Masechet Chullin 89a-95b

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22 Sep 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 89a-b: Recognizing the blue of tzitzit

Following the quote from Avraham that appeared on yesterday’s daf, Rava on today’s daf suggests another set of mitzvot whose source was a statement made by Avraham. Rava teaches that in the merit of Avraham saying “I will not take a thread or a shoe-strap” (see Bereshit 14:23), his descendants were worthy to receive two commandments – the thread of techelet (of tzitzit), and the strap of the Tefillin.

In explaining “the thread of techelet” the Gemara brings the teaching of Rabbi Meir:

Why is techelet specified from all the other colors for this mitzvah? Because techelet resembles the color of the sea, and the sea resembles the color of the sky, and the sky resembles the color of a sapphire, and a sapphire resembles the color of the Throne of Glory, as it is said, ‘And there was under his feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone’ (Shemot 24:10), and it is also written, ‘The likeness of a throne as the appearance of a sapphire stone’ (Yechezkel 1:26).

It is difficult to precisely identify the color of techelet, as there is no clear tradition regarding its hue from the Sages, and over the years the words used for the colors themselves took on different meanings. Even the descriptions that we find in Rabbi Meir’s statement are unclear, since the shades of color found in the sea and in the sky change depending on the season and the time of day. Furthermore, there are other places where Rabbinic statements identify techelet as the color of grass or leek.

The rishonim offer a number of definitions for techelet:

Similar positions are found among the researchers who have gone in different directions in identifying the chilazon, which is the source of techelet. If we look to the kala ilan, the “counterfeit techelet” as a way of determining the color, it would be indigo, a very dark blue color (see Masechet Menachot daf 40).

Chullin 90a-b: An ancient wrestling match leads to a contemporary prohibition

The seventh perek of Masechet Hullin, which began on yesterday’s daf is called Perek Gid HaNasheh. The gid ha-nasheh is the sciatic nerve of the animal – nervus ischiadicus – which is forbidden to eat. This prohibition is unique among the commandments, inasmuch as it is not presented by the Torah as a teaching that Moses passed on to the Jewish People, rather it appears as part of the Biblical narrative in a story (see Bereshit 32:33) that takes place prior to the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Following his wrestling with the angel, Yaakov limps back towards his camp and the Torah concludes “Therefore the children of Israel eat not the sinew of the thigh-vein which is upon the hollow of the thigh, unto this day; because he touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh, even in the sinew of the thigh-vein.”

This unique presentation leads to a number of questions about this mitzvah, among them:

The Gemara on today’s daf takes up this last question. While the Mishnah states clearly that each of the sciatic nerves is forbidden – both on the right and on the left – the Gemara teaches that Rabbi Yehudah disagrees, ruling that only a single one of the sciatic nerves is forbidden, and arguing that logic suggests that it is the sciatic nerve on the right side that is forbidden.

Rabbi Yehuda’s ruling notwithstanding, the accepted ruling is that both sciatic nerves are forbidden; although there are methods of removing the sciatic nerve and rendering hind-quarters of an animal kosher, the process is labor intensive and today it is difficult to find certain cuts of meat prepared for the kosher consumer. For details see –

Chullin 91a-b: How wrestling can lead to a song of celestial praise

As we have learned (see yesterday’s daf, or page), the source for the prohibition against eating the sciatic nerve is the story related in Sefer Bereshit (32:33) that describes the wrestling match that took place between Yaakov and the angel, where Yaakov is injured in his thigh. The Gemara on today’s daf develops the story of the wrestling match further.

According to the Gemara, when the angel said “Let me go, for the day breaketh,” (see Bereishit 32:37) Yaakov said to him, “Are you a thief or a rogue that you are afraid of the morning?” He replied: “I am an angel, and from the day that I was created my time to sing praises to the Lord had not come until now.”

A question raised by a number of the commentaries on this midrash is why at this particular moment in time – just as Yaakov is defeating him in battle – was the angel called to offer praise to God?

