We have learned that one of the five forbidden, pleasurable activities on
Yom Kippur is eating. The
taught that in order to be held liable for eating, one must consume an amount of
food the size of a kotevet ha-gasah – a large date. Since this
measurement is an unusual one (for example, with regard to birkat ha-mazon
- grace after meals – the minimum amount that needs to be eaten is either a
ka-zayit – the size of an olive – or a ka-beitzah – the size of an
Gemara on our daf (=page) attempts to define it.
Rav Yehudah as teaching that a kotevet ha-gasah must be larger than
an egg, since the Sages determined that only an amount greater than a ka-beitzah
size gives a sense of satisfaction. While ordinarily the Sages do not attempt to
give explanations for the specific size requirement given by the
Rabbi Avraham Tiktin, in his Davar Be-ito argues that in this case there was
a recognition that the rules of Yom Kippur were left to the Sages to
define (see the
Ran's explanation of this phenomenon on page 73b), so we must try and
understand their underlying logic.
In an attempt to examine Rava's position that a kotevet ha-gasah
must be larger than an egg, the Gemara brings a series of stories about the
Sages and their eating habits. A
baraita records that when asked to taste the food that was being cooked
Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai insisted that it be brought into the
sukkah, as did
Rabban Gamliel when he was brought two kotavot with water. Both
Rabbis knew that the food that they had been brought did not really need to be
eaten in the sukkah, but they were stringent on themselves, and insisted
that any food that they ate could only be eaten in the sukkah.
In contrast to these Sages, the baraita also tells of Rabbi Zadok
who would eat less than a ka-beitzah of food by wrapping it in a napkin
and eating it outside the sukkah without an after-blessing. Rabbi Zadok's
behavior is subject to a difference of opinion between
Rashi who says that he took the food in a napkin because of his
Tosafot explain that his religious devotion was such that he treated all
food as though it were
terumah, so he refrained from touching food lest it become ritually
defiled. In any case, it is clear that the baraita tells Rabbi Zadok's
story in order to emphasize that just as there were Sages who were stringent
upon themselves, there were also those who made a point of emphasizing that it
was appropriate to stick to the letter of the law without stringencies. In this
story, Rabbi Zadok was lenient with regard to sukkah, ritual hand washing
and the blessing after food.
Today's daf (=page) continues the discussion of shi'urim –
the amount necessary to be held liable for eating on
Rabbi Yohanan is quoted by the
Gemara as saying that shi'urim and onashim – both the amount
that is considered significant and the punishment that will be meted out on the
individual who eats forbidden foods according to those measurements – are
halakhah le-Moshe mi-Sinai, they are traditions handed down from Moses on
Mount Sinai, which have the weight and significance of Biblical law. In response
to the question raised that the onashim are clearly written in the
Torah, the Gemara explains that Rabbi Yohanan was teaching that the
shi'urim upon which the onashim are based (for without a standard
minimum measurement, how could we know when the punishments are appropriate?)
are halakhah le-Moshe mi-Sinai.
baraita that is brought in support of this understanding of Rabbi
Yohanan adds another opinion, as well. According to Aherim they were
established – or, more correctly, were forgotten and reestablished – by the
court of Yaabetz.
Rashi identifies Yaabetz as
Otni'el ben Kenaz, based on a Rabbinic tradition. The name appears in I
4:9-10 as one of the descendants of
Yehudah, and from the context it appears that he was one of the Jewish
leaders of his time. He is identified as the head of one of the "the families of
soferim (scribes) who lived in Yaabetz" so it appears that he was head of
the soferim – the Sages in his generation.
The rules of shi'urim notwithstanding, there are times when a
person can eat more than a shi'ur, yet still not transgress the
prohibition of eating forbidden foods.
Resh Lakish teaches that someone who overeats – in the terminology of the
Gemara, eats akhilah gasah - on Yom Kippur will not be held
liable. The Tosafot Yeshanim point out that there are different levels of
akhilah gasah. One level is overeating - when a person is full and
continues to eat. Resh Lakish is referring to a different level, when a person
continues eating to the extent that he finds the food disgusting. Resh Lakish
derives this rule from the passage (Vayikra
23:29) which teaches that a person who does not suffer inuy –
deprivation – on Yom Kippur will be punished with
karet. Someone who does damage to himself by way of eating has not
transgressed this prohibition.
The commandment to keep
Yom Kippur (the tenth day of
Tishrei) as a day of rest and solemnity teaches that we are commanded to
begin on the ninth day of Tishrei, and continue from evening to evening
Gemara on our daf (=page) learns a number of
halakhot from this passage. For example, our Gemara sees this as the
source for tosefet Yom ha-kippurim – beginning the holiday early and
completing it late – a rule that is then extended to
Yom Tov, as well.
