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 39a-b - When the menstrual cycle may not have begun
We have learned of differences between the laws of a niddah - a menstruating woman - and a zavah - 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 (see above, daf, or page 36).
As we have learned, 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 Mishnah on today's daf discusses what the woman's status is at different times during the month. According to the Mishnah, during the eleven days of yemei zivah even if the woman does not examine herself, we do not assume that she bleeds and becomes a zavah. Once the time of her period arrives, however, we must assume that she has become a niddah, even if she has not examined herself. Rabbi Me'ir teaches that if there are extenuating circumstances this may not be true. He rules:
if a woman was in a hiding-place when the time of her regular period arrived and she failed to examine herself she is definitely clean, because fear suspends the flow of blood.
There is some research that suggests that severe depression or psychosocial stressors can affect a woman's physical health and can lead, in some cases, to amenorrhea - a cessation of a menstrual cycle. While Rabbi Me'ir's opinion is brought in the Mishnah without any opposition, the commentaries do not accept his ruling, and it appears that the Sages disagree with him on this matter.
Niddah 40a-b - Caesarean sections and Jewish law
We have already learned that aside from the laws of ritual purity related to a niddah and a zavah, there is a separate category connected to childbirth. According to the Torah when a woman gives birth she is rendered ritually unclean with tum'at leidah - the impurity of childbirth (see Vayikra 12:1-5). The Torah teaches that there are different rules for a woman who gives birth to a boy and one who gives birth to a girl.
One of the unique elements related to tum'at leidah is that it is not related to bleeding; even if there is no vaginal bleeding at all during childbirth, the woman is, nevertheless, ritually impure.
What if the birth did not take place in the usual manner? Is the woman still rendered ritually unclean?
The fifth perek (=chapter) of Massekhet Niddah, which begins on today's daf (=page) discusses this question. According to the Tanna Kamma (=first) of the Mishnah, if the child that is born is a yotzeh dofen (literally "it emerges from a wall") the laws of tum'at leidah do not apply to the mother. Rabbi Shimon disagrees, arguing that with regard to these laws, it is treated like any ordinary birth.
A yotzeh dofen refers to a birth that does not progress in an ordinary manner, rather by means of surgical intervention. Already in ancient times birth by means of Caesarean section was known, although such surgery was invariably performed on a mother that was already dead. Only with the advent of modern medicine do we find records of successful Caesarean sections performed on women who were alive. From the discussion in the Gemara, however, it does appear that Jewish physicians successfully performed such operations on women who survived the ordeal and were able to conceive and give birth to more children.
Niddah 41a-b - Caesarean sections and sanctified animals
As we learned on yesterday's daf (=page) the fifth perek (=chapter) of Massekhet Niddahdiscusses this question of a yotzeh dofen - a child born by means of a Caesarean section. According to the Tanna Kamma (=first) the laws of tum'at leidah do not apply to the mother. Rabbi Shimon disagrees, arguing that with regard to these laws, it is treated like any ordinary birth.
Does Rabbi Shimon believe that a fetus born of a Caesarean section is always considered to be ordinary?
Rabbi Yohanan argues that with regard to kodashim - sanctified animals - Rabbi Shimon agrees with the Sages that an animal born in this manner will not be considered an ordinary birth. The biblical passages that serve as the sources for this ruling teach about two different types of sanctification. First, if a female animal that was sanctified gives birth, ordinarily its offspring would have the same type of sanctification that the mother does. When born of Caesarean section, the animal does not receive its mother's sanctification. Additionally, when an ordinary animal is born of a Caesarean section, it is considered to be a blemished animal and cannot be sanctified for sacrifice on the altar.
With regard to the first issue - that the offspring of a sanctified animal does not retain its mother's holiness - Rashi explains that the animal has no intrinsic sanctification (kedushat ha-guf), although it is considered to be consecrated for its value (kedushat damim); it is like other cases where an animal was already blemished before it was consecrated. In such cases only the value of the animal becomes sanctified, and after it is redeemed it can be used for any purpose.