One approach presented is that every aspect of creation in the world – including angels – can reach a level of singing praise to God only when it reaches the fulfillment of its purpose of being created.  Thus, we find that the Jewish People, who reached the highest level of comprehension of the Creator and His purposes upon crossing the Red Sea following the Exodus from Egypt, found it appropriate to sing Az Yashir (see Shemot, Chapter 15) just at that moment. In this case, the Sages identify this angel as the spiritual representation of Yaakov’s older brother, Esav, about whom their mother received the prophecy that “the elder shall serve the younger” (Bereshit 25:23). At the moment when the angel was defeated in battle by Yaakov, he reached his purpose in creation, which was to play a role in the spiritual development of Yaakov Avinu. Only in his moment of defeat could he sing praises before God.

Chullin 92a-b: The symbolism of the grapevine

The aggadic discussion that took place on yesterday’s daf leads to continued conversations about Biblical passages that are interpreted in a midrashic fashion.

Many possible interpretations are offered for the verse found in the story of Yosef in prison, where the chief butler relates his dream of “a vine with three branches, which, as it was  budding its blossoms shot forth, and the clusters brought forth ripe grapes” (Bereshit 40:10).

Rabbi Eliezer says: The ‘vine’ is the world, the ‘three branches’ are the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; ‘and as it was budding its blossoms shot forth,’ these are the matriarchs; ‘and the clusters thereof brought forth ripe grapes,’ these are the tribes.

Rabbi Yehoshua objects that dreams do not tell the past; they tell the future. He says: The ‘vine’ is the Torah, the ‘three branches’ are Moses, Aaron and Miriam; ‘and as it was budding its blossoms shot forth’, these are the members of the Sanhedrin; ‘and the clusters thereof brought forth ripe grapes,’ are the righteous people of every generation.

Rabbi Elazar ha-Moda’i says: The ‘vine’ is Jerusalem, the ‘three branches’ are the Temple, the King and the High priest; ‘and as it was budding its blossoms shot forth,’ these are the young priests; ‘and the clusters thereof brought forth ripe grapes,’ these are the libations.

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi interprets it in regard to the gifts bestowed by God upon Israel. He says: The ‘vine’ is the Torah, the ‘three branches’ are the well, the pillar of smoke, and the manna; ‘and as it was budding its blossoms shot forth,’ these are the first fruits; ‘and the clusters thereof brought forth ripe grapes,’ these are the libations.

Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish said: This people Israel is like unto a vine: its branches are the aristocracy, its clusters the scholars, its leaves the common people, its twigs those in Israel that are void of learning. This is what was meant when word was sent from there (the Land of Israel) – ‘Let the clusters pray for the leaves, for were it not for the leaves the clusters could not exist.’

The imagery used by these Sages is that of an ordinary grapevine, which includes four parts:

  1. Zemorot – branches
  2. Eshkolot – clusters
  3. Alim – leaves
  4. Kenokanot – twigs

Chullin 93a-b: Giving an honest impression

The Mishnah on today’s daf teaches that a Jewish person can send the hindquarters of a kosher animal to a non-Jew as a present without removing the gid haNasheh – the forbidden sciatic nerve – and we do not fear lest the non-Jew will pass the meat on to a Jew who may eat it, since the place of the gid haNasheh is clear and no mistakes will be made.

The Gemara understands from the wording of the Mishnah that this is true only if the whole piece of meat is given to the non-Jew. If, however, the meat is cut up, then it cannot be given as a gift to the non-Jew. Several possible explanations are raised by the Gemara to explain why it would be prohibited to give a cut-up piece of meat as a gift to the non-Jew; ultimately the Gemara suggests that it is because of geneivat da’at – fraud. Shmuel is quoted as ruling that is forbidden to deceive all people, including non-Jews. The Gemara is concerned that a false impression has been created. The non-Jew may be grateful to his Jewish friend who is sending him meat fit for his own table, whereas in reality the meat sent could not be eaten by the Jew since the gid haNasheh had not been removed.

