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 107a-b – Identifying the eight creeping animals mentioned in the Torah
The fourteenth perek (=chapter) of Massekhet Shabbat deals with two subjects that are only minimally related to each other. It begins with a continuation of the discussion of the laws of trapping, which began in the previous chapter. Slaughtering is enumerated in the list of thirty-nine categories of primary labor after trapping. This primary category of slaughtering includes two major subcategories, wounding and killing. In order to advance the discussion and to specify the animals for which the prohibition to take a life applies, it is necessary to determine what is considered a living creature.
Clarification of the primary labor of wounding is even more complex. The term wounding as it is used in the Torah denotes shedding blood, whether by causing blood to flow out of the organism or by causing blood contained in the blood vessels to be displaced and accumulate underneath the skin, as in the case of a bruise. This definition necessitates the making of various distinctions pertaining to the laws of wounding on Shabbat. For example, is the skin of all living organisms considered skin in this regard, in which case one who causes any animal an internal wound is liable? Or perhaps there are creatures whose skin is not considered skin for these purposes.
The Mishnah teaches:
With regard to any of the eight creeping animals mentioned in the Torah, one who traps them or wounds them on Shabbat is liable.
The Torah states: “The following shall be impure for you among the creeping animals that swarm upon the earth: The weasel, and the mouse, and the dab lizard of every variety; and the gecko, and the land-crocodile, and the lizard, and the skink, and the chameleon” (Vayikra 11:29-30). In truth, there is no clear oral tradition with regard to the identity of the eight creeping animals listed in the Torah. Therefore, determining their identity involves educated conjecture. Even commonly accepted identifications, such as the dab lizard [tzav] and the mouse [akhbar], are subject to debate. In addition, the Talmud’s description of the skins of these animals is insufficient to provide definitive identifications.
Shabbat 108a-b – A question about tefillin parchment
The discussion of trapping an animal on Shabbat leads to a discussion of the animal hide parchment used for writing phylacteries. Among the topics presented is the following:
And this question was asked by a Boethusian to Rabbi Yehoshua HaGarsi:
From where is it derived that one may not write phylacteries on the hide of a non-kosher animal?
He said to him, it is as it is written: “So that God’s Torah will be in your mouth.” The Rabbis derived that one may write the passages only on an item that is permitted to be placed in one’s mouth, i.e., eaten.
He said to him: If that is so, on the skin of neveilot and tereifot coming from kosher animals, one should not write phylacteries, as they may not be eaten.
He said to him: I will tell you a parable. To what is this similar? To two people who were sentenced to death by the king. One was killed by the king himself, and one was killed by an executioner [ispaklitor]. Which one is more praiseworthy? You must say: The one that the king himself killed. Therefore, an animal that died at the hands of Heaven and not by a human action is superior.
He said to him: If so, then the neveilot and tereifot should be eaten, as they were killed by the king.
He said to him: The Torah said: “Do not eat any neveila” (Devarim 14:21) and you say they should be eaten? A Torah decree determines that they may not be eaten, but that does not mean they are inferior. The Boethusian said to him: Well put [kalos].
The Boethusians were a sect similar to the Sadducees, who rejected the authority and customs of the Sages. According to the Talmud, this sect was named after its founder, Boethus. The exact differences between this sect and the Sadducees are unknown because the terms are used interchangeably in some sources. Apparently, the Boethusians followed the Written Torah based on their own interpretations, e.g., they always celebrated the festival of Shavuot on Sunday. Nevertheless, they may have been similar to the Pharisees in their basic outlook.
Shabbat 109a-b – Medical treatments in Talmudic times
A good deal of this perek (=chapter) deals with the laws of healing on Shabbat, a realm which is only indirectly related to wounding. It has already been explained in earlier chapters that the Sages prohibited medical treatment on Shabbat, except in life-threatening situations. It was determined that the reason for this prohibition is to prevent the preparation of medicinal substances on Shabbat. Such preparation involves the prohibited labors of grinding and crushing, as well as other Torah prohibitions. Due to this concern, various medical treatments, even many that do not involve the ingestion of medicine, were prohibited. Thus, this chapter specifies and defines various healing procedures. Some are prohibited because they are well-known cures. Others remain permitted because performance of these actions does not necessarily indicate that one is engaging in a healing practice, since perfectly healthy people also engage in these activities. The explanation of this rule, as well as an enumeration of the circumstances under which it applies, is the subject of this chapter.
