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 121a-b – Dealing with scorpions on Shabbat
The Mishnah on today’s daf (=page) teaches:
One may overturn a bowl on top of a lamp so that fire will not take hold in the ceiling beam on Shabbat. And similarly, one may overturn a bowl on top of a child’s feces inside the house so he will not touch it and dirty himself, and on top of a scorpion so that it will not bite. Rabbi Yehudah said: An incident came before Rabban Yoĥanan ben Zakkai in his village of Arav, where a person covered a scorpion on Shabbat, and Rabban Yoĥanan said: I am concerned that he is liable to bring a sin-offering because he might have violated a Torah prohibition.
Rabban Yoĥanan did not consider the scorpion to have been potentially dangerous, otherwise he would surely have permitted it. He maintained that there was no danger and was uncertain whether or not this falls into the category of the prohibited labor of trapping (Rabbi Elazar
The Gemara discusses the ruling in the Mishnah that one may cover a scorpion with a bowl on Shabbat so that it will not bite.
Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: All harmful creatures are killed on Shabbat. Rav Yosef raised an objection to this from the following baraita: Five creatures may be killed even on Shabbat, and they are: The poisonous fly that is in the land of Egypt, and the hornet that is in Ninveh, and the scorpion that is in Ĥadyab, and the snake that is in Eretz Yisrael, and a mad dog in any place.
In this context, the hornet is the large hornet also found in Eretz Yisrael, the Vespa orientalis. This hornet lives in families within nests built in the ground. The hornet’s sting causes tremendous pain, even though a single sting is not fatal. There have been many instances in which people and animals have died after being stung by a swarm of hornets. The scorpion mentioned here may be the common yellow scorpion, the Ceiurus guinquestriatas, whose sting is extremely poisonous and life threatening.
The fly found in Egypt seems to refer to the gadfly of the Chrysops and Tabanus types that bite people. This bite is quite painful and causes a rash and swelling.
Shabbat 122a-b – Things that are muktzeh - set aside from use on Shabbat
The seventeenth perek (=chapter) of MassekhetShabbat is devoted to a thorough analysis of the prohibition against handling items that are muktzeh, set aside from use on Shabbat. This halakhahhas already been mentioned several times in tractate Shabbat, but it has not yet been addressed in a systematic and thorough fashion. The prohibition applies to items that one has mentally set aside from using on Shabbat for some reason, meaning that one assumes he will not use them over the course of Shabbat.
It is not entirely clear why handling items that have been set aside is prohibited. Some have explained that the decree against handling such items serves as a protective measure to ensure that one will not perform prohibited labors on Shabbat. If one may not handle the items used to perform prohibited labors, one will not perform the prohibited labors themselves. Others have suggested that the prohibition is meant to protect against violation of the prohibited labor of carrying from one domain to another. By limiting one’s ability to handle a large number of items, the Sages sought to decrease the likelihood that one would carry items between domains.
Halakhic discussions generally focus on three types of set-aside [muktzeh] items:
Items set aside because of repulsiveness, items set aside because of function, and items set aside because of monetary loss. The first group includes things that are not generally used or handled, either because they are dirty or because they are repulsive for some other reason. The second group includes objects whose primary function is for an activity that constitutes a prohibited labor on Shabbat. The third group includes items that are generally used only for a particular activity that is prohibited on Shabbat, and the owner of these items is careful not to use them for any other purpose, due to a concern that they will be damaged and he will suffer a financial loss.
The first Mishnah in the perek lists utensils that are ordinarily used for activities that are forbidden on Shabbat, but can be used for activities that are permitted on Shabbat. Thus, a hammer can be used to crack nuts on Shabbat and a sack maker’s needle can be used to open a door.
Shabbat 123a-b – Using a hammer on Shabbat to crack nuts
As we learned on yesterday’s daf (=page), the first Mishnah in the perek (=chapter) lists utensils that are ordinarily used for activities that are forbidden on Shabbat, but can be used for activities that are permitted on Shabbat. One example was a hammer, which can be used to crack nuts on Shabbat. On today’s daf the Gemara explains that there is no prohibition because “using an object whose primary function is for a prohibited use, for the purpose of utilizing the object itself to perform a permitted action, is permitted.”
Nevertheless, there is a disagreement among the amora’im regarding the type of hammer that may be used for a permitted purpose.
Rabbi Ĥiyya bar Abbasaid that Rabbi Yoĥanan said: It was with regard to the hammer of goldsmiths that we learned it may be used to crack nuts.
Although the goldsmith is particular about ensuring that the hammer remains smooth and avoids using it for any purpose other than its particular use, nevertheless, it was allowed to be used for other permitted actions.
