Masechet Beitzah 14a-20b

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09 Nov 2006

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.

This month’s Steinsaltz Daf Yomi is sponsored by Dr. and Mrs. Alan Harris, the Lewy Family Foundation, and Marilyn and Edward Kaplan

Beitzah 14a-b

We have already established that, based on the passage in Shemot 12:16, food preparation is permitted on Yom Tov. The Mishnah on our daf discusses the preparation of spices and salt. We find that Bet Shammai insist that some change be made in the way spices are ground up (grinding is one of the activities ordinarily forbidden on Shabbat), while Bet Hillel allow grinding to be done normally. Both agree, however, that salt should be ground in an out-of-the-ordinary way – by using a wooden pestle rather than the standard stone pestle.

In the Gemara, Rav Huna and Rav Chisda argue about the distinction made between spices and salt. One says that salt is a basic need – all cooking requires salt – so it should have been prepared before the holiday began; spices, on the other hand, are not necessarily required for cooking, so they can be prepared as needed. The other explains that salt retains its flavor, so it could have been prepared before the holiday began. Spices, which lose their strength once they are ground, can be prepared as they are needed, even on the holiday.

The discussion that takes place in the rishonim revolves around the question of how we are to regard salt: Is salt considered a food, or is it merely an ingredient that is used in preparing food – makhshi’rei okhel nefesh?  If it is the latter, then we can well understand that it cannot be prepared in the normal way, since makhshi’rei okhel nefesh are not included in the things that are permitted based on Shmot 12:16. If, however, salt is considered food, then why should we not permit it to be prepared as it always is?

The Ran and Re’ah suggest that salt is different than other foods because it is not usually ground at home in small quantities. Ordinarily salt is prepared commercially and ground up in large amounts, and such preparation appears to be a weekday activity – a ma’aseh chol – which is why a change in the method of preparation is required.

Beitzah 15a-b

Although it is common practice today to wear Tefillin just for the morning prayer service of Shacharit, in the time of the Gemara it was commonplace for people to wear Tefillin throughout the day. Nevertheless, there are times when wearing Tefillin is inappropriate – for example on Shabbat and Yom Tov, or at night.

As a segue from the Mishnah‘s mention of carrying Tefillin on Yom Tov, our Gemara quotes two halakhot about Tefillin:

  1. If a person is wearing Tefillin while traveling and the sun sets, he should cover the Tefillin with his hand until he arrives at home.
  2. If a person is wearing Tefillin while studying in the Beit Midrash and Shabbat begins, he should cover the Tefillin with his hand until he arrives at home.

Rashi explains that both cases are discussing scenarios in which Shabbat begins while the man is wearing Tefillin. Tosafot and other rishonim point to the change in expression (the sun sets vs. Shabbat begins) and argue that there are two distinct cases being discussed. In the first case, the traveler finds that nightfall has arrived and he should not be wearing Tefillin; in the second case the man studying finds that Shabbat has begun and that he should not be wearing Tefillin. Rabbeinu Peretz defends Rashi’s reading of the Gemara by explaining that the traveler is outside and immediately ascertains that it is dark, while the individual in the bet midrash may not realize that the day has ended until much later.

The issue with regard to the beit midrash is, apparently, the fact that the study halls were often situated outside of the city limits. We therefore find many situations in the Gemara where people are afraid to leave the beit midrash at night without others accompanying them. It is possible that the batei midrash were built in this way in order to divide the cost of the building and upkeep between a number of communities, or to allow the residents of small, outlying villages to have ready access to the study hall.

Beitzah 16a-b

The second chapter of Masechet Beitzah, which begins on the last daf, or page (15b), focuses on preparations for Shabbat and Yom Tov. The Mishnah deals specifically with the case of Yom Tov falling out on Friday, when it is necessary to prepare for Shabbat on a day that has its own restrictions regarding food preparations and other melachot.

The Gemara on our daf brings a well-known disagreement between Hillel and Shammai. Shammai would prepare for Shabbat every day of the week in the following manner: Each time a delicacy came his way, he would purchase it and set it aside for Shabbat. If he found something better in the course of the week, he would replace the original delicacy with the new-found one, and eat the first one. In that way, his meals – not only on Shabbat, but throughout the week – were eaten with Shabbat in mind. Hillel, on the other hand, did all of his activities for the sake of heaven, quoting the passage in Tehillim (68:20), “Blessed be the Lord, day by day…”

While Shammai’s behavior is fairly easy to understand, Hillel’s demands some explanation.