Another teaching that is derived from this pasuk (=verse) is
presented by Hiyya bar Rav mi-Difti, who interprets the passage as teaching that
someone who eats and drinks on
erev Yom Kippur is credited as though he had fasted on both the ninth
and the tenth days of Tishrei. This is generally understood to mean that
there is a special
mitzvah to eat on the day before Yom Kippur.
Several explanations are given for this law.
Rashi and the
Me'iri suggest that since there is a mitzvah to fast on the tenth,
someone who spends the day before preparing for that mitzvah is given
credit for the preparation. The Eliya Rabbah (Rav Eliyahu Shapira's gloss
Shulhan Arukh) suggests otherwise. According to him, someone who eats a
lot the day before the fast has a harder time refraining from eating on the fast
day, therefore the person who spends the ninth of Tishrei eating is
credited for having additional inuy (=deprivation). Others point out that
Yom Kippur is a holiday, a day on which we really should be eating and
drinking. Since we cannot eat and drink on Yom Kippur, we "make up" for
it on erev Yom Kippur. Finally, some explain that this is preparation for
the mitzvah of expressing regret and asking for forgiveness. Since
someone who is well-fed is less likely to be irritable and get into
disagreements, we are commanded to put ourselves into such a position so that we
will be better suited to be remorseful and apologize.
Generally speaking, all of the commandments of the
Torah are "pushed aside" in the face of potentially life threatening
situations. Therefore, the
Mishnah on our daf (=page) teaches that someone who is ill or
pregnant and is in a dangerous situation will be allowed to eat on
Yom Kippur, or to eat non-kosher food, if necessary.
There are only three
mitzvot that are so severe that a person should give up his life rather
than perform the forbidden acts. Those mitzvot are –
avodah zara (idol worship)
gilui arayot (forbidden sexual activities)
shefikhut damim (murder)
According to the
Gemara, the sources for the first two mitzvot are Biblical passages.
(For the source for avodah zara, see
6:5 which teaches that you must worship God with all of your heart and all
of your soul. The source for gilui arayot is Devarim
22:26 which compares a forbidden sexual encounter with murder.) According to
the Gemara, however, the source for murder being forbidden even at the cost of
one's own life does not need to be a pasuk (=verse) – it is a sevara
– it is simply logical. The logic, as presented by
Rava in the Gemara is mai hazit didama didakh sumac tefei? Dilma dama
dihahu gavra samik tefei! What makes you think that your blood is redder
than your fellow's? Perhaps his blood is redder than yours!
Maharil Habib in his Tosafot Yom ha-Kippurim explains this argument
as simply meaning that we are unable to weigh the true value of one life against
another. Since the whole issue at hand is whether we can "push aside" a
mitzvah in order to save a life, in this case a life will be lost no matter
what, so we cannot allow the forbidden act of murder. It should be noted that
this argument works even if we are weighing the value of a single life against
that of a group of people. Still the rule of mai hazit would not allow
the killing of one person, since the relative value of life cannot be determined
Mishnah on our daf (=page) discusses circumstances when an illness
would allow someone to eat non-kosher food, and other cases when
halakhah would not allow non-kosher food to be eaten.
The first case discussed is bulmus – ravenous hunger. In this case
the Mishnah teaches that he can be fed anything that may cure him. The second
case is that of someone bitten by a rabid dog. The common cure in Mishnaic
times, which was to have the victim eat from the dog's liver, is forbidden by
Tanna Kamma (=first), although
Rabbi Matya ben Harash permits it.
The "hunger sickness" of bulmus, is, apparently, connected to a
drastic drop in blood sugar that is caused by starvation or some other disease.
As described in the
Gemara, the sensation of hunger comes together with a loss of awareness –
the individual cannot see or cannot see clearly. The recommendation of the Sages
is to feed the ill person sweet foods that can be easily digested as quickly as
The description of this condition is supported in the Gemara by a series
of personal testimonies from Sages who were witness to someone who had this
condition or who had it themselves.
Rabbi Yohanan, for example, describes how he once suffered from bulmus,
but was able to save himself by applying his knowledge. He ate dates from the
eastern side of a date palm to resolve his need for sweet food.
Date palms are unique in that their fruit does not all ripen at the same
time. From one day to the next – and sometimes even through the course of a day,
different fruits become ripe. Since the sun rises in the east, it is logical to
assume that the ripest fruits will be found on that side.
