Masechet Beitzah 21a-27b

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17 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 21

Rav Huna was asked to rule on the following question: when the government requires villagers to bake for soldiers who are stationed in the area, are they permitted to do so on Yom Tov?

Rav Huna ruled that it would be permitted to bake for the soldiers if the bakers were permitted to give bread to the Jewish children who were around, as well. In such a case, every loaf of bread could be seen as potentially being baked for the children. If the soldiers were careful that none of the bread be given away, and insisted that it all be delivered to the soldiers, then it would be forbidden to bake for them.

A parallel story was told about Shimon ha-Timni who did not appear in the bet midrash one day on Yom Tov. When Rabbi Yehudah ben Bava asked where he had been, Shimon explained that a baleshet had come to the town and threatened to steal the possessions of the inhabitants. To save the town a calf was butchered and prepared, and the baleshet left them in peace. Rabbi Yehudah ben Bava objected to this story, pointing out that the passage permitting cooking on Yom Tov (Shemot 12:16) only allows it lahem – for you – not for non-Jews. As the Gemara explains, in this case the animal that was prepared for the baleshet was not kosher, so it could not have been eaten by Jews and the entire preparation was for non-Jews only.

The term baleshet apparently refers to an army unit that was sent to search for valuables (in modern Hebrew the word balash means a detective). Usually these units were employed in enforcing payment of taxes, which made it essential for the local communities to stay on good terms with them, since their broad mandate often allowed them to stray well-beyond their official tasks into violence and looting.

Beitzah 22

The Gemara on our daf discusses whether eye diseases can be treated on Yom Tov. As the Gemara points out, in situations of potentially life-threatening danger it is obvious that any treatment can be done; the issue at hand is whether treatments to improve vision or minor ailments can be used.

Medical treatment of the eyes has a long history, since such conditions were common in the Middle East due to an abundance of sand and insects that carried diseases. Archaeologists have found instruments used in surgical operations on the eye from the Talmudic period. The discussion in our Gemara, however, deals with the application of salves or creams that were inserted into the eye by means of a mik’hol – a tiny spoon that was also used for applying cosmetics.

The Gemara leaves this question as a disagreement between Rabbi Yehudah and the RabbananAmeimar, however, permitted the application of salves on the eye on Yom Tov if it was done by a non-Jew. In response to Rav Ashi’s objection that a non-Jew could only be employed to perform such an activity if the Jew does not assist him – and in the case of inserting a cream into the eye, the patient must be playing an assisting role – Ameimar argues that mesayei’ah ein bo mamash – that merely assisting is not considered an act of significance.

It is difficult to claim that mesayei’ah ein bo mamash since there are many instances in the Talmud that even the person assisting in a given case is considered to have played a significant role. Rabbi Akiva Eiger suggests that a distinction must be made between cases where the mesayei’ah participates in the activity (where such participation would be forbidden) and where he merely allows the activity to take place, like in our case where opening and closing the eye allows the medicine to be applied.

Beitzah 23

The Mishnah (22b) teaches that Rabban Gamliel rules leniently on three issues concerning Yom Tov. He permitted the floors to be swept (he was not concerned that sweeping the floor would fill in holes), he allowed incense to be burned and he encouraged people to eat a roasted goat on the night of the Passover seder.

The Gemara on our daf discusses the case of the Passover seder, which was a point of disagreement because the other Sages felt that it looked too much like the actual Pesach sacrifice. The question at hand was: following the destruction of the Temple, what is the best course of action? Should we eat meat at the seder roasted in commemoration of the Passover sacrifice that had to be roasted (see Shmot 12:8-9) or would doing so present a problem because it would appear that the sacrifice was being eaten outside the precincts of Jerusalem?

The Gemara relates a story about Todos ish Romi who instructed the Jews of Rome to prepare a goat for the seder meal exactly the way it was prepared for the sacrifice. The Sages’ response to him was “were you not Todos, we would have excommunicated you for almost causing the Jewish people to eat kodashim outside of their appropriate place.”

