Masechet Chullin 124a-130b

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25 Oct 2011

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.

Chullin 124a-b: Changing the subject

Not all situations of tumah (ritual defilement) are created equal.

Depending on the source of the tumah, bones may or may not transfer ritual defilement. For example, according to the Mishnah, someone who touches the bones of a dead person or of defiled sacrifices will always become ritually defiled; someone who touches the bones of a neveilah (see above, daf 73) or of a sheretz (see above, daf 122) will become ritually defiled only if the bone contains edible marrow and the bone has a crack or opening in it. This is because human bones are deemed tamei (see Bamidbar 19:16) while regarding animals only edible flesh – including bone marrow – will give off tumah (see Vayikra 11:36, 39).

The Gemara relates that there are also differences between ways that ritual defilement can be contracted. For example, aside from coming into physical contact with the dead animal, tumah can also be transferred by carrying the animal, even if one does not touch it (see Vayikra 11:40).

This discussion leads Rav Avia Sabba to ask Rabbah bar Rav Huna whether according to Rabbi Yishmael, a closed marrow bone would convey tumah by carrying, even though the marrow cannot be touched. Rather than answering him Rabbah bar Huna replied: “See, there is a raven flying past,” (i.e. he changed the subject to avoid the question). Afterwards, Rabbah’s son, Rava asked him why he refused to answer raised by such a great man as Rav Avia. Rabbah answered by referring to a passage in Shir HaShirim (2:5): “Today I am in the condition of the lover who said ‘sustain me with dainties, refresh me with apples; for I am love-sick.’

A number of explanations have been put forward to explain this reference. Rashi suggests that it was the Shabbat of one of the holidays and Rabbah bar Rav Huna had just finished a lengthy lecture and he needed to rest before taking questions. According to the Geonim, by mentioning this passage Rabbah was hinting to the fact that he had just been appointed head of the academy in Sura and was too exhausted to enter into detailed discussion of the topic at that moment.

Chullin 125a-b: Touching different kinds of bones

As we learned on yesterday’s daf not all situations of tumah (ritual defilement) are created equal. The Mishnah on today’s daf discusses this in some detail.

According to the Mishnah, “with regard to a kulit – the thigh-bone – of a human corpse or of a consecrated animal, he who touches it, whether it be closed up or pierced, becomes unclean.”

Although the word kulit refers specifically to the thigh-bone, in fact the same rule would apply to any marrow bone, since the marrow is deemed edible, which changes our view of the bone from “bone” to “meat” with regard to the laws of ritual defilement. Furthermore, while the Mishnah groups the cases of a human corpse and that of a consecrated animal together, their rules are not exactly the same. In the case of a human bone, the bone itself becomes tamei on a biblical level based on the passage in Sefer Bamidbar (19:16). This stands in contrast to the case of a consecrated animal that only becomes tamei on a rabbinic level (see Pesachim daf 120b).

The Mishnah continues:

“With regard to a kulit of an animal carcass or of a dead reptile, if it was closed up he who touches it remains clean, but if it was at all pierced it conveys uncleanness by contact.”

These cases stand in contrast to the cases of a human corpse or of a consecrated animal, in that the bones themselves do not convey ritual defilement in-and-of themselves; it is the edible marrow that is the source of tumah. For that reason, if the bone is totally sealed ritual defilement will not be conveyed.

One question that is raised with regard to this issue is that the bone should serve as a shomer – as protection – to the marrow within, and we have learned that a shomer is considered part-and-parcel of the thing that it protects (see above, daf 118), so that touching it should be considered as if physical contact had been made with marrow itself. Rashi explains that we must distinguish between situations where the shomer protects the food, but the food itself can be touched, and cases where the food is totally sealed off and cannot be touched under any circumstances. In the latter case, touching the shomer will not be considered as if the food had been touched.

