Masechet Beitzah 2a-6b

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27 Oct 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 2a-b

One of the Rabbinic ordinances developed by the Sages to protect the sanctity of Shabbat and holidays is the rule forbidding moving objects that are considered muktzah – that is, things that a person puts out of his mind and does not intend on using during Shabbat or Yom Tov. This can be done either by a conscious act or decision on the part of the person, or alternatively if the object is not usable for any activities that are permitted on Shabbat.

Apart from this general statement, there are many differences in how muktzeh is defined. Some of the basic definitions are as follows:

Other categories of muktzah include things that a person actively sets aside so that they are not used on Shabbat, and nolad – something that could not have been prepared for use before Shabbat because it was “born” or came into existence only on Shabbat.

It is this case of nolad that Masechet Beitzah opens with – beitzah she-noldah be-Yom Tov – an egg that was laid on the holiday and did not exist when Yom Tov began. Is it considered ready for use on the holiday, or will it be considered muktzeh since it did not exist beforehand?

Beit Shamai and Beit Hillel disagree on this point. Bet Shamai permits the use of the egg on Yom Tov, while Bet Hillel forbids it. The Gemara offers several different explanations for their disagreement. Rabbah‘s explanation is that any egg laid today was already in existence the day before, and that we are discussing a situation where Yom Tov was on Sunday. Thus, Bet Hillel forbids use of the egg because it was prepared on Shabbat for use on Sunday (he also forbids it when Yom Tov falls on another day of the week, lest someone mistakenly permit it on Sunday, as well).

It is not clear when exactly halakha considers an egg to be “completed,” but from a biological perspective, it takes almost exactly 24 hours from the time that the egg is released from the ovary of the chicken to the time that it completes the preparation process and is laid. Thus, Rabbah is correct that every egg that is laid has been prepared from the day before.

Beitzah 3a-b

In discussing the use of a newly laid egg on Shabbat or Yom Tov, the Gemara quotes a baraita which teaches that using such an egg is forbidden; nevertheless it can be covered with a bowl to protect it and then it can be used when Shabbat or Yom Tov has ended. The examples given by the baraita of possible uses for the egg are of some interest – the baraita suggests that it might have been used to cover a utensil or to support a bed.

Support a bed!? The rishonim were quick to ask why the baraita would suggest supporting a large, heavy object like a bed with an egg.

In truth, mechanically speaking, the structure of an egg is, theoretically, very strong – strong enough to withstand enormous pressure without breaking, even though its shell is very thin. Practically, however, without a specially prepared apparatus, it would be impossible to have an egg actually support something large and heavy.

Therefore, the logical approach to the baraita is the one suggested by the Me’iri and others. They explain that the “bed” referred to is not a bed that people sleep on, but rather a type of bowl or other utensil that is used on a table, which, because of its shape – some say that it has a rounded bottom like that of a small ship – needs to be supported by something. An egg, apparently, was the object of choice to hold up this “bed.”

To support his theory, the Me’iri points out a word in Arabic for such a table utensil – hamta – which is similar to the Hebrew word for bed: ha-mitah. In Mishnayot Ma’asrot (1:9) we find the word hamita used in such a context, and the Rambam in his Perush ha-Mishnayot there translates the word as a small earthen vessel that is sometimes used on the table.

Beitzah 4a-b

The Mishnah (2a) discussed whether an egg that is laid on Yom Tov can be used on that day, taking for granted that it can certainly be used once the holiday has ended. How about the situation, common in the Diaspora, where we celebrate two days of Yom Tov, one after another? Can an egg laid on the first day of Yom Tov be used on the second day?

The Gemara teaches that this is the subject of a disagreement between Rav, who permits its use on the second day, and Rav Assi, who forbids it.

Given the reality that, today, we operate with a set calendar, the basis for the continued tradition of keeping two days of Yom Tov in the Diaspora demands explanation. While Rav Saadia Ga’on writes that keeping a second day of Yom Tov in the Diaspora is based on biblical law, Rav Hai Ga’on argues that he only said that as a response to heretics, but it should not be accepted as a true halakhic statement. His explanation is that although the second day was established for reasons of doubt (i.e. Diaspora communities oftentimes did not receive the information about the establishment of the new month until after the Yom Tov began), it was a rule already established by the prophets, which carries with it significant halakhic weight. The prophets needed to establish the second day because of the distance of Jewish communities from Israel, where the Sanhedrin sat and established the months based on testimony from witnesses.

