Eruvin 59    Authoritative Translation and the “private city”

The wealth of modern-day translations and study-aids has made the study of our sacred texts accessible to so many people who without them, would simply be unable to study them, and for this, their merit is tremendous.
Yet there is also a downside to this, in that people who study Torah from their youth and would normally learn the original Hebrew and Aramaic naturally from the original context of their study, now tend to use these works as crutches rather than learning the necessary linguistic skills themselves from classical sources.
As so much of the original meaning is lost in translation, and one translation might give a completely different view of a word or phrase than another, this often biases the learner in favor of the translators subjective interpretation of the text, rather than training him to study the text objectively on its own merits.
At its extreme, this results in the loss of the  independent analytical skills essential for in-depth Torah study and for reaching legitimate halachik conclusions, effectively starting a chain reaction which has the ability to paralyze the entire traditional system of Torah study and halachik ruling.
Yet how is a generation whose spoken language is neither Aramaic nor biblical or Mishnaic Hebrew expected to even get started without the use of such tools?
It is clear that there is always going to be a tradeoff between exposure to unbiased original texts and the clarity provided by modern “translation-commentaries” and what is right for one, is not necessarily right for the other, but it is clear that the earlier back one can go for translations, the more legitimate one’s starting point will be.
The earliest and most authoritative “dictionary” of Talmudic language is the “Aruch”, written by Rabbeinu Nosson of Rome, an early Rishon who slightly preceded Rashi, and whose translations are used by him and other Rishonim in their commentaries.
As such, this is the first place us “uneducated” moderners should turn when faced with words that we do not understand, something our great teacher haGaon Rav Mendel Blachman שליט”א  has drummed into us (of course an authoritative Hebrew dictionary will be needed once we have the correct hebrew word and using later scholarly dictionaries such as that of Rabbi Marcus Jastrow זצ”ל  are still far preferable than jumping to the translation-commentaries of today, certainly for in-depth study if time does not allow it for the daf yomi!)
It is this approach that I would like to illustrate in today’s post, using the main topic of the daf as a case study.
Today’s daf discussed the fascinating case of an עיר של יחיד ונעשית של רבים – a private city that became public.
We have seen many times that when it comes to defining a domain as either private or public as far as the laws of Shabbos are concerned, there are several factors involved:
1.      Whether it is surrounded by halachically valid מחיצות  (partitions) or not
2.      Whether it is used/frequented by the public or not.
3.      The size or width  of the domain and its similarity to the דגלי מדבר
The actual ownership of the domain, although important on a rabbinic level, seems to be less of a factor regarding its biblical status, and when the above factors are combined, we are faced with 3 main categories of domain, at a biblical level:
1.      רשות הרבים – a public domain needs to be unfenced, be used/frequented by the public and have a minimum width of 16 amos.
2.      רשות היחיד- a private domain needs to be enclosed by halachically valid partitions on at least 3 sides (2 according to Rabbi Yehuda) and be a minimum of 4 by 4 tefachim.
3.      A כרמלית  – this is domain which lacks the partitions required to make it a private domain but lacks the public usage/frequency required to make it a public domain. On a biblical level, this is essentially a מקום פטור  (exempt domain)- on a rabbinical level , it is treated with the stringencies of both the above domains, and only very limited types of domains too small or high to fit into the other categories are still regarded as a מקום פטור  (exempt domain.)
In the case of our Mishna, a city starts out as a “private city” ,undergoes a metamorphosis which results in it being a “public city” ,and the Mishna rules that the entire city may be included in an eruv.
In contrast, if a city starts out as a “public city” and becomes a “private city”, certain restrictions of a public city still apply to it and one needs to leave a small part of it outside the eruv.
It is not immediately clear from the Mishna what the properties of the private city and public city mentioned are, and what exactly changed to make the city take on the opposite status.
After all, if a “private city” is a pure רשות היחיד  , why should it need an eruv at all, and if  a public city is a pure רשות הרבים  , then how does an eruv help anymore than it does in a regular רשות הרבים  which according to most opinions cannot be “privatized” by a regular eruv?
It is thus not surprising that the Gemara asks immediately what the phrase עיר של יחיד  is referring to and Rav Yehuda suggests that a prime example of such a construct is the “דאיסקרת דריש גלותא” .
In this case, The editor’s note on the side inform us that the ערוך ‘s version of the text has the word “דסקרתא”, and this is also the version in Rabbeinu Chananel on the daf,an invaluable clue that allows us to look up the word in his ערוך  itself.
Examining the words ourselves, we see that “דסקרתא”  is made up of “דס”  and “קרתא” ( city) , and immediately can guess that this is some sort of city belonging to the exilarch, the powerful political head of the Jewish communities of Babylonia.
The Aruch translates it simply as “עיר של ריש גלותא”- the city of the exilarch
In other words, the city is
i.                    Owned and/or controlled  by one individual (“של”)
ii.                  That one individual is a powerful public figure with government supported authority over property rights  ( -“ריש גלותא” see Sanhedrin 5a re נטילת רשות)
     We note that there is no inherent assumption that this city is surrounded by walls or partitions as is the case with a halachik רשות היחיד.
It follows that whatever changed to make it into a “עיר של רבים ”  must involve one or more of the above factors, and while the Gemara proceeds to reject this definition and accept a different one, we have now at least set the stage for beginning to understand what the issues at play are!
 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 102 The evasive מכה בפטיש (hammer-blow)

