Masechet Bava Batra 56a-62b

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15 Oct 2009

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.

Bava Batra 56a-b

On yesterday’s daf we learned how the plant chatzavUrginea maritima or squill — may be used to demarcate the boundaries of a field. The Gemara on today’s daf asks mai chatzuva? – literally “what is chatzav?” In response, Rav Yehuda quotes Rav as saying that Yehoshua used it to demarcate the boundaries of the land of Israel.

The Rashbam explains that the Gemara is not asking for a description of the plant, rather what significance will there be to a border established by the use of chatzav.  The response offered by Rav Yehudah indicated that the chatzav is a very reliable method of establishing boundaries, as we find that it was used by Yehoshua in marking the boundaries in Israel; clearly it can be used in clarifying mundane land issues, as well.

The Gemara in Masechet Beitzah (25b) argues that the chatzav plant “cuts down the legs of evildoers.” Since its roots grow directly downwards without spreading in any other direction, it serves as a reliable marker of the border between fields and acts as solid proof against someone who is masig gevul – who tries to claim a piece of his neighbor’s land.

The Gemara brings a number of other statements by Rav Yehuda quoting Rav in connection with the inheritance of the land of Israel following the exodus from Egypt. For example, Rav Yehuda quotes Rav as teaching that the cities enumerated in Sefer Yehoshua are only those that were found on the borders. The Rashbam explains that the Gemara is explaining why only some cities are mentioned, while others are left out entirely; the ones that are mentioned are those that demarcate the borders between the different tribes. The Ritva argues that they are the cities that were on the “international border,” i.e. those that separated between Israel and neighboring countries.

Bava Batra 57a-b

Our Gemara brings a series of questions that Rabbi Yochanan asked his teacher, Rabbi Bena’ah, that relate not so much to issues of Jewish law as to proper deportment for Torah scholars. Specifically:

Rabbi Bena’ah responded to each of these questions. With regard to the chaluk, he taught that it should cover the body so that no flesh could be seen. This is understood to mean that a scholar should take precautions regarding personal modesty beyond those ordinarily accepted by society. The Rashbam understands that this undergarment should reach almost to the floor, thereby covering the entire body; the Ramah, as well as the Rambam suggest that it means that the material should be thick enough so that the flesh cannot be seen through it.

Regarding the tallit, Rabbi Bena’ah taught that not more than a tefach (a handbreadth) of the chaluk should be seen, once the tallit is put on.

As far as the scholar’s table is concerned, Rabbi Bena’ah taught that two thirds should be covered by a tablecloth, while one third should remain without a covering. The uncovered part is where the plates and vegetables should be placed, and the ring for hanging the table on the wall should face away from the person who is eating. This stands in contrast with the table of the Am ha-aretz – the non-scholar, whose food is piled in the middle of the table with plates around it.

The Rashbam offers two possible explanations for the appearance of the scholar’s table, based on Rabbi Bena’ah’s explanation.

In the time of the Talmud, it was common practice for each person to eat on a small table that was placed in front of him. In order to save space in their houses, every such table had a ring attached, with which it could be hung on the wall when it was not being used.

Bava Batra 58a-b

On yesterday’s daf we were introduced to Rabbi Bena’ah, who offered instruction on proper deportment for Torah scholars. The Gemara on today’s daf continues with more stories about this interesting personality.

The Gemara relates that Rabbi Bena’ah was marking burial caves, and when he was in Me’arat HaMachpela, the cave where Avraham, Yitzhak and Yaakov are buried, he met Eliezer, Avraham’s servant, and inquired as to what Avraham was doing at that time. Eliezer answered that Avraham was lying in his wife, Sarah’s lap, and Sarah was examining his hair. Rabbi Bena’ah asked for permission to enter so that he could measure and mark the cave, which Avraham granted, explaining that in the world that he inhabited there is no evil inclination — which would have been reason to keep out, were he in the ordinary world where seeing such intimacy between husband and wife would have been inappropriate. When Rabbi Bena’ah wanted to enter further into the cave, to the place where Adam was buried, a heavenly voice stopped him and explained how that cave should be marked.

For generations, the tradition in Israel was to bury in caves. Marking burial caves was necessary because ritual defilement that emanates from the dead must be avoided by kohanim, as well as others who desired to remain in a state of ritual purity. Since the caves often extend well beyond the surface opening to the cave, it was necessary to mark the area of the underground cavern in order to warn people to stay away from that place.

