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 58a-b - Wearing the Exilarch's seal on Shabbat
On today's daf (=page) the Gemara continues its discussion regarding accoutrements that we fear may be removed and carried on Shabbat. Due to this concern, the Sages decreed that certain types of apparel should not be worn. In that context the Gemara relates the following conversation:
And this is like that which Shmuel said to Rav Ĥinnana bar Sheila: All of the Sages affiliated with the house of the Exilarch may not go out on Shabbat with sealed cloaks [sarbal],i.e., garments with seals on them, except for you,since the people of the Exilarch’s house are not particular with regard to you.
The Sages affiliated with the Exilarch were officially considered servants of the house and would wear the seal of the house of the Exilarch. Therefore, it was prohibited for them to go out into the public domain on Shabbat with a cloak bearing the Exilarch’s seal, lest the seal break and, in fear of the Exilarch, they remove the cloak, fold it, place it on their shoulders, and carry it on Shabbat. Only Rav Ĥinnana bar Sheila was permitted to go out with this seal on Shabbat since the people of the Exilarch’s house were not exacting with him. Even if he wore clothing with no seal, they would not consider it an act of insubordination against the Exilarch.
The ge’onim explain that the Exilarch was appointed to collect a clothes tax on behalf of the government. A seal was attached to every garment for which taxes had been paid. Therefore, it is prohibited to wear a sealed garment because the seal could fall off and, due to concern that one might be caught by the tax official, he will come to carry the seal with him. Rabbi Ĥinnana, however, was the exception because he was not concerned about the tax collectors (Rav Sherira Ga'on).
Shabbat 59a-b - Rabbi Akiva's gift to his wife
We learned in the Mishnah:
And neither may a woman go out on Shabbat to the public domain with a city of gold.
The Gemara asks:
What is the meaning of: With a city of gold? Rabba bar bar Ĥana said that Rabbi Yoĥanan said: Jerusalem of Gold, a gold tiara engraved with a depiction of the city of Jerusalem, like the one that Rabbi Akiva made for his wife.
Rabbi Akiva, who lived just after the destruction of the Second Temple, was one of the greatest of the tannaim. Unlettered until the age of 40, Akiva was encouraged by his wife Rachel to devote himself to the study of Torah. After years of study under the tutelage of Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, Yehoshua ben Hanania and others, he returned with thousands of students and established his own academy in Bene Berak.
The "city of gold" ornament that Rabbi Akiva made for his wife is mentioned several times throughout the Talmud. The Gemara relates that when they lived in abject poverty they resided in a hayloft. When he saw that the hay got into his wife’s hair, Rabbi Akiva told her that if he ever became wealthy he would make her a "city of gold" ornament. Eventually, he kept his promise. In the Jerusalem Talmud, it is told that the wife of the Nasi, Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel, complained to him that she does not have so expensive an ornament. He asked her: Would you have done for me what Rabbi Akiva’s wife did for him? Rabbi Akiva’s wife sold the braids of her hair so that he could study Torah and she earned that ornament.
According to the descriptions of the Sages, the "city of gold" was a tiara on which the form of a city and its walls were depicted in gold. The Jerusalem of Gold specifically depicted the walls of Jerusalem. Apparently, this ornament was quite expensive and only a very limited number of aristocratic women wore it.
Shabbat 60a-b - Wearing spiked sandals on Shabbat
Continuing the theme of Rabbinic decrees about clothing that might be removed and carried on Shabbat, the Mishnah on today's daf (=page) lists accoutrements that should not be worn by men on Shabbat. The first example in the Mishnah is a sandal ha-mesumar - a spiked sandal. The Gemara explains that there is a different reason for the restriction that prohibits wearing a sandal ha-mesumar -
Shmuel said: They were those who eluded the decrees of religious persecution, and after one of the wars they were hiding in a cave. And those hiding said: One who seeks to enter the cave may enter, but one who seeks to leave the cave may not leave. One leaving has no way to determine whether or not the enemy is lying in wait outside the cave. Therefore, leaving could reveal the presence of those hiding in the cave. It happened that the sandal of one of them was reversed, the front of the sandal was in the back, and his footprints appeared like the steps of one leaving the cave. They thought that one of them left and feared that their enemies saw him and were now coming upon them to attack. In their panic, they pushed one another and killed one another in greater numbers than their enemies had killed among them. To commemorate this disaster that resulted from a spiked sandal, they prohibited going out into the public domain with it.