The Gemara in Pesachim (53a) asks whether the reluctance to place him under ban stemmed from the fact that he was a talmid hakham, or, perhaps, because he was a powerful figure who could not be punished. The Hatam Sofer points out that this is not merely a theoretical question, but a practical one from which we can deduce that a talmid hakham should not be punished for making an error, but should simply be warned about it.

In response, the Gemara in Pesachim offers two stories about him.

The first story quotes Todos as teaching an aggadic homily, in which he explained the actions of Hananiah, Misha’el and Azariah who allowed themselves to be thrown into a fiery furnace (see Daniel chapter 3 ) by comparing their situation to that of the frogs of the second of the ten plagues in Egypt who willingly jumped into burning ovens (see Shmot 7:28). According to this story, since we have records of Todos teaching Torah publicly, apparently he was a scholar.

Rabbi Yossi bar Avin relates the second story, that Todos was someone who supported Torah scholars by lending money or merchandise to them, thus allowing them to support themselves. It should be noted that the Rambam lists eight levels of charity (see Rambam Hilkhot Matnot Aniyim  10:7) ranging from giving a hand-out to a poor person to offering assistance in a secretive way. The highest level enumerated is someone who enters into a partnership with a poor person, allowing him to become self-sufficient, which, apparently, was Todos’ relationship with the Torah scholars in his community.

Beitzah 24

As we have learned, food preparation on Yom Tov is permitted based on the passage in Shmot (12:16). Nevertheless, this permits only activities that are directly related to cooking and preparing the food. Capturing an animal, for example, is too far removed from the food preparation to be permitted on Yom Tov. The third perek of Masechet Beitzah, which began on the last daf (23b), focuses on the question of how we define tzayid – hunting. Specifically the Sages try to define under what circumstances an animal is considered to be in one’s possession to the extent that it is ready to be prepared for food.

The Mishnah on our daf teaches that a person can only take from traps laid out for wild animals, birds or fish that were placed before Yom Tov if we can be certain that the creature was captured before Yom Tov began.

The Gemara discusses nets or traps and how we can determine whether they captured their prey before the holiday began. The nets and traps discussed here, that potentially become misshapen by the movements of the animals inside, are not fish nets, rather they are more solid materials that act as traps. Traps for fish were shaped like an elongated basket that were placed in the water in a special way so that fish could easily swim into them, but would have a very difficult time making their way out of them.

While our Gemara bases its analysis of whether the animal was captured before or after the beginning of Yom Tov on the condition of the trap (i.e. when did the hunter discover that it had become misshapen by the animal trapped inside), the Talmud Yerushalmi distinguishes between places where there are many animals and places where there are relatively few. In an area where there are many animals, the hunter can rely on the assumption that the animal became trapped in a relatively short time after the trap was put down.

Beitzah 25

Rami bar Aba teaches that just as the Torah commands that every animal sacrifice be skinned and cut up (see, for example, Vayikra 1:6), similarly a butcher should first skin and cut up the animal before allowing anyone to eat from it. This falls into the category of derekh eretz – appropriate behavior- that is encouraged by the Sages, even though there are no issues of halakha forbidding it.

The teaching of etiquette is not limited to Rami bar Aba. The Gemara quotes baraitot that recommend eating and drinking in a slow deliberate manner, indicating – as Rashi and the Me’iri point out – that even the early tanna’im felt that these matters needed to be emphasized. One baraita teaches that someone who eats an onion or garlic should not eat it from its roots, rather he should eat it from its leaves; eating it beginning with the roots is the sign of a glutton. The Me’iri explains that eating it “from its leaves” means that a person is obligated to peel off the outer leaves before eating, which slows down the process. Similarly, a person should not gulp down his drink all at once, nor should he drink it in many small sips that make him appear overly sensitive.

