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
The third perek (chapter) of Masechet Chagigah, Homer ba-Kodesh, begins on today’s daf (page). Its basic theme deals with a concept that, while unfamiliar to Jews in the contemporary world, is repeated several times in the Torah: the need to take great care when dealing with terumah (tithes) and kodashim (sacrifices), to ensure that they remain ritually pure. Furthermore, the Torah commands that protective enactments be created to assist in this endeavor (see, for example, Vayikra 22:9). Also connected with this concept are the severe punishments meted out by the Torah to someone who eats terumah or kodashim while in a state of ritual defilement.
The first Mishna in the perek compares and contrasts the care that must be taken to ensure ritual purity in the cases of terumah and kodashim, pointing out that the demands made regarding kodashim are greater than those having to do with terumah. For example, if two vessels are both tameh – ritually impure and must be immersed in a mikvah – for the purposes of terumah they can be immersed even when one is inside the other. For use with kodashim, however, they would have to be immersed separately.
At first glance it would appear that the higher level of care that is required in working with kodashim stems from an intrinsic holiness that is represented in kodashim, which requires greater care, even on a Biblical level. The Talmud Yerushalmi, however, suggests another reason for the differences taught in the Mishnah. While terumah belongs exclusively to kohanim, who are the only ones allowed to eat it, kodashim are eaten by anyone who brings a sacrifice to the Temple. Kohanim are familiar with the rules and regulations of terumah and can be trusted to take the appropriate amount of care that is necessary to guarantee that the terumah will remain pure. Other people, who encounter kodashim only on an occasional basis, need stricter rules to ensure that the items do not become defiled.
As we learned in the first Mishnah in this perek (chapter) (see 20b), great care must be taken to ensure ritual purity in the cases of terumah (tithes) and kodashim (Temple sacrifices), but the demands made regarding kodashim are greater than those having to do with terumah. For example, if two vessels are both tameh – ritually impure and must be immersed in a mikveh – for the purposes of terumah they can be immersed even when one is inside the other. For use with kodashim, however, they would have to be immersed separately.
Why must the vessels be immersed separately for kodashim? Two suggestions are offered in the Gemara:
- Rabbi Ila suggests that it is a concern with chatzitzah – that the weight of the inner vessel may cause it to touch the outer one, thus preventing the mikvah waters from properly coming into contact with both vessels as is essential for them to be purified. The Talmud Yerushalmi, which offers this as the only problem with immersing the two vessels together, also gives a specific weight – a litra – that creates such a concern.
- Rava suggests another potential issue with immersing the two vessels together. He proposes that the problem stems from a concern lest someone try to immerse small objects, like pins or needles, within a vessel whose opening is so small – smaller than a shfoferet ha-node (the tube of a skin bottle) – that the water inside of it is not considered connected to the larger mikveh.
The node of a shfoferet ha-node is a bag or bottle made of an entire skin removed from an animal. These skins were used for a variety of purposes, but primarily to store small objects or food. When one was used to store liquids (water, wine or oil, for example) the skin would be removed without making any holes in it, and they would leave the skin of the legs attached, as well. When finished, one of the legs would have a tube – usually a reed – inserted into it, and the liquids would be poured in and out from that small tube.
We have already learned that great care must be taken to ensure ritual purity in the cases of terumah (tithes) and kodashim (Temple sacrifices), but that the demands made regarding kodashim are greater than those having to do with terumah. The first Mishnah in the perek (chapter) (20b) contrasts terumah and kodashim, pointing out various ways in which the rules of kodashim are stricter. One example is how we view the different parts of a vessel – are they all considered as one, so that when one part becomes ritually defiled, the entire vessel will need to be immersed in a mikveh, or, perhaps, we can view them separately, and continue to use the vessel even if one part of it has become tamei (ritually defiled). According to the Mishnah, for purposes of terumah we can view such parts of a vessel as the ahorayim, the tokh, and the bet ha-tzevitah as being separate, although for kodashim they will be considered connected.
