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 135a-b – The status of an androgynous
We learned in the Mishnah: If there is uncertainty whether or not to circumcise a baby, and likewise in the case of an androgynous (a hermaphrodite baby), one does not desecrate Shabbat to perform the circumcision of an androgynous even on the eighth day following the birth.
The Sages taught in a baraita: The verse states: “And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised” (Vayikra 12:3), and they interpreted the verse: “His foreskin” indicates that only the circumcision of his halakhically certain foreskin overrides Shabbat, and the circumcision of a halakhically uncertain foreskin does not override Shabbat. And by means of the same inference from the term his foreskin, derive that circumcision of his definite foreskin overrides Shabbat, and circumcising the foreskin of an androgynous, with regard to whom there is uncertainty whether or not circumcision is required, does not override Shabbat.
Rabbi Yehudah says: The circumcision of an androgynous overrides Shabbat, and if he is not circumcised, when he reaches majority he is punishable by karet. Rabbi Yehudah interprets the verse in the following manner: His definite foreskin overrides Shabbat; however, the circumcision of one born at twilight does not override Shabbat.
Medicine recognizes two types of androgynous. A true androgynous has both male and female sexual glands, while a Pseudohermaphrodite has the appearance of both male and female sexual organs, although the individual actually has only one set of sexual glands. According to the Sages, the challenge in both of these cases is that we cannot be certain that we are dealing with a male child who is obligated in the commandment of circumcision. Rabbi Yehudah agrees that in situations where it is not clear that there is an obligation to perform circumcision, e.g., if we are uncertain as to whether the baby was actually born on Shabbat, Shabbat cannot be overridden. Nevertheless he interprets the passage in Sefer Bereishit (17:10) as offering a broad requirement to circumcise “every male among you,” which, he argues, includes an androgynous.
Shabbat 136a-b - How long must a baby live before it deemed a viable child?
How long must a baby live before it is not deemed to be stillborn? This question is raised by the Gemara regarding the laws of circumcision, but is applied to other areas of Jewish law, as well.
It was stated that the Sages discussed the following question: What is the ruling in a case where a baby died within thirty days after birth, leaving its mother a childless widow, and before they decided whether or not she was obligated in levirate marriage, she stood and was betrothed to another?
Ravina said in the name of Rava: If she is the wife of an Israelite, meaning she became betrothed to an Israelite, who may marry a woman who has undergone ĥalitzah, she performs ĥalitzah due to uncertainty. Given that the child may have been stillborn and therefore never considered alive, in which case she would be obligated to undergo levirate marriage or perform ĥalitzah, by performing ĥalitzah, she removes any doubt and can remain with her new husband. However, if she is the wife of a priest, she does not perform ĥalitzah, as if she were to perform ĥalitzah she would be prohibited to her husband the priest. Since there are those who hold that the baby is considered alive from the moment of its birth, based on that opinion, she is exempt from performing ĥalitzah, after the fact.
Rav Sherevya said in the name of Rava: Both this, the woman married to an Israelite, and that, the woman married to a priest, perform ĥalitzah, as the prohibition against marrying a woman not released from her bond of levirate marriage is a stringent one, and the fact that her husband is a priest is not taken into consideration.
The laws of levirate marriage and ĥalitzah appear in the Torah (Devarim 25:5–10) and are articulated at length in tractate Yevamot, which is devoted to this topic. The basic concept is that if a man dies with no living descendants, his wife is obligated by a levirate bond to her husband’s brother. The brother must either take her as a wife through levirate marriage, or sever the bond by means of the ceremony of ĥalitzah. As long as the levirate bond is intact, it is prohibited for her to marry a different man, and if she does so, as long as her marriage continues she is performing an ongoing transgression. Although the halakhotof levirate marriage and ĥalitzah are not like those of a regular marriage, and a woman who has undergone ĥalitzah is not prohibited to marry a priest by Torah law, the Sages decreed that the legal status of a woman who undergoes ĥalitzah is that of a divorcée, in the sense that it is prohibited for a priest to marry her.
Shabbat 137a-b – Blessings and prayers at the circumcision ceremony
The Sages taught in a Tosefta that one who circumcises a child recites: “Who has made us holy through His commandments, and commanded us concerning circumcision.” The father of the circumcised child recites: “Who has made us holy through His commandments, and commanded us to bring him into the covenant of Abraham, our father.” Those standing there recite: “Just as he has entered into the covenant, so may he enter into Torah, marriage, and good deeds.”
