Yoma 53a – The interpretation of the Sadducees

In the current climate of the Orthodox Jewish world we are so often encouraged not to read texts which are challenging or outside of the consensus of traditional Judaism, and yet the Talmud, as it so often does, challenges this idea.

ת”ר ונתן את הקטורת על האש לפני ה’ שלא יתקן מבחוץ ויכניס להוציא מלבן של צדוקין שאומרים יתקן מבחוץ ויכניס מאי דרוש כי בענן אראה על הכפורת מלמד שיתקן מבחוץ ויכניס

The Sages taught [in a baraita:] “And he shall put the incense upon the fire before the Lord” [(Leviticus 16:3); this means that] he [should] not prepare [by placing the incense] outside, [in the Sanctuary,] and bring [into the Holy of Holies a coal pan holding the burning incense. This was emphasised in order] to exclude the opinion of the Sadducees, who say [that] he [should] prepare [the incense] outside [and then] bring [it in.]

[The Gemara asks:] What did [the Sadducees] interpret; [what verse do they cite as the basis for their opinion? The Gemara answers that it was the verse:] “For I will appear in a cloud upon the Ark cover” [(Leviticus 16:2), which the Sadducees say] teaches that he should prepare [it] outside, [so there would already be a cloud of incense, and only then should] he bring [it inside the Holy of Holies.]

Amazingly here the Sages of the Talmud look at the interpretation of a verse in the Bible from the Sadducees point of view. The clear meaning is so as to reject it. However, the very fact that it is repeated in our key Rabbinic text, the Talmud, suggests to me that there is something that we can learn from it.

It is worth noting the words of Rav Kook on heretical writings.

“All the words and paths that lead to the ways of heresy themselves lead, fundamentally, if we seek out their source, to a greater depth of faith, one that is more illuminating and life-giving than the simple understanding that was illuminated prior to the revelation of that outburst. ” Rav Kook Iggeret ha-Re’aya

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Shekalim 7a – Monuments for the dead

It is a pleasure to be forced to learn the Jerusalem (Palestinian) Talmud as part of Daf Yomi. As the Babylonian Talmud does not include Tractate Shekalim we learn the Jerusalem Talmud instead. That being said, this tractate is notoriously difficult.

In a discussion of how to deal with excess funds collected for a cause or for an individual the Mishnah states in Halakha 5:-

Rabbi Natan says: [With] the leftover [money collected] for a deceased [person they] build a monument [nefesh] on his grave for him.

The Koren notes the following:-

“…Since the monument is only a way of marking and remembering the place of the grave, the Sages said that one does not erect monuments to righteous people, as their words commemorate them sufficiently.”

Maimonides was very much against visiting the graves of righteous people due to fear of praying to those individuals rather than Hashem. Indeed, I have always found the practice of visiting Uman at Rosh Hashanah time rather curious. Maimonides would certainly object. Rav Ovadiah Yoseh zt”l was also against this practice but for very different reasons. He believed that their were many righteous people buried in Israel and it was a disgrace to them to leave Israel to visit the grave of another.

The Mishnah concludes that where money is raised for a general cause and there are excess funds then those funds should also be applied to the general cause. In the case of money raised for individuals (which include the poor and the captive) we give the excess funds to the individual

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Pesachim 62b – Berurya – An impressive woman

In yesterday’s daf we have mention of Berurya. It is worth noting the Koren ‘Personalities’ section that deals with this remarkable woman:-


Berurya was the wife of the tanna Rabbi Meir and the daughter of the tanna Rabbi Hanina ben Teradyon, who was one of the ten martyrs. Berurya was renowned not only for her character and personality, but also for her extensive Torah knowledge. Her aptitude for Torah study exemplified her exceptional genius. She occasionally disagreed with several Sages of her generation, and the halakha was ruled in accordance with her opinion in certain disputes.

As a result of decrees of persecution, nearly all of Berurya’s family was martyred. Calamity continued to afflict her throughout her life. The Gemara relates how she conducted herself with exceptional courage when her two children died in a single day. From a story that is only alluded to in tractate Avoda Zara (18b) and explained in greater detail by Rashi, we know that her own death also came about in the wake of a series of painful events. Aside from a few halakhic statements, we find several places in the Talmud where Berurya’s modest and considerate characteristics manifested even through sharp responses to various people.

For a more detailed account of Berurya’s life see Rav Binyamin Lau’s excellent ‘The Sages – Volume III‘.