The Gemara defines the terms that appear in the Mishnah by referring to a Mishnah in Masechet Kelim (25:6), which teaches that a vessel, a jug, for example, whose ahorayim (its bottom or outer part) become tameh on a Rabbinic level will leave tokho (its inside), ogno (upper lip), ozno and yadav (different types of handles) tehorim (ritually pure).
The case of bet ha-tzevitah is defined by Rav Yehuda in the name of Rav as a type of handle, while Rabbi Assi quoting Rabbi Yochanan suggests that it is a small vessel that is attached to the larger one, where people dip their food into spices that are placed there.
Already in the time of the earliest rishonim there were different versions of this term in the Mishnah. While some manuscripts have bet ha-tzevitah, others have bet ha-tzevi’ah. In truth, however, the different definitions that are suggested can work with either reading.
As we learned in the first Mishnah in this perek (chapter) (20b), great care must be taken to ensure ritual purity in both cases of terumah (tithes) and kodashim (Temple sacrifices), but the demands made regarding kodashim are greater than those having to do with terumah. We have already seen a number of examples of the contrast between these two halakhot. Another case presented by the Mishnah is whether a person is permitted to carry an object or article of clothing that is tamei (ritually defiled) at the same time as they carry terumah or kodashim; as long as they are carried separately, a person can carry the tamei object together with terumah, but not with kodashim.
Rav Yehuda quotes Shmuel who identifies the source for the limitation on carrying an object that is tamei together with kodashim as being connected with a particular event. Once someone was carrying a barrel of kodesh wine from one place to another, and the strap of his sandal – which was tamei – broke off. The person placed the strap on the barrel, and eventually it fell inside, defiling all of the wine in the barrel.
The Talmud Yerushalmi tells a slightly different version of this story. According to the Yerushalmi, the barrel sprung a leak and the individual who was carrying it used his sandal to plug up the leak. The rishonim point out that telling the story this way solves a number of problems. For example, a broken strap should be categorized as a shever kli – a broken piece of a vessel – and it is only a complete vessel that can retain tumah. Once it is broken, a vessel loses its status as tamei. As such, the story that appears in our Gemara would not seem to create a situation of ritual defilement of the wine. Thus, the Tosafot R”id recommends reading in our Gemara, as well, that the entire sandal was placed in the barrel, rather than the broken strap.
The previous Mishnayot in this perek (chapter) have pointed out differences between terumah (tithes) and kodashim (Temple sacrifices). So far we have learned that stricter measures were imposed on kodashim than on terumah for a variety of reasons. The new Mishnah on our daf (page) points out that there are areas of halakha where the rules regarding terumah are more stringent than those dealing with kodashim. One example is whether a simple farmer (referred to as an am ha’aretz) could be trusted to say that the wine or oil that he produced was guarded to be sure that it remained tahor (ritually pure). If an am ha’aretz offered wine or oil to a kohen, telling him that he made it with the intent to offer the wine as a libation on the altar or the wine as part of the grain offering, he could be trusted that they were tahor, since – according to the Rambam – even an am ha’aretz recognized the seriousness of the Temple service. If, however, the am ha’aretz offered a kohen wine or oil as terumah, they could not be trusted, since they were known to take the rules of purity less seriously when it came to tithes.
Aside from this approach offered by the Rambam, we find another suggestion made by the Me’iri and others who argue that this leniency shown to the am ha’aretz in the case of kodashim stems less from our certainty that he is trustworthy in this case, and more from the desire of the Sages to limit the possibility of disagreements between factions while in the shadow of the Temple. Since every Jewish person is encouraged to visit the mikdash and bring his produce to present to God, the Sages chose to rely on the word of the am ha’aretz in order to encourage a sense of unity among the people.