Shabbos 102 The evasive מכה בפטיש (hammer-blow)

One of the most difficult categories of forbidden work on Shabbos must be the melacha of מכה בפטיש, literally “striking with a hammer.”

After all, when a hammer is used constructively, it will usually be used as part of other forbidden categories of work, such a building, and when it used to destroy things with no positive intention, it will usually be מקלקל (a destructive action,) which is only rabbinically prohibited .

Yet this is indeed list in the Mishna (Shabbos 73a) as one of the 39 categories of work forbidden on shabbos, and it is essential to understand what it is.

The Mishna on our daf lists this melacho as one of those which has no minimum quantity required for liability.

Rashi gives both a general rule and an example of this melacha.

He gives the example of the hammer blow given to a stone by those who hew stones, after it has been cut out of the rock but not completely detached .

The stone is then hit with a hammer which causes it to detach and fall from the rock surface.

This is the final stage in the act of hewing a stone, and Rashi then tells us the general rule that the final stage of any melacha makes up the melacha of מכה בפטיש . He told us this rule back on daf 73a as well.

In truth though, numerous difficulties can be raised with both the rule and the example.

Firstly, as Tosfos points out, a forbidden category of melacha needs to involve an action performed in the work of the mishkan, and no quarry work was involved in that at all ( there were no stones in the mishkan, and constructing an altar from hewn stone was actually forbidden- note also how the Aron, Menorah, and Shulchan were all made of one single piece of beaten gold, and NOT of anything that had been cut into parts and then joined together !)

Secondly, if מכה בפטיש is the final stage of any מלאכה, surely it is already included in that מלאכה itself , and why should it get its own category? Does that mean that any melacha done from start to finish would incur two punishments , one for that particularly מלאכה , and one for completing it ? If so, one would expect that to be discussed .

However, this definition of מכה בפטיש does not originate with Rashi, but actually goes back to the Talmud itself (Shabbos 75b) where Rabbah and Rabbi Zeira both tell us that anything that involves completing a מלאכה is מכה בפטיש.

Tosfos appropriately does not disagree with the rule cited by Rashi, but chooses rather an example that did take place in the work of the mishkan , namely the final hammer blow given to strenghen the vessels of the mishkan once they were ready .

Does this melacha perhaps apply to the final act in a creative process even if that process does not involve a forbidden melacha ?

If so , where do we see such an example – after all, if it is a creative act of work that wasn’t in the mishkan, it will usually be included in the toladot of that melacha .