The Ritva points out that there are other cases where an animal cannot be brought as a sacrifice, yet it retains a higher level of intrinsic sanctification. In the case of a terefah (an animal with a terminal condition that will not survive a year), for example, the animal is considered consecrated, can only be redeemed if it develops a permanent blemish, and it retains certain laws of sanctification even after it is redeemed. Surely the case of a yotzeh dofen should be no less severe than that of a terefah!?
He explains that, in fact, with regard to the laws of sanctification, we view a yotzeh dofen as similar to a miscarriage, which precludes from it levels of sanctification that even a terefah can attain.
Niddah 42a-b - Circumcision on Shabbat
The Torah requires every male child to be circumcised on the eighth day after he is born. The obligation to perform circumcision on the eighth day is so powerful, that it will be done on Shabbat, even though it involves activities that are ordinarily prohibited. Performing circumcision on Shabbat, however, is only done if that is the eighth day. If a baby could not have a brit milah performed on time for health reasons, we will not do the circumcision on Shabbat. Similarly, if there is some doubt as to whether the baby was born on Shabbat, we will postpone the brit until after Shabbat.
The Gemara on today's daf (=page) relates a story that deals with some of these issues.
A certain person once came before Rava and asked him, ‘Is it permissible to perform a circumcision on the Sabbath?’ ‘This,’ the other replied, ‘is quite in order.’ After that person went out Rava considered: Is it likely that this man did not know that it was permissible to perform a circumcision on the Sabbath? He thereupon followed him and said to him, ‘Pray tell me all the circumstance of the case.’ ‘I,’ the other told him, ‘heard the child cry late on the Sabbath eve but it was not born until the Sabbath.’ ‘This is a case,’ the first explained to him, ‘of a child who put his head out of the ante-chamber and consequently his circumcision is one that does not take place at the proper time, and on account of a circumcision that does not take place at the proper time the Sabbath may not be desecrated.
The reason that Rava rules that the baby should not be circumcised on Shabbat, but did not say that the brit should take place on Friday is clear from the version of this story that appears in the She'iltot. There it is told that the child's cry was not heard on Friday afternoon, rather bein ha-shemashot - during the twilight period when it is not clear whether or not Shabbat has begun. Rava's ruling was that the baby may have been born on Friday and cannot be circumcised on Shabbat (which would not be the eighth day, but the ninth). At the same time, the baby cannot be circumcised on Friday, since the birth may have taken place on Shabbat (which would make Friday the seventh day). Thus there is no choice but to postpone the brit until Sunday.
Niddah 43a-b - Contrasting between different types of ritual impurity
When discussing laws of ritual purity, it is important to note that there are many differences between different types of tum'ah. The Gemara on today's daf (=page) focuses on some of these differences.
For example, we find that the Gemara contrasts between the ritual impurity imparted by shikhvat zera - semen - and that of a sheretz - a creeping animal. While secreting even a tiny amount of semen would render a person impure, when coming into contact with a sheretz, a minimum size of a lentil is necessary for the person to become tameh.
Generally, any one of rodents, lizards, insects or other small creatures that crawl would be considered a sheretz. Ritual impurity is imparted by the carcasses of eight creeping animals (Vayikra 11:29-37). The Sages stated that the smallest of these eight animals was at least the size of a lentil's bulk at birth. Therefore, one only contracts ritual impurity if he comes into contact with a piece of the carcass of a creeping animal no smaller than that size.
The Gemara quotes a baraita that teaches that another difference between shikhvat zera and sheretz is that shikhvat zera is "divided in its ritual defilement" while sheretz is not. In explaining this, the Gemara says that it cannot mean that the laws of ritual defilement of shikhvat zera apply only to Jews and not to non-Jews, since we find a similar division in the laws of sheretz; a "land-mouse" imparts ritual impurity, while a "sea-mouse" does not. The Gemara concludes that the ritual purity laws of shikhvat zera apply only to adults, while the laws of sheretz are applicable even to new-born creatures.
