Pesachim 87-88 Hashem’s love for Am yisroel, and sexual imagery in Tanach and Chazal

A Special post in loving memory of my father zt’l, containing some of his teachings based on Navi and Chazal.

One of the parts of Tanach my father zt’l loved teaching was the early chapters of  Sefer Hoshea, and the teachings of Chazal on it, which are found on these daf.

While reading these, one is struck by the unusual nature of Hoshea’s first prophetic mission.

In short, Hashem tells Hoshea to marry a prostitute and have “children of prostitution” with her.

They have 2 sons and a daughter together, and Hashem tells Hoshea to call them names which denote his anger with the people of Israel.

Suddenly, the second chapter opens with a short positive message of how numerous the people of Israel will be and how Hashem will accept them back, before going back to predictions of destruction.

Whereas this is not the first example of a valid prophecy telling a Navi to do something that is usually forbidden (the עקידה  being the most famous example,) this is certainly bizarre enough to beg some explanation.

Chazal pick up on this and fill in the background- Hashem told Hoshea how the people had sinned.

Rather than begging for mercy for them, Hoshea suggests that Hashem replace them with a different nation.

Hashem then tells Hoshea to marry and prostitute and have children with her.

He then tells him to leave her and her children.  Hoshea protests that he cannot just leave his wife and children, and Hashem reveals the Mussar in the allegory.

Hoshea wouldn’t abandon his wife and kids despite their  sinful  and doubtful status, yet he expected Hashem to abandon his chosen people who had a long and proven unique relationship with him?!

Although Hoshea’s initial response might seem harsh and out of place for a leading Navi, it is not the only  case we find of such an attitude.

Chazal (Shabbos 89b ) tells us how in the future, Hashem will approach Avraham Avinu and tell him that his children have sinned, and he will reply that Hashem should destroy them. He then approaches Yaakov who has the same reaction. Only Yitzchak asks Hashem to spare them.

One cannot but notice the irony by which Avraham, known as the man of kindness who begs for mercy for the worst of sinners, seemingly gives up on his descendants, whereas Yitzchak, known as the man of absolute justice who is hardly recorded in the text as begging for mercy for anyone, is the one who comes to the rescue.

Be that as it may, it seems that there is a certain threshold beyond which even the most dedicated of our leaders lose their patience with us and stop even attempting to save us from ourselves.

As my father zt’l would often point out, this happened eventually to Eliyahu haNavi as well, who in his encounter with Hashem on Chorev spoke extremely negatively and dismissively of the Jewish people  (Melachim 19), and Hashem’s reaction was to inform him that his time as leader was over and he needed to anoint his student Elisha in his place-  A leader who gives up on his people and can no longer see the good in him gives up his right to lead his flock.

Yeshayahu  also calls the people a “nation of impure lips” and is punished by being burnt on his lips. (Yeshayahu 6)

At a certain point, after  a lifetime of fighting for his people, even Moshe Rabbeinu lost his temper and hit the rock, after which he lost the chance to lead the people into Eretz-Yisrael (Bamidbar 20/10.)

However, unlike Avraham, Eliyahu, and Moshe who reached this stage at the end of a long career of serving the people, Hoshea  and Yeshayahu display this attitude at the beginning of their prophetic careers, and rather than depriving them of their planned prophetic future, Hashem chooses to correct their attitude and give them another chance, by way of a very traumatic experience which puts their thinking right.

מעשה אבות סימן לבנים  (the actions/events of the fathers are a sign for the children-[see Tanchuma Lech Lecha 9]) and this error and subsequent correction was not limited to the founding fathers and the prophets, but can be found in Chazal themselves as well, and up to this very day.

The Gemara (Pesachim 88a) tells how when the Amora עולא came to the Babylonian center of פומבדיתא  , he was given a basket of the dates that Bavel was famous for.

When told how cheap they were, he expressed his amazement at how despite the easy availability of such incredible sustenance, the Jews of Babylon did not study Torah at night.

Later, after eating them, he got a stomach-ache.