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Pesachim 53a – A curious Mishnah

The Mishnah in Pesachim (53a) tells us:


ד,ג  מקום שנהגו למכור בהמה דקה לגויים, מוכרין; מקום שנהגו שלא למכור, אינן מוכרין.  ואל ישנה אדם, מפני המחלקות.  בכל מקום אין מוכרין להן בהמה גסה, עגלים וסייחים שלמים ושבורים.  רבי יהודה מתיר בשבורה; בן בתירה מתיר בסוס

In a place where [the people] were accustomed to sell small livestock to gentiles, one [may] sell [them. In] a place where [the people] were not accustomed to sell [them due to certain concerns and decrees,] one [may] not sell [them. However] in every place, one [may] sell [to gentiles] neither large livestock, [e.g., cows and camels, nor] calves or foals, [whether these animals are] whole or damaged.

[The sages prohibited those sales due to concern lest the transaction be voided or one side reconsider, creating retroactively a situation where a Jew’s animal performed labor for a gentile on Shabbat in violation of an explicit Torah prohibition.]

Rabbi Yehuda permits [the sale of] a damaged [animal because it is incapable of performing labor.] Ben Beteira permits [the sale of] a horse [for riding, because riding a horse on Shabbat is not prohibited by Torah law.]

The Koren notes:

The Sages prohibit selling large animals to gentiles due to the concern that a Jew’s animal might perform labor on Shabbat. It is permitted to sell the animal through an intermediary, since the concern with regard to desecrating Shabbat no longer exists.

I find this most curious. Who is this intermediary? If he is Jewish then surely he cannot sell on to a gentile and if he is a gentile then how can the Jew sell to him at all? 

Answers on a postcard please…..

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Eruvin and Pesachim

One of the ironies I thought about when learning Tractate Eruvin was that we are constantly told that in the are of Eruvin the Rabbis generally decide the law leniently. Clearly there was an intention, on the part of the Rabbis, to make life easier for the Jewish people. Indeed, today we see how Eruvin around the world allow people to go out in wheelchairs and children in buggies and yet when it comes to modern day Eruvin, my feeling is that we are far more stringent than the Rabbis of the Talmud would want us to be.

Which brings me to Tractate Pesachim, which we started yesterday. A theme in Pesachim is that we should not drive ourselves mad with cleaning our houses for Pesach. The first mishna tells us that we do not need to search for chametz in places where none was taken during the year. And yet we find that people practically redecorate their whole houses (with cling film and surface covers!) in the run up to Pesach. Whilst this might be a nice idea, to spring clean once a year, the Rabbis did not seem to require such stringency!

Mazal tov to all who finished Eruvin – enjoy Pesachim!

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Eruvin 85b – The Rabbis safeguard their rules

I have always found it curious that we find ourselves (through the prism of Jewish law) to be stricter in the observance of Rabbinic Law than Torah Law.

וחכמים עשו חיזוק לדבריהם יותר משל תורה

And the Sages reinforced their statements [even] more than those of the Torah

There is a clear concern that we, as individuals, will think that Rabbinic Law is in some way less important (even though the Rabbis are given their power from on high) and we therefore need extra stringencies in order to safeguard these laws.

Maybe because it is counterintuitive it is necessary!

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Eruvin 82 – When are children obligated to fulfil commandments?

Catch up time! A few days behind in the daf and months behind in the blog 😦

Eruvin 82a

ותנן נמי גבי סוכה כי האי גוונא: קטן שאין צריך לאמו – חייב בסוכה

And we also learned a similar [halakha in a mishna] with regard to a sukka: A child who does not need his mother is obligated in [the mitzva of] sukka [by rabbinical law, so that he will be trained in the observance of mitzvot].

In the previous section of the Talmud the Rabbis discuss the need for a child of 6 years old to take part in the creation of Eruvin. The Talmud then continues with a discussion as to the dependance of children…does it cease when children can look after them in the toilet or when they wake up in the night and no longer call out to their mothers?

Whilst the Shulchan Aruch does codify this in some way it leaves the question of when a child no longer needs his/her mother open with an age range…

שולחן ערוך אורח חיים הלכות סוכה סימן תרמ

סעיף ב
קטן שאינו צריך לאמו, שהוא כבן חמש, כבן שש, חייב בסוכה מדברי סופרים, כדי (ה) לחנכו במצות

A child who does not need his mother, who is 5 or 6 years old is obligated in [the mitzvah of] succah according to the Rabbis in order to educate them about mitzvot.

Here the Shulchan Aruch is less precise and suggests a child reaches the age of education in the fulfilment of mitzvot at the age of 5 or 6 and when the child no longer needs his/her mother. This twofold requirement, age and dependancy, perhaps shows a sensitivity to the different ways in which children develop. Boys start to wear kippot and tzitzit at the age of 3 as they simply have to wear the garment.

It is clear that whilst we should not delay teaching our children the mitzvot, we should also not rush them when they are clearly not ready.