Rav Shemen bar Abba said: It was with regard to the hammer of spice merchants that we learned it may be used to crack nuts.
The Gemara explains: The one who said it is permitted to crack nuts on Shabbat using the hammer of spice merchants, all the more so that it is permitted to use a hammer typically used by goldsmiths. However, the one who said that it is only permitted to use a hammer used by goldsmiths, but with regard to the hammer of spice merchants, the merchant is particular about it and would not allow it to be used for cracking nuts.
According to this opinion, use for other purposes would cause the hammer to absorb foreign smells, which would ruin the spices.
Shabbat 124a-b – Using the shards of broken vessels on Shabbat
Continuing its discussion of the laws of muktzeh, the Mishnah teaches:
All vessels that may be moved on Shabbat, their shards may be moved along with them, as long as they are suited for some purpose. Shards of a large bowl may be used to cover the mouth of a barrel. Shards of a glass vessel may be used to cover the mouth of a cruse.
Rabbi Yehudah says: As long as they are suited for a purpose similar to their original use. Shards of a large bowl must be suited to pour soup into them, and shards of a glass vessel must be suited to pour oil into them.
The Sages of the Jerusalem Talmud asked: Why doesn’t the Gemara state that a shard of glass can be utilized to cut something, just as is stated in the Mishnah, which deals with the laws of carrying from domain to domain? They offer two answers: The first is that the Gemara is discussing a shard of glass that is not sharp enough to cut something. The second is that there is a distinction in size between an object large enough to be considered significant with regard to the prohibited labor of carrying out on the one hand, and a smaller size which is sufficient to remove an object from the category of set-aside [muktzeh].
The difference of opinion in the Mishnah is explained by the Gemara as dependant on how the shards of a vessel are perceived. The Gemara explains:
Rav Yehudah said that Shmuel said: This dispute in the Mishnah is only with regard to a case where the vessels broke on Shabbat, as this Sage, the Rabbis, holds it was prepared before Shabbat as part of the original vessel, and this Sage, Rabbi Yehudah, holds that it is an item that came into being on Shabbat. Since they were not shards before Shabbat, they are a new entity and are set-aside. However, if they were broken from before the onset of Shabbat everyone agrees that it is permitted to move them, since they were prepared to serve some function while it was still day, before the onset of Shabbat.
Shabbat 125a-b – Of gourds and windows on Shabbat
The Mishnah on today’s daf (=page) deals with two distinct issues.
1. If something that cannot be moved on Shabbat is connected with an object whose use is permitted on Shabbat, it can be used. The Mishnah teaches:
A stone that is in a gourd used to draw water [kiruya], if they fill it with water and the stone does not fall, one may fill with it on Shabbat, and if not, and the stone does fall, one may not fill with it. With regard to a vine branch that is tied to a pitcher, one may fill water with it on Shabbat because the branch became part of the vessel.
Different vessels are fashioned from various kinds of gourds, especially from the species Lagenaria vulgaris. These vessels include jugs, buckets for drawing water, and dishes. Since these vessels are particularly lightweight and float on water, it is necessary to place a rock inside the gourd to draw water from a well or a stream.
2. It is forbidden to build a building on Shabbat, and even adding to an existing building on Shabbat is forbidden by the Sages. The Mishnah teaches:
With regard to a window shutter, Rabbi Eliezer says: When it is tied to and hanging from the window, i.e., it is not touching the ground, one may shutter the window with it, because it is not considered building; and if not, i.e., it is touching the ground, one may not shutter the window with it. And the Rabbis say: Both in this case and in that case one may shutter with it.
In talmudic times, the window shutter was typically tied to and hanging from the window. At times, wood that was not attached to the window was placed in the window as a shutter. When not in use, it was placed alongside the window and utilized for other purposes as well.
There are various opinions among the commentaries with regard to a window shutter. Rashi holds that the prohibition of building temporary structures applies only to a roof and not to walls. Therefore, the window here is a skylight in the roof. That opinion was rejected in Tosafot. With regard to the shutter, some say that it is referring to a piece of wood that is neither connected to the window by a hinge nor by a rope (Me’iri). Other commentaries state that this is referring to a cloth curtain that slides open and closed (Rav Natan Av HaYeshiva; Rambam’s Commentary on the Mishnah).