Similar explanations are offered by other amora'im. Ultimately the Gemara explains that since this incident took place on Shabbat, they issued the decree prohibiting the spiked sandal specifically in parallel circumstances. This is not the only case of a decree issued due to an event that transpired. There are similar instances. The principle is that in the wake of an event that left a particularly traumatic impression, the Sages issued decrees and established ordinances so that no such event would recur. Even when it was unlikely that the event would transpire a second time, they commemorated the event by means of their decree, much the same as they decreed fast days to commemorate tragedies that befell the Jewish people.
In the Jerusalem Talmud, additional reasons are cited for the decree prohibiting spiked sandals. Some explain that pregnant women would see the sandal, become frightened, and miscarry because it spurred memories of war. Others explain that they would be frightened by the noise of the spikes on the ground and miscarry. Therefore, the Sages issued a decree prohibiting wearing sandals of that kind.
Shabbat 61a-b - Wearing amulets on Shabbat
Although the Sages forbade going outside with an amulet on Shabbat, lest it be removed and the person will carry it in the public domain, the Mishnah taught that "an effective amulet" can be worn, since it will not be removed. The Gemara on today's daf (=page) attempts to clarify how we define "an effective amulet."
The Sages taught in the Tosefta: What is an effective amulet? It is any amulet that healed one person once, and healed him again, and healed him a third time. That is the criterion for an effective amulet, and it applies to both a written amulet and an amulet of herbal roots; both if it has proven effective in healing a sick person who is dangerously ill, and if it has proven effective in healing a sick person who is not dangerously ill. It is permitted to go out with these types of amulets on Shabbat.
An amulet is a magical charm to protect from harm the one who possesses it or wears it. The inscriptions on amulets in ancient times appear to have been various biblical passages that spoke of healing or protection. In the practical Kabbalah, various combinations of divine names are used for the writing of amulets on parchment.
Despite the strong biblical opposition to magic and divination, amulets were accepted by the Sages, who even permitted effective amulets to be carried on the Sabbath when carrying objects in the public domain is normally forbidden. The Rambam, a rationalist thinker, rejected any belief in the amulet's efficacy. Nevertheless he codified this rule in his Mishneh Torah (Sefer Zemanim, Hilkhot Shabbat 19:14) but he believed that it is only permitted because of the psychological relief it can offer to the disturbed mind.
Throughout the ages many rabbis not only tolerated the use of amulets but actually wrote them themselves.
Shabbat 62a-b - Causes of poverty
While discussing aggadic explanations of Biblical verses, the Gemara offers the following teaching -
Rabbi Abbahu said, and some say it was taught in a baraita: Three matters bring a person to a state of povertyas a divine punishment from Heaven: One who urinates before his bedwhile naked, and one who demeans the ritual washing of the hands,and one whose wife curses him in his presence.
In response to this, Rava offers a number of limitations to Rabbi Abbahu's teachings:
- With regard to one who urinates before his bed while naked, Rava said: We only said this prohibition in a case where he turns his face toward his bed and urinates toward it; however, if he turns his face and urinates toward the outer portion of the room, we have no problem with it. And where one turns his face toward his bed, too, we only said this prohibition in a case where he urinates on the ground; however, if he urinates into a vessel, we have no problem with it since that is not considered disgusting.
- With regard to one who demeans the ritual washing of the hands, Rava said: We only said this statement in a case where he does not wash his hands at all; however, if he washes his hands and does not wash them with a significant amount of water, we have no problem with it.
- With regard to one whose wife curses him in his presence, Rava said: This is referring to a case where she curses him over matters relating to her ornaments, i.e., she complains that he does not provide her with jewelry. The Gemara comments: And that applies only when he has the resources to buy her jewelry but does not do so; however, if he does not have sufficient resources he need not be concerned.
