechta.

Though I could not deny that I share a degree of concern, I replied that Eruvin is actually one of my “favorite” tractates, assuming it is possible or appropriate to say such a thing. In addition to being filled with fascinating and extremely practical rules essential to understanding the practicalities of Eruv building, something almost all of us need to know, it also contains many general ideas and topics that apply to all of Torah holistically.

This combination of material typical of the Gemara can be found right here on the first daf as well.

The thrust of the first daf deals with the technical requirements for a quiet side-street or alley to be considered a private domain on Shabbos.

The typical neighborhood in the times of Chazal (as can still be seen in some older neighborhoods of Yerushalayim) consisted of a מבוי – a short and narrow side-street or alley which opened to the main public thoroughfare on 1 or 2 sides.

Various חצרות (courtyards) opened to this central מבוי and each courtyard had houses that opened to it.

מדאורייתא ( at a biblical level,) any area enclosed on 3 sides (the exact number of sides/partitions is subject to debate later) was considered a private domain, and carrying within it was permitted.

As such, as far as biblical law is concerned, it is permitted to carry from one house to another within the courtyard, from one courtyard to another within the common מבוי , or within the courtyards or מבוי , so long as the מבאי is only open on one side to the public domain.

If the מבוי is open on two sides to the public domain, it is more complex, as the מבוי itself could be considered part of it.

Our Mishna and sugya deals with a מבוי that is closed on 3 sides and only open on one side to the public domain.

We see later that there is a rabbinical requirement to symbolically mark or enclose such a מבוי with either a pole on one side, or a beam going from one side to the other (there is some debate about these precise requirements as well.)

Our Mishna focusses on the maximum height that this pole or beam may be, as well as the maximum width of the open side, and rules that if they are higher than 20 amos (arm-lengths/cubits) or wider than 10 amos respectively, they need to be lowered or narrowed.

Rabbi Yehuda disagrees and says there is no such requirement.

It is unclear from the Mishna whether Rabbi Yehuda holds that the fourth side can be of infinite height or width, or whether he too places a limit on this, but simply a higher or wider one, but it would seem that if the later is correct, one could have expected him to say what this limit is.

The Gemara notes that a similar maximum height is discussed regarding a Sukkah (Sukkah 2a,) but the language used there is different.

Whereas in our case, we are told that a מבוי that is too high needs to be lowered, regarding Sukkah, we are simply told that it is פסול (invalid.)

As in both cases, lowering it is both compulsory and effective, the difference in language needs to be explained, and the parallel sugya in sukkah asks the very same question and gives the very same answers.

Two answers are given :

  1. Seeing as the Sukkah is דאורייתא (biblical,) the Mishna uses the word “invalid.” As the pole or beam of aמבוי are only rabbinical requirements, the mishna simply tells us the תקנתיה (solution.)
  2. The later language is also appropriate in theory for the biblical requirement of Sukkah, but seeing as a Sukkah has multiple constraints, each requiring a different solution, the Mishna chooses one word that applies to all of them, for the sake of brevity. Rashi explains that this is based on the principle (Pesachim 3b) that one should always teach one’s students using concise language.

There are various approaches in the Rishonim as to how to understand the first answer.

Rashi seems to understand that when the Gemara contrasts the biblical Sukkah with the rabbinical מבוי , it is not referring to the actual requirement of dwelling in a Sukkah or putting a pole or beam on a מבוי, even though the distinction certainly applies to that as well, but to the maximum height of the Sukkah and the מבוי.

We derive the maximum height of a sukkah from a verse in the Torah: למען ידעו דורותיכם כי בסוכות הושבתי את בני ישראל (“So that your generations will know that I placed the Jewish people in sukkot” -Vayikra 23/43.)- the Sukkah has to be low enough for the roof to be noticed.

As such, this requirement predates the writing down of the mishna by far, and it is appropriate to say that it is already invalid.

In contrast, the requirement to mark a מבוי with a pole or a beam itself is only rabbinical and its maximum dimensions are also. Seeing as the Mishna is the first to teach us these maximum dimensions, it is not appropriate to label the מבוי as already invalid but only to tell us how to solve the issue from the beginning.

This explanation has various difficulties, but I shall not dwell on them in this post.

