Eruvin 56 Looking after one’s health

In loving memory of our dear Rosh-Yeshiva of Yeshiva-college, South Africa, Moreinu haRav Avraham Tanzer of blessed memory, and as we daven for a Refuah Shleima for ALL those ill with COVID-19 and other diseases

At the bottom of the previous daf, Rav Huna rules that a Talmid Chacham is prohibited from living in a city where vegetables are not available.

Rashi explains that this is because in places where vegetables are easily available, they are generally a cheap form of healthy food, which enables him to sustain himself easily and have more time to learn  – (“טוב למאכל ונלקח בזול ויכול לעסוק בתורה”)

In our world of global trade, such a thing might seem hard for the Westerner to imagine, and we indeed daven that global supply of produce will continue uninterrupted despite the current pandemic, but in days prior to modern transport, storage  and technology, this was simply not to be taken for granted- If a certain  perishable species did not grow locally, it was usually simply not available .

Given that both Eretz Yisrael and Bavel were generally arid regions, making the availability of vegetables a requirement for one’s place of abode was no simple thing ,even in the “fertile crescent” region which can hardly be called lush by temperate and tropical standards.

 Even if we could regard Rav Huna’s statement as non-authoritative halachically but more as a form of advice coded in the strong language of halacha, it certainly is a very strong statement about the importance of a healthy diet.

Although Rashi seems to understand that vegetables are not the ONLY healthy foods, and that the reason for Rav Huna’s ruling is that they are a cheap form of healthy food which will allow the scholar to maximize his learning time without having to work too hard to be able to afford it, the basic assumption that eating healthy food is an obligation remains.

The Gemara questions this ruling, not because of any doubt regarding the importance of having access to healthy food, but because of Tannaic statements that say that vegetables can actually be harmful.

It upholds Rav Huna’s ruling by distinguishing between different types of vegetables, different parts of vegetables, and different seasons (see similar discussions in Brachos  44b ), and whereas the correct approach of a Ben-Torah to specific health advice of Chazal requires its own post, the basic idea that Chazal required us to eat healthily is not open to debate.

The Rambam (Deos 4 ) codifies this idea, going a step further and claiming that the main source of illness is an unhealthy diet and lack of exercise, a claim which  has stood the test of time and is largely borne-out by modern medical studies that list poor diet, lack of exercise, and other unhealthy lifestyles (such as smoking)  as primary risk factors in most most serious diseases.

Those who attended Yeshiva College in Johannesburg can never forget the words of the school anthem “Rosh-Yeshiva we are for you, both in sports and back at school.”

Rav Tanzer זצ”ל  always drummed it into us that we were always his representatives wherever we were and needed to try our best to make a Kiddush Hashem on the sports field as much as in the classroom.

He viewed sports and exercise as an essential part of life in order to maintain physical, emotional, and social health, and strengthen us so we could better carry out our spiritual duties, something that cannot be taken for granted amongst all Teachers of Torah.

As Chazal say (Kesubos 30a)-  “הכל בידי שמים חוץ מצינין ופחים”- “everything is in the hands of heaven, except for colds and fever”- Rashi explains that these can sometimes come upon a person through negligence, presumably by not looking after one’s health properly.

Particularly during this time of lockdown and pandemic, it goes without saying that we all need to make an extra effort to look after our health, both by eating healthily and exercising as well as possible under the circumstances, and avoiding contracting or spreading the disease chalila.

With the right effort on our side, we can than daven with all our strength that Hashem keeps us all healthy, heals the ill, and brings a ישועה very soon!

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 54 Beruria, Learning out loud, and Torah as a cure

In loving memory of our dear Rosh-Yeshiva of Yeshiva-college, South Africa, Moreinu haRav Avraham Tanzer of blessed memory, and as we daven for a Refuah Shleima for ALL those ill with COVID-19 and other diseases שיבדלו לחיים , among them Maran haGadol R’ Chaim Kanievsky שליט”א , and the Karliner Rebbe שליט”א. We also have in mind that great friend of Israel (אולי ככורש בדורו) , President Donald Trump- it goes without saying that we leave politics out of all the above.

As we continue to be cut-off from the batei-midrash and shuls that we hold so dear, one of the things that we all miss while learning at home is the constant buzz of Torah-learning that emanates from these sacred places.

Our halls of study are a stark contrast to the (at least officially) silent libraries and study-halls of the great universities, and are brought to life by the sounds of students and their chavrusos (study-partners) learning out loud, or even screaming in learning at one another.

This distinction is so sharp, that while I was investigating the possibility of zoom providing a feature to simulate this buzz online while still allowing people to focus at a higher volume on their chavrusos, I was told that there is simply no request for such a thing and the technology does not exist!

Our daf begins with the continuation of a story where the famous wife of Rabbi Meir, Berurya rebuked a certain student for learning silently.

We would be remiss in pointing out how despite her tremendous status in learning herself, she seems not to have allowed her own status as an אשה חשובה (“important” or noble woman) to diminish her respect for the teachings of Chazal, including even the seemingly “chauvinist” early ruling of Rabbi Yosi ben Yochanan of Yerushalayim: אל תרבה שיחה עם האשה (do not chat too much with women), something she admonished none other than Rabbi Yosi haGalili for at the bottom of the previous daf!

