The Coming Week's Daf Yomi by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim (original ideas) of Talmudic scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, as published in the Hebrew version of the Steinsaltz Edition of the Talmud.
Niddah 32a-b - Samaritans and the laws of Niddah
The fourth perek (=chapter) of Massekhet Niddah is entitled Benot Kutim, and it begins by clarifying the status of Kutim - Samaritans - regarding the laws of ritual purity. Generally speaking, the Sages believed that the Kutim were scrupulous in keeping those mitzvot that they accepted. The Gemara explains that in the case of niddah, they declared a woman unclean after any bodily secretion, even after a green discharge, which does not render her a niddah. In the event that she subsequently menstruated, since the Kutim began her counting too early, they also concluded it before its time. This led the Sages to deem them ritually impure on a permanent basis.
The term Kutim refers to the nations (not all of whom were truly Kutim, as there were people from other nations, as well) that were exiled to the Land of Israel by the kings of Assyria who were interested in populating the land after they had removed the Israelite people from it. According to Sefer Melakhim (see II Melakhim, chapter 17), these nations converted to Judaism because of their fear of lions that had begun attacking them (from which derives the term gerei arayot – "lion converts"), but they continued worshiping their gods at the same time.
Upon the return of the Jews to Israel at the beginning of the Second Temple period, the Samaritans, decedents of the Kutim, were active in trying to keep the returnees from rebuilding the Temple and the walls of the city of Jerusalem. Even so, there were families – including members of the kohanim – who intermarried with the Samaritans.
During the following years there were continued tensions between the two communities, and Yohanan Hyrcanus led his troops into battle against the Samaritans and destroyed the temple that they had built on Har Gerizim. Nevertheless, there were also periods of cooperation, such as the period of the Bar Kokhba rebellion. As is clear in our Gemara, the attitude of the Sages towards them differed, although after a period of time a final conclusion was reached and they were ruled to be treated as non-Jews, due to their continued involvement with different types of idol worship.
It is important to note that the Gemara in Yevamot concludes that while a bet din should not accept potential converts whose reason for converting is anything other than a sincere desire to join the Jewish People, nevertheless, if such a person does undergo a full conversion process they are considered Jewish according to halakhah. It is possible that the Kutim did not fall into that category because they continued with their idolatrous practices even at the moment of their conversion. Nevertheless, today, the community of Samaritans living in Israel are no longer idol worshipers, and there has been some level of acceptance of them into the larger Jewish community.
Niddah 33a-b - Pharisees and Sadducees
During the period of the Second Temple there were two main groups of Jews in Jerusalem, the Perushim and the Tzedokim. The Perushim were the Pharisees, the sages of the Talmud, while the Tzedokim were the Sadducees, the elite class that rejected many of the traditions of the Perushim.
The disagreements between the Sages of the Talmud and the Sadducees existed on a number of different levels, ranging from broad concept of faith, like the question of the existence of a World to Come, to practical issues of halakhah where the Sadducees rejected the oral traditions of the Sages of the Talmud. Generally speaking, the Sadducees were among the elite population who had close relationships with the later Hasmonean kings, and they had significant political power, even as they were a minority of the population. Their attempts to create tension between the Sages and the monarchy led the Sages to publicly reject their positions, even when there may have been good reason to consider them.
The Mishnah on today's daf (=page) discusses the practices of the Tzedokim with regard to questions of ritual purity. The Tanna Kamma (=first) rules that we assume that the daughters of the Tzedokim follow in their father's footsteps unless we know that they have begun to keep the laws according to the Sages; Rabbi Yose argues that we only assume that they follow the ways of the Tzedokim if it is clear to us that they do so.
The Gemara relates:
It once happened that a Sadducee was conversing with a High Priest in the market place when some spittle was squirted from his mouth and fell on the clothes of the High Priest. The face of the High Priest turned yellow and he hurried to his wife who assured him that although they were wives of Sadducees they showed respect to the Pharisees and showed their blood to the Sages.
