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 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 60 and 61 Do Gedolim have “Ruach haKodesh”

In a rather unusual responsa, Rav Chaim of Sanz (the Divrei Chaim,) founder of the Sanz dynasty of Chasidim (Y.D. 1/105,) dealt with the issue of a school teacher who had told his students that Rabbi Chaim Attar, author of the famed “Ohr haChaim” super-commentary on the Chumash, did not write his work with “ruach haKodesh” (“holy spirit-“ loosely translated as “divine inspiration” and possibly described as a form or means of prophecy.)

The teacher was fired from his position, and the Divrei Chaim was asked whether this was the correct decision, to which he responded in the affirmative, going so far as to say that the author of any great Torah work who is fit for it, can be said to have ruach-hakodesh.

This position seems rather problematic at first glance, given that the Gemara (Sanhedrin 11a and various other places) brings a Beraisa which states that ” משמתו נביאים האחרונים חגי זכריה ומלאכי – נסתלקה רוח הקודש מישראל, ואף על פי כן היו משתמשין בבת קול (Once the last prophets, Chagai, Zecharia, and Malachi died, “ruach haKodesh” departed from Israel, and nevertheless,they would make use of a “bas kol.”

It continues to tell how a voice from heaven once proclaimed that there was someone worthy of having the שכינה rest on him like Moshe Rabbeinu, but the generation was not worthy, and the sages assumed it was referring to Hillel!

This Beraisa seems to imply a number of things, among them:

  1. Ruach hakodesh is tied to prophecy, and when prophecy ceased, so did it.
  2. Even arguably the greatest sage of the early Tannaic period, Hillel himself, did not have “ruach hakodesh.”

The Divrei Chaim’s claim is also particularly ironic, given that the Ohr haChaim himself (Bereishis 6/3 ( states emphatically that there is not even a ריח (smell) of “Kodesh” left in our time, never mind “ruach hakodesh.” (thanks to )

Yet at the bottom of Eruvin 60b, Rav Idi quotes an important rule regarding Eruvin in the name of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi.

Although there is a rule that an entire city (at least a walled one) is considered like 4 amos, and thus counts very little towards the 2000 amos a person is allowed to walk on shabbos, this rule is not absolute, and only applies in certain circumstances.

For example, if a person’s shabbos base is outside the city, and the city fits in its entirety into the 2000 amos of his techum, it only counts as 4 amos and he earns the rest of the length of the city in the same direction on the opposite side of the city. (כלתה מדתו בסוף העיר)

However, if the 2000 amos of his techum ends somewhere in the middle of the city (כלתה מדתו בתוך העיר) , then the city counts as part of the 2000 amos, and he may not move past the point where it ends, even within the city itself.

After reporting this view in the name of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, Rav Idi comments that “אין אלו אלא דברי נביאות” (lit- these are only matters of prophecy), as on a logical level, there should be no difference in the law between the two cases.- either the city should count as part of the 2000 amos either way, or be considered as 4 amos in both cases!

Rava then takes issue with Rav Idi’s comment by bringing evidence from the next Mishna that this distinction indeed exists, after which Rav Idi holds his ground and explains the Mishna in a way that it does not serve as precedent for our case, in a discussion that carries over onto Eruvin 61a.

There are various ways to interpret the comment of Rav Idi regarding Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s ruling being “דברי נביאות”

