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 44a-b - Of wagons and ritual purity
While discussing the laws of muktzeh - the rabbinic prohibition against moving objects whose use is forbidden on Shabbat - the Gemara on today's daf (=page) quotes a Mishnah from Massekhet Kelim. This Mishnah deals primarily with the laws of ritual impurity and discusses the relationship between a wagon and its undercarriage [mukheni], the system of wheels and the frame at the base of the wagon.
And the Sages said: The wagon’s undercarriage, when it is detachable from the wagon, it is not considered connected to it and they are considered independent units as far as the halakhot of ritual impurity are concerned. And it is not measured with it. This refers to calculating the volume of forty se’ah, as a vessel with a volume larger than forty se’ah does not have the legal status of a vessel and cannot become ritually impure. And the undercarriage likewise does not protect together with the wagon in a tent over the corpse.
A large wagon is considered a tent in and of itself and the vessels inside the wagon do not become impure if the wagon is over a corpse. However, the undercarriage is not included with the wagon in this regard. If a hole in the wagon is sealed by the undercarriage, it is not considered sealed with regard to preventing ritual impurity.
Regarding the discussion of muktzeh the Mishnah concludes:
And, likewise, one may not pull the wagon on Shabbat when there is money upon it.
Preventing objects from becoming ritually impure in a tent over a corpse can be accomplished in any number of ways. In this context, the discussion is with regard to an object covering a corpse like a tent. The object itself remains ritually pure and the objects above that object also remain ritually pure. Objects beneath it become impure. With regard to a ceramic vessel in a tent over a corpse there is a similar halakhah. If it is sealed, it protects its contents from ritual impurity (Bamidbar 19:15). According to Tosafot, a large wooden vessel, which cannot become ritually impure because it has a capacity of more than forty se’ah and does not, therefore, have the legal status of a vessel, preserves the ritual purity of items inside it when it is closed on all sides. In the case at hand, if we understand the undercarriage to be the entire bottom part of the wagon and not just the wheels alone, as Rashi explains, then when there is an opening in the bottom of the wagon that is sealed by the undercarriage, the wagon is not considered sealed and does not protect its contents from ritual impurity in the case of a tent over a corpse.
Shabbat 45a-b - Drying figs and raisins on Shabbat
The Gemara on today's daf (=page) continues its discussion of the laws of muktzeh - the rabbinic prohibition against moving objects that were "set aside" as being unusable on Shabbat - and discusses the position of Rabbi Shimon who is reputed to reject the concept of muktzeh on Shabbat. The Gemara does note one exception to this rule:
Rav Yehuda said that Shmuel said: There is only a prohibition of muktzeh according to Rabbi Shimon in the cases of dried figs and raisins alone.
The case of one who takes figs and raisins up to his roof in order to dry them in the sun is the only situation in which Rabbi Shimon holds that they are prohibited on Shabbat due to the prohibition of set-aside. Since in the initial stages of the process they emit a bad odor and are unfit for consumption, one consciously sets them aside.
Does this apply to all fruits that are put out to dry? This question is raised by the Gemara itself:
Rabbi Shimon bar Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, raised a dilemma before his father, Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi: Unripe datesthat are placed in baskets to ripen and until they are ripe can only be eaten with difficulty, according to the opinion of Rabbi Shimon, what is their legal status as far as moving them on Shabbat is concerned? Are they considered set-aside? Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi said to him: There is only a prohibition of muktzeh according to Rabbi Shimonin the cases of dried figs and raisins alone.
Some explain the difference between unripe dates, on the one hand, and dried figs and raisins, on the other. Figs and raisins are expressly set-aside, while unripe dates are not. They are simply not yet edible, but they will become so over time. Therefore, because one only set them aside temporarily, they are not prohibited (Tosefot Yeshanim).
Shabbat 46a-b - Dissolving vows on Shabbat
Still in the midst of its discussion of the laws of muktzeh - the rabbinic prohibition against moving objects that were "set aside" as being unusable on Shabbat - the Gemara on today's daf (=page) raises a question based on a Mishnah from Massekhet Nedarim:
One may nullify vows on Shabbat. A woman who vowed that certain food is prohibited to her, her husband can nullify her vow on Shabbat. And likewise one may request that a Sage find an opening to dissolve his vows, i.e., a factor that the one taking the vow failed to take into account or an element of regret, if that nullification or dissolution is for the purpose of Shabbat. The question arises: And why, after a man has nullified his wife’s vow, should she be permitted to eat that food? When the woman vowed not to eat that food, she consciously set it aside. Even if some way to dissolve the vow is found, the food should remain set-aside. On the basis of the same uncertainty that was raised above, say: Who says that her husband will agree to engage in nullifying her oath? Perhaps he will refuse to nullify it.