Chullin 126a-b: Burial traditions in ancient Israel

When comparing and contrasting different types of tumah (ritual defilement) the Gemara discusses three specific types of tumah

The commentaries disagree about how to define the terms gollel ve-dofek. Many commentaries, including Rashi, explain that the gollel is the cover to a casket, while the dofek are the walls of the casket, upon which the gollel rests. This appears to be the position of the Rambam, as well, who explains (Mishna, Hilkhot Ohalot 2:4) that the walls of the casket are called the dofek because they press down – dohakim – on the dead body. Rabbenu Tam argues that our Gemara clearly relates to these things as being above ground, “in the open field,” so they cannot possibly be part of the casket. He suggests that these terms relate to the tombstone that is aboveground, with the gollel as the large stone placed above the grave (apparently horizontally), while the dofek refers to the stones upon which the gollel lies – pressing down on them.

These explanations clearly relate to the burial practices that were common in the Medieval period. During Mishnaic times, burial traditions in Israel often included interring the corpse in a burial cave that served as a temporary grave where it would decompose. At a later date, the bones would be removed and transferred to a family burial cave. This cave was sealed by means of a “rolling stone” – a gollel – which was held in place with another stone – a dofek. In some cases, wax or clay with the impression of the owner’s seal was placed between the stone and the wall so that it could be easily determined if the tomb had been opened. To enable people to descend into the large tomb, the dofek was pried loose and the gollel was rolled away.


Chullin 127a-b: A salamander of fire

In the context of discussing the eight sheratzim (creeping creatures) all of whom will render someone who touches them to be tamei (ritually defiled), if they are dead – see Sefer Vayikra 11:29-30 – the Gemara relates the following:

Our Rabbis taught: ‘The tzav after its kind’ (Vayikra 11:29) includes the arod, the nephilin, and the salamander. When Rabbi Akiba read this verse he used to say: ‘How manifold are Thy works, O Lord! Thou hast creatures that live in the sea and Thou hast creatures that live upon the dry land; if those of the sea were to come up upon the dry land they would straightway die, and if those of the dry land were to go down into the sea they would straightway die. Thou hast creatures that live in fire and Thou hast creatures that live in the air; if those of the fire were to come up into the air they would straightway die, and if those of the air were to go down into the fire they would straightway die. How manifold are Thy works, O Lord!’

Salamander is the common name applied to approximately 500 species of amphibians with slender bodies, short legs, and long tails. The common (or “fire”) salamander, salamandra salamander, lives in and around rivers and swamps in Israel and around the world. There is a superficial resemblance to lizards, but they have no scales and their skin is covered with moist mucous. This salamander is mentioned in the same context as the mythical “salamandra of fire,” which is described in the Midrash. Some suggest that Rabbi Akiva’s reference is to the common salamander, which was seen as fire-proof because of its moist body; however, the description of this creature in the Midrash cannot be reconciled with that idea.

The Chatam Sofer suggests that the salamander mentioned by Rabbi Akiva lives in places where there are active volcanoes, and only in these climates can such creatures survive.

Chullin 128a-b: Thinking food thoughts about endives

As we have noted, the laws of tum’at ochalin – ritual defilement of food – will only apply if two basic requirements are met –

  1. The item must be perceived as food appropriate for human consumption, and
  2. The item must have been made wet with one of seven liquids, e.g. water or blood (see Vayikra 11:37-38).

Our Gemara quotes a Tosefta from Masechet Uktzin (3:1) where Rabbi Yehuda relates that Rabbi Akiva taught:

The cheilev – forbidden fat – of a slaughtered animal, in villages, needs intention to be used for food, but does not need to be made susceptible to uncleanness, since it has already been made susceptible by the slaughtering.

Rabbi Yehudah questioned Rabbi Akiva regarding this ruling, saying:

Master, did you not teach us that if a man gathered olshin, washed them for feeding cattle, and then determined to use them as food for man, they again need to be moistened in order to be rendered susceptible to uncleanness?

Rabbi Akiva then retracted and taught according to Rabbi Yehuda, that the second requirement – washing the item – is only significant if the first requirement – that the item be viewed as food – has already been fulfilled.