With regard to the bite of a rabid dog, the disagreement in the Mishnah
would seem to be whether the popular cure was, in fact, effective. The
Rambam, however, understands that eating the rabid dog's liver is not a
medical cure, but a segulah – a charm – which at best may be a
psychological support to the victim. He argues that the Tanna Kamma
rejects the possibility that a
Torah law would be pushed aside for such an emotional support, even for
someone who believes in it.
It is interesting to examine the
Gemara's description of the case of the rabid dog that was mentioned in the
Mishnah, as well as the way the disease caused by the bite of such a dog is
A rabid dog is described as having an open mouth dripping saliva, ears
that cannot stand normally, its tail hanging limply while walking on the side of
the road. Finally, when it barks it cannot be heard.
All of these are symptoms of rabies, a disease that affects the nervous
system of an animal, slowly paralyzing it. The Gemara further described the
effects of this disease on a person, where without proper treatment (unavailable
in the time of the Gemara) it is usually fatal. Among other things, rabies
involves a painful contraction of the muscles in the throat which does not allow
the victim to swallow. Apparently due to the association with thirst and the
inability to drink water, even seeing water was thought to lead to madness,
which is why for generations this condition was called "hydrophobia."
As we learned in the Mishnah (83a)
Rabbi Matya ben Harash permits the victim of rabies to eat the infected
dog's liver. Although his position is rejected by the
poskim, who accept the position of the
Tanna Kamma (=first), nevertheless there are those who see in Rabbi
Matya's ruling the foreshadowing of modern methods of medicine where enzymes are
taken from the bodies of animals that have been infected and vaccinations are
developed using those antibodies.
Another disease discussed by the Gemara is tzefidna, which, from
the description in the Gemara, appears to be scurvy, a disease marked by a lack
of Vitamin C, which leads to a weakening of teeth and gums, internal bleeding
and anemia. The descriptions in the Gemara of various methods that were used in
an attempt to cure tzefidna were, apparently, attempts to make up the
lack of this vitamin by ingesting it in a concentrated manner.
Although earlier (see daf (=page)
Gemara took for granted that all
mitzvot are "pushed aside" in the face of the overarching value of human
life (with the exception of avoda zara, gilui arayot and shefikhut
damim), the Gemara on our daf presents a question - how do we know
that piku'ah nefesh – danger to life – pushes aside the restrictions of
Shabbat? Apparently the question here is a more difficult one because it
involves not only a person saving his own life, but a source allowing others to
desecrate Shabbat in order to save him, as well.
Several sources are suggested by the
amora'im. For example,
Rabbi Elazar finds a source in the mitzvah of
brit milah – circumcision – which is performed on Shabbat even
though it involves activities that are forbidden on Shabbat.
Rabbenu Hananel explains this derivation by pointing out that someone who
does not have a brit is liable for the punishment of karet – of
being "cut off" from the Jewish people – which is considered the equivalent of
death. Thus we find that to "save" the baby from possible karet we can
perform the brit on Shabbat, similarly to save a life we can do
the same. Rabbenu Hananel also points out that
Moshe was threatened with death when he did not circumcise his son (see
4:24 ), which is yet another indication of the importance of this mitzvah,
which, itself, pushes aside any Shabbat prohibitions.
Rabbi Shimon ben Menasyeh points to the passage (Shmot
31:16) that commands the Jewish people to "keep Shabbat" and to "do
Shabbat". From this we can learn that Shabbat can be overridden if
transgressing this Shabbat will allow the person to fulfill Shabbat
many times in the future.
Maharil Habib in his Tosafot Yom ha-Kippurim points out that what we
derive from this pasuk (=verse) is the concept that we can "desecrate"
Shabbat if the purpose is to fulfill commandments – even if we do not have a
guarantee that the person will be able to keep many Shabbatot – since we
rule that a person can be mehalel (=transgress) Shabbat even to
extend another person's life for a brief period of time.
Perhaps the best known source is the suggestion made by
Rabbi Yehudah in the name of
Shmuel, who quotes the pasuk (Vayikra
18:5) "…and you should live by them" meaning that the mitzvot are
given to the Jewish people to live by, and not to lead them to death. As the
Gemara points out, this source includes not only situations in which we are
certain that someone's life is in danger, but even cases where we are not sure
whether there is danger to life. The
Torah commands that we cannot allow someone to die because of the mitzvot
of the Torah.
In addition to his monumental translation and commentary on the Talmud, Rabbi Steinsaltz has authored dozens of books and hundreds of articles on a variety of topics, both Jewish and secular. For more information about Rabbi Steinsaltz's groundbreaking work in Jewish education, visit www.steinsaltz.org
or contact the Aleph Society at 212-840-1166.