According to the Rambam in his Sefer Mitzvot, the calendar that we currently use is, itself, the establishment of the Sanhedrin, who, during the time of Hillel ha-Sheni, determined the beginning of every month. Indeed, the Ra’avan quotes the Sages of Magence as teaching that the two days of Yom Tov are not kept because of the question regarding the actual date of the holiday, but rather as a takana – a Rabbinic ordinance that the holiness of the Yom Tov extends for an extra day. This helps us understand why Diaspora Jews continue to recite the blessings for the holiday even on the second day, which we ordinarily would not do if the mitzvah were only being done mi-safek – for reasons of doubt.

The Chatam Sofer writes that when we recite the blessing asher kidshanu be-mitzvotav ve-tzivanu – that we are fulfilling a commandment with this activity – the reference is not to the activities of the second day, but rather to the concept of the holiday, which is what we are truly commanded.

Beitzah 5a-b

The discussion on yesterday’s daf was whether a beitzah she-noldah be-Yom Tov (an egg that was laid on the holiday) was considered muktzah on the second day of the holiday in the Diaspora. Our discussion focused on why we still keep a second day even at a time when we work with a set calendar and no longer need to communicate the establishment of the new month to far-flung communities.

The Gemara on our daf teaches that, on Rosh ha-Shana, all are in agreement that an egg laid the first day cannot be used on the second day, either. The Gemara points to a Mishnah in Rosh ha-Shana (30b) as the source for this rule. The Mishnah there told of an incident that took place in Jerusalem, where the witnesses who came to testify about the beginning of the month of Tishrei arrived in the late afternoon. By the time the Sanhedrin accepted their statement and announced that that day was Rosh ha-Shana, the service in the Temple had already begun and the Levi’im erred in the mizmor (Psalm) that they had begun singing. From that time on, two days of Rosh ha-Shana became normative, even in Israel.

Rabbah comments that following the destruction of the Bet ha-Mikdash, the concern about mistakes in the Temple service no longer existed, pointing out that Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai once again accepted testimony about Rosh Chodesh Tishrei all day. In response to Abayye‘s challenge that Rav and Shmuel agree that the egg cannot be used on the second day of Rosh ha-Shana, Rabbah concludes that we must distinguish between Diaspora communities and communities in Israel. In the Diaspora the original takana remains and the two days of Rosh ha-Shana are considered as one long day – yoma arikhta; in Israel, however, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai rescinded the Rabbinic ordinance.

The simple reading of this Gemara seems to imply that, in Israel, only one day of Rosh ha-Shana is celebrated (see Rashi, who clearly understands the Gemara this way). The Ge’onim of Babylon, as well as the Ri”f and others, argue that Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai did not change the basic rule, and even during his time Rosh ha-Shana was kept as a two day holiday. Nevertheless, other rishonim, including the Ramban and Rabbenu Efra’im, rule that in Israel only one day is kept, not only in the immediate vicinity of the Sanhedrin that establishes the new month, but in all of Israel, since we now rely on a set calendar.

There is historical evidence which seems to indicate that Rosh ha-Shana was kept for only one day in Israel until immigrants from Provence came and changed the tradition. Today the accepted practice is to celebrate Rosh ha-Shana for two days in Israel as well as in the Diaspora.

Beitzah 6a-b

Rava teaches that if someone dies on Yom Tov and needs to be buried, non-Jews are brought to make the preparations and do the burial if it is the first day of Yom Tov; on the second day of Yom Tov, we allow Jews to do whatever is necessary. This is true not only on Pesach, Shavu’ot and Sukkot, but also on Rosh ha-Shana, when, as we learned yesterday, the second day is considered an extension of the first.

The leniency connected with funerals stems from the Jewish attitude towards burial as an issue of kavod ha-beri’ot – basic human dignity, both for the deceased and for the family of the deceased. The Sages of the Talmud state unequivocally that kavod ha-beri’ot pushes aside Rabbinic laws of lo tasur (see Devarim 17:11); that is to say, many prohibitions established by Sages can be dispensed with since the mitzvah of burying the dead takes precedence.

Based on this, Rava teaches that on the first day of the holiday – when all melakhot are biblically forbidden for a Jew to perform, and asking a non-Jew to perform those activities is forbidden by the Sages – we permit a non-Jew to do whatever is necessary for the burial. On the second day of the holiday, which is, in its entirety, of Rabbinic origin, we dispense with all prohibitions connected with the funeral, as having Jews take care of the burial is considered to be an honor to the deceased.

Given the importance given to these ceremonies, the Me’iri asks why we do not permit funerals to take place on Shabbat or Yom Kippur, on the condition that all forbidden activities be performed by non-Jews. He answers that the high level of holiness connected with those holidays led the Sages to establish their ordinances on those days as being on level with biblical prohibitions that cannot be pushed aside.

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.