(This makes a cryptic Rashi who explains the מעשה דברוריה referred to by Chazal (A.Z. 18b ) as a case where she made light of Chazal’s statement that נשים דעתם קלות even harder to explain, but that’s for another discussion, Hashem willing!)

Back to her rebuke of this student, she based this on the passuk “ערוכה בכל ושמורה” (set out in everything and looked after)- “If one’s Torah is set out in all 248 of one’s limbs ( learnt with one’s entire body,) it is looked after (and endures), otherwise it is not.”

The Gemara continues bringing various other statements about the importance of learning out loud, among them the case of a certain student of Rabbi Eliezer who learnt silently and forgot his learning after 3 years.

This leads into another discussion regarding the healing powers of Torah:

One of the pessukim brought to highlight the importance of learning out loud is “כי חיים הם למצאיהם ולכל בשרו מרפא “- the word מצאיהם is read for the purposes of this derasha as מוציאיהם and the passuk is thus rendered as “They (the words of Torah) are life for all those who bring them out (of their lips) and a cure for all his flesh.”

After the Gemara brings various other pessukim to show that the recommended action for one who has a headache, stomachache ,sore-throat, or pain in the bones is to יעסוק בתורה , busy oneself’ with Torah, it uses the second part of the above-quoted passuk (a cure for all flesh) to show that the remedy for pain in the entire body is also to busy oneself with Torah!

However, we also know from earlier discussions (see my posts on Shabbos 61 and 67) that using the Torah as a source of healing can be problematic, to the point that it is a severe prohibition to whisper a verse in order to heal a wound (see Mishna Sanhedrin 11/1) and Shvuos 15b)- this prohibition is taken so seriously by the Rambam, that he writes (A.Z. 11/12) that one who does this has not only transgressed a serious prohibition, but has made light of the Torah which is meant as a cure for the soul, by turning it into a bodily cure like mere medicine.

Whereas the above Rambam rules that it is permitted to say Tehillim for someone who is healthy so that the merit of learning Torah will protect him, he seems to view even the common practise of saying Tehillim for someone who is ill as incorrect, based on this prohibition. Yet it seems pretty clear in the verse we have quoted and the Gemara’s derivation from it that the Torah is indeed a cure for the entire body and that learning Torah as a remedy for physical pain is indeed recommended!

I am not sure how to reconcile this piece of Gemara with the Rambam, and I am not even sure if the Rambam viewed this possibly aggadic material to be authoritative enough to affect his ruling, which is based on how he learnt other more clearly halachik sugyas, but one must certainly acknowledge that a simple reading of this Gemara seems to indicate that Torah is certainly a valid therapy for physical pain, whether this effect is psychological or metaphysical.

One of the things that is most characteristic of great Torah personalities is the constant sound of Torah that comes from their lips- Everyone who knew the late Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Tanzer זצ”ל, remembers the almost constant sound of Torah and prayer emanating from his lips, whether he was at home, in his office, or the Beis-Midrash and shul, as well as when he was not feeling so good.

His learning was a constant song of praise to Hashem, and his signature hum displayed the sheer pleasure he got from his Torah and davening- Who can forget the melody of his signature “הבוחר בעמו ישראל באהבה…שמע ישראל ” or “אני מאמין” and the traditional Yeshivish chant to which he sang the words of Chazal that he learnt and taught?

May our own learning reveal the joy of Torah that he taught us, and may the merit of his Torah and all the Torah we learn because of him truly protect all of us from this terrible plague and all the other challenges life brings us, ודיה לצרה בעתה.

And may Hashem soon spread out upon us the ultimate place of Torah and protection , the fallen Sukkah of David, from where the sounds of the greatest Simchas haTorah imaginable will once again emanate, as we celebrate Simchas beis hashoeiva and hafakos in the newly-built Beis haMikdash, במהרה וימינו אמן.

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 44 and 45 Returning from emergency travel on shabbos

A very common issue faced by emergency workers is what to do after taking someone to the hospital.

Everyone agrees that whenever there is a chance of danger to life, one may desecrate shabbos in whatever way  necessary to try and save that life.

As such, it is obvious that taking a person whose life might be in danger to the hospital is not only permitted, but obligatory.

On the other hand, once the immediate danger has passed and the person has been taken to hospital, those who took him there could land up being stuck at the hospital for the rest of shabbos, unable to drive home, or even to walk home if the hospital is not within the techum of his house, assuming walking home is even safe.

Those who do this for a living or as a labor of love on a regular basis could thus land up being almost every shabbos in a hospital reception area.

Whereas halacha is halacha, and במקום שיש חלול ה אין חולקין כבוד לרב  (in the place of Chillul Hashem, such as when a Torah prohibition is about to be broken, we do not consider a person’s honor or dignity, no matter how great he is- Brachos  19b  ,) it would obviously be very useful to find a halachik way for him to return home.