We know that a "land mouse" is mus musculus - an ordinary house mouse. There is some discussion about how to identify a "sea mouse." Some suggest that it is a type of snail, while Rashi argues that it is a fish that is similar in appearance to a mouse. According to the Gemara in Massekhet Hullin (daf 126b) the Torah limits the laws of sheretz to animal that live on the land (see Vayikra 11:29), excluding water-based animals.
Niddah 44a-b - Determining "time of death"
In the context of a discussion of how the status of a one day old baby can affect inheritance laws, the Gemara states that the discussion only has significance if the baby had already been born. According to Jewish law, an unborn fetus is not able to inherit, nor can others inherit him. The Gemara explains that the fetus must have died before its mother has died, so that it cannot be considered a viable person.
A simple explanation for the Gemara's statement is that a developing embryo relies on its mother for nourishment, oxygen and so forth, and its status depends on the proper functioning of her body. If the mother is suffering from a terminal illness, or even sudden death, it is likely that the embryo will begin to suffer from faulty circulatory blood flow, leading to the embryo's demise.
In response to this statement, the Gemara counters that in an actual case the fetus was seen to have a number of convulsions after the mother had already died. The Gemara explains that this is like the tail of a salamander that continues to twitch even after it is removed from the body of the salamander, i.e. that such involuntary convulsions are not a sign of life.
After the limb of a living creature is separated from the body, the nerves of that limb continue to operate in an uncontrolled manner for a short time due to the continued functioning of the neurotransmitters that still send out signals to the limb. Although the muscles continue to flex in response to these neurological signals, this is not necessarily an indication of life.
In contemporary discussions about establishing a working definition of "time of death" and the possibility that "brain death" – a cessation of all recorded brain-stem activity – may be viewed as halakhic death, the Mishnah in Massekhet Oholot that discusses the ramifications of cutting off one's head serves as a key source from the Talmud, opening the possibility of harvesting organs for transplant purposes.
Niddah 45a-b - Talmudic birth control
One of the basic sources in the Talmud dealing with issues of birth control appears on our daf (=page).
Rav Bevai taught a baraita before Rav Nahman. Three categories of women may use a mokh (an absorbent cloth) while engaged in marital relations - a minor, a pregnant woman and a nursing woman. The minor, because she might become pregnant and as a result might die.
Rav Bevai explains why this is permissible:
A pregnant woman may use a mokh because she might cause her fetus to degenerate into a sandal (a formless creature); and a nursing woman, because she might have to wean her child prematurely, which may result in its death. What is the age of such a minor? From the age of eleven years and one day until the age of twelve years and one day. One who is under or over this age must carry on her marital intercourse in the usual manner. This is the opinion of Rabbi Meir. The hakhamim say that all women should carry on marital intercourse in the usual manner, and heaven will have mercy on them (i.e. no harm will come to them), based on the passage that states (Tehillim 116:6) "HaShem preserves the simple."
Therishonim differ as to how to understand this baraita and what its implications are for the halakhah. According to Rashi, the discussion is whether a woman can insert a physical barrier into her vaginal canal as a means of birth control. Rabbi Meir's position is that a woman who has reason to fear that pregnancy will result in a danger to her or to her unborn child is permitted to do so, although it would be forbidden to other women. Tosafot and others reject Rashi's explanation, arguing that inserting a mokh during relations would be forbidden. They suggest that the mokh is an absorbent cloth that is inserted following sexual relations in an attempt to remove the semen. According to Rabbi Meir, a minor as well as a pregnant or nursing woman would be obligated to use this mokh in an attempt to keep a potentially dangerous pregnancy from developing (a method that is recognized today as being of limited use, if any), while other women would be permitted to do so.
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.