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.
Shabbat 37a-b - Placing food on a stove
According to the Mishnah on yesterday's daf (=page), cooked food can be placed on a stove whose fire has been extinguished before Shabbat begins. The Mishnah teaches:
With regard to a stove that was lit on Shabbat eve with straw or with rakings, scraps collected from the field, one may place a pot of cooked food atop it on Shabbat. The fire in this stove was certainly extinguished while it was still day, as both straw and rakings are materials that burn quickly. However, if the stove was lit with pomace, pulp that remains from sesame seeds, olives, and the like after the oil is squeezed from them, and if it was lit with wood, one may not place a pot atop it on Shabbat until he sweeps the coals from the stove while it is still day or until he places ashes on the coals, so that the fire will not ignite on Shabbat.
The Gemara on today's daf discusses this ruling, bringing variations on the theme:
Rabba bar bar Ĥana said that Rabbi Yoĥanan said: With regard to a stove that he swept out or covered with ashes before Shabbat and subsequently reignited on Shabbat, one may leave hot water that was already completely heated and cooked food that was already completely cooked upon it, even if the coals were from the wood of a broom tree [rotem], which are very hot and long-burning.
The rotem, or broom tree, known as the desert broom, Retama raetam, is a tall bush with branches that sometimes reach the height of a tree. It grows primarily in sand and in dry riverbeds. The branches of the broom are greenish-gray, and during most of the year they do not grow leaves. The broom blooms at the end of winter with an abundance of white flowers. It was common to make coals from the roots and trunk of the broom. In the Bible (Tehillim 120:4) and in several places in the Talmud, it is emphasized that the coals made from the broom burn and retain their heat longer than other types of coals.
Shabbat 38a-b - How they heated water in Tiberias
The Mishnah continues with its discussion of heating up food on Shabbat by turning to the question of heating water.
The Mishnah relates a story about the people of the city of Tiberias, and they ran a cold-water pipe [silon] through a canal of hot water from the Tiberias hot springs. They thought that by doing so, they could heat the cold potable water on Shabbat.
The Rabbis said to them: If the water passed through on Shabbat, its legal status is like that of hot water that was heated on Shabbat, and the water is prohibited both for bathing and for drinking. And if the water passed through on a Festival, then it is prohibited for bathing but permitted for drinking. On Festivals, one is even permitted to boil water on actual fire for the purposes of eating and drinking.
Tiberias is a town on the shore of the Sea of Galilee founded by Herod Antipas (c. 18 C.E.). It was apparently founded on the site of earlier settlements, and according to some opinions in the Talmud (Megillah 6a) this was the site of the biblical city of Rakkat. At the outset, Tiberias was a town of mixed Jewish and gentile population. The Jewish population was not distinguished for its Torah scholarship. However, after the destruction of the Temple, important Torah scholars, such as Ben Azzai and Rabbi Meir, lived there. Its period of greatness came when the Sanhedrin moved there (c. 235 C.E.) and it became the seat of "the Great Council", presided over by Rabbi Yehuda Nesi’a I. After him Rabbi Yohanan became its leading spiritual figure, and headed the yeshiva there. From that time, Tiberias was the Torah center of Eretz Yisrael. Most of the disciples of Rabbi Yohanan, particularly those who immigrated from Babylonia, lived and continued their studies there.
For many years, the people of Tiberias drew their water from springs adjacent to their city and not from the Sea of Galilee. However, the water from the Tiberias hot springs is not potable. Therefore, the people of Tiberias tried to use the hot springs to heat potable water, transported by means of aqueducts, by running a pipe through the hot springs.
Shabbat 39a-b - The hot-springs of Tiberias
As we learned on yesterday's daf (=page) the Sages of the Mishnah forbade the people of Tiberias from heating up cold water by means of a pipe that was placed in the hot-springs in that city. The Gemara on today's daf tries to ascertain why that was prohibited, suggesting that the hot-springs are considered heated by fire. The Gemara teaches:
The Rabbis said the following to Rabbi Yosei: Wasn’t the incident involving the people of Tiberias with derivatives of the sun, as the hot springs of Tiberias are not heated by fire, and nevertheless the Sages prohibited them from using the water? Rabbi Yosei said to them: That is not so. That incident involved derivatives of fire, as the hot springs of Tiberias are hot because they pass over the entrance to Gehenna. They are heated by hellfire, which is a bona fide underground fire. That is not the case with derivatives of the sun, which are not heated by fire at all.