The key might lie in a Yerushalmi often quoted by our teacher, haGaon haRav Osher Weiss שליט”א ( various teshuvos on electricity in מנחת אשר חלק 1 וחלק 3 for example )

The Yerushalmi (Shabbos perek 7/ halocha 2) accounts that Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish spent 3 and a half years studying the matter of 39 melachos.

They found 39 Tolados ( derivatives) of each melacha.

Whatever melacha they were able to fit into one of those, they included in one of those .

Those that they could not include in one of those were included in מכה בפטיש .

It seems clear from this Yerushalmi that there exists NO melacha that is not forbidden on shabbos.

Every possible melacha, however it is defined, either falls under one of the 39 categories, their derivatives , or the מלאכה of מכה בפטיש.

Rav Weiss himself suggests the relatively radical idea that for this reason, any activation of an electric circuit fits under the prohibition of מכה בפטיש .

Although the Bavli gave a different definition, namely גמר מלאכה, and the rule is that one does not follow the Yerushalmi when it contradicts the Bavli, he contends that it is possible that the Bavli did not mean to exclude these “left out” melachot from מכה בפטיש but simply to also include the completion of any melacha .

However, as he himself is fully aware, many poskim before him rejected this possibility, and were most likely fully aware of this Yerushalmi.

Far from me with my barely existent understanding of the subject to argue, but those who do not follow this view regarding electricity have all these Poskim to rely on ( of course, electricity remains forbidden for numerous possible other reasons given, but there could be many נ”מ)

Perhaps what the Yerushalmi really means is that COMPLETING any melacha, even one that doesn’t fit into the forbidden categories, is still forbidden because of מכה בפטיש .

However it follows from this classification that unlike other melachot, some of which one could transgress just by doing some or most thereof ( even if one is sometimes exempt due to “בעשותה” ) , one would have to actually complete the goal of these “left out” melachot in order to transgress.

If one learns this way, there is no disagreement between the bavli and the Yerushalmi at all- מכה בפטיש indeed includes all “left all” melachos , but only the completion of them.

In fact, it is also stated in the same halacha on the Yerushalmi that גמר מלאכה is מכה בפטיש,

Admittedly, this might not be the simplest reading of the Yerushalmi, but it allows for a simpler reading of the Bavli and also avoids the need to say that the Bavli and Yerushalmi have such a basic difference in understanding the melacha, one that the Rishonim do not seem to mention at all ( though see the Rambam , for example in Pirush haMishnayos to perek 7 which Rav Osher suggests as a support for his words .)

Of course , we would now have to test all the examples given in the gemara of this melacha, as well as those on our daf that Rav and Shmuel argue about, before we can really see if this thesis can stand its ground .

We would also need to define exactly what מלאכה is , and what kind of גמר מלאכה is meant by the Gemara- is it the completion of any melacha, just the completion of a כלי, or just the completion of a מלאכה not already included in the 39.

Lots of work to do, but its late …

Shabbos 91 and Parshas Behaaloscha Racism, Self-Defense, and Prison Reform

Today’s daf contains an unusually high amount of different Talmudic principles, all of which can be the subject of post after post on their own.

Among them we see again the concept of אחשביה, the idea that something (or quantity) generally not appreciated as significant by a society in general and thus not subject to the penalty for transferring on shabbos, can become significant when someone sets it aside for a useful purpose.

Besides, for being a recurring theme in our masechta regarding shabbos, we have also seen this in a recent post regarding inedible chametz on Pesach, which can become forbidden when someone chooses to eat it.

We also see the principle of בטל דעתו אצל בני אדם, ( a person’s view is nullified by the view of others), which in our case, shows that the converse DOES NOT apply- even if someone does not regard something as significant, if the majority of people do regard it as such, it is also considered significant.

And towards the end of the daf, we encounter a famous legal rule of קים ליה בדרבה מיניה (a person who does one action subject to multiple punishments, is only subject to the greater of the two.)

