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
Our Gemara continues with the story of the final days of Rebbe – Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi.
The Gemara tells that Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi’s colleagues prayed and declared a fast, announcing that it was forbidden for anyone to say that Rebbe had died. The Rivan explains that they wanted to continue their prayers on his behalf and they recognized that a prayer for resurrection of the dead was inappropriate. Therefore they did not permit the announcement of his passing.
There was a woman who worked in Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi’s house who was known for her piety. She went to the roof and prayed as follows: “The upper regions want Rebbe and the lower regions want Rebbe. It should be Your will that the lower regions should prevail over the upper regions.” Upon seeing the pain and suffering that Rebbe was experiencing from his illness, the servant changed her prayer to advocate on behalf of the upper regions. When she realized that the Sages would not stop their prayers, she took an earthen vessel and threw it down from the roof. The crashing sound that it made distracted the Sages for a brief moment and Rebbe passed away.
The simple understanding of the servant’s prayer is that the angels in heaven and the scholars on earth were in a contest over Rebbe’s soul. The Maharsha offers a different perspective and argues at length that the upper and lower regions represent the soul and the body respectively. Thus, the struggle was between the freedom that the soul sought from the base connection to the body and the perfection that exists when the body and soul are together as one. Breaking the earthen vessel, according to the Maharsha, represents the destruction of the physical body (see Kohelet 12:6).
It is obvious that a judge cannot take a bribe (see Shemot 23:8). Nevertheless it is somewhat surprising to find that the Gemara forbids a judge to take money from both sides in a trial as payment for his judgment.
The Gemara tells of a judge named Karna who accepted payment from both parties and then offered his ruling. The Gemara explains that he was allowed to do this only because he did not take it as payment, but rather as sechar batalah – replacement for the income he would have made during that time. The Gemara explains further that even accepting sechar batalah is usually considered inappropriate; Karna was an exception because he had a job that everyone knew about. He was an expert wine tester, and when he sat in judgment he had a clear loss of income, which he accepted instead from the litigants who came to him to listen to their case.
Karna was a first generation amora, a contemporary of Shmuel. Together they welcomed Rav when he arrived in Babylon from Israel. In Masechet Sanhedrin we learn that the term dayanei golah – Diaspora judges – refers specifically to Karna, who also edited a collection of baraitot that is called nezikin d’bei Karna. As the Gemara notes, Karna was a professional wine taster who could ascertain which barrels should be used immediately and which would benefit from further aging.
With regard to the basic question of our Gemara, many of the commentaries deal with the issue of why it would be forbidden to take payment from both sides when judging a case. The Gemara seems to connect this with bribery, but if a bribe is forbidden because it will lead the judge to favor one side in the case, why would there be a problem taking payment from both sides?
On one level, this is seen as an issue of bribery. The Me’iri writes that having accepted money from both parties, the judge can no longer offer a true judgment because he is inclined positively towards both of them. On another level the problem is not an issue of bribery, but one of teaching Torah. There is a general principle that Torah should not be shared for a fee. Since it was given by God without cost it should be made available by scholars for free, as well.
As we saw on yesterday’s daf, our Gemara is discussing issues of bribery and the care that a judge must take to ensure that his decision will be free of any prejudice. One the stories related by the Gemara tells of Rav Anan, who refused to accept a basket of fish from someone who asked him to judge his case. Furthermore, Rav Anan informed the man that he could not act as a judge for him, since the offer of the basket of fish might influence any future decisions that he would make. Nevertheless, after listening to the man’s argument that he should be allowed to give the present since giving a present to a Torah scholar is, itself, a mitzvah (as a source, the man referred to a present that was given to the prophet Elisha – see II Melakhim 4:42), Rav Anan accepted the present and referred him to Rav Nachman for judgment.
When Rav Nachman received the letter from Rav Anan which explained that Rav Anan could not judge this man’s case and that he was, therefore, referring the case to Rav Nachman, Rav Nachman assumed that the man must have been related to Rav Anan and that it would be appropriate to hear his case before the other cases that were on his docket. When the other party saw the honor that was being given to this man, he lost his train of thought, did not defend himself well, and lost the case.
Although Rav Anan did not mean for this to happen, his response to the man’s offer skewed justice, and as a result the prophet Eliyahu, with whom Rav Anan studied on a regular basis, stopped coming to learn with him. Only after fasting and prayer did Eliyahu return, but Eliyahu’s presence became so frightening that Rav Anan had to make a box for himself to stay in while learning. Eliyahu’s teachings during that period are known as Seder Eliyahu Zuta, while the earlier teachings are known as Seder Eliyahu Rabbah.