Tosfos understands the answer a little differently- Due to the strict biblical requirements of sukkah, we are concerned that using a softer language would make us think that the requirement to fix it up is only לכתחילה (in the first place,) but if one sat in the sukkah without making these corrections, one would fulfill the mitzva still בדיעבד (post-facto.)

As such, the harsher language is preferred.

In the case of Eruvin, seeing as the requirement is only rabbinical, we are less concerned that a person might make this error, and we choose to use the softer language, in keeping with the principle (Pesachim 3a) that it is always best to use לישנא מעליה (positive language ) where possible.

We see that there are 3 principles at work here, which sometimes need to be traded off against each other, and it is fascinating to note that both Rashi and Tosfos refer to the same sugya in Pesachim which discusses 2 of these principles and the trade-off between them, but for completely opposite purposes.

  1. Language needs to be נקיה (clean), and that doesn’t just mean avoiding foul language but specifically choosing לשון מעליא (positive language.)
  2. Language needs to be concise (probably to make it easier to comprehend and remember.)
  3. Language needs to be clear or strong enough to convey the historical timeline of the law (Rashi) or the stringency of the law (Tosfos)

According to the first answer in the Gemara, the third factor over-rides the first factor, and strength of message over-rides the need for positive language.

According to the second answer in the Gemara, either positive language still takes priority over strength of message, or the positive language given is still considered appropriate or strong enough to give over the importance of the message.

However, the second factor certainly takes priority over the first, and concise direct language is preferred over positive language, as is indeed the conclusion of the above-quoted sugya in Pesachim.

There is lots more to say about the requirements for language to be clean, concise, and strong enough and how they trade-off with each other, but we have certainly seen on this first daf how the Gemara is able to focus on the one hand on specific and technical rules relating to the subject at hand, and at the same time teach us multiple principles that could apply to every aspect of our lives!

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 156 Astrology, Mazal, and acceptable risk-taking

In an earlier post (Shabbos 129,) I promised to find an opportunity to deal with a fascinating sugya on that daf that I was not able to cover at the time.

The grand finale of Shabbos is here, and with it, on the penultimate daf, the opportunity has come to revisit the question of mazal and astrology, as well as its relevance to risk-taking.

First, lets go back to 129b, where The Gemara rules that for astrological reasons, it is dangerous to let blood on a Tuesday, and one should thus avoid it.

This is because “Mars” is dominant during even hours of the day, and the combination of the dangers of זוגות (pairs- see Pesachim 109b) and Mars makes it a particularly dangerous time for doing so.

The Gemara points out that it is equally dangerous on a Friday, but notes that seeing as it has become the norm for people to do so, it is not forbidden, and we apply the verse שומר פתאים השם”“ -Hashem protects the foolish.” )Tehillim 116/7)

Rashi explains that people are under pressure to let blood before shabbos, seeing as the large fish eaten on shabbos helps to replenish one’s blood supply, and they thus accepted the risk, which made it permitted.

This “leniency” has been applied by various later authorities to permitted engaging in activities with some level of risk, if the population of a whole has voted with their feet that the need for the activity outweighs the risk, and rely on the fact that Hashem will or at least might protect them.

In truth, it is clear from the everyday life described in the Mishna and Gemara that people took calculated risks in their day to day life, particularly while pursuing their livelihoods, and going to study Torah or perform other mitzvos, and with the exception of situations of clear and definite danger, this was barely criticized.

We find that workers said Shema while working up in trees or building platforms )Brachos 16a), and do not see any suggestion that they should not take the risk of working in such risky positions in the first place.

Although travel in general, and going out to sea in particular, was fraught with dangers, to the point that one said a prayer for a safe journey and sometimes said a special blessing of thanks (הגומל) when returning, we do not see any prohibitions against doing so.

Yet using our case of the bloodletting as a precedent is extremely problematic, as it assumes that danger or assumed danger based on astrological factors is equivalent to physically observable danger.

While it is true that even “rationalists” such as Meiri (Shabbos 129b) seem to have believed that certain effects of the stars alignment were not supernatural at all but simply a part of nature, it would be almost impossible to entertain such a suggestion in light of today’s scientific knowledge.