There is also the very real concern that if a halachik way to return home is not found, people will be more hesitant in cases of doubt to take people to hospital, itself causing more danger to life.

At the bottom of Eruvin 44a, the Mishna tells that anyone who leaves the techum under permitted circumstances  and while on his journey, is told that he is no longer needed,  is allowed to walk within a 2000 amah radius from where he is at the end of his mission.

This is despite the usual rule that one who has left his techum, even by force, has to stay within his 4 amos.

At the end of the Mishna, we are told that anyone who left in order to “save” may return to his original place- this seems to mean that he may travel home even more than 2000 amos.

In order to reconcile this apparent contradiction, the Gemara on 45a attempts to distinguish between leaving for regular permitted reasons, and “to save,” the later being treated even more leniently.

Though neither the Mishna nor the Gemara has yet defined what either “with permission” or “to save” means, it seems likely that “with permission” means for certain approved mitzvos, whereas “to save” means for purposes of saving lives.

Yet as examples of leaving ברשות  (with permission,) Rashi on the Mishna  lists leaving in order to testify about the new moon, saving from invading troops or from a flooding river, and a midwife coming to assist with a birth.

Whereas the first example is not a matter of life and death, and the second might be referring to saving property which is also not a matter of life and death, the third example certainly seems like it could be .

Rashi on the Gemara, however, while explaining the possible distinction, seems to consider the birth not to be a life and death matter but saving one’s property from invaders to have the potential to become one (or at least a danger of injury) , should he fail to return home and be chased by them.

As such, the permission to return home would not be because he left for permitted purposes or even life and death purposes, but because his current situation is one of life and death.

However we explain the distinction, the Gemara rejects the distinction, seeing as there is an explicit Mishna (Rosh haShana 2/5 )  that includes one who left the techum to save from troops in the list of people who may only travel 2000 amos from the place where their mission ends.

It thus concludes that there is no blanket permission even for one who left “to save” to travel more than 2000 amos to return home, and 2 different opinions are brought as to what exactly the permission is, both based on current danger and not the fact that he left due to danger.

Based on this sugya, it seems that someone who travelled outside the techum on a life-saving mission, would be permitted to walk no more than 2000 amos back..

It seems that this is despite the concern that without permission to return home, people would be reluctant to return.

If even travelling more than 2000 amos, a rabbinical prohibition, was not permitted after such a mission, it seems to go without saying based on this sugya alone, that transgressing a biblical prohibition in order to return home would not be permitted.

It is, of course, still possible, that the phrase להציל in this sugya is referring to saving property, and that one who left in order to save lives might be treated more leniently.

If this was the fact, though, the Gemara’s suggestion that “to save” should be different to other permitted reasons seems to make little sense- after all, why should saving property be more important that testifying about the new moon, something the entire calendar is dependant on, and that even breaking shabbos on a biblical level is sometimes permitted for (see Mishna  Rosh haShana   )

However, this is not the only word on the subject.

There is a debate in the  Mishna (Beitza 11b) between Beis Shamai and Beis Hillel regarding whether it is permitted to open and close  shutters on Yom Tov .  Beis Shamai rule that both are forbidden whereas Beis Hillel rule that both are permitted.

Ullah explains that the Mishna is referring to the shutters of shops(assuming one is selling for yom-tov needs in a permitted way.)

He also understands that this is an example of 3 things that are permitted סופן משום תחילתן (the end because of the beginning.)

He understands  that Beis Hillel permit opening them in order to supply the Yom-Tov pilgrims, which is considered a bona fide Yom-Tov food need, and  close the windows afterwards  because if one is not permitted to close it, he might refrain from opening it.

As such, we view closing it as a permitted need of Yom-Tov too!

The other examples that Ullah brings are:

1.        putting out the skin of a freshly slaughtered animal for people to step on, thus helping to preserve it. Even though this would normally be forbidden on Yom-Tov, if we do not permit it, the owner of the animal might refrain from slaughtering it for Yom-Tov, and thus this is also considered a need of Yom-Tov

2.       A Kohain who has a bandage on his hand  and needs to remove it in order to perform the Avoda (Temple service,) may also put it back, as if we do not permit him to do so, he might refuse to remove it and the Avoda will not be done. This is thus also considered “part” of the Avoda and permitted.

What we seem to learn from these cases is that when an otherwise forbidden action is permitted for a certain essential  purpose, “undoing” that action might also be permitted if failure to permit doing so will result in the essential purpose not being fulfilled- Essentially, the “undoing” action is viewed as a need of that essential purpose as well.

It is not clear from the sugya whether these 3 (and another 2 that some in the sugya add) are meant to be the only such examples, or examples of a general rule- how such lists are generally viewed is beyond the scope of this post.

While based on the way we interpreted our sugya back in Eruvin, it is understandable why returning from a permitted journey outside the techum is not included in this list, given that there seemed to be no such blanket permission to do so, we need to understand why.

Making things more complex, Tosfos on our daf, as well as the Rashba (on the sugya in Beitza) asks why Ullah did not include this in his list, seeing as it seems clear that this is the reason for the Mishna’s leniency here, and answers that it is because in the case of the Eruv, it is so clear from the Mishna that the reason for leniency is סופן  משום תחילתן that there us no need for Ullah to mention it.