And the one who recites the additional blessing says: “Who made the beloved one holy from the womb, marked the decree in his flesh, and gave his descendants the seal and the sign of the holy covenant. Therefore, as a reward for this, the living God, our Portion, commanded to deliver the beloved of our flesh from destruction, for the sake of His covenant that He set in our flesh. Blessed are You, Lord, Who establishes the covenant.”
The one who recites the blessing is a designated individual, whether the person who performed the circumcision or any other person, who holds a cup of wine in his hand and recites an additional blessing over the circumcision. Some authorities explain that the rationale for the second blessing is that since this mitzvah was already fulfilled by the Patriarchs, the Sages instituted a special blessing in their honor (Tosefot Rid).
Regarding the additional prayer that is added Tosafot explain that the statement "Who made the beloved one holy from the womb" alludes to all of the Patriarchs. Some commentaries suggest that Rashi says this entire blessing refers only to Yitzhak, because he was the first to be circumcised at eight days. Yitzhak is described as beloved in the verse “Your son…whom you love” (Bereishit 22:2; Me’iri). There is also a dispute over the word tzadi, vav, heh that appears in this blessing: Some commentaries explain that it should be pronounced tzaveih, and it is a request that God save us from the punishments of Gehenna. That reading appeared in many prayer books.
The ge’onimand others, however, read it as tzivah, past tense, in praise for an event that already took place.
Shabbat 138a-b – Torah at the end of days
The Gemara relates that Rami bar Yeĥezkel asked Rav Huna to relate a number of teachings that he had heard from Rav. One of them was a homiletical piece about Torah study.
With regard to Torah, Rav Huna related that Rav said: The Torah is destined to be forgotten from the Jewish people. It is stated at the conclusion of the curses in the Torah’s reproof: “And the Lord will make your plagues astonishing, and the plagues of your seed, great plagues of long continuance, and evil diseases of long continuance” (Devarim 28:59). This term of astonishment, mentioned in the verse in addition to the explicit punishments, I do not know what it is. But when the verse states elsewhere: “Therefore, behold, I will continue to astonish this people with wondrous astonishment, and the wisdom of its wise will be lost, and the understanding of its men of understanding shall be hidden” (Yeshayahu 29:14), you must say: This astonishment is referring to forgetting the Torah.
Some commentaries explain Rav’s statement as follows: The Torah is destined to be forgotten if the Oral Law is transmitted by word of mouth, rather than being written down. Therefore, it is imperative to commit the Oral Law to writing to prevent it from being forgotten (Korban Netanel).
The Sages taught a similar idea in the Tosefta: When our Sages entered the vineyard in Yavne, they said: The Torah is destined to be forgotten from the Jewish people, as it is stated:
“Behold, days are approaching, says the Lord God, and I will send forth a hunger in the land, not a hunger for bread and not a thirst for water, but for hearing the words of the Lord” (Amos 8:11). And it states: “And they will drift from sea to sea, and from north to east they will roam to find the word of the Lord, but they will not find it” (Amos 8:12).
“The word of the Lord” in this context bears many meanings. “The word of the Lord”; that is halakhah. “The word of the Lord”; that is the end of days. “The word of the Lord”; that is prophecy. All these will be lost from the Jewish people.
Since “It is the honor of God to conceal a matter [haster davar]” (Mishlei 25:2), and the end of days is known to God alone and to no one else, this statement should be interpreted to mean that the word of God [devar Hashem], i.e., that which is uniquely His, is referring to the end of days (Iyyei HaYam; Ein Ya’akov).
Shabbat 139a-b – Will the Torah really be forgotten?
As we learned on yesterday’s daf (=page), Rav Huna related that Rav said: “The Torah is destined to be forgotten from the Jewish people.” This position is somewhat surprising, and an opposing view was taught in another baraita that appears on today’s daf.
Rabbi Shimon ben Yoĥai says: Heaven forfend that the Torah should be forgotten from the Jewish people, as it is stated: “And this song shall answer to him as a witness, for it shall not be forgotten from his seed” (Devarim 31:21). Rather, how do I explain: “They will roam to find the word of God, but they will not find it”? It means that they will not find clear halakha and clear teaching together, but rather there will be disputes among the Sages.
The concept of “clear halakhah” may be understood as follows: As long as the Great Sanhedrin met in the Chamber of the Hewn Stone in the Temple, every legal discussion concluded with a vote that determined the halakhah. After the destruction of the Temple, the number of disputes increased (Tosefot Rid). Some commentaries emphasize the problem to be that clear halakhah cannot be found in one place; rather, people will be forced to seek answers in many places, as in each place they will know only a bit.
Following this teaching, the Gemara continues with other statements about judges and their legal decisions.