Even if we assume that Chazal, or some Chazal truly believed in the power of the stars, and even if we ourselves followed that belief to the extent that Chazal seem to have permitted doing so, it is clear from the Gemara that the concern regarding blood-letting had to do with the general concern of things that go in זוגות (pairs,) and Chazal were very clear that in times where people were not concerned about them, their effect was also negligible (see Pesachim 110b.)

It therefore stands to reason that if דשו בו רבים (the people have ignored the concern,) the danger is simply not there anymore, and one can then rely on Hashem’s protection (why the term “fools” would then relevant, does admittedly required some explanation.)

However, with physically observable dangers, simply ignoring them does not make them go away at all- the risk remains the same.

As such, although for the others reasons mentioned above, it is clear that society-drawn lines in acceptable risk-taking certainly are a factor, it seems less clear that this particular case where the principle of דשו בו is mentioned could serve as any real proof for the existence of this line and where it be drawn

Despite the above, this sugya and its idea of כוין דדשו בו רבים, שומר פתיים ה seems to have become the gold standard for evaluating what risks are acceptable as part of daily life, and those of us who prefer to see the entire idea as metaphorical, in the line of Rambam’s usual methodology with such things, could perhaps simply relate to the entire precedent as metaphorical for publically accepted risk.


Our daf begins its long discussion on the subject of “mazal” with the views of two Amoraim, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi and Rabbi Chanina, who both hold that the time that a person is born plays a major impact on their personality and their future.

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi held that the day of the week on which a person was borne was the critical factor, whereas Rabbi Chanina held that it was the star/planet dominant at the time of birth that was significant.

One often-quoted example of the later, that has its origins here, is the idea that someone born under מאדים (Mars -the red planet) will be predisposed to spilling blood (note the reference to red or blood in its name.)

Rav Ashi comments that such a person could either be blood-letter, a thief (according to Rashi, a robber who kills people), a butcher, or a moheil.

Even if we follow a literal reading of this passage, It seems to follow from this comment that although Rabbi Chanina believes that a person’s personality is predetermined by his “mazal,” what he does with his personality traits is not preordained, and he may choose to use them for good or for bad. (I have taken the liberty of assuming that this is Rav Ashi’s intention, though it is also possible that Rav Ashi is not suggesting that a person has a choice in the matter, but simply that these are all possible things that a person’s fate might lead him to become if he was borne under this “mazal.”

The Gemara narrates how the leading Amora of his time, Rabbah, had objected to this claim of Rabbi Chanina, pointing out that he was borne under the mazal of “mars” and was certainly not a spiller of blood.

His student, Abaya, retorted that Rabbah himself had also punished and killed before.

The simple meaning of this is that it is a reference to Rabbah’s role as a judge, which we know from a recent daf (Shabbos 153) was known to have been particular uncompromising, to the point that the people of his home-town Pumbedita “hated” him.

Although there was no capital or corporal punishment in Rabbah’s time, and his main authority was in monetary matters and verbal rebuke (the later being stressed by Rashi over there,) it is possible that he made use of the permission given to the courts to hand out exceptional capital or corporal sentences when deemed necessary for the stability of society, a rule formulated (Sanhedrin 46a) as ב”ד מכין ועונשין שלא מן התורה .

Another possibility is that this refers to the case (Megila 7b) where Rabbah, while making a Purim feast together with Rabbi Zeira, attempted to follow the reported dictum לאבסומי בפוריא(to drink wine on Purim to the point of inability to distinguish between “cursed is Haman” and “blessed is Mordechai.”)

The Gemara related how he became inebriated, and in his stupor, slaughtered Rabbi Zeira, his co-host.

The Rabbis prayed for mercy and Rabbi Zeira survived (or came back to life, depending how the story is interpreted), but the lesson was learnt the next year by Rabbi Zeira, who declined Rabbah’s invitation to feast together once more.

If this is what Abaya was referring to, it could be that even if a person is able through his sheer greatness to completely control his predetermined personality to the point that it does not impact at all on his actions, it remains dormant and asserts itself at times when the person is under the influence.

It might be possible for those who reject there being any truth in astrology (the Rambam being the prime example) to interpret this entire sugya symbolically, and say that all reference to the stars or days of the week are simply metaphors for a person’s innate personality traits, which people cannot totally change, but can certainly direct towards good or bad.