  1. This could be understood literally as coming to praise and agree with Rabbi Yehoshua’s ben Levi’s words by saying that they were derived prophetically by him , without any earlier source or logical principle to back them up. This is the approach that Tosfos takes, bringing another sugya (Bava Basra 12a) to back up his view. In Tosfos haRosh, the Rosh seems to take a similar approach.
  2. Rashi, possibly unwilling to entertain the notion that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi experienced prophecy or even “ruach hakodesh,” takes a more nuanced view of this approach. He too, understands that Rav Idi views the ruling of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi positively and as being, at least to some extent, prophetic, but does not attribute this prophecy to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi himself. Instead, he explains that in the absence of any logical or textual evidence for his rule, he must have received it as a tradition from his Rebbe going back to something heard מפי הגבורה (by Moshe from Hashem) at Sinai! This explanation is also brought by the Ritva.
  3. Rabbeinu Chananel, seemingly unwilling to treat this ruling as any form of prophecy, seems to understand that Rav Idi simply meant that it was a גזירה of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi himself, without textual support or obvious logical basis. He also seems to understand that Rav Idi meant to weaken Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s statement, not strengthen it.
  4. As mentioned above, it is also possible that Rav Idi is not coming to strengthen the status of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s ruling, but rather to weaken it, and possibly even rule against it. His labelling of his words as דברי נביאות could be somewhat sarcastic, as if to say that the only way he could have come up with something like that was through prophecy, which he clearly did not have.
  5. Without going so far as in the above point, it could be that Rav Idi is attributing a certain degree of prophecy to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, but views such a source for halacha as inferior to one grounded in textual and/or logical support, and perhaps unauthoritative, given the principle of לא בשמים היא.

The Rif and the Rosh both state that we rule like Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi because Rava brings a Mishna to support them, even though Rav Idi was able to explain the Mishna differently. Though they point out that Rav Idi’s main intention was not to rule differently, it seems that they acknowledge that he indeed did hold differently, or at least made his comment to weaken the authority of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s ruling rather than strengthen it. A similar approach can also be seen in the Meiri.

It seems clear from the above that most Rishonim do not take the comment of Rav Idi to mean that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi actually had prophecy and/or “ruach hakodesh, even if this is the most simple reading of the text.

It seems compelling that the reason they did not do so might well be because this would contradict the often quoted earlier source that “ruach hakodesh” and “prophecy” are either equivalent or at least go together, and that both ended with חגי זכריה and מלאכי .

The Tosfos, on the other hand, who do understand Rav Idi’s comment literally, need to deal with this issue, and this takes us into a study of the sugya he quotes in Bava Basra, as well as a fascinating Ramban, which I hope to go into in a couple of days when we revisit this discussion, Hashem willing.

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

Eruvin 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.

Petira of the גרז”ן

Baruch Dayan haEmes
תורה תורה חגרי שק
מורינו הרב הגרז”ן זצק”ל

This has been a year of aweful losses around the word, and in the world of Torah leadership, it has been just devastating.

Rav Zalman Nechemya was a legend throughout the Torah world, one of a few giants in all areas of Torah who was able to find himself equally revered in both the Chareidi and religious Zionist worlds.

For those of us who received our semicha from him, enabling us to achieve so much in our lives of spreading Torah, the sense of grief and loss is immeasurable.

May his family and thousands of talmidim and musmachim be comforted in his tremendous legacy and continue to spread Torah in his merit.

יהי זכרו הקדוש ברוך.