How these Rishonim  understands the conclusion of our sugya which seems to have rejected a blanket permission to return home, requires further analysis.

What is clear is that they indeed view the permission in our Mishna to return to one’s place as permission to return home, and even if they would admit that it is limited to 2000 amos, they certainly hold that the reason for the leniency is סופן משום תחילתן . It also seems that they hold that Ullah’s list is not exhaustive and that he only mentions things that we might have thought were not permitted or were permitted for other reasons.

In fact, The Ritva indeed quotes the Ramban who takes issue with this Rashba based on the conclusion of our Gemara!

Once we have established the scope of this principle and whether it applies to one who left the techum or not, we also need to examine each example given and establish whether the principle only applies to rabbinical transgressions or even  to biblical ones.

At that point, we might be closer to being able to work out whether someone who has left his home for a permitted purpose like saving a life on shabbos should be permitted to return home, and whether he may transgress only rabbinical or even biblical transgressions to do so.

As usual, much more to analyze and discuss, but hopefully this is a good start.

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 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 141-142: טלטול מן הצד- moving Muktza items indirectly and the panic button on the key chain

We have learnt elsewhere in the masechta that it is permitted to move certain types of muktza when one needs them for a permitted purpose, or where the place they occupy is needed for a permitted purpose.

The focus on these daf is how to move Muktza items when neither of those leniencies applies.

This discussion focusses around whether טלטול מן הצד שמיה טלטול, in other words, whether handling something indirectly is considered handling as far as the prohibition of handling Muktza is concerned.

The Mishna on 141b discusses a bed with straw on it that was intended as fuel for a fire.

A person now wishes to move the straw so he can lie on it, but seeing as the straw was not designated as a כלי, the leniency to move a כלי שמלאכתו לאסור for a permitted use or the place it occupies, does not apply.

The Mishna rules that one may not move it with one’s hands, but may move it with one’s body, such as with one’s shoulders.

Rashi explains that this is considered טלטול מן הצד, indirect handling, which is not considered טלטול as far as the laws of Muktza are concerned.

The Gemara brings a related ruling of Rav Nachman regarding a radish buried in the ground.

It was common practise to take whole, harvested vegetables, such as radishes, and bury them in the sand to preserve them during the dry summer.

Rav Nachman rules that if the raddish has been buried with its narrow top facing down, one may pull it out by its wider bottom, seeing as one will not be displacing any sand while doing so.

On the other hand, if the raddish was buried with its wider bottom facing down, one may not pull it out by its narrower top, seeing as it will be moving sand out of the way, which is Muktza.

The Gemara questions this ruling based on our Mishna.

Seeing as the person is not moving the sand directly, but it simply pulling out the vegetable, this

Should be considered טלטול מן הצד and should be permitted, as with the straw in the Mishna.

In light of the above, the Gemara concludes that the halacha is not like Rav Nachman and that this is permitted even if sand is moved out of the way while pulling out the vegetable.

We have various other examples of this leniency in the first few mishnayos of the new chapter on Dapim 141-142.

The Mishna rules that a person may carry a child with a stone in his hand, even though the stone is Muktza, in an enclosed courtyard (see Rashi) – this also seems to be an example of indirectly handling the Muktza stone while moving something that is not Muktza (the child.)

On Daf 142b, the Mishna permits one to tilt a barrel of wine over in order that a stone sitting on top of it will fall down, yet another such example.

Back on Daf 43a, there is a dispute regarding what to do with a corpse that ls lying out in the sun on Shabbos, given that it is Muktza

We should recall that moving a Muktza item for its own protection (מחמה לצל) is not usually an acceptable reason for moving Muktza items- yet human dignity also dictates that something must be done to prevent the corpse from rotting.

Rav Yehuda in the name of Shmuel rules that it may be rolled from bed to bed, seeing as this is indirect handling, and thus permitted.

Rav Chanina bar Salmai in the name of Rav, on the other hand does not allow this, and suggests an alternative solution.

It seems to follow that unlike Shmuel who permits טלטול מן הצד, Rav forbids it.

The Gemara brings a מחלוקת תנאים (tannaic dispute) regarding whether one may move a corpse on shabbos in order to save it from burning in a fire- the Tana Kama forbids it, whereas Rabbi Yehuda ben Lakish permits it.

It suggests that this is also a dispute regarding whether טלטול מן הצד is permitted or not, but rejects this suggestion, and says that both Tannaim could hold that טלטול מן הצד is usually forbidden, but that Rabbi Yehuda ben Lakish made an exception for a corpse so that the relatives don’t come to extinguish the fire instead.

It seems from this that the Gemara has concluded that טלטול מן הצד is forbidden.

Furthermore, even if the gemara was simply giving an alternative explanation of the tannaic dispute, but not completely rejecting the possibility that they could be arguing about טלטול מן הצד, there is still clearly a dispute about it, and Rav appears to forbid it- the halacha usually follows Rav in disputes against Shmuel in everyday halacha.