However, the precise wording of the statements, and the continuation of the sugya, which brings various stories to illustrate the power of astrology and of tzedakah to change it, does seem to show that Chazal did indeed believe in it, even if they held it was forbidden to base one’s actions on it.

The Gemara brings the statement of Rabbi Chanina, that “mazal causes wisdom, mazal wealth, and יש מזל לישראל (there is Mazal for Israel.)

In contrast, Rabbi Yochanan rules in contrast that there is no “mazal” for Israel, a position that Rav Shmuel, and even Rabbi Akiva himself are then shown to have accepted.

The view of Rabbi Yochanan that “there is no mazal for Israel “could initially be understood in various ways:

i. The Jewish people simply do not believe in the power of astrology at all.

ii. The idea of Mazal does apply to people in general, but the Jewish people are completely unaffected by it.

iii. Although everyone can be affected by Mazal, the Jewish people are able to change their mazal through repentance and good deeds, such as giving צדקה (charity.)

The stories brought from Rav, Shmuel, and Rabbi Akiva respectively to illustrate and support the view of Rabbi Yochanan are both examples of cases where a Jewish person’s “astrology” predicted something, yet it did not come to pass.

Rav interprets the passuk ויוצא אותו החוצה (and he took him outside) to mean that Hashem took Avraham Avinu out of the limits of his astrological fate, which involved remaining childless, by realigning the stars so that they should let him have a child.

By deriving from this statement that Rav agrees with Rabbi Yochanan’s rule of אין מזל לישראל, the Gemara indicates that Rabbi Yochanan accepts the power of the stars, believes that even Jews are technically subject to it,

yet holds that when they deserve it, Hashem intervenes and changes their “mazal” in their favor.

The next story, involves the leading Amora Shmuel sitting next to a lake with Avleit, identified by Rashi as a non-Jewish wise-man and astrologer.

Some people headed into the lake, and Avleit predicted based on the stars, that a specific one of them would not return, but would be attacked by a snake and die.

Shmuel commented that if the man was Jewish, he would return safely.

The man indeed returned as Shmuel predicted, and they found a snake inside his bag, cut into two!

Shmuel asked him what he done to merit this miracle this, and replied by describing an act of chesed he had done.

Shmuel went out and used this case to apply the passuk וצדקה תציל ממות – “charity saves from death.” )Mishlei 10/2;11/4)

It seems clear from this story that Shmuel also believed that Jews were also subject to the power of the stars, but they could bypass this power through their good deeds!

A look at the final story, the famous case of Rabbi Akiva’s daughter on her wedding day, seems to reveal the same conclusion. As such, it seems clear why Rashi chose this rather limited way of explaining the idea of אין מזל לישראל.

Putting all the modern scientific evidence against the entire concept of the star’s power aside for a moment, the biggest issue with this belief comes from our own classical sources.

The Torah) Devarim 18/1) warns us against superstitious beliefs and practices, including מעונן , which is identified among others things (Sanhedrin 65b) as believing that certain times are good for certain things, something that sounds a lot like astrology.

Those who take a more literal view of our sugya need to address this prohibition, and show somehow that astrology is different, perhaps because it is a part of nature itself and not supernatural, an idea entertained at least for a short time by the Meiri (Shabbos 129b.)

Those who take this prohibition at face value and hold that it refers to astrology might differentiate between believing in the power of the stars, which is legitimate, and basing one’s actions on what they predict, which is not. They could hold that because a Jew is able to change his mazal through his actions, he needs to do exactly that rather than follow what his mazal says blindly.

This view is extremely problematic, seeing as a person has no way of knowing whether his deeds will be good enough to merit this intervention, and it is forbidden in any case to rely on miracles- after all, even Yaakov Avinu was afraid of Esav, according to Chazal (Brachos 4a) because he feared that his sins would stop him from meriting the divine protection promised to him.

How could one then rely on Hashem’s intervention and perform an action against his astrologer’s advice?

Alternatively, one could assume that the halachic sugyas that deal with the prohibition against astrology are the עיקר שמעתתא (main sugyos) and the largely aggadic sugyos that seem to assume the truth of astrology to be secondary, either viewing them as completely non authoritative or interpreting them symbolically in a way that they do not contradict the Torah’s disdain for such beliefs.