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Eruvin 15 – How to decide Halakha…go and see what the people are doing

Chag Kasher ve’Sameach to all.

Thanks to Rabbi Yoni Sherizen for prompting me to blog on this topic.

On a continuing theme in this blog it is fascinating to see the Talmud not only confirms that Jewish law is decided my human beings and not Hashem, but that such decisions can be made, not by the leading Rabbis of the time but rather by the actions of the people.

אמר ליה רבא בר רב חנן לאביי; הילכתא מאי? – אמר ליה: פוק חזי מאי עמא דבר

Rava bar Rav Hanan said to Abaye: What is the [accepted] halakha [with regard to the width of a side post?] He said to him: Go out [and observe] what the people are doing.

This is not the only time that we come across this concept. It may be argued that the Talmud is suggesting that the people are behaving correctly and the Rabbis can learn from their traditions.

However, perhaps the Rabbis have used this concept in another way. In the early 20th Century Rabbi Tobias Geffen realised that many Jews were drinking Coca Cola but he wasn’t sure if it was Kosher. As the practice was so prevalent Rabbi Geffen wanted to ‘make sure’ that the product was Kosher. See here for a fascinating history of Rabbi Geffen’s search for the Kashrut of Coca Cola.

There are also many instances in the Aruch Hashulchan and Mishna Berura where the authors suggest that whilst the practices of the people may be in breach of the law we cannot berate them as the practice has become so widespread.

This is not to suggest that people should behave as they wish but rather that on occasions the Rabbis realised that the law, for better or worse, was in fact decided by the people!

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Eruvin 9 – Some things shouldn’t be learned in the Study Hall

If a certain statement of a Tanna or an Amora is not Halakha why do we learn it? I have been asked this many times. One of the classic arguments is that minority opinions are stated so that future generations can rely on them in cases of need. A further reason given is that the Talmud explores the extremes of each case in order to learn the halakha in any given situation.

אמר ליה פוק תני לברא

said to him: Exit [and] teach [this halakha] outside. [i.e. this baraita is not in accordance with the accepted halakha, and therefore it should not be made part of the regular learning in the study hall.

So what exactly are we supposed to do with most of the Talmud?

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Eruvin 6 – Halakhic autonomy

Why do we pasken like Beit Hillel? In fact we see in the Gemara that individuals followed the psak of their Rabbi when another individual may have followed the psak of a different Rabbi with diametrically opposed end products. The Talmud on daf 6 gives us a fascinating look at the history of why we follow Beit Hillel in most situations:-

ומי עבדינן כתרי חומרי והא תניא לעולם הלכה כבית הלל והרוצה לעשות כדברי בית שמאי עושה כדברי בית הלל עושה מקולי ב”ש ומקולי ב”ה רשע מחומרי ב”ש ומחומרי ב”ה עליו הכתוב אומר (קוהלת ב) הכסיל בחשך הולך אלא אי כב”ש כקוליהון וכחומריהון אי כב”ה כקוליהון וכחומריהון

[The Gemara poses a question:] But do we adopt the [respective] stringencies of two [authorities who disagree on a series of issues?] Wasn’t it taught [in a baraita: The] halakha  is always in accordance with [the opinion of] Beit Hillel, but one who wishes to act in accordance with the opinion of Beit Shammai may do so, [and one who wishes to act] in accordance with the opinion of Beit Hillel may do so. [If he wishes to adopt both] the leniencies of Beit Shammai and [also] the leniencies of Beit Hillel, [he is] a wicked person. [And if he wishes to adopt both] the stringencies of Beit Shammai and [also] stringencies of Beit Hillel, with regard to him the verse states: “The fool walks in darkness” (Ecclesiastes 2:14). Rather [he should act] either in accordance with Beit Shammai, [following both] their leniencies and their stringencies, or in accordance with Beit Hillel, [following both] their leniencies and their stringencies.

The Talmud goes on to say that this was changed after a Bat Kol (a heavenly voice) proclaimed that we should only follow Beit Hillel.

The fascinating post script in the Talmud comes when we are told that Rabbi Yehoshua does not pay attention to a Bat Kol. Does he allow us to follow Beit Shammai? Or, does he say we should follow Beit Hillel? A point which is not discussed in our Talmud?

Rabbi Yehoshua’s position is famously stated in Tractate Bava Metzia in the case of Rabbi Eliezer who made various miracles happen to prove his halakhic decision was correct but even after a heavenly voice confirms this, Rabbi Yehoshua states that “Torah is not in Heaven”. It is people who decide the law not a heavenly voice! (cf my previous post about the role of human beings in the holiness of Shabbat!)

Shabbat shalom from the Holy Land.

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