Rashi explains that Hillel had full faith in God and was certain that He would make sure that all of the food and other Shabbat needs would be made available for him.  Thus, he did not spend time and effort preparing for Shabbat on his own. The R”i Abohav explains that all of Hillel’s activities throughout the week were with Shabbat in mind, so there was no need for him to announce that a specific purchase was for Shabbat.

The Chatam Sofer argues that Hillel devoted his entire life to the service of God, so that everything that he did (and not only specific acts of mitzvah) was with the intention to fulfill God’s desire. As such, all of his activities – even his apparently mundane weekday activities – were infused with intentions of mitzvah.

The general agreement among rishonim and acharonim is that, in this case, it is Shammai who should be emulated, not Hillel. In many places, Shammai’s tradition is quoted as normative and praised (see, for example, Rashi’s commentary to the Torah, Shmot 20:8), while Hillel’s is seen as appropriate only for people with a unique level of faith – and inappropriate for the average person.

Beitzah 17a-b

We learned in the Mishnah (15b) that when Yom Tov falls out on Friday, preparation for Shabbat can be done only if an eruv tavshilin is prepared before Yom Tov begins. The Ra’avad explains that the idea of the eruv tavshilin – literally “a combination of foods” – is to prepare a meal for Shabbat at a time when it is permissible, and then food that is made on Yom Tov can be combined with that food in preparation for Shabbat. Bet Shammai are quoted in the Mishnah as requiring two types of food for the eruv tavshilin, while Bet Hillel require just one. All are in agreement that fish with an egg on it is considered adequate.

While this last comment seems obvious, the suggestion is that perhaps this is considered one dish, and it should not be enough for Bet Shammai. The R”id explains that this refers to fish eggs – kosher caviar – which at first glance may not appear to be a separate food. The Me’iri explains Bet Shammai’s requirement of two foods as a symbolic meal prepared for Shabbat, for which a single item of food would not suffice.

The Gemara on our daf quotes a baraita that has a different tradition with regard to the opinions of Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel. According to Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar, Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel agree that the eruv tavshilin requires two foods; their argument is over whether a single dish, like fish prepared with egg, meets the requirement. Bet Shammai insists that two separate foods be prepared, while Bet Hillel rules that such a dish meets the requirement.

Rava concludes the discussion by ruling that we follow Bet Hillel according to the version found in the Mishnah. Thus, an eruv tavshilin really only requires a single prepared food. Nevertheless, the tradition is to use a cooked food together with bread or matzah, which would fulfill the requirement according to Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar’s opinion, as well (see the Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 627:2).

Beitzah 18a-b

During Temple times, those who were fulfilling the mitzvah of aliyah la-regelpilgrimage to the Temple on the holidays of Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot – needed to immerse themselves in a mikvah in order to ensure a high level of ritual purity. What happened when Yom Tov fell out on Sunday?  Could the immersion be done on Shabbat in preparation for the holiday?

The Mishnah (17b) teaches that Bet Shammai insisted that, in such a case, immersions had to be done before Shabbat. Bet Hillel allowed people to go to the mikvah on Shabbat, but rule that any utensils that were needed had to be immersed before Shabbat.

Many explanations are offered in the Gemara as to why Bet Hillel differentiated between a person and his utensils. According to Rava, immersing a utensil appears to be tikkun keli – fixing the utensil – which is forbidden on Shabbat, while a person appears to be simply cooling himself off. The Gemara argues that even on Yom Kippur, when bathing is ordinarily forbidden, such an immersion would be permitted since it is permitted on Shabbat, as well. The Re’ah explains that this logic is based on the fact that bathing on Yom Kippur is forbidden only when it is solely for pleasure, which is not the case when someone immerses in the mikveh for reasons of ritual purity.

The Gemara brings a parallel case of an activity that would be forbidden, but when done under circumstances where appearances indicate that it is being done for another reason, it is permitted. The Mishnah in Shabbat (111a) teaches that someone with a toothache cannot sip vinegar on Shabbat because of the Rabbinic ruling that medicine cannot be taken on Shabbat except in cases of danger to life. If, however, he is eating bread, he can dip his bread into the vinegar and eat it, even though it will have the same effect, since this appears to simply be an act of dining.