The former would be controversial, to say the least, and the later would require a great degree of creativity.

I should also be noted that the earlier sugya on daf 129b seems far from aggadic and seems to involve a halachik discussion as do some other sugyos on the subject.

Whereas Rashi on our daf and the Ramban (Devarim 18/9-12) clearly seem to accept the legitimacy of astrology in some way, taking the more narrow interpretation of Rabbi Yochanan’s dictum, a reading of the Rambam’s views on the subject (A.Z. 11/9 for example) will reveal that he takes the approach of completely negating any truth in astrology.

Identifying which approach he takes to dealing with all these sugyos that assume its truth, takes us out of the scope of this post!

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 150-151 לפני עור, work done by a non-Jew on shabbos, and שבות דשבות re-examined

On the previous daf, the Mishna taught us that it is forbidden to hire workers on shabbos or to ask one’s friend to do so on one’s behalf.

Although hiring workers does not involve any specific melacha as such, Rashi explains that it goes against the passuk in Yeshayahu (58) which tells us to honor the shabbos and refrain from weekday activities and discussions, namely a “rabbinic” prohibition.

The Gemara ask why it is necessary to forbid asking one’s friend to do so- after all, he is equally obligated in the laws of shabbos!

Rashi understand that because he is equally obligated not to engage in weekday conversation, telling him to do so goes under against the prohibition of “putting a stumbling block in front of the blind,” interpreted by chazal among others things to refer to causing someone to sin)A.Z. 6b.)

It requires some analysis to determine whether one can transgress the biblical command against causing someone to sin by causing him to do something that is only rabbinically prohibited.

It could be argued that a rabbinical sin is not a stumbling-block on a biblical level and one can thus not transgress this prohibition if the sin one causes him to do is only rabbinical in nature.

On the other hand, one could argue that the prohibition is not specifically against causing someone to sin on a biblical level, but on putting a stumbling block in front of him on any level, and a rabbinical prohibition, once forbidden by Chazal, is certainly a stumbling block.

The irony would then be that hiring workers oneself on shabbos might only be a rabbinical prohibition but asking one’s friend to do so would be a biblical prohibition!

The way Rashi understands our Mishna seems to be a proof for this later understanding as he says explicitly that asking one’s friend to hire workers involves the prohibition of putting a stumbling block in front of the blind.

Whether the Gemara itself is a proof for this depends on whether there are any other legitimate ways of explaining why this should so obviously be forbidden.

It is of course possible that Rashi means that he transgresses the prohibition of “putting a stumbling block before the blind” on a rabbinic level, but we would need some precedent for such a thing for this argument to be convincing.

There are indeed times when chazal refer to transgressing a biblical prohibition and mean it on a biblical level (see for example Rashi Sanhedrin 82 regarding נשגז )but for Rashi to claim that this is such an example without saying so explicitly would seem unusual.

Perhaps the act of telling one’s friend to hire workers itself goes against the prohibition of weekday conversation?

However, this is not likely, seeing as the Gemara answers that the Mishna is needed to tell us that even asking a non- Jewish friend to do so is forbidden.

It answers that we already know that too, as it falls under the shvus (rabbinical prohibition) of אמירה לנכרי (asking a non-Jew to perform a forbidden melacha on shabbos.)

If telling someone else to engage in a weekday conversation was also considered weekday conversation, there should be no different between asking one’s Jewish friend or one’s non- Jewish friend


If yesterday we dealt with the general prohibition against telling a non-Jew to do melacha on shabbos, today’s daf deals with work which a non-Jew has done on his own initiative on shabbos.

The rule of the Mishna and accompanying Gemara is that if he performed it for his own benefit or for that of another non-Jew , one may benefit from it, whereas if he did it for a Jew, one may not.

The Mishna gives an example of a non-Jew who brings a reed-based wind instrument on shabbos to play during the eulogies for a Jew who died and is to be buried after shabbos.

It rules that it may only be used if it was brought from inside the techum (area in which walking is permitted on shabbos.

It then discusses a case where a non-Jew dug a grave or made a coffin on shabbos and It is now wanted for burying a Jew after shabbos.

It rules that if it was done for a non-Jew, it may be used for a Jew, but if it was intended for burying a Jew, he may not ever be buried in it.