Tosfos raises an even larger difficulty that this places Rav in contradiction with himself, as on our daf (141,) it is the house of Rav that proves from the Mishna that טלטול מן הצד is permitted!

When examining these cases carefully, one can see that although they have much in common, there are also some differences:

  1. In the case of the straw, the straw is moved in an unusual way, namely with one’s shoulder rather than one’s hand, but not in the course of moving a non Muktza item it is attached to.

In the case of the child and the barrel of wine, the stone is moved indirectly, in the course of moving a non muktza entity(the child or barrel)

In the case of corpse, it is not clear what type of טלטול מן הצד is employed, moving it directly with an unusual part of the body, or moving it with a bed.

  1. In the case of the child and barrel of wine, one’s intention is to move the child or access the wine in the barrel, not to move the muktza item (the stone,) which is simply moved as a secondary effect of moving the non muktza entity.

In the case of the corpse, the intention is to move the muktza item itself, namely the corpse.

In the case of the straw, it is not completely clear whether one is moving the Muktza item (the straw) in order to make it spread out evenly and be comfortable to lie on, or whether one is moving it out of the way so he can sleep on the non Muktza item(the straw)

It is interesting that Rashi on Daf 43b defines טלטול מן הצד as כלאחר יד, a back-handed manner, the term normally used for performing a forbidden action with a שנוי (in an unusual manner.)

This would make this leniency an extension of the exemption from punishment for performing a forbidden melacha in an unusual manner, going a step further and permitting it completely when it comes to handling Muktza items in a רשות היחיד (private domain,) which is only rabbinically prohibited.

It would still be a חדוש as we do not generally permit a שבות דשבות (something forbidden only rabbinically for 2 independent reasons) for any reason whatsoever, but just for the sake of a mitzva (like bris milah), and even there, the scope of the leniency is subject to debate- see earlier posts on שבות דשבות.

Back to the contradiction in sugyos and the opinion of Rav, the Baalei Tosfos and the Rosh both suggest that there is a difference whether the טלטול מן הצד is performed for the sake of the Muktza item, or for the sake of the non Muktza item.

In the case of the corpse, it is performed in order to bring it into shade, namely for the sake of the Muktza item, and is thus forbidden according to Rav.

In the cases on our dapim, it is done for the sake of the non Muktza entities, ie the bed, the child, or the barrel, and is thus permitted.

This distinction seems to based on the assumption that in the case of the straw, one is moving the straw for the sake of the bed, not in order to make the straw more comfortable to lay down on, a point noted by Rabbeinu Yona and the Rosh.

Although there are different approaches in the Rishonim as to the definition and scope of טלטול מן הצד , the distinction made by the Tosfos forms the basis for the generally accepted halacha that it is permitted to move a Muktza object together with a non Muktza object, only if one is doing so for the sake of the non Muktza object, and not if one is doing so for the sake of the Muktza object.

In some countries where violent crime is unfortunately common, it is common for people to have panic buttons that link to a security company when pushed.

These buttons are often put on one’s keyring together with one’s keys.

Assuming that the panic button is muktza, and that the danger is not at the level that constitutes pikuach nefesh (neither which should be assumed,) would it be permitted to carry the key-chain around inside an Eruv even though one is inevitably moving the panic button with it?

It seems from the above as seeing that it is impossible to remove the panic button without handling it directly by simply shaking it off, this should be a classic example of handling a muktza item (the panic button) indirectly while directly handling a non muktza item that one needs (the key.)

As such, it should be permitted even if the button is indeed muktza and the criteria of pikuach nefesh do not apply.

Obviously, if there is indeed no concern for pikuach nefesh while going out, it would be better to remove the button before shabbos, and seeing that there is a strong argument for pikuach nefesh in any case, this leniency might be rather spurious.