The Mishnah also teaches that a further exception was made during the period of pressing the grapes and olives, when everyone was careful to first purify the utensils used in preparing wine and oil. At that time, even an am ha’aretz was believed when he attested to the ritual purity of his produce.
We learned in the Mishnah (24b) there are areas of halakha where the rules regarding terumah (tithes) are more stringent than those dealing with kodashim (Temple sacrifices). The example brought is that a simple farmer (referred to as an am ha’aretz) could be trusted to say that the wine or oil that he produced was guarded to be sure that it remained tahor (ritually pure) if it was made with the intention of offering the wine as a libation on the altar or the wine as part of the grain offering. If, however, the am ha’aretz offered a kohen wine or oil as terumah, he could not be trusted.
The Mishnah mentions that our willingness to believe an am ha’aretz regarding kodashim is limited to Yehuda – the southern part of the Land of Israel – but apparently it does not apply to the Gallil – the northern part of the country. Reish Lakish explains that this is based on a technicality – that the Jewish community in the Galilee is separated from the Temple in Jerusalem by an area that was entirely populated by Kutim, and that area was considered to be intrinsically tameh (ritually defiled) given its status as eretz ha-amim (a foreign land).
The Kutim, or Shomronim (Samaritans), were centered in the city of Shomron, not far from the city of Shechem. This was not a political boundary, and the area in which a large population of Kutim lived shifted over the generations. During the period of the Hasmoneans it was a very small area, but at other times it widened to the extent that there was a strip running from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River, effectively dividing the Jewish population into two – Yehuda and the Gallil – with no territorial connection between them. Once the Sages ruled that the Kutim were to be considered non-Jews, a situation was created where part of the territory of the Land of Israel was considered to be eretz ha-amim, thus the only way to transport items from the Galilee to the Temple in a state of taharah would have been by crossing the Jordan.
According to some, this created a situation whereby Jews living in the Galilee were forced to travel to Jerusalem a week before the holidays in order to give them time to purify themselves after their journey through eretz ha-amim.
We have learned previously (see the Mishnah on 24b), that an am ha’aretz – a simple person who is not always careful about the rules of ritual purity – can be relied upon to attest to the purity of kodashim (Temple sacrifices), and, under certain circumstances, even to the purity of terumah (tithes). The Mishnah on our daf (page) repeats this teaching, and extends it to the city of Jerusalem generally and the period of the pilgrimage festivals specifically, when everyone is trusted even with regard to terumah. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi quotes a passage from Sefer (Book of) Shoftim (20:11) as a source for this, which teaches how all Jews when gathered together are considered to be chaverim – friends who can rely on one-another. The Talmud Yerushalmi quotes another source, this one from Tehillim (124:3), which teaches that the city of Jerusalem is united at the time when the tribes all travel there. Aside from these quotes, the Rambam teaches that this ruling is based on the assumption that everyone prepares himself for a visit to the Temple by first immersing in a mikveh properly, recognizing that sacrificing a korban demands ritual purity. The Tosafot Yom Tov points out that the pesukim (verses) are no more than hints, and the Rambam’s explanation is necessary to understand why everyday rules are ignored in this specific time and place.
Once Yom Tov is over, all of the normal rules once again come into effect, and the Temple utensils that were used during the holiday were all taken out to be immersed in the mikvah to ensure that they are tahor (ritually pure), given the fact that amei ha-aretz – people whose care and concern with the rules of ritual purity are suspect – had been in the area of the mikdash throughout the holiday. One exception mentioned in the Mishnah is the shulhan – the table that held the lehem ha-panim (the show bread) – which could not be taken out to be immersed since it was always in use (see Shemot 25:30). Therefore anyone walking into the area of the shulhan throughout the holiday – or even after it was over, when the area was being cleaned up – was warned not to touch it, lest it become ritually defiled.
Two other exceptions were the inner and outer altars, which – as explained by Rabbi Eliezer – were connected to the ground and as such were not considered movable vessels that could become tamei.
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.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.