The story of Rabbi Bena’ah and his interaction with Eliezer is already interpreted by the early commentaries as being a dream or an allegory that should not be understood literally. The Maharal suggests that the description of Avraham and Sarah should be understood to represent the ideal relationship between husband and wife, which reaches its fullness only after death, when they are beyond the physical realm.

Bava Batra 59a-b

In the time of the Talmud, it was common to build houses that opened onto a communal courtyard. The courtyard was shared property belonging to all of the homeowners whose houses opened onto it, and they — as well as members of their household — were permitted to use it in a reasonable way.

The Mishnah on our daf describes uses that are considered inappropriate. Among them are situations where there is a problem of hezek re’iyah — damage to the privacy of the people who use the courtyard, e.g. when adding new windows to the house that open onto the public space — or because it adds additional residents to the courtyard. Thus, according to the Mishnah, a resident cannot build an additional floor to his house if it opens to the courtyard, although he is allowed to build an additional room in his house, or even an additional floor, so long as it opens directly into his house and not into the public space of the courtyard.

The Rashbam and other rishonim explain that the Mishnah would not permit the addition of another room or floor that is separate from the existing structure, rather what would be permitted is dividing up an existing room or building an additional floor within the existing air space of the house. This would be permitted since a person is allowed to have guests or even renters share his space, and no one in the courtyard can object. The Ramah argues that although the Mishnah permits dividing up space in the house, but does not allow the addition of residents; dividing up the house would be permissible only for the purpose of creating storage space.

Some of the commentaries (the Ri”f and Rambam) rule that the simple reading of the Mishnah is correct, and that even full additions can be built, so long as they open into the person’s house, since by doing so additional residents would not be directly affecting the flow of foot-traffic in the communal courtyard.

Bava Batra 60a-b

What level of mourning is appropriate when thinking about the destruction of the Temple?

Our Gemara relates that immediately after the destruction of the second Temple, there were many people who stopped eating meat and drinking wine because of their sense of loss. Rabbi Yehoshua engaged them in conversation, using a reductio ad absurdum argument to convince them to reengage with the world.

Rabbi Yehoshua concluded that some level of mourning must be maintained, yet too much mourning would be a burden that the community could not shoulder. Therefore it is appropriate to follow the rulings of the sages:

The Gemara concludes with the statement that it is those people who recognize and mourn the destruction of Jerusalem who will merit seeing the city rebuilt, based on the passage in Sefer Yeshayahu (66:10).

Bava Batra 61a-b

The fourth perek of Masechet Bava Batra begins on today’s daf. Perek ha-Mocher et ha-Bayit focuses on how to interpret agreements involving real estate sales. It is clear that when two parties sign a detailed contract in which the owner agrees to sell and the buyer agrees to purchase a particular house or piece of land, they can write in any conditions or specifics that they please, and the agreement is valid. The Mishnayot of this perek deal with situations where agreements are made using less specific terms. How should the general statements be understood?

While there are many questions about the details of such agreements, the overarching question that is discussed is how we are to interpret the intention of the seller. Does the original owner sell be-ayin yafah or be-ayin ra’ah? That is to say, should we assume that the owner is generous with his intentions when he sells, or should we assume that he is stingy in his intent? Will there be differences between the attitude of a seller and someone who is giving land away as a present?

The first Mishnah teaches that when someone sells a house without clarifying what is included in the sale, we assume that he does not include the area immediately outside the house — according to the Gemara if it is at least four cubits square, which is seen as a separate space — nor the area in the back of the house, which serves as a storage area or even as an area for coats and clothing. In both of these cases this ruling is true even if these areas are within the walls of the house, since a house is interpreted as being solely the area that is ordinary living-space. Once they are used for other purposes, they are no longer in the category of the “house” that was sold.

Bava Batra 62a-b

How should we approach unclear statements made by the seller when delineating the borders of the field that was to be sold?

As we learned on yesterday’s daf, the fourth perek of Masechet Bava Batra focuses on how to interpret agreements involving real estate sales. Our daf discusses a variety of cases where the field is described by means of neighboring fields. Among them are cases where the Gemara itself is unable to reach a clear conclusion about how to rule.

What if the seller specified what the corners of the field are? Should we assume that recognizing each of the four corners indicates that the entire field is to be sold, or might it indicate that only a limited area of the field is being sold?

Several options are raised by the rishonim in defining the possible limits of the sale:

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 or contact the Aleph Society at 212-840-1166.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.