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

Shabbos 130-131 Shabbos מכשירי מצוה ,Corona,and drawing the line

Shabbos 130-131 Shabbos מכשירי מצוה ,Corona,and drawing the line
Our Daf starts a new Mishna and a new chapter, but it is connected to the last Mishna of the previous chapter which taught that all actions that form an essential part of the process of מילה  (circumcision,) may be performed on shabbos, when the bris is performed on time, namely on the 8’th day.
In this Mishna, Rabbi Eliezer, and Rabbi Akiva dispute to what extent this permission goes.
Rabbi Eliezer goes further than the previous mishna, and rules that not only may one perform all essential parts of the circumcision process, but also preparations for the process, such as bringing the knife through a public domain, or even cutting wood to burn into coals in order to burn the knife before use, if one did not do so before shabbos.
Rabbi Akiva, on the other hand, rules that any preparation that could have been done before shabbos, may not be done on shabbos, and only things which could not be done on shabbos, may be done on shabbos.
Rashi explains that Rabbi Akiva holds that only things that are directly part of the circumcision process may be done on shabbos, seeing as the process itself can only be done on shabbos, but things are preparatory to the process, known as מכשירי מילה , may not, seeing as they can be done before shabbos.
It seems from the way that Rabbi Akiva makes this distinction, that he limits  the definition of the circumcision process itself to things which can only be done on the day of the circumcision, and considers everything else to be in the category of מכשירי מילה  (preparation for the circumcision process), which is not permitted.
On Daf 131a, Rabbi Eliezer goes further and incredibly extends this permission to transgress shabbos in order to prepare for   most other  mitzvot that apply biblically on shabbos, such as lulav, matza, and shofar, though not for writing tefillin and mezuzot!
We have a similar debate regarding performing melacha for food purposes on Yom-Tov (Megila 7b)- The Tana Kama holds that that one may only do melachot that are part of the food preparation itself, such as slaughtering an animal or lighting a fire, but not to source or prepare objects needed for this process, such as sharpening a knife or chopping wood.
In contrast, Rabbi Yehuda holds that one may even perform מכשירי אוכל נפש, melachot need to prepare for the food-preparation process on Yom-Tov.
Unlike Rabbi Eliezer regarding מכשירי מילה, though, Rabbi Yehuda limits this leniency to preparations that could not be done before Yom-Tov.
Later in our perek (Shabbos 137b,) the Gemara indeed says that Rabbi Eliezer holds like Rabbi Yehuda but goes even further than him and permits even preparations that could not be done before-hand.
All these opinions based themselves on Pesukim, and it is not clear that the two debates are logically connected to one another but let us at least examine the possibility that these are indeed connected conceptually.
According to Rabbi Akiva regarding מילה and the Tana Kama regarding Yom-Tov, only things directly part of a normally forbidden action that has been permitted by the Torah, are included in the permission. According to Rabbi Eliezer regarding מילה   and Rabbi Yehuda regarding Yom-Tov, even preparatory actions for the permitted act are allowed.
How do we determine whether it is part of the action, or simply preparatory?
According to Rabbi Akiva, Things which can be done only on the day of the permitted action itself, are considered part of the action itself and permitted, whereas things that can be done the day before are not considered part of the action itself, but rather preparatory to the action, and may not be done.
Rabbi Eliezer either agrees that things that can be done before shabbos are not considered part of the action, but rather preparations, but permits preparations too, or holds that even preparations that can be done before shabbos are considered part of the permitted action and may thus be done.
Regarding yom-Tov, the debate seems somewhat different.
Both Chachamin and Rabbi Yehuda agree that actions  preparatory to the food production process  that could have been done before Yom-Tov  are not permitted, and both agree that things that could not be done before Yom-Tov, are considered preparatory and not part of the actual food production process.
Their argument is not about what is considered part of the actual process and what is only considered preparatory, but only about whether such preparations that can only be done on Yom-Tov are permitted on Yom Tov , and is based on how they interpret the pesukim in that context.
whatever we conclude, in both cases, we see that the more stringent opinions draw the line long before the more lenient opinions in terms of the scope of what the Torah permits.
This is not surprising, as if this were not done, one leniency could lead to another, and one could land up spending the whole shabbos or Yom-Tov doing melacha.
If we follow Rabbi Yehuda and permit מכישירי אוכל נפש that can only be done on shabbos, what is to stop us permitting מכשירין דמכשירין (preparations for preparations) or permitting מכשירין that can be done before shabbos?
Yet despite this concern, the view of Rabbi Yehuda was accepted on Yom-Tov, whereas the extreme leniency of Rabbi Eliezer on shabbos was not. (see relevant sugyos)
Once again this seems to be based primarily on his status as a שמותי, explained by Rashi to mean either of the school of Beit Shamai, which we do not follow, or someone in שמתא (excommunication,) due to his refusal to accept the majority view of Sanhedrin in the famous argument over the stove of Achnai (Bava Metzia 59b.)
Yet there are times that despite this, we do rule like Rabbi Eliezer, and perhaps there is also an underlying logical reason his view was rejected as well.
Perhaps, the slippery slope is indeed a factor here- if we go so far as to allow one to cut wood in order to burn coals in order  to  forge a knife, which he indeed permits, what is to stop us allowing a person to perform any melacha in order to get paid in order to buy the knife, effectively destroying the entire shabbos?
Even in matters of pikuach nefesh, and avoiding dangerous situations, we have seen that Chazal have drawn the line at certain points.
Where the chances of danger to life are negligible and there is no limit to how much melacha one can do to avoid such negligible chances (like running around killing wasps on shabbos,) Rav Huna places limits on pikuach nefesh (Shabbos 121b.)
When an everyday activity that involves a small risk has been accepted by society as a normal part of life (דשו בו רבים ), we have seen that such risks can become halachically acceptable- if we don’t draw a line somewhere, we would need to spend all day locked at home forever, and even that has its dangers(Shabbos 129b.)
Every leniency or stringency must be constantly balanced in order to prevent other key values from being unproportionally affected, and to prevent a slippery slope.
During the current Corona plague, we are constantly faced with the question of how far to go to contain it.
If we go to far, we can land up stopping normal living entirely and create even greater economic, social, educational, spiritual and psychological dangers.
If we do not go far enough, we risk countless deaths and the ultimate destruction of the health system and economy as well.
For example, when we give people space to go out as long as they keep a 2 meter distance between one another and wear masks, they decide that they do not need to wear masks if they keep a distance, or to keep a distance when they are wearing masks.
Some decide that neither precaution is necessary.
When we open schools with no distancing on condition that masks are worn, we land up relaxing the need for masks when the weather is too hot, and that causes the next wave of the plague.
The Torah always implores us to strike the right balance, and Chazal are tasked with working out exactly where and how it does so. We need to try and do our best to follow their example.