The general approach taken by the rishonim is that poverty is not a natural consequence of the actions listed in the Gemara; it is a divine punishment (see Rashi). However, some commentaries explain that one who conducts himself in an unhygienic manner displays the traits of idleness and laziness, which ultimately lead to poverty. Even with regard to the case of his wife’s jewelry, one who treats his wife poorly will cause his wife to adopt a contemptuous attitude toward her household responsibilities, which will also lead to poverty (Me’iri). Some commentaries interpreted the issue of the woman’s jewelry as an example of the punishment fitting the crime, as is explained in the Gemara. Since one’s wife is dependent on him and he fails to meet her needs, he will be punished in kind and God will not meet his needs (Rabbeinu Nissim).
Shabbat 63a-b - The frontplate worn by the High Priest
While discussing the topic of ritual impurity, the Gemara relates:
When Rav Dimi came from Eretz Yisrael to Babylonia, he said that Rabbi Yoĥanan said: From where is it derived that a woven fabric of any size can become ritually impure? It is derived from the frontplate [tzitz] of the High Priest, which is considered a vessel despite its small size.
Abayye said to him: And is the frontplate a woven fabric?Wasn’t it taught in a baraita: The frontplate is made like a kind of smooth plate of gold, and its width is two fingerbreadths, and it encircles the forehead from ear to ear. And on it is written in two lines: Yod heh, i.e., the Tetragrammaton, above, and kodesh lamed, i.e., sacred to, below. Thus, the words: Sacred to God, were written on the frontplate. In deference to the name of God, it would be written on the top line, and the words: Sacred to, on the line below.
And Rabbi Eliezer, son of Rabbi Yosei, said: I saw it in the Caesar’s treasury in the city of Romeand Sacred to God was written on one line. In any case, since the frontplate is a gold plate, how can it serve as a source for ritual impurity in fabrics?
The frontplate was attached to the forehead of the high priest by a sky blue ribbon. The commentaries disagree whether one or more ribbons were used.
Some explain that since the frontplate was a gold band attached with a thread to a woven fabric, the fabric was considered part of the frontplate. Therefore, it was possible to derive the legal status of the fabric from that of the frontplate and certainly to derive the status of an article made of fabric and metal. The Gemara rejects these possibilities since it was ascertained from the language of the tanna’im that the frontplate was primarily the metal part alone (Penei Yehoshua).
Shabbat 64a-b - Suspicious actions performed in private
What level of concern must we have that people will see a person performing an activity that is permitted and mistakenly suspect that it is forbidden?
The Sages established a category of Jewish law that pertains to such suspicious looking acts, which is called mar'it ha-ayin. Sometimes, permissible actions, which might be mistaken by an observer for prohibited conduct, were prohibited by Rabbinic decree, both to prevent people from unjustifiably suspecting others of misconduct, and to prevent people from incorrectly inferring that prohibited actions are permissible.
On today's daf (=page) the Gemara relates an extension to this rule -
Rav Yehudah said that Rav said: Wherever the Sages prohibited an action due to the appearance of prohibition, even in the innermost chambers,where no one will see it, it is prohibited. When prohibiting an action, the Sages did not distinguish between different circumstances. They prohibited performing the action in all cases.
This statement of Rav is similar to a previous statement recorded in his name, that anything that the Sages prohibited doing in the public domain is also prohibited in the privacy of one’s courtyard. His reasoning is based on the principle: "The Sages do not distinguish." Once the Sages issued a decree prohibiting a particular action, they did not want to differentiate between different circumstances and prohibit performing that action in certain cases and permit it in others. To do so would undermine the very authority of the rabbinic decrees.
Ultimately the Gemara suggests that the tanna'im differ regarding this question. In contrast, the Talmud Yerushalmi quotes a series of Mishnayot that clearly distinguish between activities done in public - which are forbidden - and in private - which are permitted, based upon which, the Yerushalmi rejects Rav's teaching entirely. The Rashba and others suggest that there is room to differentiate between cases where there is suspicion of an act that is truly forbidden and cases where people mistakenly think that a given action is forbidden. In the latter cases the Sages forbade performing such an action publicly, but permitted it to be done in private .
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.