After that, he expressed his astonishment at how despite the availability of such unhealthy food (סמא דמותא,)  the Babylonians still studied Torah at night!

We discussed in the beginning of the Masechta (see my post on Pesachim  3 ) how the Torah goes out of its way to use לשון נקיה  (clean language.)

In fact, the Rambam  (Moreh 3/8)  takes this even further and in a controversial statement highly disputed by the Ramban (Shmos 30/13), he explains that the reason why the Hebrew language is called לשון הקודש  is because among other degrading words, it has no explicit nouns for the sexual organs, nor verbs for the sexual act, using only euphemisms.

Yet any Yeshiva kid should be able to tell you that both the Tanach and Chazal are full of sensual imagery, and on our daf, multiples examples of this can be found from Shir haShirim, Hoshea, and in Chazal’s comments on them.

It is interesting to note that whereas Chazal seem to interpret the explicit imagery in Shir haShirim completely allegorically, they  significantly enhance the sexual meaning of the episode in Hoshea, painting a rather graphic picture of the career of the prostitute Hoshea marries.

It seems rather clear from this, consistent with the thesis we developed in our earlier quoted post, that despite the mandate to attempt to use euphemistic language where it is possible to do so without blurring the message, when the clearest way of teaching a message is by use of explicit imagery, the Torah and Chazal do not hold back.

The above attempts to follow the approach of Rambam- of course, it is possible, more along the lines of Ramban,  that the Torah and Chazal simply see nothing “unholy” about the use of sexual imagery in the first place, and use it rather freely, in some cases allegorically, and in some rather literally.  (see though Mishna Sanhedrin 8/1 where the term “clean language” seems to be used in this context as well as the words of the above-quoted Ramban himself who seems to admit this. It is also possible that the entire incident with Hoshea is also to be understood allegorically despite how graphically Chazal describe the details. )

Much to talk about this subject, but it will take a tour of shas to test either thesis, so l have attempted to at least start laying the foundations from our daf and continue building as we go.

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

Pesachim 57 “Their pots and pans will go to heaven”

In memory of the Av Beis Din of Cape-Town, Rabbi Desmond Maisels of blessed memory who held the fort of halachik honesty for so many decades in that beautiful city.

One of the great achievements of the past few decades in the Jewish world has been the return to observance by so many people, spear-headed by the “Baal Teshuva” movement.

Whereas 60 years ago, Orthodox Judaism was considered almost dead and buried, the most vibrant and growing Jewish communities of today are found mainly in the Torah-observant world.

This trend is highly noticeable in the plethora of kosher supermarkets, Pesach products, eruvin,  mikvaos, and Torah day school that form the heart of any Jewish neighborhood.

Although many members of these communities are also involved in a large selection of outreach and charitable organizations, there seem to be many who still do not put the same focus on the area of ethical behaviour and inter-human relations as they do in the realm of ritual.

People very often get swept up in the “frumkeit” (ritualistic piety) without even realizing how it sometimes comes at the expense of other things that the Torah values even more dearly.

We have mentioned elsewhere  that the Gemara  (Brachos 17a) cautions against a person learning lots of Torah and acting in a disdainful fashion to his parents and teachers- the stereotype of the yeshiva bachur who will no longer eat in his shul Rabbi’s home because “his hechsher” is not good enough for him.

On our daf we are told how the son of בוהין used to leave פאה  (the corner of a field left for the poor) from certain vegetables, even though they are exempt from this requirement.

When בוהין  later saw poor people collecting the פאה, he told them to rather take double the amount from other produce of his that had already been tithed.

 All though פאה  is not subject to tithing , פאה  taken on vegetables is not considered פאה  and one who eats it without separating tithes is both eating טבל  and  stealing from the Levi and Kohain.

We see how easy it is to be so stringent in one mitzva that one lands up transgressing another, something that we have referred to elsewhere as a stringency that leads to a leniency, or a full-blown transgression.

We also note that rather than be seen to be strict about maaser at the expense of the poor, בוהין was prepared to double the portion collected by the poor from his own tithed produce, at great expense to himself!