The general rule coming out of the Mishna seems to be that it is permitted to benefit from a melacha done by a non-Jew on shabbos only if the non-Jew did it for himself or another non-Jew.

If he did it for a Jew, even without being told to do so, it may not be used.

The question is for how long it might not be used: in the first case of the reedpipes, the Mishna does not say that they may not ever be used again for a Jew (though see Rashi who does make this assumption.)

Yet in the second case of the grave/coffin, it says that they may never be used, at least for the Jew they were made for.

Perhaps the distinction lies in the fact that walking outside of the techum is only a rabbinic prohibition according to the view of this Tana (this is a dispute in various places, see Beitza 36: for example.)

On the other hand, making a coffin or grave is a biblical prohibition.

If this distinction is correct, we would conclude that if a non-Jew performs a biblical melacha for a Jew on shabbos, he may never benefit from it, but if he only performed a rabbinic prohibition , he may do so.

However, the assumption that the non-Jew who brought the reed pipe from outside the techum has only performed a rabbinically forbidden act is highly problematic for various reasons.

  1. Even if walking from outside the techum is only rabbinically prohibited, carrying an item from outside also involves the biblical melacha of הוצאה ( transferring something from one domain to another.) – If there was an eruv, there would not be an issue of the techum either.

One could answer that the Mishna is dealing with something brought through a non-built up area that is not defined as a private or public place , but a כרמלית, which too is only a rabbinical prohibition, but one would still be faced with the question why the important factor is whether it came from outside the techum and not whether a biblical or rabbinical melacha of carrying was performed. The Tosfos and other Rishonim deal further with this issue., but I will move on.

  1. We have learnt many times that according to most views, it is permitted to ask a non-Jew to perform an act that is only rabbinically forbidden on shabbos for the sake of a mitzva (שבות דשבות לדבר מצוה) .

We have seen that some later authorities understand that this principle even permits a Jew to himself perform an action that is only rabbinically prohibited for 2 independent reasons for the sake of a mitzva.

If so, seeing as the instrument is being used for the mitzva of כבוד המת (honoring the dead,) a truly great mitzva, and leaving the techum is only rabbinically forbidden, surely it would have been permitted to ask the non-Jew to bring it lechatchila on shabbos to avoid delaying the burial afterwards?

It is true that the Tosfos are of the view that this principle does not apply to any mitzva, but only certain special mitzvas mentioned explicitly such as circumcision and settling the land of Israel, and this could be a proof for this view, but this not the view of most authorities including the Rambam.

  1. In any case, the distinction we suggested between biblical and rabbinical melacha performed by a non-Jew would not survive the Gemara’s discussion of this Mishna.

The Gemara, for a different purpose ( establishing the law in a case where it is not certain if the non-Jew performed the melacha for a Jew or a non-Jew ) compares this to a different case, where a bathhouse is heated by a non-Jew on shabbos for whoever comes.

The ruling in that case is that if the bathhouse is in a place with a non-Jewish majority, we assume that it was heated for non-Jews and a Jew may bath there immediately after shabbos.

If the majority or even half the people the bathhouse serves are Jewish, then a Jew must wait כדי שיעשה (the time it takes to heat the bathhouse) after shabbos before using it.

Heating the bathhouse clearly involves at least one biblical melacha, lighting the fire and perhaps heating the water, depending on the temperature it reaches, yet the prohibition to use the bathhouse is limited to the period of כדי שיעשה and not forever.

Perhaps the real distinction lies in who the object of the forbidden action is going to serve. In a case where the non-Jew had a specific Jew in mind as the beneficiary of his actions, such as the case of the grave or coffin, that Jew may never benefit from his action.

On the other hand, other Jews, may benefit from it after the period of כדי שיעשה, and in a case where he had no specific person in mind, like the bathhouse and possibly the reed-pipes, any Jew may benefit from it after the period of כדי שיעשה .

These issues form the subject of long and major discussions in the Rishonim before the final halacha is determined- I have just come to take you through a preliminary analysis I have done on my own, in order to open the subject for further study.

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 149 Gambling in Halacha and opening function-halls during the Corona Crisis

The Mishna at the bottom of 148b tells us that it is permitted to cast lots with one’s family members on Shabbos to see who gets which portion, which will presumably prevent fighting over them.