Shabbat 126a-b – Rabbinicdecrees (Shevut) on Shabbat
The eighth perek (=chapter) of MassekhetShabbat addresses three different halakhotthat are only slightly related to one another. One topic continues the discussion of some of the laws of items that have been set aside from Shabbat use, a continuation of the discussion in the last perek. The second topic addresses caring for and handling animals on Shabbat. The third topic examines the situation of a woman who has given birth on Shabbat, and caring for her in ways that could constitute prohibited labors. These halakhot do not seem to be related, but they are all included in the category of shevut, prohibitions that are not from the Torah like the categories of prohibited labor, but which were instituted by the Sages on Shabbat and the Festivals in order to prevent the violation of Torah prohibitions or to enhance the sanctity of the day.
There are shevut decrees that apply to many different areas, and this chapter addresses only some of them. However, we can derive from these examples the scope of shevut restrictions in many areas, remembering that each one is based upon rabbinic decree.
The halakhot discussed in this chapter are further related. Since the Sages themselves instituted these prohibitions as protective measures to prevent violation of Torah law, they could also be lenient in certain cases. This is possible only with regard to rabbinic decrees, but not with regard to prohibitions that stem from Torah law; as the Sages expressed it: They said [it is prohibited] and they said [it is permitted in particular circumstances]. For example, in cases of significant need, such as for the honor of guests or to facilitate Torah study, the Sages permitted several actions that would otherwise have been prohibited due to muktzeh. Such leniencies also exist with regard to other shevut restrictions, such as caring for animals on Shabbat. Although there are restrictions due to several relevant rabbinic decrees and concerns, since these are not Torah prohibitions, the Sages were lenient when necessary in order to prevent significant monetary loss or to prevent animals from experiencing pain.
After addressing the permitted methods of caring for birthing animals on Shabbat, the chapter discusses how to care for a woman who gives birth on Shabbat. Here the Gemara even addresses activities that are prohibited by Torah law as well as those prohibited by rabbinic decree, as both are permitted in order to save a life. The halakhah is very lenient in such cases, to the point that it is permissible to perform any prohibited labor in the event of even a small concern for danger to human life.
Shabbat 127a-b – Giving the benefit of the doubt
The Gemara on today’s daf (=page) offers several stories of people who gave others the benefit of the doubt.
The Sages taught in a baraita: One who judges another favorably is himself judged favorably. And there was an incident involving a certain person who descended from the Upper Galilee and was hired to work for a certain homeowner in the South for three years. On the eve of the Day of Atonement, he said to the homeowner: Give me my wages, and I will go and feed my wife and children. The homeowner said to him: I have no money. He said to him: In that case, give me my wages in the form of produce. He said to him: I have none. The worker said to him: Give me my wages in the form of land. The homeowner said to him: I have none. The worker said to him: Give me my wages in the form of animals. He said to him: I have none. The worker said to him: Give me cushions and blankets. He said to him: I have none. The worker slung his tools over his shoulder behind him and went to his home in anguish.
After the festival of Sukkot, the homeowner took the worker’s wages in his hand, along with a burden that required three donkeys, one laden with food, one laden with drink, and one laden with types of sweets, and went to the worker’s home. After they ate and drank, the homeowner gave him his wages.
The homeowner said to him: When you said to me: Give me my wages, and I said: I have no money, of what did you suspect me? Why did you not suspect me of trying to avoid paying you? The worker answered, I said: Perhaps the opportunity to purchase merchandise [perakmatya] inexpensively presented itself, and you purchased it with the money that you owed me, and therefore you had no money available. The homeowner asked: And when you said to me: Give me animals, and I said: I have no animals, of what did you suspect me? The worker answered: I said: Perhaps the animals are hired to others. The homeowner asked: When you said to me: Give me land, and I said: I have no land, of what did you suspect me? The worker answered: I said: Perhaps the land is leased to others, and you cannot take the land from the lessees. The homeowner asked: And when you said to me: Give me produce, and I said: I have no produce, of what did you suspect me? The worker answered: I said: Perhaps they are not tithed, and that was why you could not give them to me. The homeowner asked: And when I said: I have no cushions or blankets, of what did you suspect me? The worker answered: I said: Perhaps he consecrated all his property to Heaven and therefore has nothing available at present.
The homeowner said to him: I swear by the Temple service that it was so. I had no money available at the time because I vowed and consecrated all my property on account of Hyrcanus, my son, who did not engage in Torahstudy. The homeowner sought to avoid leaving an inheritance for his son. And when I came to my fellow residents in the South, the
Sages of that generation, they dissolved all my vows. At that point, the homeowner had immediately gone to pay his worker. Now the homeowner said: And you, just as you judged favorably, so may God judge you favorably.
In the She’iltot, Rav Aĥai Gaon cited this incident and identified the homeowner as Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus and the worker who he hired as Rabbi Akiva.
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.