The Sages who say that the hot springs of Tiberias are heated by the sun mean that the water is not heated by fire. Any source of heat other than fire is comparable to the sun in the sense that cooking with it is significantly different from cooking with fire and should be permitted. Rabbi Yosei, on the other hand, believes that the hot springs are heated by the fire that arises from beneath the ground, called here hellfire. The legal status of the hot springs is analogous to water heated by fire although their fire was not lit by human hand.
In fact, the Tiberias hot-springs, near the Sea of the Galilee, contain geothermally heated groundwater that is at a constant temperature of 60 degrees Celsius (140 degrees Fahrenheit). In general, the temperature of rocks within the earth increases with depth. When water percolates deeply enough into the crust, it will be heated as it comes into contact with hot rocks. Much of the Earth's internal heat is produced by decay of naturally radioactive elements, which is not "fire" in the normal sense of the term.
Shabbat 40a-b - Bathhouses on Shabbat
The Gemara relates that is was common practice for the Sages to go to a sauna to sweat on Jewish festivals. This permission became limited, however, as explained by the Gemara:
When the number of transgressors increased, the Sages began to prohibit this. However, the large bathhouses [ambatyaot] in cities, one may stroll through them as usual and need not be concerned about the prohibitions of Shabbat, even if he sweats while doing so.
The bathhouses in the big cities consisted of several large rooms. It was customary to walk through them for purposes other than bathing. The heating in most of these bathhouses was under the floor, so simply walking through the bathhouse would cause one to sweat.
And the Gemara asks: What are these transgressors? The Gemara answers: Rabbi Shimon ben Pazi said that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said in the name of bar Kappara: Initially, people would bathe even on Shabbat in hot water that was heated before Shabbat. The bathhouse attendants began to heat water on Shabbat and say that it was heated before Shabbat. Therefore, the Sages prohibited bathing in hot water and permitted sweating. And they would still bathe in hot water and say: We are sweating, and that is why we entered the bathhouse. Therefore, the Sages prohibited sweating and permitted bathing in the hot springs of Tiberias. And people would still bathe in hot water heated by fire and say: We bathed in the hot springs of Tiberias. Therefore, they prohibited even the hot springs of Tiberias and permitted them to bathe in cold water. When the Sages saw that their decrees were not upheld by the people because of their stringency, they permitted them to bathe in the hot springs of Tiberias, and the decree prohibiting sweating remained in place.
According to the Ran, the Gemara does not mean to say that the attendants actually heated the water on Shabbat by lighting a fire and boiling it. Indeed, the general principle is that Jews are never suspected of willfully desecrating the Shabbat. Rather, the statement must be understood to mean that the attendants added wood to the fire just before Shabbat and sealed the openings of the bathhouse. This act was prohibited lest the attendants come to stir the coals. This explanation is found in the Talmud Yerushalmi.
Shabbat 41a-b - The challenge of moving to Israel
Should one move to Israel?
The Gemara relates that there was a disagreement among the Sages of the Gemara regarding this question.
Rabbi Zeira was avoiding being seen by his teacher, Rav Yehuda, as Rabbi Zeira sought to ascend to Eretz Yisrael and his teacher disapproved. As Rav Yehuda said: Anyone who ascends from Babylonia to Eretz Yisrael transgresses a positive commandment, as it is stated: “They shall be taken to Babylonia and there they shall remain until the day that I recall them, said the Lord” (Yirmiyahu 27:22). Based on that verse, Rav Yehuda held that since the Babylonian exile was
by divine decree, permission to leave Babylonia for Eretz Yisrael could only be granted by God. Rabbi Zeira did not want to discuss his desire to emigrate with Rav Yehuda, so that he would not be forced to explicitly disobey him. Nevertheless, he said: I will go and hear something from him and then I will leave.
The Gemara in Massekhet Ketubot (daf, or page 110b) relates a similar incident regarding Rabbi Zeira who was a student of Rav Yehuda. That Gemara argues that the proof-text brought by Rav Yehuda from Sefer Yirmiyahu was understood by Rabbi Zeira as referring specifically to the Temple vessels that had been looted by the Babylonian troops. According to his approach, those vessels would not be returned until the time of redemption, and the passage does not relate at all to moving to Israel.