I happen to be particularly sensitive to my children fighting over food portions, and am rather strict in insisting they avoid doing so, after all is it really fitting for thankfully relatively well-off children to be fighting with each other over who gets the thicker piece of salmon when so many people are hungry?

It is appropriate behaviour for frum children in the first place, even if they are relatively poor?

Yet this seems to be an old problem amongst kids and Chazal took a realistic view to dealing with it- rather than ignoring the problem or tackling it head on, they suggested a simple fair solution.

However, despite the lofty goal of keeping peace in the home, the Mishna attaches a key condition- one may not intentionally make one portion larger than the other and draw lots on the larger portion- one has to at least attempt to make the portions equal.

The Gemara rules that drawing lots on different sized portions is forbidden even during the week because of קוביא (gambling.)

The Mishna (Sanhedrin 24b) includes a gambler in the list of people who are unfit to be witnesses.

Rabbi Yehuda comments that this is only the case when the gambler has no other trade/profession other than gambling.

It is not immediately clear whether Rabbi Yehuda and the Chachamim disagree on this point, or whether Rabbi Yehuda is simply clarifying the position of the Chachamim.

The Gemara asks what issue the Mishna has with a gambler, and 2 opinions are given:

  1. Rami bar Chama explains that gambling is a form of אסמכתא (a transaction based on incorrect assumptions) which are not valid.

He seems to argue that when a person gambles, he is convinced psychologically that he will win, and it is on that basis that he agrees to the terms of the bet/lottery.

Although this might seem far-fetched, this is particularly common with habitual gamblers whose addiction keeps pushing them to try “one more time.”

When he fails to win, the transaction is invalid, and the winner is considered a form of thief if he takes the money.

Rav Sheishes disputes this ruling and holds that such a transaction is not a valid example of אסמכתא seeing as the gambler is still fully aware that he might lose and chooses to take the chance.

He explains that the reason the gambler is not fit to testify is not because he has committed a form of theft, even at a rabbinical level, but because he isn’t עוסק בישובו של עולם (he does not busy himself with “settling” the world.)

This fits in with Rabbi Yehuda’s view in the Mishna that only a gambler who has no other profession is unfit to be a witness.

According to this view, while gambling might not be a prohibited act as such, it is a non- constructive profession that does not help build society in a positive way.

A person who does not engage in a constructive profession is simply not a trust-worthy witness, perhaps because he does not take people’s needs and property rights seriously enough.

There is much to analyze and debate, both in the text of the Gemara and in the Rishonim, regarding the scope of both אסמכתא and ישובו של עולם , as well as the reason and nature for the gambler’s disqualification as a witness, but we will focus for now on what appears to be the most simple interpretation of the debate:

According to Rami bar Chama, and the Chachamim of the Mishna according to his view, anyone who gambles is unfit to be a witness as he is a form of thief.

According to Rav Sheshet, and Rabbi Yehuda in the Mishna, only a professional gambler with no other profession is unfit to be a witness- in contrast, the casual gambler has done nothing wrong and is certainly fit to act as a witness.

Back to our sugya in Shabbos, it seems that our Gemara holds like Rami bar Chama that gambling is indeed forbidden even if one has another profession.

As it is usual in case of a debate in one sugya where the סתמא דגמרא (undisputed assumption or ruing) in another sugya supports one side , it thus seems appropriate to rule like Rami bar Chama and forbid even casual gambling, as well as disqualify the casual gambler from being a witness, until he has repented and stopped gambling.

Furthermore, a different Mishna (Rosh haShana 22a) gives a similar list of people who are invalid as witnesses, and does not record the lenient view of Rabbi Yehuda- the Gemara there understands that they are all forms of rabbinical theft, which seems to support the view of Rami bar Chama as well.

This is indeed the way the Rambam (Gezeila veaveida 6/10, Mechira 21/3) appears to rule (though compare Eidus 10/4 and Shabbos 23/17) and the Shulchan Aruch (C.M gezeila 370/1-3) is also generally understood to take this view.

However, based on the continuation of the sugya in Sanhedrin, it is clear that some Amoraim are of the view that Rabbi Yehuda and the Chachamim agree that casual gambling does not disqualify one from testifying, and even though Rami bar Chama disagrees, there is some logic in following those Amoraim who do not see the Tannaim of the Mishna as arguing, particularly as both Rabbi Yochanan and Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi take that view.