Our  daf carries on painting a disturbing picture of a period when the כהונה  (priesthood) was so corrupt that the stronger kohanim used to forcibly take the portions of the weaker ones.

We are taught how Initially the skins from the sacrifices were divided amongst the kohanim on shift, but due to the above corruption, they started rather declaring them הקדש (sanctified for the Temple.)

We see the incredible irony that these thugs were still “frum” enough that they would never think of benefitting fromהקדש , but they were happy to steal from their fellow kohanim and intimidate them.

It reminds me of the famous story of the Yeshiva student who used to store his milk in the communal fridge of the yeshiva dormitory.

He noticed that certain students had been regularly drinking his milk without permission and responded by putting a sign on the milk container that read  : “not chalav yisroel!”- the stealing immediately stopped.

My father of blessed memory would often tell how his mentor, Chief Rabbi Louis Rabinowitz zt’l once intervened in the case of a very observant man who refused to give his wife a גט  (bill of divorce.)

After various warnings, he took to the pulpit to condemn his hypocrisy, noting that due to his high level of kashrus at home , he was certain that “his pots and pans will go to heaven!”

There are people who think that it is possible to serve Hashem by treating him like a king, while treating other people like slaves.

Hashem teaches us that an essential part of his service is doing good for his creations – if our service does not make the world a better place, it is not service, but rather an abomination, a point well illustrated by countless excerpts from our prophets and sages.

There are plenty “frum” people who try to follow the ethical and interpersonal elements of the Torah as precisely as they follow the rest of the commandments.

It is those people, and their leaders,  whom we should strive to emulate.

Rav Maizels zt’l  virtually created halachik observance in Cape Town, bringing standards of public kashrus and religious observance to incredible heights for a small community at the southern tip of Africa . At the same time, he always taught  by example that it is not a mitzva to be excessively stringent at the expense of others, and that growth in one’s relationship with Hashem is directly proportional to one’s growth in one’s relationship with one’s fellow human beings.

May we all merit to continue his legacy.

Pesachim 12-13 Being above suspicion and avoiding conflicts of interest

On Daf 12b, the Gemara quotes a Mishna which records a dispute between Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yehuda regarding the last time one is permitted to eat chametz on erev Pesach.

Rabbi Meir holds that one may eat chametz until the end of the fifth hour of the day and must burn in at the beginning of the sixth hour.

Rabbi Yehuda, however, holds that one may only eat chametz until the end of the fourth hour, may keep it in one’s possession till the end of the fifth hour, and burns it in the beginning of the sixth hour.

It should be noted that the prohibition of eating and owning chametz on a biblical level only applies from midday, and that these are rabbinical “fences” designed to avoid missing the biblical deadline.

The Gemara in 13b notes that Rav Nachman ruled like Rabbi Yehuda, and later claims that Rebbe’s own ruling supported his conclusion.

It tells how someone had deposited a leather sack (see Rashi) filled with chametz with יוחנן חקוקאה  and it was bitten open by a mouse.

It was erev pesach, and the chametz was leaking out and getting lost, and he wanted to sell it to recover whatever money he could for the owner while doing so was still allowed.

Rebbe kept telling him to wait, in case the owner came and wanted to eat it, until the beginning of the fifth hour when he told him to go to the market and sell it on his behalf.

The Gemara assumes that Rebbe meant for him to sell it to non-Jews, thus implying that he agreed with Rabbi Yehuda that eating chametz during this time is already forbidden for Jews.

After all, if he meant for him to sell it to Jews and agreed with Rabbi Meir that Jews were still permitted to eat chametz during this time, he should have rather given Yochanan the option to buy it himself first and eat it during this time, rather than requiring him to make the effort to go to the market to sell it!

The Gemara refutes this suggestion, explaining that Rebbe might indeed agree with Rabbi Meir and have intended for Yochanan to sell it to Jews on behalf of the owner.

However, Rebbe did not want him to buy it himself, due to concerns for חשד (arousing suspicion.)