According to the Tosefta in Bava Kamma, geneivat da’at (literally, “stealing his mind”) is equivalent to actual theft. The proof to this idea is a passage in Sefer Shmuel (II Shmuel 15:6), which states that King David’s son, Avshalom “stole the hearts of the people of Israel.” The Ritva and other rishonim state clearly that misleading anyone – Jew or non-Jew – is a Biblical prohibition. That is clear from the Tosefta that rules that it is forbidden to sell non-kosher animals to a non-Jew who thinks that the meat is kosher. Shmuel’s addition in our Gemara is that this is true not only in the case of an untruthful sale, but even in a situation where by giving a gift the non-Jew will have a misimpression about the intentions of the person who gave the gift.

Chullin 94a-b: More on avoiding misimpressions

On yesterday’s daf we learned of Shmuel’s prohibition of geneivat da’at – of deceiving others. On today’s daf, the Gemara relates a number of stories about Shmuel that illustrate this ruling, and then continues with other examples of deception that are forbidden.

Rabbi Meir taught:

A man should not urge his friend to dine with him when he knows that his friend will not do so. And he should not offer him many gifts when he knows that his friend will not accept them. And he should not open for a guest casks of wine which are to be sold by the shopkeeper (and would, in any case, be opened), unless he informs the guest of it. And he should not invite him to anoint himself with oil if the jar is empty.

Similarly, the Gemara quotes a baraita:

Our Rabbis taught: A man should not sell to his neighbor shoes made of the hide of an animal which died, representing them as made of the hide of a living animal which was slaughtered, for two reasons: first, because he is deceiving him, and secondly, because of the possible danger. A man should not send to his neighbor a barrel of wine with oil floating at the mouth of it. It once happened that a man sent his friend a barrel of wine, and there was oil floating at the mouth of the barrel. He went and invited some guests to partake of it. When they came and he found that it was only wine he went and hanged himself.

Regarding misrepresenting the type of shoes being sold, the Sefer HaChasidim (No. 454) teaches that it is inappropriate to give the shoes that belonged to a man who died as charity to a pauper because of the danger involved. This teaching has led to the popular custom that people do not wear the shoes of someone who died. Nevertheless, the acharonim have pointed out that the source of concern about danger relates not to the shoes of a person who died, but to shoes that are made of hide taken from an animal that died, lest some residue of poison remains.

Chullin 95a-b: Relying on good omens

According to the Torah, “soothsaying and divination” are forbidden (see Vayikra 19:26). The Gemara on today’s daf limits this in a number of ways. Specifically, the Gemara distinguishes between “divination,” which is forbidden and “signs,” which are permitted.

Rav explains “divination” as follows: An omen which is not after the form pronounced by Eliezer, Avraham’s servant (see Bereshit 24:14), or by Yonatan the son of Shaul (see I Shmuel 14:9-10), is not considered a divination.

The question raised by the rishonim is how Eliezer and Yonatan were allowed to perform these divinations.

In the case of Eliezer, Avraham’s servant was charged with finding an appropriate wife for Yitzhak. The Ran argues that forbidden divination is only in a case where the signs that are sought out are without reason. In his case, by investigating whether the girl at the well was willing to be helpful to a stranger, he was able to ascertain whether she had the qualities that were appropriate, so this divination was permitted. Tosafot argue that Eliezer did not actually rely on the divination, since he waited to find out whose daughter Rivka was before giving her the presents (see verse 47; Tosafot views that passage as more accurate than the earlier description of events).

Similar explanations are given for the incident with Yonatan and his servant who determined to go to war based on the response of the Philistine soldiers. The Ran argues that based on their frightened response, Yonatan understood that a small group of brave soldiers would be able to fight the army. Tosafot argue that Yonatan planned to fight in any case; the divination was performed merely to encourage his servant to join him in his plans.

Although the poskim disagree whether it is permissible to make use of indications like these to decide one’s future direction, the Rambam concludes that someone who relies exclusively on his faith in God will be surrounded by God’s grace and protection (Mishnah, Hilkhot Avodat Kochavim 11:4).

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.