The Gemara answers:
There, in the case of vows, it can be explained in accordance with that which Rav Pineĥas said in the name of Rava, who came to explain some of the fundamentals of the halakhot of vows, as Rav Pineĥas said in the name of Rava: Every woman who takes a vow, it is from the outset contingent on her husband’s consent that she takes the vow. Since she knows that her husband has the ability to nullify it, her vows are not absolute and their final validation comes only through her husband’s agreement. When a woman vows, she does not set aside the food absolutely from potential use.
The halakhot of vows and their nullification are articulated in the Torah (Bamidbar, Chapter 30), and the entire tractate of Nedarim is devoted to those halakhot. By Torah law, a husband may nullify his wife’s vows on the day that he hears them. The Gemara explains that this applies only to those vows that affect her husband in some way. Since the verse itself states: “Every vow, and every binding oath to afflict the soul, her husband may let it stand, or her husband may make it void” (Numbers 30:14), the statement of Rav Pineĥas is readily understood. From the time she takes the vow, she is aware that it is contingent upon her husband’s consent.
In Tractate Nedarim, it is explained at length that one may dissolve a vow that he made by consulting with a Sage. There are several reasons that a Sage would agree to dissolve a vow. The simplest reason is if the one who took the vow realizes afterward that it is difficult for him to fulfill it, and, therefore, he regrets taking the vow. Since regret is a valid reason to dissolve the vow, in exigent circumstances, even three common people who are not experts can comprise a court to dissolve a vow.
Shabbat 47a-b - Keeping food hot on Shabbat
In Chapter Three, the halakhot of cooking were discussed extensively. Although the Torah prohibited cooking on Shabbat, it is permitted to leave food on the fire on Shabbat eve so that its cooking will be completed on Shabbat, as explained in Chapter One and Chapter Three of this tractate. A series of related halakhot about insulating on Shabbat are discussed in Chapter Four.
It was customary to place hot food and liquids into various substances with the capacity to preserve and even add heat. This act of insulating is comparable to placing a cooked dish in coals and embers, which is prohibited by rabbinic decree, lest one come to stoke the coals and ignite them. In this case, although there is an explicit principle that a decree is not issued due to concern lest one come to violate another rabbinic decree, the Sages prohibited insulating food for Shabbat in those cases most similar to placing a cooked dish in coals. In cases of this sort, the Gemara explains that the different decrees were issued contemporaneously. Therefore, it is not a case of a decree issued to prevent violation of another decree, as they are all one decree.
The general discussion in this chapter includes a list of substances with which it is permitted and those with which it is prohibited to insulate hot food on Shabbat.
Most of the substances listed in the first Mishnah add heat, i.e., they spontaneously generate heat as a result of different internal chemical reactions. When the solid residue of grapes, sesame, manure, and straw are moist they undergo a process of fermentation which generates heat, to the point that they sometimes ignite. Lime and salt undergo different processes. When they absorb moisture from the air new compounds are created, in the course of which heat is released. For this reason, the Sages prohibited insulating food in those materials before Shabbat.
Shabbat 48a-b - Heating water on Shabbat
Continuing its discussion of keeping food hot on Shabbat, the Gemara relates an anecdote that presents some of the issues involved with heating water on Shabbat.
Rabba and Rabbi Zeira happened to come to the house of the Exilarch on Shabbat, and saw this servant who placed a jug [kuza]of cold water on the mouth of a kettlefilled with hot water. Rabba rebuked him for having acted contrary to the halakhah. Rabbi Zeira said to Rabba: How is this case different from placing an urn on top of another urn, which is permitted on Shabbat? Rabba said to him: There, when he places one urn on top of another urn, he merely preserves the heat in the upper urn; therefore, it is permitted. Here, in the case where he places the jug of cold water on the mouth of a kettle, he is generating heat in the water in the upper vessel; therefore, it is prohibited.