As Yochanan had a vested interest in fixing the price lower than the going rate in order to buy it himself, Rebbe held that it was wrong to buy it, even for the same price as others would agree to, in order not to arouse suspicion that he had indeed done so.

To back this reasoning up, it brings a Beraisa that discussed someone who collects copper coins for charity and currently has no poor people to give them to.  Due to the concern that they might go rusty, he needs to exchange them for silver coins with someone else, but he may NOT exchange them for his own silver coins, in order not to arouse suspicion that he gave himself a favorable rate.

 This would be going against the apparently biblical directive of “והייתם נקיים מה’ ומישראל ”  – “you shall be clean from Hashem and the Jewish people (Bamidbar 32/22.)

The same applies to someone who works in a soup kitchen and has excess food: He needs to sell it to someone else, but may not buy it himself from the charity, to avoid suspicion that he might give himself a better price!

This idea can be found in an explicit Mishna (Shekalim 3/2,) which tells us that the person who puts donations given to the Temple in the 3 boxes used for storing them may not wear a garment that is folded over, shoes, an amulet, or even Tefillin, in order not to arouse suspicion that he stole from them and hid the money in one of the above items (see Rambam there.)

The idea that someone would be so brazen as to un-sow Tefillin and hide stolen money in them might seem extreme , but there have indeed been cases in modern times where “religious” Jews have been caught smuggling diamonds and other things in their Tefillin, making this Mishna even more chilling  (Rav Mordechai Kamenetzky (https://torah.org/torah-portion/drasha-5757-shoftim/) tells how when consulted about this phenomena, his saintly grandfather Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky זצ”ל  compared such behavior to someone who approaches enemy lines with a white flag as if to surrender, and throws a grenade, violating a sacred symbol of peaceful intent so that others no longer trust it.)

We saw earlier in the daf cycle (Shabbos 23a) that a person is required to leave פאה (the corner of the field left for the poor) at the end of his field, for 4 different reasons, one of them being to avoid חשד  (suspicion) that he might not have left anything at all.

Similarly, The Gemara (Bava Basra 8b) rules that it is forbidden for someone who is collecting money for charity to put  money that he finds in the street, or that someone gives him in repayment of a loan, in his own wallet, so that people should not think that it is charity money that he is taking for himself.

Rather, he should put it in the charity box, and transfer it to his own wallet once home. The people collecting money are also supposed to go in pairs for the same reason (Bava Basra 8b.)

We should note that unlike the practise in many corrupt areas of making traffic police work in pairs to make it more risky to accept bribes, the concern here is not even that they would steal the money but simply that they might be suspected of doing so- such is the ethical standard expected of  a Jew.

The directive to “be clean” does not only apply to monetary matters, but also to arousing suspicion of other types of improper behavior.

For example, one of the reasons that it is forbidden to enter a חורבה  (ruin ) is to avoid suspicion that one might be meeting a prostitute there (Brachos 3a and Rashi there.)

A Jew is required to not avoid corruption, but to avoid any suspicion of corrupt behave, and to always be AND appear squeaky clean.

There is a related concept called מראית עיין, where Chazal forbade  or required certain actions to avoid “looking bad.”

Whether this is an extension of the concern of חשד or an independent concept requires some analysis, which I hope to be able to do at a later opportunity.

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

Pesachim 3 The trade-off between clean and clear language

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This proof is followed by others from different Amoraim.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eruvin 85-86 The tenant and the rich man

The Mishna on Eruvin 85b tells us that someone who dwells in a store-room that opens to a courtyard needs to participate in the eruv chatzeiros, and if he does not do so, he forbids the courtyard to everyone else.

Rabbi Yehuda, however opines that if the owner of the courtyard has a תפיסת יד (hold) on it , it is not an issue.

Rashi explains that this means that if the owner uses some of the space inside the storeroom to store his own things, it is considered still to be his רשות (domain.)

The Gemara  here seems to understands this to be part of  a general rule that when the owner retains usage of the house, he can also be part of the eruv in place of the tenant.