Shabbos 121 מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופא ,dangers to safety, and the foolish Chasid

One of the most far-reaching disputes amongst the Tannaim (sages of the Mishnaic period) regarding the laws of Shabbos is regarding מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופא ,literally a melacha done for a purpose other than the improvement of the object of the melacha, but usually understood by extension to refer to melacha done for a purpose other than the purpose it was done for in the work of the mishkan.
Unlike דבר שאין מתכוין, where there is no intention to perform the forbidden act at all, here the action is performed completely intentionally, but for a different purpose.
A classic example is where someone takes a dead body out of one’s domain on shabbos (Shabbos 93a)
This constitutes the forbidden melacha of הוצאה (“carrying” or transferring an item from one domain to another.)
However, in this case, the corpse in not removed because one wants it to be somewhere else, it is removed because one does NOT want it to be where it currently is.
In such a case, Rabbi Yehuda holds that he is biblically liable still, but Rabbi Shimon holds that one is exempt on a biblical level and has only transgressed a rabbinical prohibition.
Another classic example is someone who digs a hole in the ground (Shabbos 73b). This constitutes the melacha of חופר (ploughing), which is usually defined as making the ground more suitable for planting.
What happens, however, if a person digs a hole, not because he wants the resulting hole, but because he wants to make use of the dust or sand which he digs up?
According to Rabbi Yehuda, the purpose of the melacha makes no difference, so long as it is constructive, whereas according to Rabbi Shimon, although such an action is rabbinically forbidden, there is no biblical prohibition and one is thus exempt from the harsh biblical punishment associated with it. (note that when the hold is made inside one’s home, the Gemara opines that even Rabbi Yehuda exempts the person seeing as it is מקלקל. This seems to imply that if an action itself is destructive, even if it has a constructive purpose, one is still biblically exempt, which is rather problematic in light of the fact that some מלאכות such as making a wound, knocking down a building, or tearing are by definition destructive, but still biblically forbidden seeing as there main purpose is constructive. But this is for a different discussion (see Shabbos 31b regarding סותר על מנת לבנות במקום אחר for a possible approach)
It is generally understood (see Chagiga 10b where this is explicit) that this is another example of the exemption of מלאכת מחשבת, significant and calculated work – in this case the different purpose of the action reduces the significance or importance of the action , seeing as had it been done in the mishkan for such a purpose, it would not have been a significant part of the work performed there.

Another classic example of מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופא is most cases of extinguishing a flame or a fire.
We should all be familiar with the famous Mishna said every shabbos evening )Shabbos 29b,) which records the view of Rabbi Yossi that one is only liable for extinguishing a flame if he does it for the wick itself, in order to make it easier to burn .
In contrast, extinguishing a fire simply because one wants it to be dark, or because one does not want to waste the oil or blacken the lamp, is only a rabbinical prohibition.
It is important to note that the תנא קמא (first opinion) in the same Mishna holds that one is biblically liable for such an action and is only exempt if it was done to prevent actual danger.
This aligns the view of the Tana Kama with that of Rabbi Yehuda, and Rabbi Yossi with Rabbi Shimon.
As it is a well known rule of psak, stated by the authoritative Amora Rabbi Yochanan, that the Halacha usually follows a סתם משנה (anonymous Mishna where no dissenting opinion is recorded,) finding such a Mishna which takes a stand on this subject could be a major factor in how we rule.
On this daf, we have at least 3 different examples of what appears to be מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופא.
In the first Mishna on the daf, which is indeed a סתם משנה , we are told that it is forbidden to actively ask a non-Jew to extinguish a fire, but one does not have to stop him from doing so.
As the reason for the extinguishing the fire is clearly to save one’s property, and not for the wick, this seems to be a clear case of מלאכה שאינה צריכא לגופא.
If the author of our Mishna held that מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופא is only a rabbinical prohibition, it seems rather harsh that he would forbidden asking a non- Jew to do this, giving the principle of שבות דשבות that we have discussed many times, which allows one to ask a non-Jew to perform a rabbinically forbidden melacha for the sake of a mitzva, great need, or distress.
There are very few greater needs than preventing one’s house from burning down chalila, and it would certainly be a severe form of distress if it did so.
One is forced to conclude that either the author of this Mishna holds that מלאכה שאינה צריכא לגופא is a biblical prohibition, or that he rejects the entire principle of שבות דשבות as stated.
Indeed, the Rambam, (Shabbos 1/7) rules like Rabbi Yehuda that מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופא is a biblical transgression, and this Mishna might be one of his main sources for this.
In contrast, Rabbeinu Chananel, Raavad, Tosfos and many other authorities hold that מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופא is only a rabbinical prohibition.
Accordingly, Tosfos on our daf states clearly that there is indeed no blanket permission for a שבות דשבות even for the sake of a mitzva or great need,(presumably he holds that the example we learn this leniency from in the gemara, namely bris milah, is an exception due to the fundamental uniqueness of this mitzva.)
Yet it is the view of many other authorities, as well as that of the Shulchan Aruch and Rema, that מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופא is indeed only rabbinical, and that the leniency of שבות דשבות applies across the board, at least when the rabbinical action is performed by a non-Jew.
As such, in order to explain this Mishna, we would need to either