Eruvin 7 A philosophy of stringencies or leniencies

There is a tendency in parts of the Torah world to err on the side of caution in all halachik matters and take on the more stringent opinions in all areas of halacha.
On the other hand, there is a tendency amongst other sectors to constantly search for  leniencies, picking and choosing the easier opinion in each area of halacha.
Are either of the above policies legitimate, or is one perhaps required to choose one or more recognized halachik authorities and follow their views in every area of halacha, irrespective of whether they are lenient or stringent?
On the previous daf, we recorded a dispute between Rav and Shmuel regarding how to close off a מבוי מפולש (alley open to the public domain at both ends.)
Rav ruled leniently like the Tana Kama in the beraisa and held that a צורת הפתח (form of an entrance) on one end and a pole or beam on the other end was sufficient.
On the other hand, Shmuel ruled stringently like Beis Hillel according to Chananya, and held that a צורת הפתח was not sufficient on the one side, but doors were required.
We also saw a different dispute, also between Rav and Shmuel, regarding a    מבוי עקום (bent alley.)
Until then, we had been dealing solely with a straight, rectangular מבוי, closed along its lengths and open either on one or two ends.
This dispute, however, centered around an “L” shaped מבוי that makes a right-angled turn in the middle, but is still open at both ends.
As such, the one end is not aligned with the other, and it is unclear whether such a מבוי  is to be treated at each end as if it is only open on that end, making a pole or beam sufficient, or whether it is to be treated like a מבוי open on both ends to a public domain, and thus require one of the more stringent solutions discussed in the Beraisa .
In this case, Rav is stringent, and holds that it is to be regarded as open on both sides (מפולש), whereas Shmuel is lenient and treats it as if it is only open on one side (סתום).
When we combine both disputes, it comes out that such a מבוי does not require doors according to either Rav or Shmuel.
This is because:
1.       Although Rav rules that it is to be treated like a מבוי מפולש (open alley), he also rules like the Tana Kama that a מבוי מפולש (open alley) does not require doors on either side.
2.       Although Shmuel rules that a מבוי מפולש requires doors on one side, he rules that such a מבוי עכום is to be treated like a מבוי סתום (closed alley.)
Despite the fact that we have thus not found ANY authority who holds that a מבוי עכום  requires doors, the Gemara tells us that there was such a מבוי  in the city of Neharda, Shmuel’s home town, and the authorities treated it with the stringencies of both Rav and Shmuel, requiring doors on one side!
This means essentially that they “collected” the stringencies of both, treating it like an open מבוי in accordance with Rav, and requiring an open מבוי to have doors in accordance with Shmuel.
The Gemara is extremely bothered with this approach of collecting חומרות (stringencies,) due to a Beraisa that focusses on general principles applying to disputes between בית הלל and בית שמאי.
The Beraisa rules that the law is in accordance with Beis Hillel in all cases. Yet, one is permitted to choose which of them to follow (the Gemara later explains that this was only before the בת קול  (voice from heaven) that proclaimed that the law is always like Beis Hillel, or according to the view of Rabbi Yehoshua who did not accept the authority of voices from heaven, or that this statement refers to similar disputes amongst later sages that have not yet been resolved.)
The Beraisa, however, condemns those who rely on the leniencies of both of them, calling them “wicked,” and mocks those who follow the stringencies of both of them, applying to them the verse הכסיל בחושך הולך (“the fool walks in darkness”- Koheles 2.)
On today’s daf, 2 approaches are given to explain how the authorities in Neharda had not behaved like “fools” by being stringent like both opinions:
1.       Rav Nachman bar Yitchak is of the view that in practise, even Rav would not be lenient and accept only a צורת הפתח, a claim made already by Rav Huna.
2.       Rav Shizvi seeks to explain this even according to the view of Rav Ada bar Ahava that Rav was indeed lenient in practise. He interprets the Beraisa’s application of the term “fools” to those who practise the stringencies of both houses in a far more limited fashion.
He claims that this only applies when the two disputes are inter-connected, with the lenient view in the one case logically requiring a stringent view in the other, and vice versa.
Where the two debates are completely independent of one another, there is no issue with practicing the stringencies of both.
To support the second approach, Rav Shizvi brings the case of the “spine and the skull,” discussed in a Mishna (Ohalos 2/3)
This Mishna deals with the bones of a corpse that are considered like the whole corpse itself and cause everything in the same אהל (covered area) to become impure.
In contrast, most bones on their own do not cause such impurity, and only cause impurity to things that touch them.
It is universally accepted that the whole spine and whole skull, being the most essentially bones of the body, are treated with the stringencies of the body itself, and make everything under the same roof of them impure.
If the spine or skull is no longer whole, however, they are treated more leniently like any other bone.
There is a dispute between בית הלל and בית שמאי regarding how much of the spine or skull needs to be missing for it to no longer be considered whole.
Regarding the spine, בית שמאי holds that unless at least 2 vertebrae are missing, it is still considered whole and the more stringent rules of impurity apply. בית הלל, on the other hand, hold that as soon as one vertebrae is missing, the spine is no longer considered whole and the more lenient rules of impurity apply.
Regarding the skull, בית שמאי are once again stringent and hold that it still considered whole unless enough is missing to cause death in a living person.
בית הלל once again are more lenient, and say if the amount normally removed by a doctor’s drill (possibly in therapeutic  surgery) from a live person is missing from the dead man’s skull, it is already considered incomplete.
Rav Shizvi then refers to the ruling of Rav Yehuda in the name of Shmuel that the same criteria apply to the laws of טריפות (terminally injured animals.)
Missing pieces in the spine and skull before slaughter are counted amongst the terminal injuries that render an animal non-kosher even after proper slaughter.
In order for it to be considered “incomplete” and thus non-kosher, בית שמאי use the more stringent criteria they applied to a corpse, essentially making it harder for it to be considered non-kosher. This turns out effectively to be a leniency in the rules of kashrus.
בית הלל in contrast, use the more lenient criteria they use to release the spine and skull from the more stringent laws of impurity, in effect making it easier for the animal to be considered non-kosher, and thus creating a stringency in the laws of kashrus!
This means that in this case, a leniency in one area of halacha, namely impurity, logically requires a corresponding stringency in a different area, namely the laws of kashrus, and vice versa.
Thus being stringent in both areas, and applying the stringent laws of impurity to a spine missing only one bone, but also considering an animal with such a spine to be non-kosher, is logically inconsistent, as is applying the lenient laws of impurity but also considering it to be kosher.
In such cases, says Rav Shizvi, being stringent like both opinions is logically inconsistent and thus foolish.
A generally cautious and stringent approach to halacha in which the stringencies of different authorities are adopted is thus not considered like a “fool walking in the darkness”  according to his interpretation of the Beraisa, unless it leads to logically inconsistency in one’s behaviour.
It is not stringency per se that is the issue, but logically inconsistent behaviour.

