Masechet Chullin 131a-137b

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02 Nov 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 131a-b: Who received first tithes?

Aside from the zero’ah (shoulder), lechayayim (cheeks) and keivah (stomach) that butchers are obligated to give to the kohanim (see yesterday’s daf), under ordinary circumstances, a farmer will separate:

The Gemara on today’s daf notes, however, that according to Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah Ma’aser Rishon was not to be given to a levi, rather it was also given to a kohen. The Gemara explains that this ruling was instituted by Ezra haSofer as a punishment to the levi’im who did not join him in returning to Israel at the beginning of the Second Temple period.

In Masechet Yevamot (daf 86a) there is a disagreement regarding the obligation of Ma’aser Rishon on a biblical level. According to Rabbi Akiva, Ma’aser Rishon must be given to the Levi’im based on the clear statement in Sefer Bamidbar (18:26). Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah ruled that it could be given to kohanim as well, since we find kohanim are called Levi’im in many places in the Torah. The Gemara there also explains that there is a disagreement about Ezra’s injunction – whether aside from being given to kohanim, it was also distributed to the poor.

Chullin 132a-b: An animal whose identity is difficult to pin down

In the context of discussing animals from which one is obligated to offer the zero’ah (shoulder), lechayayim (cheeks) and keivah (stomach) to the kohanim the Gemara quotes a baraita that teaches that mixed breed animals as well as a koy – an animal that has the features of both a wild animal and a domesticated one– are obligated in these gifts, as well. Given the juxtaposition of koy with mixed-breed animals, it would appear that the koy is the result of a union between a two animals – a deer and a goat – but we have already learned that according to some of the Sages the koy is a beriah bifnei atzmah – it is a unique creation – about which the Sages could not conclude if it is a wild animal or a domestic animal (see above, daf 80).

Identifying the koy is a difficult task. Even though it is mentioned many times in the Mishnah and Talmudic literature, that is not because it is a common animal, rather because its status between a wild and domesticated animal allows it to serve as a test case for many halakhot. The disagreement as to its identification began in the time of the Mishnah, when some of the Sages argued that it is the offspring of a deer or similar animal with a goat. Others claim that it is a unique type of animal – an Ayal ha-bar.

The Ayal ha-bar can be identified with the ovis musimon, which, according to many, is the forerunner of domesticated cattle. It is distinguished by its short hair and grey color, and it lives in mountainous regions, where it is a nimble climber – today mainly in uninhabited areas in Europe. It is likely that the clear similarities between a koy and a sheep, together with its being a wild animal, led to the Sages’ confusion about its classification.

Its name, “koy” and even the pronunciation of the name, are themselves the subject of disagreement

Chullin 133a-b: Teaching Torah to worthy students

Generally speaking, a teacher must first ascertain the character of a student to determine if he is worthy of learning Torah before teaching him. The Rambam rules that if a student is found to be lacking in his religious and/or ethical behavior, the teacher would be obligated to first bring him to repentance. Only after he is found worthy will he be welcomed into the traditional house of study to learn Torah (see Mishnah Torah, Hilkhot Talmud Torah 4:1). This ruling notwithstanding, the Ba’al HaTanya writes in the Shulchan Aruch HaRav that if it appears impossible to lead the student in the path of repentance, if he still desires to study Torah the teacher must “push him away with his left while drawing him near with his right,” in contrast with the behavior of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Perachyah who “pushed away” Yeshu ha-Notzri with both hands (see Hilkhot Talmud Torah 4:17).

This idea comes up in the Gemara in the following context:

Rabbi Zeira said in the name of Rav: Whosoever teaches a disciple that is unworthy is as one that throws a stone at a Markolis, for it is written: “As a small stone in a heap of stones, so is he that giveth honor to a fool” (Mishlei 26:8); and ‘honor’ is nothing but the Torah as it is written: The wise shall inherit honor; and The perfect shall inherit good.

Markolis is the name given by the Sages for the Roman god Mercurius, who was also known as the Greek deity, Hermes. Among his many responsibilities, Mercurius was the patron of the highways and travelers. This position led many to erect statues of him on crossroads. Oftentimes, these representations presented just the head of the idol and passersby would place stones at the foot of the statue. On occasion the representation was simply a pile of rocks, and travelers who passed by the pile would toss their own stone on it as an offering to the god.

Chullin 134a-b: Leaving gleanings for the poor

We have learned (above, daf 131) that in certain years farmers are obligated to give a special tithe to the poor. In addition a farmer is obligated to leave pe’ah – a corner of field – as well as leket – gleanings (grain that falls during the harvest) – for the poor on an annual basis (see Vayikra 19:9).

The Gemara on today’s daf relates:

Levi once sowed grain in Kishor, and there were no poor to collect the gleanings, so he came before Rav Sheshet. He told him: It is written: “Thou shalt leave them for the poor and the stranger,” but not for ravens and bats.

According to the commentaries, Kishor was a city outside the land of Israel, and the Chatam Sofer suggests that when Rav Sheshet ruled that there was no need to leave leket in the fields when there are no poor people to collect it, it is because the entire obligation is only obligatory on a Rabbinic level.