It is very tempting with our high, often justified, but often exaggerated, regard for the modern, western justice system, to chas veshalom view the Torah approach to justice as archaic, and even cruel chalila.

While there are certainly many aspects of it, that at least on the face of it, do create philosophical and ethical challenges for us , there are So many concepts, that even on the simple face of it, should be so easy for modern society to learn from.

Punishment is supposed to be constructive, fit the crime, and not over burden society.

On the one hand, self-defense, and defense of one’s property, is a legitimate reaction, and one of the main sugyas of the idea of קים ליה בדרבה מיניה, is the sugya in Sanhedrin (72a), where one is permitted to kill a robber breaking into one’s house, when the assumption is that the thief is coming to kill.

This is so much so, that the thief is exempt from monetary claims caused by his damage during the crime, seeing as he was subject at the time to a possible death penalty!

Yet, the rule is also very clear that this (as well as the general rule of a pursuer) is an absolutely last resort- If there is any way to save oneself by wounding the attacker, one is required to do so, and if one fails to, one is guilty of murder )Sanhedrin 74a.)

In a world where so many people are treated as second class citizens, the rule of אחשביה could teach us on an ideological level, that we are able to elevate these people and restore their dignity simply by starting with ourselves and being the one’s to appreciate them.

At the same time, we can never be guilty of being the ones to treat people with less dignity than the norms of the society in which we live.

In our parsha, Miriam is guilty of gossip against her brother, Moshe Rabbeinu, the greatest prophet of all time.

The passuk tells us that this gossip, had something to do with the Cushite (Ethiopian black) wife that Moshe had taken.

There are many varied explanations in Chazal and the Rishonim as to the precise nature of the gossip (some of which might have more appeal than others to our personal views on racial matters) , and of course, there are multiple facets to everything in Torah.

However, we have one iron-clad rule that Chazal themselves taught us (earlier in our masechta) : אין המקרא יוצא פשוטו (a verse does not depart from its simple meaning.)

This golden rule is usually taken to mean that the various midrashim, even those that seem to contradict the simple reading of the passuk, come to supplement and add additional messages to the simple meaning of the text, NOT to replace it, and although there is much to discuss about this idea in its own right, I will take it as a given for the purposes of this post at least. (for further reading, see the various explanations in Rashi, Ibn Ezra, the Targumim, and in particular, the Sifsei Chachomim on the two explanations in Rashi, on this episode.)

Although it is always hard to understand how great people can do terrible things, whatever the precise nature of this gossip was, the terrible punishment makes it clear that it was indeed a terrible mistake.

I would like to suggest what to me, at least in the context of our time (and the timeless Torah speaks to ALL of us, in ALL times), is the most obvious simple meaning of the text.

In the biblical society, like in today’s so called liberal western world, the illness of racism was a scourge, that even otherwise great, and good people, were affected by.

Moshe Rabbeinu’s marriage to a black woman, was frowned on so much in that society, that even his own great and righteous sister couldn’t handle it.

And what happened- she become ill with an affliction which makes the skin go snow-white!

In Judaism, diversity in creation is actually celebrated, and even has its own bracha, משנה הבריות, (one who diversifies his creations), one that is actually made on rare animals like elephants (depending on time and place), as well as unbelievably, black people, who were very rarely seen in Talmudic Israel and Babylon (Brachos 58b.)

Perhaps the simple lesson from Miriam is that if one doesn’t appreciate that “black is beautiful”, one can land up as a leprous outcast, as white as white can be!

Shabbat Shalom ,and may we see the end of the terrible scourge of racism and the appreciation of every person created in the Image of Hashem.

Shabbos 68 “Tinok Shenishba” -Does a newly religious person need to repent for earlier transgressions?

On today’s daf, we are introduced to some basic concepts regarding the forbidden categories of work on shabbos.