The Gemara gives the example of a very wealthy man, Bunias, who owned courtyards and allowed others to stay in them on condition that he could keep some of his property in them.

Rashi seems to understand that he used to “lend” the houses to them, whereas the Ritva understands that he sometimes “lent” and sometimes rented them to people.

As a rental ostensibly confers a higher degree of quasi ownership than a loaned house where no money is paid, this could be very significant regarding whether some level of קנין  is required here or whether simply דירה  (long-term dwelling) is sufficient to make the inhabitant the deciding factor regarding eruvin. (See Meiri who relates this to the debate whether עירוב משום דירה או משום קנין  .)

While the possibility that a long-term inhabitant might be considered the quasi owner regarding eruvin even if he does not pay for his stay certainly seems to be assumed by Rashi, short-term guests in hotels or visitors that stay in their own cottages in one’s courtyard could well  have a different law, but see our post on Eruvin 65.

The Beraisa proceeds to tell how when Bunias arrived, Rebbe himself would tell everyone to make space for the man of “100 portions.”

When another wealthy man arrived, however, he told them to make space for the man of “200 portions.”

Rashi explains that Rebbe thought the second person was even wealthier and thus honored him according to his level of wealth!

רבי ישמעאל ברבי יוסי pointed out to Rebbe that Bunias was actually wealthier than the second person, and his father owned 1000 boats at sea and 1000 cities on land!

Rebbe responded that when רבי ישמעאל ברבי יוסי next went to visit Bunias’ father, he should tell him to send his son in fancier clothes next time (so he will know how wealthy he is and honor him accordingly [see Rashi])

The Gemara proceeds to tell us how not only Rebbe, but also Rabbi Akiva were particular about honoring the wealthy.

For those of us who are naturally put off by the idea of the wealthy in a community being giving some of the top honors, and the common practise of auctioning off the best honors to the highest bigger, it might seem difficult to accept how such great Tannaim seemed to go along with this approach?

Surely  a person should be given honors based on merit, rather than on the size of his wallet?

Surely the road to community leadership should not bypass the less fortunate?

We discussed in our post on Daf 49 that although the Torah takes social responsibilities very seriously, enforces charity and tithes, and certainly does not accept a libertarian “laizze faire” approach to economics, it also has total respect for individual property rights and for the right to generate personal wealth.

We also noted that according to one view, the entire institution of allowing one to send a messenger with bread for eruv techumin rather than having to go there oneself was to make it easier for the wealthy, and that the Torah actually treats the wealthy with great respect.

This case serves as a prime example of this  honor shown to wealthy people.

Yet by the end of the sugya, it becomes clear that this honor is not unconditional, and that it is not a contradiction to the merit based approach that the Torah is famous for(for example a learned Mamzer takes priority over an ignorant priest!)

In explaining Rabbi Akiva’s great honor for the wealthy, the Gemara brings a passuk (Tehillim 61/):

“ישב עולם לפני אלהים חסד ואמת מן ינצרהו”- read midrashically as “The world shall endure in front of Elokim,  kindness and truth will guard it”

The Gemara applies this passuk to a wealthy person and says- When will the world sit forever in front of Hashem (endure?)  When kindness and truth guard it (when the wealthy use their money to perform acts of kindness and truth.)

The Torah’s true attitude to wealth is that it was given to the wealthy in order to help the less fortunate, and that when they do this, they are actually sustaining and building the world, something very worthy of honor!

It is thus fitting that someone like Bunias should be used as an example of a wealthy man honored by Rebbe, given that he used to “lend” his properties to people, at least sometimes free of charge, to live in!

Whether a less generous wealthy man loses this right to honor completely, or should still be honored given his potential, or in the hope of encouraging him to fulfill his purpose, is of course subject to discussion, but it seems that Chazal had little tolerance for wealthy misers who refused to give some of their wealth to others, and in this regard  ממשכנין על הצדקה- we take collateral from people in order to force them to give tzedakah, sometimes in very large sums(B.B. 8b)

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 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.

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?