In his Commentary to the Mishnah the Rambam rules like the Tanna Kamma, but he does not mention the discussion in his Mishneh Torah, perhaps because by this time the sect of the Tzedokim no longer existed.
Niddah 34a-b - When all Jews become connected
As we learned, the Gemara on yesterday's daf (=page) closed with a story where the High Priest became concerned that he may have been rendered tameh - ritually defiled - by the spittle of a Sadducee with whom he was conversing in the market place. Although the conclusion of the baraita was that there was no concern with tum'at niddah, nevertheless that Gemara remains concerned about other types of tum'ah, since ordinarily the Rabbinic Sages consider the spittle of an Am HaAretz - someone who is not a haver who is known to concern himself with the laws of ritual purity - to be tameh.
In response, Rava suggests that this incident took place on one of the three pilgrimage holidays (Pesah, Shavu'ot or Sukkot) when a special rule was instituted. The passage in Sefer Shofetim (20:11) teaches, "So all the men of Israel were gathered again against the city, knit together as one man." From here the Sages derive that at the time when all of the people join together, they are all treated as haverim.
The Talmud Yerushalmi agrees with this rule, considering all Jews as haverim during the pilgrimage holidays, but in Massekhet Hagigah it derives it from a different passage. In Sefer Tehillim (122:3) we find a pasuk (=verse) that states "Jerusalem, that art built as a city that is compact together." The term "compact together" - hubrah lah yahdav - is understood as teaching that when all visit Jerusalem, they are all considered haverim. In Massekhet Bava Kamma the Talmud Yerushalmi interprets that same passage as teaching that the city of Jerusalem binds the entire Jewish people together. The Maharatz Chajes explains that these two interpretations of the passage in Tehillim complement each other. When Jews gather in Jerusalem it brings them together emotionally and spiritually, so that all are trusted and can join together in celebration.
Niddah 35a-b - Ritual purity and venereal disease
The Gemara on today's daf (=page) turns its attention to a zav - someone who experiences an emission due to a venereal disease.
The laws relating to the severe ritual impurity caused by this condition appear in Sefer Vayikra (15:1-15) and in tractate Zavim. The zav becomes ritually impure as a result of the secretion of a white, pus-like discharge. A man who experiences a discharge of that kind on one occasion becomes ritually impure for one day, like a man who has discharged semen. If he experiences a second discharge on the same or the following day (or a prolonged initial discharge), he contracts the more severe ritual impurity of a zav, which lasts seven days. A third discharge experienced within the next twenty-four hours obligates him to bring a sacrifice as part of his purification process.
Rav Huna teaches that the initial discharge of a zav will make him tameh - ritually unclean - under all circumstances. The second discharge, however, is not significant if it came about because of an ones - that some outside event precipitated it. The Mishnah in Massekhet Zavim (2:2) teaches that there are seven bedikot - things that are checked for - to ascertain whether the discharge may have been caused by something other than the disease. They are:
There is some discussion about the definition of the last two bedikot. According to Tosafot, mar'eh refers to seeing a couple engaged in sexual relations; according to the Rambam it is when a man sees a woman and fantasizes about her. Others suggest that it means that a person sees a frightening event that panics him, which does not relate to thoughts of sexuality at all.
Niddah 36a-b - Different types of vaginal bleeding
After we learned about the laws of a zav on yesterday's daf (=page), the Mishnah on today's daf discusses the case of a zavah, and specifically a woman who becomes a zavah while in the process of giving birth.
In contrast with a male zav who is suffering from a venereal disease, a female zavah is a woman who experiences a flow of menstrual-type blood during a time of the month when she is not due to experience menstrual bleeding. According to Biblical law, when a woman experiences her menstrual cycle she is a niddah whether she bleeds only once or many times over a period of seven days. At the end of seven days she immerses in a mikveh and is rendered ritually pure. The eleven days that follow are called yemei zivah. If she experiences vaginal bleeding during that time she is rendered a zavah.