Vinegar was a popular remedy for toothaches in Talmudic times. When a person has a cavity – particularly when the nerve becomes exposed – vinegar is a painful drink, indeed (see Mishlei 10:26). However, when the gums are irritated, or when fluid builds up in the gums, vinegar can offer relief by lowering the osmotic pressure.

Beitzah 19a-b

In our discussions of food preparation on Yom Tov, we have learned that even though several of the 39 forbidden activities on Shabbat are basic to food preparation, they are permitted on Yom Tov based on the passage in Shemot 12:16. How about sacrifices brought in the Temple? Obviously, korbanot that are part of the commandments of the day must be brought, but what about other sacrifices?

During Temple times, a person who fulfilled the mitzvah of aliyah la-regelpilgrimage to the Temple on the holidays of Pesach, Shavu’ot and Sukkotwould bring with him the korbanot that he was obligated to sacrifice. This included sacrifices unique to the particular holiday, as well as those that he had promised to bring over the course of the previous months. The chagigah (festival offering) was a korban shelamim that was brought by every individual at some point during the holiday (not necessarily on the day of Yom Tov itself). As with any korban shelamim, part of it was sacrificed on the altar, while much of it was eaten by the kohanim and the owner of the korban. Another sacrifice that was brought was the olat re’iyah, which a person was obligated to bring every time he came to the mikdash. This korban also could be brought throughout the holiday, but like any korban olah, it was burned on the mizbe’ach in its entirety, with no part of it eaten by anyone.

In the Mishnah on our daf, Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel disagree about whether various sacrifices can be brought on Yom Tov. According to Bet Shammai, a korban olah, which is totally burned up, cannot be brought. A korban shelamim, however, can be brought, since parts of it will be eaten by the kohanim and by the owner, making it not only a sacrifice, but also food preparation, which is permitted on Yom Tov. Nevertheless, they forbid performing semikha on the animal. Bet Hillel permit both olot and shelamim to be brought since they are connected to the holiday, even though there is no obligation to bring them on the actual Yom Tov. They also permit semikha on both.

The mitzvah of semikha appears in connection with many korbanot (see, for example Vayikra 1:4). It involves having the owner of the sacrifice place both of his hands on the animal’s head between the horns and lean against it with all of his strength. For sacrifices where confession (viduy) was said, semikha was the time to do it. Since semikha was done with force, it was considered by Bet Shammai to be making use of the animal – similar to riding an animal – which is forbidden by the Sages on Shabbat and Yom Tov.

Rashi‘s explanation of Bet Shammai’s opinion is that they do not reject the mitzvah of semikha on Yom Tov; rather, they require the semikha to be done before Yom Tov begins and are not concerned with the time lapse between the semikha and the shechita.

Beitzah 20a-b

We learned in the Mishnah (19a) that Bet Shammai restricted the kinds of sacrifices that could be brought on Yom Tov to those that are obligatory on those days, while Bet Hillel permit all types of sacrifices to be brought.

Hillel and Shammai lived at the end of the second Temple period, so their disagreement is not one that involves only theoretical principles, but practical ones, as well. The Gemara relates that Hillel haZaken entered the Temple precincts on Yom Tov with a korban olah that he planned to sacrifice. A korban olah is totally burned on the altar, and none of it is eaten – neither by the kohanim nor by the person who brings it. Students of Shammai haZaken approached him and asked what his intentions were. Hillel wanted to avoid an altercation, so he fibbed, “I am bringing this as a korban shelamim” – a sacrifice where part is offered on the altar, but there are also parts that are eaten by the kohanim and by the owner. This conciliatory stand taken by Hillel led to a situation where the students of Shammai were ready to claim victory and have the final ruling on this matter follow Shammai’s teaching.

At that moment, Bava ben Buta, one of Shammai’s students who recognized that Hillel’s position was the accepted one, stepped forward and arranged for a large number of choice cattle to be brought to the Temple. He called upon the onlookers to perform semikha on the animals and bring them as sacrifices, which was a public admission that Hillel’s position was to be accepted. From that time on there was no longer any debate on this matter.

The Talmud Yerushalmi relates the story in a slightly different manner, reporting that Hillel’s modesty almost led to the acceptance of Shammai’s position. At that moment the Temple emptied of korbanot, since no one was willing to come to sacrifice.  This led Bava ben Buta to curse the people who brought on this situation, saying “the houses of these people should be made desolate, just as they made desolate the house of our Lord.” He then ordered 3,000 cattle brought and announced that people should resume bringing sacrifices, so that the mikdash should not stand empty on Yom Tov.

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.