In another teaching, Rami bar Aba praises the hatzuva as a plant that defends against evil people. The hatzuva is identified as the squill – urginea maritima – a plant whose roots are so long and sturdy that when planted at the edge of a field it will grow back even when attempts are made to remove it. Thus, it protects the owner of the field against unscrupulous people who try to move the markers that indicate where his property line ends, because even when removed it will grow back, effectively testifying to the true boundary of the field.

Beitzah 26

A first-born animal – a behor – is considered to be holy to the Temple (see Shmot 13:12). In the event that the animal develops a permanent blemish – a mum – then it is no longer kodesh and it can be eaten normally by kohanim.

Since under normal circumstances a behor cannot be eaten, it is not considered an animal that is ready for use on Yom Tov. Nevertheless, the Mishnah (25b) teaches that according to Rabbi Yehudah, in the event that a behor falls into a pit, an expert can be lowered into the pit to check whether the animal has developed a mum. If, in fact, such a mum is present, then the animal can be slaughtered and eaten by kohanim on Yom TovRabbi Shimon disagrees. He believes that unless the mum was recognized before Yom Tov began, the animal cannot be used for food on Yom Tov. Thus there would be no point in having an expert check the animal for a mum on Yom Tov itself so it would be forbidden to do so.

Several different explanations are suggested to explain the argument between Rabbi Yehudah and Rabbi Shimon. Rashi makes two suggestions:]

  1. Ruling that the animal can be eaten is tikkun– it is “fixing” something on Yom Tov – which is forbidden.
  2. Ruling that the animal can be eaten is considered a formal court ruling. Jewish courts neither sit nor rule on cases on Shabbator Yom Tov.

Rabbi Yehudah would reject both of those assumptions.

Tosafot offer another approach. According to Tosafot the main issue in this case is muktzeh. Since the behor was perfectly healthy at the moment that the holiday began, it was not viewed as edible at that point. Therefore it cannot be considered prepared for use on Yom Tov, even if it develops a mum in the course of the day.

Beitzah 27

As we learned on yesterday’s daf, there is a disagreement between Rabbi Yehudah and Rabbi Shimon regarding the question of checking the status of a behor – a first-born animal – on Yom Tov. The Gemara on our daf, in an attempt to clarify which of the two positions is accepted as the halakhah, relates a number of stories in which this issue is brought to the fore.

The Gemara tells about an individual named Ami Vadina’ah whose official position was the checker of behorot in the house of the Nasi. When questions were referred to him on Yom Tov, he insisted on examining the animal only after the holiday.

Ami Vadina’ah is mentioned a number of times in the Talmud. According to Rashi, he is one and the same as “Ami Shapir Na’eh” (Ami, the handsome one). The position that he held was well-respected, since the person who had that role needed to have a deep understanding of animal husbandry and physiology, as well as a broad knowledge of halakhah.

Rav Ami is recorded as applauding Ami Vadina’ah decision, even though he, himself had a reputation of examining animals on Yom Tov. The Gemara explains that Rav Ami would always examine the animal before Yom Tov, but would make further examinations on Yom Tov itself, if necessary. The “further examinations” involved questioning the person who asked for the animal to be checked – and perhaps even taking testimony from others. Current practice is that when a behor is born in a flock of animals owned by a Jewish person, the animal is tended by its owner for the first three months, at which time it is transferred to the kohen. Since today there is no possibility of bringing the behor as a sacrifice, such an animal only has value to the kohen once a mum has been found in it. This reality has led to a situation that kohanim are suspected of placing the animal in a situation where it will easily develop a mum, so the expert who examines the animal must also play the role of prosecutor in an attempt to establish whether the mum was an accidental one or was done purposely.

The Shulhan Arukh (Orah Hayyim 498:9) accepts the conclusion suggested by these stories, and rules like Rabbi Shimon that a behor should not be inspected on Yom Tov to see whether it has developed mumim.

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.