One rule is that a person who unknowingly describes shabbos is liable to bring a special sacrifice to atone for this unwilling transgression. This type of transgression is called shogeig (שוגג), as opposed to a knowing and intentional transgression which is called meizid  ( מזיד) .

Since the destruction of the second temple where sacrifices are no longer offered, it follows that one is still required to  repent and pray for forgiveness for such aveirot , as prayer comes in place of sacrifices (ונשלמה פרים שפתינו)

However, not every type of unwilling transgression is defined as “shogeig” and requires a sacrifice.

To be defined as “shogeig” regarding the laws of shabbos, a person has to have intended to do the actual forbidden action but simply

  1. Have forgotten that work is forbidden on shabbos
  2. Have forgotten it was shabbos
  3. Have forgotten that the specific category of work is forbidden on shabbos .

If one did a  forbidden melacha ( work category)  completely unintentionally , not though an act of forgetfulness, like if he was forced to do so by someone else or did it by accident, it is called ones (אונס), a transgression performed under duress, and one is exempt from the Korban.

In such circumstances, we generally tend to view such actions as not tied to him at all and the action is not considered a sin at all- thus repentance might not be needed at all ( I say might as there are different categories of אונס and מתעסק and some opinions hold that some of them might still be considered a מעשה עבירה even if one is exempt from a sacrifice .)

One fascinating debate on this daf is the status of a “tinok  shenishba”- someone who was captured by non-Jewish captors as a child and was raised as a non-Jew, without being aware of his obligations as a Jew and without the belief required to carry them out. (Another fascinating case with the same law is the גר שנתגיר בין הנכרים which could make an interesting post in and of itself …)

Are his actions  considered to be “shogeig” ie intentional but unknowing , and liable to the relevant sacrifices when he becomes aware of his Jewishness and embraces it, or are they considered to be more like “ones”, done under duress, and thus exempt completely from a sacrifice, and probably the equivalent prayer and repentance in the absence of one?

The leading Amoraim (sages of the Gemara )  of Bavel ( Babylon) , Rav and Shmuel, are of the opinion that such a person has the status of a “shogeig” and needs to bring a korban when he becomes Jewish observant, and the leading Amoraim of Eretz Yisrael, Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish, hold that he has the law of an “ones” and is  exempt ( there is a debate between Rashi and Tosfos as to the precise reason or source for this exemption, which might have some practical ramifications, but I will leave this for further discussion)

It can be argued that a person who was brought up Jewish but unobservant is similar to the “tinok shenishba” of our daf, in that he too grew up without awareness of his religious obligations or at least without the necessary belief system to appreciate their importance, and is thus subject to the same dispute.

As the law usually follows Rabbi Yochanan (and so rules the Rambam, Mamrim 3/3), it would follow that they would then likely be exempt from the sacrifice and from the equivalent prayer and repentance required in its place.

We find precedent for extending the rule of the captive child to such a person in the Rambam’s ruling regarding heretics (Mamrim 3/3.)

Whereas the original heretic who gives up on Jewish belief is treated in halacha appropriately, the Rambam says that their children and descendants, who know no better, are to be treated as the captive child, and thus not held responsible for their unknowing transgressions  prior to their religious arousal.

He applies this rule specifically to the karaim (karaites), a powerful sect in his time who accepted only the written Torah but denied the oral Torah .

The equivalent of the karaim’s descendants today would probably be the descendants of the original reform or secularist Jews , who due to their lack of religious upbringing, know no better , and thus according to Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish, and the Rambam and other poskim after them, might  not be liable to a korban nor the equivalent tefilla and repentance in our day and age, for their transgressions up until the time that they chose to become observant.

My father שליט”א always likes to point out, on this basis , that the term  “Baalei Teshuva” (penitents) , commonly applied to newly religious people, is actually inaccurate, and should be reserved for people who intentionally sinned or left the path of Torah, and then returned.

Rather, people who grew up irreligious and became religious later   are really in the category of “Tinok Shenishba.”

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.