Viewing cheilev as food clearly means that it would be eaten by non-Jews. Rashi offers two explanations as to why in villages cheilev was not automatically seen as food. His first approach is to suggest that since there are few people in villages and there is no lack of meat, such fats were not ordinarily eaten. According to his second approach, cheilev was a delicacy, and in villages where most people were poor, few could afford to eat cheilev.

The olshin referred to by Rabbi Yehuda is Cichorium endivia, a cultivated plant whose blue, white or purple leaves are eaten much the way lettuce is. Today the most common use of this plant is in salads or as the basis for making coffee substitute, but it is often used as livestock feed, as well.

Chullin 129a-b: Megillat Ta’anit – The oldest example of the Oral Torah in writing

In an attempt to prove his point regarding a question of ritual defilement, Rabbi Yehoshua points to a rule that appears in Megillat Ta’anit. In Megillat Ta’anit we find the tradition taught that on the “small Passover” – that is, on the 14th day of Iyyar when the Passover sacrifice was brought by those who were impure or were situated such that they could not bring the sacrifice on the 14th of Nissan as required (see Bamidbar Chapter 9) – no mourning or eulogies were permitted. Rabbi Yehoshua concludes by means of an a fortiori argument that on the Pesach holiday itself there is no question that eulogies are forbidden. Thus he argues that in a case where a limb from a living animal defiles, certainly if it is from a dead animal it must defile, as well.

Megillat Ta’anit is a little known collection of statements about minor holidays and fasts that commemorate events which took place during the Second Temple period. On the minor holidays, fasting and eulogies were forbidden. Most of the events that are commemorated are from the period of the Hasmonean monarchy – a prime example being the story of Chanukah – although there are also events from earlier and later periods included, as well.

This work is set up chronologically, and it includes the date and a brief account of the incident written in Aramaic, followed by a fuller description of the event in Hebrew.

It appears that this work is the oldest example of the Oral Torah being committed to writing; the Sages of the Mishnah do not only discuss the rulings that appear in it, but also the language that was used. (Although it is not part of the standard texts of Talmud, the Steinsaltz Talmud includes it as an addendum to the volume that contains Masechet Ta’anit).

Chullin 130a-b: Presents for the priestly caste

Just as Jewish farmers are commanded to offer tithes to the kohanim from their produce, similarly sections of animals are to be given to them, as well. According to the Torah (Devarim 18:3), whenever an animal is slaughtered for food, the owner must give to the kohen three sections of the animal – the zero’ah (shoulder), lechayayim (cheeks) and keivah (stomach).

Although the Torah is clear with regard to the types of animals involved in this mitzvah, as well as what must be given and to whom it is given, nevertheless there are many questions that need to be clarified. These issues are the focus of the tenth perek of Masechet Chullin, which begins on today’s daf.

The first Mishnah opens by teaching that the requirement to give the zero’ah, lechayayim and keivah to the kohen applies in both Israel and the Diaspora, whether or not the Temple is standing and is limited only to ordinary animals, not to sanctified ones.

In explanation for why these particular parts of the animal were chosen to be given to the kohanim, the commentaries offer a number of possibilities. One approach is that these are the most preferred pieces of the animal – the shoulder in the body of the animal, the tongue in the head of the animal and the stomach as part of the animal’s innards. Furthermore, they come as a reward for the sacrificial service performed by the kohanim: The kohen slaughters the sacrifice (represented by the zero’ah), recites a blessing (lechayayim) and finally butchers the animal for sacrifice, checking its innards for any possible blemishes (keivah). Finally, the Gemara (daf 134b) suggests that this rewards the kohanim for the act of Pinchas ha-kohen who put a stop to a public act of idolatrous harlotry by killing Zimri and Cozbi (see Bamidbar Chapter 25) by arming himself with a spear (represented by the zero’ah), stabbing them (keivah) and praying (lechayayim).

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.