This is the way that the Tur and the Rema rule, essentially making normative Ashkenazi halacha more tolerant of casual gambling- interestingly enough, the Rif also takes this lenient view, and it is somewhat surprising that the Shulchan Aruch rules like what is really an ambiguous Rambam against a clear Rif and Tur.

However, there is another way to reconcile the sugya in Shabbos that forbids casual gambling with the view of Rav Sheishes in Sanhedrin who says that it is not considered אסמכתא and does not disqualify one from being a witness.

We could suggest that even Rav Sheishes agrees that casual gambling is rabbinically forbidden. However, he holds that it is not enough of a sin to disqualify one from being a witness.

Instead of rejecting the prohibition of casual gambling completely, Rav Sheishes’ statement would then simply be interpreted as pointing out that it does not qualify as אסמכתא on a biblical level.

He could thus still hold that only a professional gambler with no other profession is included in the Mishna’s disqualification, without permitting casual gambling.

If we learn like this, our sugya in shabbos could also work according to Rav Sheishes- casting lots on different sized portions is indeed a form of gambling and rabbinical theft and thus forbidden even during the week, but might still not be something that would disqualify one from serving as a witness.

This approach would make it easier to rule leniently like Rav Sheishes and only disqualify professional gamblers as witnesses, but would at the same time be taking a stricter form of Rav Sheishes’ view and concluding that even he agrees that casual gambling is forbidden, shutting the door on permitting casual gambling.

Could this possibly be the real view of the Rambam, some other Rishonim, or even the Shulchan Aruch?

It certainly would help reconcile the above-quoted view of the Rambam that gambling is forbidden as a rabbinical form of theft with his words elsewhere which say that only the professional gambler is unfit to be a witness.

This is indeed close to the approach of the Vilna Gaon, who actually deletes the phrase כל כי האי גוונא לאו אסמכתא הוא from the sugya in Sanhedrin and seems to understands that Rav Sheishes agrees that it is indeed a rabbinic form of theft, just not enough to disqualify one as a witness.

In practise:

Most contemporary Sephardi authorities forbid all forms of gambling including lotteries and consider them a form of theft.

Most mainstream Ashkenazi authorities, while discouraging gambling, do not forbid it out-right on a casual basis.

All authorities agree that someone whose sole profession is gambling is unfit to be a witness.

Mussar:

The idea that the professional gambler is unfit as a witness because he is not engaged in constructive pursuits, is understood in various ways in the Rishonim, and a more complete analysis of the subject obviously requires a through study of all these views.

Yet I cannot help but be bothered by the idea that the modern-day wealthy philanthropist who owns many casinos, employs huge numbers of people, keeps the laws of the land with everything on the books, and supports countless charitable causes, including many Torah institutions, could be invalid as a witness if this is the main way he made/makes his money.

Can he truly be regarded as someone who does not respect other people’s money, and is likely to lie under oath, when he clearly does so much good for society as well?

Without ruling on this issue, given that this does in fact appear to be the default law, there appears to be a powerful message behind this halacha- not only does the end not justify the means, the means doesn’t even justify the means!

A profession which does so much damage to society as a whole and ruins countless lives cannot be justified simply because it creates work for many other people, or because so many of the proceeds go to charity.

Although it is questionable whether this concept could be extended on a halachik level to other areas of business that do more harm than good to society, such as cigarette manufacture and sales, and possibly even alcohol, at an ethical level there is certainly a comparison.

Just like it is clear, or at least has been till recently, that people who sell dangerous drugs are not to be praised just because they create employment for others who work for them, or give some of the proceeds to charity, anyone engaged in industries that are mainly harmful to the public should be very aware of the serious ethical and probably halachik issues they face.

Current Affairs and food for thought:

During the current Corona Crisis in Israel, one of the justifications for allowing high-risk businesses such as function-halls to reopen, is the fact that they employ many people and help support the economy.

If these events are essentially endangering society’s well-being, are these arguments not irrelevant , and should we not say that people who open such businesses at this dangerous time are at least on an ethical level, not involved in constructively building the world?

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.