Some commentaries explain that the Gemara is not discussing a kettle on the fire. Rather, the servant sought to place the jug on top of the kettle and insulate them both together. Rabbi Zeira was of the opinion that this is permitted, while Rabba maintained that since the hot water in the kettle will heat the water in the jug, it is not merely insulating, but tantamount to cooking (Rabbeinu Yonah).
As far as halakhah is concerned, it is prohibited to place a jug of cold water atop a hot kettle on Shabbat. This applies, however, only to a situation where the water in the jug could be heated to the point that one’s hand would spontaneously recoil from it. Any other conclusion would contradict earlier conclusions of the Gemara with regard to heating water (Tosafot; Ran; Shulĥan Arukh, Oraĥ Ĥayyim 318:17).
Shabbat 49a-b - Dove's wings
The Mishnah teaches:
One may insulate a pot of hot food on Shabbat eve in clothing, in produce, in doves’ wings, in a carpenter’s wood-shavings, and in the chaff of fine flax. Rabbi Yehuda prohibits doing so when it is fine, and permits doing so when it is coarse.
Since doves’ wings were mentioned in the Mishnah, the Gemara cites a related story:
Rabbi Yannai said: Donning phylacteries requires a clean body, like that of Elishah, Ba'al Kenafayim (Man of Wings).
The Gemara asks:
And why did they call Elisha Man of Wings? Because on one occasion the evil kingdom of Rome issued a decree against Israel that, as punishment, they would pierce the brain of anyone who dons phylacteries. Nevertheless, Elisha would don them and defiantly go out to the marketplace. One day, an officialwho was appointed to enforce the decree saw him; Elishah ran away from him, and the official ran after him. When the official reached him, Elisha removed the phylacteries from his head and held them in his hand. The officer asked him: What is that in your hand? Elisha said to him: It is merely a dove’s wings. A miracle was performed: He opened his hand, and, indeed, it was found to be a dove’s wings. Therefore, in commemoration of this miracle, they would call him Elisha, Man of Wings.
The Gemara asks:
And what is different about doves’ wings from those of other birds that led Elisha to say that he had doves’ wings in his hand? The Gemara answers: Because the congregation of Israel is likened to a dove, as it is stated: “You shall shine as the wings of a dove covered with silver and her pinions with yellow gold” (Tehillim 68:14). Just as this dove, only its wings protect it and it has no other means of protection, so too the Jewish people, only mitzvot protect them.
The simple explanation to this story is that a dove has no means of protection other than its ability to make use of its wings and fly away from its enemies. This stands in contrast with other birds which have other means to defend themselves from danger.
Shabbat 50a-b - Male grooming
On today's daf (=page) the Gemara turns its attention to the use of soap and similar cleansing agents on Shabbat, some of which may act as depilatories that will remove hair. For example, the Gemara discusses the use of berada - made up of aloe, myrtle, and third violets - which is determined to be permissible to use.
The Gemara relates that Ameimar, Mar Zutra, and Rav Ashi were sitting on Shabbat, and they brought berada before them for washing. Ameimar and Rav Ashi washed with it; Mar Zutra did not wash. Ultimately the Gemara concludes that Mar Zutra refrained from the use of berada all week long.
Mar Zutra holds in accordance with that which was taught in a baraita:
A person may scrape off dried excrement crusts and scabs of a wound that are on his flesh because of the pain that they are causing him. However, if he does so in order to clean and beautify himself, it is prohibited.
According to the tanna of this baraita, it is prohibited to adorn or beautify oneself, as the verse: “Neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment” (Devarim 22:5) prohibits dressing or conducting oneself in the manner of women. This source is understood to prohibit not only members of one gender from wearing clothes unique to the other gender, but also prohibits men from wearing ornaments or undergoing cosmetic treatments unique to women. According to some authorities, any ornament or treatment that has no health benefit is by definition a practice unique to women and a man who engages in those practices violates the prohibition.
This is not the only position, however.
The Gemara asks: And Ameimar and Rav Ashi, who permit use of berada, in accordance with whose opinion do they hold? They hold in accordance with that which was taught in a baraita: A person must wash his face, his hands, and his feet every day for the sake of his Maker, as it is stated: “The Lord has made everything for His own purpose” (Mishlei 16:4).
Every beautiful thing that exists in the world sings the praise of God Who created beautiful things. Therefore, it is appropriate for one to beautify himself in praise of God.
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.