As an example of common medical procedures in Talmudic time, the Gemara relates the following:
One who swallowed a snake should be fed hops in salt, and then he should be made to run a distance of three mil. The Gemara relates: Rav Shimi bar Ashi saw a person who swallowed a snake, and Rav Ashi appeared to that person as a horseman. Rav Shimi fed him hops with salt and made him run in front of him for three mil, and the snake came out of him in pieces. Some say that Rav Shimi bar Ashi was the one who swallowed a snake, and Elijah came and appeared to Rav Ashi as a horseman. He fed him hops with salt and made him run in front of him for three mil, and the snake came out of him in pieces.
Even though it is uncommon, it is not impossible to swallow a small snake. However, the Gemara is most probably referring to swallowing a tapeworm, known as the Taenia, which resembles a snake. The remedies mentioned in the Gemara are effective in killing a tapeworm.
Shabbat 110a-b - The prohibition against castration
While discussing medical treatments, the Gemara also discusses the side-effects caused by some treatments that were common in those times.
The Gemara discussed the remedy for jaundice, saying that one should drink two of the ingredients mentioned together with beer, and one becomes sterile from it.
The Gemara asks: And is it permitted to cause sterility? Wasn’t it taught in a baraita: From where is it derived that castration of a man is prohibited? The verse states: “Those whose testicles are bruised, or crushed, or torn, or cut, shall not be offered to the Lord, and you shall not do this in your land” (Vayikra 22:24), meaning that you shall not do it to yourselves; this is the statement of Rabbi Ĥanina. Apparently, it is prohibited to castrate a man.
The Gemara answers: This prohibition applies only in a case where one intends to castrate. Here, in the cure for jaundice, the sterility happens on its own, incidental to the treatment.
Proof is cited from that which Rabbi Yoĥanan said: One who seeks to castrate a rooster should remove its comb and it will become castrated on its own. Incidental castration is permitted. The Gemara rejects the proof. Didn’t Rav Ashi say: It is arrogance that it assumes when it has its comb, and when the comb is removed it becomes depressed and no longer procreates. However, it is not actually castrated. Rather, apparently this remedy for jaundice is permitted only for one who is castrated and for whom causing sterility is not a concern.
The verse quoted in the Gemara with regard to an animal with torn or cut testicles is referring to offering blemished animals as sacrifices. In that context, the Torah is referring only to the suitability of damaged animals for the altar. The end of the verse: “And you shall not do this in your land,” teaches that castration in any form is considered a blemish for an animal, and that it is prohibited to castrate an animal. This prohibition applies to all male animals, including those which cannot be offered as sacrifices. However, the Sages infer from the verse that any damage caused to the normal functioning of an animal’s reproductive system, even if caused indirectly, undermines God’s purpose in Creation, as the verse states, “He did not create it for naught; He formed it to be settled” (Yeshayahu 45:18). According to the Rambam, causing infertility in female animals violates a rabbinic prohibition.
Shabbat 111a-b – Tying knots on Shabbat - I
The fifteenth perek (=chapter) of Massekhet Shabbat, which begins on today’s daf (=page) discusses two distinct topics – tying knots and the prohibition against preparing on
Shabbat for the rest of the week.
Regarding the first topic - the primary labors of tying and untying knots, the Gemara specifies, explains, and identifies these labors. Tying and untying, as is the case with regard to the labors of building and destroying, constitute a pair of labors for which one is liable for one labor only under the same conditions for which he liable for the other, e.g., one is liable for either tying or untying only if the knot is a permanent one.
To understand these labors, it is first necessary to clarify what constitutes a knot.
What are the types of knots that the Torah prohibited one to tie or untie on Shabbat?
Several traditions were received by the Sages on this matter. They too require analysis and additional clarification.
There is a fundamental principle that one is liable for tying or untying only a permanent knot, i.e., a knot designed to endure. This requirement precludes knots made to be immediately undone as well as knots meant to be undone in the near future. The definition of permanence as it pertains to a knot requires further clarification. Does permanence relate to the function of the knot, the method by which the knot was tied, or both? If permanence relates only to the method of tying, it is only necessary to ascertain if a knot was tied in such a manner that it can endure for a long period of time. If so, the person who tied the knot is liable for his action, even if he intended for the knot to be temporary and planned to immediately untie it.