  1. find another equally authoritative Mishna that holds that מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופא is only rabbinical
  2. Conclude that even according to Rabbi Shimon who holds that מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופא is only rabbinical, it is more severe than most rabbinical prohibitions and the leniency of שבות דשבות does not apply to it.
  3. Conclude that the author of our Mishna does not consider extinguishing a fire to save property to be מלאכה שאינה צריכא לגופא, in contrast to the explicit view of Rabbi Yossi who does.
  4. Explain why Chazal where particularly strict in the case of our Mishna

In the next Mishna on the daf, we are told among other things that it is permitted to trap a scorpion on shabbos to prevent it from biting by covering it with a vessel.
However, the Mishna then states that such a case was brought in front of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai and he expressed his concern that shabbos might have been desecrated unknowingly.
As it is obvious that if this was a poisonous scorpion that was likely to bite him, no one would argue that covering it was forbidden, it seems clear that we are talking about a non-toxic scorpion, and the basis of the Tana Kama’s leniency is that one does not want the scorpion, but merely to prevent it from damaging.
This makes it מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופא, and given that it is only rabbinically prohibited in the first place, the Tana Kama permits it in order to prevent the pain inflict by a bite.
If this analysis is correct, we could be faced with another two Tannaim debating the status of מלאכה שאינה צריכא לגופא.

On the second side of the daf, the Amora (sage of the Talmudic period,) Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi rules that any creature that causes damage may be killed on shabbos. Rav Yosef quotes a Beraisa that mentions 5 specifically dangerous creatures (one of them being the snake of Eretz Yisroel- probably the venomous Palestinian viper that is ironically a protected species despite the danger it poises to residents.)
He derives from this that other creatures that cause damage but are not life-threatening may not be killed on shabbos, which serves to disprove the lenient ruling of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi.
Rav Yosef reconciles these two statements by saying that everyone agrees that if a life-threatening creature is running towards him, poising an immediate danger, one may kill it.
In such a case, even Rabbi Yehuda agrees that it is permitted to kill them due to concerns for pikuach nefesh.
When it comes to other non-life-threatening creatures that nevertheless cause damage (such as biting,) Rabbi Yehuda would forbid it but Rabbi Shimon would permit it, seeing as it is מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופא , which according to him is only rabbinically forbidden, and thus permitted to prevent damage. (see Rashi and Tosfos though for 2 different ways of understanding the Gemara’s answer.)
We have shown how 3 different cases on our daf form essential primary material in the analysis of the law regarding מלאכה שאינה צריכא לגופא, and its scope- the actual halacha is beyond the scope of this post, but familiar to any serious student of hilchos Shabbos.
In addition to its ramifications for this principle, this sugya seems to imply that although the golden rule with matters of pikuach nefesh is that ספק נפשות להקיל, in case of doubt, one always errs on the side of caution, this rule does have certain limits and the perceived danger to life does have to be more than just the realm of the paranoid.
This is further illustrated in the continuation of the sugya.
The Gemara tells how a Tana(in this context, reader of Beraitot, not someone from the tannaic period) taught a Beraita in front of Rabbah bar Rav Huna:
“One who kills snakes and scorpions on shabbos, the spirit of the Chasidim (pious ones) is not at peace with (does not approve.)”
Rabbah bar Rav Huna retorted that if this is the case, the spirit of the sages is not at peace with those Chasidim! (seeing as they were being stringent in the laws of shabbos at the expense of concern for safety!)
This reminds of the case of the חסיד שוטה, the foolish pious person, who sees a woman drowning and refuses to save her because it is not modest to look at her (Sotah 21b.)
Yet, for an entirely different reason, Rav Huna disagrees in this case.
The Gemara accounts how he once saw someone killing a wasp on shabbos, presumably for the above reason, and rebuked him, saying “Have you finished killing them all?”
Rav Huna seems to be of the view that given that there is no end to how many insects one can spend one’s shabbos killing, and the efficacy of each act in itself is doubtful, this is outside the normal concern of pikuach nefesh and in the realm of paranoia.
Once again, it is not our mandate here to come to halachik conclusions, but the basic messages of this incident need to be internalized – On the one hand, being concerned about other prohibitions at the expense of danger to life is considered “foolish piety” and not to be tolerated. On the other hand, we need to be able to distinguish between real, albeit small, concerns for life and actions with a reasonable chance of mitigating that risk, and obsessive paranoia with little efficacy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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