Tosafot point out that in any case, the context of the passage in Yirmiyahu clearly relates to the period following the destruction of the first Temple; nevertheless Rav Yehuda chose to apply it to his time, as well. Apparently even according to Rav Yehuda's understanding, the prohibition - which is unique to Babylonia - did not apply while the Temple was standing, for then there is clearly a mitzvah to immigrate to the land of Israel and fulfill the mitzvot that are connected with the land of Israel. However, Rav Yehuda maintained that after the destruction of the Temple it was forbidden to leave Babylonia
Shabbat 42a-b - Can salt be cooked?
In continuation of the discussion of vessels where the prohibition of cooking applies even though the vessels are not actually on the fire itself, the Mishnah teaches:
A stew pot [ilpas] and a pot that were removed from the fire while they were still boiling, even if they were removed before Shabbat, one may not place spices into them on Shabbat itself. Even though the pot is not actually standing on the fire, the spices are still cooked in it because the pot is a primary vessel, i.e., a vessel whose contents were cooked on the fire.
However, one may place the spices into a bowl or into a tureen [tamĥui], which is a large bowl into which people pour the contents a stew pot or a pot. Bowls and tureens are both secondary vessels and food placed into them does not get cooked. Rabbi Yehudah says: One may place spices into anything on Shabbat except for a vessel that has in it something containing vinegar or brine of salted fish.
The Gemara offers two different versions of a discussion between Rav Yosef and Abayye who quotes Rabbi Hiyya - either as saying that salt cooks even in a secondary vessel or else that it can never get cooked, even in a primary vessel.
It is difficult to articulate a precise and unequivocal definition of cooking salt, because the concept of cooking, in general, is not clear in the Talmud. In any case, water with even a very small quantity of salt requires a significantly higher temperature to reach boiling. Since salt boils only at a very high temperature or after cooking for a long time, its cooking is said to be like "cooking the meat of an ox."
As far as the halakhah is concerned, sprinkling salt into a primary vessel after it was taken off the fire is permitted, as per the second version in the Gemara, because halakhah tends to be established according to the second version. Moreover, in that version Rav Naĥman and Abayye are in agreement. Other authorities state that putting salt even into a secondary vessel is prohibited (Rema). According to that approach, the first statement in the Gemara is accepted (Taz). (Rema; Rambam Sefer Zemanim, Hilkhot Shabbat 22: 6; Shulĥan Arukh, Oraĥ Ĥayyim 318:9).
Shabbat 43a-b - Of eggs and beds
In discussing the use of a newly laid egg on Shabbat orYom Tov, the Gemara quotes a baraita which teaches that using such an egg is forbidden; nevertheless it can be covered with a bowl to protect it and then it can be used when Shabbat or Yom Tov has ended. The examples given by the baraita of possible uses for the egg are of some interest - the baraita suggests that it might have been used to cover a utensil or to support a bed.
Support a bed!? Therishonim were quick to ask why the baraita would suggest supporting a large, heavy object like a bed with an egg.
In truth, mechanically speaking, the structure of an egg is, theoretically, very strong - strong enough to withstand enormous pressure without breaking, even though its shell is very thin. Practically, however, without a specially prepared apparatus, it would be impossible to have an egg actually support something large and heavy.
Therefore, the logical approach to the baraita is the one suggested by the Me'iri and others. They explain that the "bed" referred to is not a bed that people sleep on, but rather a type of bowl or other utensil that is used on a table, which, because of its shape - some say that it has a rounded bottom like that of a small ship - needs to be supported by something. An egg, apparently, was the object of choice to hold up this "bed."
To support his theory, the Me'iri points out a word in Arabic for such a table utensil - hamta - which is similar to the Hebrew word for bed: ha-mitah. InMishnayotMa'asrot (1:9) we find the word hamita used in such a context, and the Rambam in hisPerush ha-Mishnayot there translates the word as a small earthen vessel that is sometimes used on the table.
Some suggest that the Gemara's reference is to an ordinary bed, but that the egg is not supporting it, rather it is placed next to the bed to serve as a type of amulet or charm (e.g. for procreation).
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.