During this discussion, many sets of circumstances are described, including various types of knots and various uses of materials. Consideration is given to both knots tied in a common, simple manner and knots tied with utensils or parts of vessels, such as the knots of shoes, sandals, and the like. The central theme of this chapter is the qualifications of a knot for the purposes of both Torah law and rabbinic decree.
Shabbat 112a-b – Tying knots on Shabbat - II
As we learned on yesterday’s daf (=page) there is a fundamental principle that one is liable for tying or untying only a permanent knot, i.e., a knot designed to endure. This requirement precludes knots made to be immediately undone as well as knots meant to be undone in the near future. The Mishnah teaches:
You have knots for which one is not liable to bring a sin-offering, such as a camel driver’s knot and a sailor’s knot; however, it is nevertheless prohibited to tie them. A woman may tie closed the opening of her robewith straps, as well as the strings of her hairnet and the laces of her girdle, i.e., a wide belt tied with laces. One may also tie the straps of a shoe or a sandal, as well as the spouts of wine or oil jugs.
On today’s daf the Gemara discusses the laws of tying such things as wine or oil jugs, which clearly are not meant to be permanent. The Gemara teaches:
And we learned in the Mishnah: It is permitted to tie the spouts of wine or oil jugs.The Gemara says: This is obvious. The Gemara explains: It is only necessary to teach this halakhah in a case where it, the jug, has two ears, i.e., two spouts. Lest you say: One of them, he voids it consequently defining the knot on that opening permanent and thereforeprohibited, it teaches us that this is not the case.
Jugs were generally made from whole hides taken from different types of animals. These jugs were used for many purposes, and were especially useful for carrying objects and food items.
When the jug was used for liquids, such as water, wine or oil, care was taken to remove the animal’s hide intact, and they would not remove the hide of the legs. A spout, usually fashioned from a hollow reed tube, was inserted into one of the legs. This type of jug had only one spout, or ear, in the language of the Talmud. However, if an opening was created where the hide of the leg had been, it becomes a jug with two spouts.
Shabbat 113a-b – Changing one’s everyday behaviors for Shabbat
The Gemara cites what we learned with regard to the following passage:
“If you keep your feet from breaking, from pursuing your affairs on My holy day, and you call Shabbat a delight, the Lord’s holy day honorable, and you honor it by not going your own way, from attending to your affairs and speaking idle words” (Yeshayahu 58:13).
The Rabbis derived:
- from the words “and you honor it” that your dress on Shabbat should not be like your dress during the week, as Rabbi Yoĥanan would refer to his clothing as my honor, indicating that appropriate clothing is a form of deference.
- from the words “going your own way” mean that your walking on Shabbat should not be like your walking during the week.
- “From attending to your affairs” means it is prohibited to deal with your weekday affairs and to speak about them on Shabbat. However, affairs of Heaven, i.e., those pertaining to mitzvot, are permitted.
- “And speaking idle words” means that your speech on Shabbat should not be like your speech during the week, i.e., one should not discuss his weekday affairs on Shabbat. However, it is only speech that they said is prohibited, whereas merely contemplating weekday affairs is permitted.
A midrash is cited in Tosafot that is also brought in the Jerusalem Talmud. It states that the Sages prohibited speaking excessively on Shabbat. Some commentaries wrote that people should not exert themselves on Shabbat, even to discuss Torah matters. In the Adderet Eliyahu it is suggested that the Gemara means to say that one should not speak in languages other than Hebrew. This custom was observed by many over the generations.
The Gemara discusses how one’s walking should differ on Shabbat from the rest of the week, concluding that pesia gassa – taking large steps – is prohibited.
The Hebrew word gassa, which means large in this context, literally means “crass.” People who take large steps on Shabbat create the impression that they are rushing to their business, which is obviously inappropriate on Shabbat. Consequently, the phrase pesia gassa literally means “a crass step.” The Gemara states that taking large steps detracts from one’s vision. Some commentaries interpret the idea of one’s vision returning to him at kiddush to mean that resting on Shabbat heals that which was damaged during the week’s exertions.
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.