The Rama rules that even in the Land of Israel there is no obligation to leave leket, since – in his time – the majority of the inhabitants of the land of Israel were not Jewish. Based on this ruling, the Chazon Ish suggested that even in the modern age when there is a Jewish majority living in Israel we continue to rely on the Rama’s ruling. This is based on the fact that we know that no poor person would trouble themselves to collect gleanings in the field when staple goods are widely available and subsidized, making leket not worthwhile. No individual poor person would go to harvest leket or pe’ah, thresh the grain and grind it in order to make flour and bake. For that reason, leaving leket today is the equivalent of leaving it for ravens and bats, which Rav Sheshet ruled was without purpose.

This ruling notwithstanding, there are organizations in Israel today that maintain this Biblical concept in the modern age – see

Hullin 135a-b – Priestly wool

The continuation of the passage in Sefer Devarim (18:3) that obligates the butcher to offer the zero’ah (shoulder), lechayayim (cheeks) and keivah (stomach) to a kohen, instructs the individual who is shearing his flock to offer some of those shearings to the kohen, as well (see Devarim 18:4). In concert with the Torah‘s commandments, the eleventh perek of Masechet Chullin that begins on today’s daf (=page) follows the discussion of the zero’ah, lechayayim and keivah with Perek Reishit ha-Gez “the first shearings,” focusing on this law.

The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De’ah 333:11) rules that ideally the wool should be given at the very beginning of the shearing, although if it was not performed at the very beginning it could be done in the middle, or even in the end. Some suggest that the wool should be given from the very first animal that is sheared (as the Netziv writes in his Ha’amek Davar), or alternatively, if many animals are to be sheared it should not be left until the end, but should be done at the beginning, i.e. after five animals are sheared.

As the Mishnah points out, this law applies only to sheep, and although the Torah does not obligate that a certain amount be given, the Sages did establish a minimum of five selah in Judea.

One explanation offered for this mitzvah is suggested by the Rambam (see Mishna Torah, Hilkhot Bikurim 10:5) who argues that since kohanim did not receive a share in the land of Israel, the Torah obligates the community to concern itself with their welfare. Thus we find that they receive terumah in the form of bread and wine as well as meat when they are given the zero’ah, lechayayim and keivah and eat of Temple sacrifices. Aside from sustenance, they are supposed to be clothed by means of these gifts, and Reishit ha-Gez offers that to them.

Hullin 136a-b: Accepting rulings contrary to majority opinion

Does the law of Reishit ha-Gez – the first shearings offered to a kohen – apply only in Israel or in the Diaspora, as well?

The Gemara on today’s daf (=page) discusses this question and concludes with a ruling presented by Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak:

Rav Nachman bar Yitzhak said: Nowadays the world has adopted the views of the following three Elders:

The commentaries note that Rav Nachman bar Yitzhak’s teaching is significant because the majority of Sages disagreed with each of these three opinions. For example, according to the Gemara in Brachot (daf 22a) most of the tanna’im and amoraim agree that someone who had a seminal emission and was rendered ritually unclean may not study Torah until he immerses in a mikvah. Nevertheless, as Rav Nachman bar Yitzhak attests, accepted practice was to follow these more lenient opinions, which is the accepted ruling today.

The law forbidding someone who was unclean because of a seminal emission to study Torah was established by Ezra during the Second Temple period. One question raised by the acharonim is how Rav Nachman bar Yitzhak could reject a longstanding tradition, when such power is only given to a court that it greater than its predecessor, which was not the case here. Among the explanations was that an enactment that was never fully accepted can be rejected by a later court. Others suggest that Ezra’s original enactment was based on its being accepted by later courts, as well.

Chullin 137a-b: Counting sheep

How many sheep must be sheared in order for the law of Reishit ha-Gez – offering the first shearing to a kohen – to apply?

In the Mishnah (daf 135a) we learn that this was the subject of a dispute between Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel. Bet Shammai points to the passage in Sefer Yeshayahu (7:21) to conclude that there must be a minimum of two sheep; Bet Hillel brings a passage from Sefer Shmuel (I 25:18) from which he learns that there must be at least five sheep for the obligation to take effect.

A third opinion appears on today’s daf. A baraita taught in the study hall of Rabbi Yishmael b’Rabbi Yossi ruled that the minimum number of sheep that must be sheared is four, based on a passage in Sefer Shemot (21:37). Rabbi concludes that we would follow Rabbi Yishmael b’Rabbi Yossi’s teaching even if it was divrei kabbalah – “words of tradition” – against divrei Torah, and we certainly follow his teaching in this case, given that his source is biblical.

Rashi explains the distinction between divrei kabbalah and divrei Torah as follows. Divrei kabbalah are the words of the prophets, who received a tradition that was appropriate for that time and place. This stands in contrast with divrei Torah that were given to be written down and established for all generations.

Although one might have thought that Rabbi preferred Rabbi Yishmael b’Rabbi Yossi’s teaching to that of Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai because it was a compromise position, this is rejected by the Gemara. The Gemara concludes that in this case, Rabbi had a tradition that Rabbi Yishmael b’Rabbi Yossi’s ruling was handed down from the prophets Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. These three Second Temple prophets established the meaning of biblical laws as well as rabbinic ordinances whose purpose was to protect the integrity of those laws.

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.