The laws of zavah differ from those of a niddah. If a zavah experiences bleeding just once or twice during that period, she is deemed a zavah ketanah who will "keep watch a day for a day" - she must check that she is free of bleeding one day for each day that she bled. After experiencing bleeding on a third day, however, the woman is considered a zavah gedolah and is obligated to wait a full seven days without bleeding. At that time she can immerse in a mikveh and she will be permitted to her husband. The next day she must bring a sacrifice as part of her purification process, which will allow her to enter the Temple and consume sacrifices (see Vayikra 15:25-29).
The Mishnah discusses a situation where a woman in childbirth begins to experience bleeding. If it occurs on days that we anticipate that she will be a niddah, she is rendered a niddah. If, however, it occurs on days that we anticipate that she will be a zavah, she will not become a zavah, since she will only get that status if the bleeding is from her and not if it is caused by the emerging fetus.
Niddah 37a-b - God unlocks the womb for birth
As we learned on yesterday's daf (=page), if a woman in childbirth begins to experience bleeding on days that we anticipate that she will be a zavah (as opposed to a niddah - see the explanation on yesterday's daf), she will not become a zavah, since she will only get that status if the bleeding is from her and not if it is caused by the emerging fetus. The Mishnah continues, teaching that if after three days of bleeding and contractions, her contractions stop for a 24 hour period and then she gives birth, it becomes clear that the bleeding cannot be associated with the birth process, and she is rendered a zavah.
The Gemara on today's daf discusses a situation where after three days of bleeding and contractions, her contractions stop and she stops bleeding, as well. Rav Hisda rules that this is the same as the case of the Mishnah - since the birth occurs a day after the contractions and bleeding ended, they cannot be associated with the birth and she is rendered a zavah. Rabbi Hanina argues that since both bleeding and contractions stopped, it is clear that the bleeding is related to the birth, and she does not become a zavah.
Rabbi Hanina offers a mashal (a metaphor) that expresses this idea:
This may be compared to a king who, when going on a tour, is preceded by his troops and it is known that they are the king's troops.
Rav Hisda's retort was that immediately before the arrival of the king he would require even more troops.
One explanation of Rabbi Hanina's metaphor is that it is based on a Gemara in Massekhet Ta'anit (daf 2a) that teaches that the King of kings - God Himself - holds the "key" to birth. Thus, the birth contractions are the King's troops that precede His arrival, that is, the Heavenly "unlocking" the womb for birth. Rav Hisda argues that since we see that in this case the original bleeding and contractions did not lead to birth, clearly they are unrelated to it, for we would anticipate that the greatest number of "troops" would be needed immediately before the birth.
Niddah 38a-b - How long from conception to birth?
In determining when a woman is viewed as beginning the birthing process, the Gemara on today's daf (=page) presents the view of the Amora Shmu'el who teaches that a woman can conceive and bear only on the two hundred and seventy-first day (a full nine months of thirty days each, plus one day after intercourse) or on the two hundred and seventy-second day or on the two hundred and seventy-third day, (conception being sometimes delayed one or two days).
The Gemara identifies this position with a tradition of the Hasidim ha-Rishonim - "the pious men of old" - who engaged in marital relations only from Wednesday until the end of the week in order to avoid the possibility of Sabbath desecration because of the childbirth. 271, 272 and 273 days make up 38 weeks and 5, 6 and 7 days respectively, so that a conception on a Wednesday results in a birth on a Sunday, Monday or Tuesday.
The Ran suggests that ideally the Hasidim ha-Rishonim engaged in marital relations on Wednesdays because a birth on a Sunday, Monday or Tuesday covers the three day period when Sabbath desecration is permitted on behalf of the mother after she gives birth.
The question of whether or not performing activities on behalf of a sick person that are ordinarily forbidden on Shabbat is considered to be Sabbath desecration that is permitted is raised in a number of places in the Talmud. The two possibilities are whether we view such activities as hutrah - entirely permitted - or dehuyah - that the prohibition is "pushed aside." It appears that the position of the Hasidim ha-Rishonim was that activities on behalf of a sick person are only dehuyah with regard to Shabbat, so they did everything they could to avoid such situations.
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.