A spine missing one vertebra is either considered whole or not, but cannot be both whole and incomplete.

In order to develop a broader approach to this issue, a number of questions need to be raised, among them:
1.       IS Rav Shizvi’s interpretation of the Beraisa only brought in order to reconcile Rav Ada bar Ahava’s view that Rav was lenient in practise regarding a צורת הפתח in a מבוי מפולש, but Rav Nachman bar Yitchak would still prefer the original and  simpler interpretation of the Beraisa that considers collecting stringencies in general to  be a foolish and dark approach?
2.        If this is not so, we would need to explain why Rav Nachman bar Yitchak doesn’t make the obvious distinction that Rav Shizvi makes and instead chooses a view of Rav that is subject to debate.
3.       If Rav Nachman bar Yitchak indeed favors the original and simple approach, do we accept his broader view of the “fool in the dark” or the more limited interpretation of Rav Shizvi?
4.       If Rav Shizvi’s distinction is to be accepted, does this apply only to the Beraisa’s mockery of the chronic מחמיר  (one who is stringent) or does it also apply to the Beraisa’s condemnation of the chronic מקיל   (one who is lenient.) On the one hand, he only makes the distinction regarding stringency, but the need for consistency within the wording of the Beraisa seems to indicate that it applies equally to leniencies. If this is so, he would see no “wickedness” in “collecting” leniencies from different authorities, so long as they are not logically inconsistent with each other.
Answering these questions requires a thorough study of all parallel and related sugyos  and the Rishonim who comment on them. As this is way out of the scope of this post, we shall have to wait for future opportunities to revisit this topic!

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 2 Introduction, Technical measurements and clean language.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rabbi Yehuda disagrees and says there is no such requirement.

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

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

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

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

Two answers are given :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As such, the harsher language is preferred.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


the Haftara for Parshas Pinchas is normally about Eliyahu, for well-known reasons.
Yet, when it falls after 17 Tammuz, we read from the first chapter of Yirmiyahu instead, to fit the sad theme of this time of year.
Yet there is also a very strong connection between the Parsha itself and the Haftara from Yirmiyahu.
The first chapter of Yirmiyahu deals with his sanctification as a Navi. In Parshas Pinchas, Yehoshua is sanctified as a Navi in place of Moshe Rabbenu.
It cannot be coincidental that Yehoshua is the one who took us into Eretz-Yisrael , and Yirmiyahu is the one who, in his prophecies of punishment, took us out into exile.
During this period of time, the message is stark: We cannot take Eretz-Yisrael for granted- our rights to it are completely determined on whether we keep our part of the deal.
At the same time as we meet Yehoshua, we also meet Yirmiyahu, and its is up to us to decide, whose message will be fulfilled in our day.