It was taught in a baraita that Rabbi Yosei ben Elisha says: If you see a generation that many troubles are befalling it, go and examine the judges of Israel. Perhaps their sins are the cause, as any calamity that comes to the world comes due to the judges of Israel acting corruptly, as it is stated: “Please hear this, heads of the house of Jacob, and officers of the house of Israel, who abhor justice and pervert all equity, who build up Zion with blood, and Jerusalem with iniquity. Their heads they judge for bribes, and their priests teach for hire, and their prophets divine for money; yet they lean upon the Lord, saying: Is not the Lord in our midst? No evil shall befall us” (Micah 3:9–11).
The Gemara comments: They are wicked, but they placed their trust in the One Who spoke and the world came into being, the Almighty. Therefore, the Holy One, Blessed be He, brings upon them three calamities corresponding to the three transgressions for which they are responsible, as it is stated in the following verse: “Therefore, because of you, Zion shall be plowed as a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the Temple Mount as the high places of a forest” (Micah 3:12).
One explanation of the fact that people who placed their trust in the Almighty are called wicked is because they believed that since God determines the world order and planted the evil inclination within each person, individuals do not bear responsibility for their actions (Ahavat Eitan).
Shabbat 140a-b – Medicines on Shabbat
The Sages prohibited taking medicines on Shabbat – unless the individual is suffering from a condition that might be life-threatening – due to the concern that the medicine may be prepared by grinding herbs in a forbidden manner. If, however, the medicinal product is one that is enjoyed by healthy people, as well, then there is no prohibition.
The Mishnah on today’s daf (=page) teaches:
One may not soak asafoetida in lukewarm water to prepare a medicinal drink from it; however, one may place it into vinegar like a standard spice.
The Gemara asks: For what purpose is soaked asafoetida prepared?
The Gemara answers: As a cure for heaviness of the heart. One who feels a pain in his heart drinks asafoetida. The Gemara relates: Rav Aĥa bar Yosef felt heaviness in his heart. He came before Mar Ukva to ask his advice. Mar Ukva said to him: Go drink the weight of three shekels of asafoetida in three days. He went and drank on Thursday and Shabbat eve. In the morning, he went and asked in the study hall if he could drink it on Shabbat. They said to him:
The Sage from the school of Rav Adda taught, and others say, that the Sage from the school of Mar bar Rav Adda taught: A person may drink asafoetida on Shabbat, even a kav or two kav, and he need not be concerned about the decree prohibiting medicine, because asafoetida is drunk by healthy people as well.
Ferula assafoetida, also known as devil’s dung or giant fennel, is a perennial plant of the umbel family. It has a thick root and a stem with leafed branches. The asafoetida grows to a height of 6-9 feet. It is native mainly to Afghanistan and the neighboring regions. The plant grows for several years until it blossoms and produces fruit, after which it dies. Medicinal asafoetida is manufactured from the resin found in the root of the plant. It was used, and is still used today, as a medicine in the form of powder, creams, pills, etc., both for intestinal diseases and for strengthening the nervous system. In certain places, asafoetida is even used as a spice. Consumption of asafetida in amounts of more than a gram is dangerous and can lead to poisoning.
Shabbat 141a-b – When can you move a stone on Shabbat?
The twenty-first perek (=chapter) of Massekhet Shabbat deals with a topic that has already been introduced earlier in the tractate, the laws of set-aside [muktzeh] - items that are set aside and may not be handled on Shabbat - though from a fresh perspective. Here, too, the discussion is not about different items that are set aside, but about particular categories of items that all agree may not be moved on Shabbat because they are not utensils and are not fit to be handled. It was clear to the Sages that such items may not be handled directly; the discussion in this chapter primarily addresses the question of whether it is permitted to move these types of set-aside items, and set-aside items generally, through another object or for the sake of something else.
The first example offered in the Mishnah on today’s daf (=page) teaches:
A person may take his son in his hands on Shabbat, and even though there is a stone, which is a set-aside item, in the child’s hand, it is not prohibited to pick up the child.
The Gemara discusses why the father may pick up his son even though the child is holding a stone, assuming at first that it is because the stone is considered to be batel – negated – in the context of the child. This position is rejected, however, and another possibility is suggested.
The Sages of the school of Rabbi Yannai say: You cannot infer from this Mishnah that the stone is negated and therefore it is permitted to move it. Rather, the Mishnah is referring to a baby who has longings for his father.
It is permitted for the father to move the stone because if the father does not lift him, the baby might take ill. Some commentaries explain that the baby longs for the stone and would cry if his father would take it from him. Therefore, the Sages permit the father to carry both of them (Tosefot Rid).
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.