We find many references in the Talmud to Eliyahu studying with the Talmudic sages. In II Divrei HaYamim (21:12) we find a letter sent to King Yehoram from the prophet Eliyahu years after he had passed away. The book Tanna d’vei Eliyahu is made up of two parts: Eliyahu Rabbah with 31 chapters and Eliyahu Zuta with 15 chapters. The entire book is in Hebrew, and it includes interpretations of biblical verses, stories of Jewish history over the generations, and first-person accounts that are presented as Eliyahu’s own words. Many quotes in the Talmud that are taken from this work open with the words “Tanna d’vei Eliyahu…”
In a list of halakhic rulings that appears on our daf, the Gemara pronounces that we follow the ruling of Rav Zevid with regard to kunai – glazed pottery. Rav Zevid ruled that glazed vessels are permitted – i.e. they are not absorbent and are thus permitted for use, even if non-kosher food was stored in them, if they are white or black, but are forbidden if they are green. This, however, applies only to those that have no cracks; if they have cracks we must assume that they absorbed the non-kosher food and are forbidden for use.
It appears that our Gemara is discussing the common method of covering a simple earthenware vessel – which is porous and therefore considered to be absorbent – with a protective glaze that would keep the vessel from absorbing food or liquid. This is done by pouring the glaze – made from liquid suspensions of various powdered minerals and metal oxides – on the piece and then firing it in a kiln.
The quality of the glazing and how well it will keep the pottery from absorbing things depend on the temperature of the kiln and the elements that are used in making the glaze. One of the most popular elements used in glazes – even today – is lead, to which various minerals are added to give the glaze its color. Some types of glaze are more susceptible to cracking, which would allow the pottery to absorb even after being covered with glaze. The different colors of the glaze that are mentioned in our Gemara indicate different methods of sealing vessels, some of which are better or more reliable than others. Some of them give the pottery the qualities of glass and are considered totally sealed, while others are considered to be porous even after undergoing this process.
Today’s Daf Yomi is dedicated in honor of the yahrzeit of Henrietta Dubinsky (9 Tevet).
The last Mishnah on our daf discusses a case in which a man promised a dowry to his son-in-law, but then cannot pay. In such a case we find that the Tanna Kamma and Admon disagree. According to the Tanna Kamma, the wife will remain in limbo forever, while according to Admon – whose opinion is accepted as the halacha – the wife may argue that she is not responsible for her father’s financial issues and demand that her husband either accept her or divorce her.
The term that the Mishnah uses to describe the father’s financial plight is pashat lo et ha-regel. This expression, which is the common modern Hebrew term for someone who is bankrupt, literally means “he stretched out his leg towards him.” There is some discussion among the commentaries in an attempt to explain the etymology of this phrase.
Rashi offers two suggestions. One approach is that this indicates disparagement, and that it is as though he is offering him the bottom of his shoe and saying, “take the dirt that is on my shoe, because you will get nothing more from me.” The other suggestion is that it means “even if you hang me from a tree I cannot pay because I have nothing to give you.”
Other possibilities include that it is a statement that, because he has no money, all the man has to offer is one of his limbs. The explanation that many rishonim raise – and that the Ritva presents as the best explanation – is that it means that the father upped and left and is no longer around to make good on his debts. The Me’iri offers a variation on this theme by suggesting that it means that the father passed away and therefore cannot pay.
Yesterday’s daf introduced us to a case where a woman’s father promises a dowry to his daughter, but then cannot pay his son-in-law. As we saw, in such a case there is a disagreement between the Tanna Kamma and Admon. According to the Tanna Kamma, the wife will remain in limbo forever, while according to Admon – whose opinion is accepted as the halakha – the wife may argue that she is not responsible for her father’s financial issues and demand that her husband either accept her or divorce her.
Tosafot bring the question that many of the rishonim ask: Why should the woman suffer because her father is not paying? If the father obligated himself, then it should be the responsibility of the court to force him to pay what he owes.
The Ritva points out that this question only applies according to those opinions that understand the expression pashat lo et ha-regel to mean that the father refuses to pay. If the father cannot pay because he has no money, the court can hardly force him to pay what he does not have. Still, according to the other approach, why doesn’t the court obligate him to pay and solve the problem? This question is especially powerful because of the ruling of Rav Gidel, which we studied earlier, that even verbal agreements on the financial arrangements surrounding a marriage are binding (see daf 102).
The Rashbam explains that the agreement is only binding if the wedding took place immediately after it was made, which clearly is not the case in our story. According to the Talmud Yerushalmi, Rav Gidel’s ruling applies only to a first marriage, and our Mishnah must be talking about a subsequent marriage.
One other issue that is raised by the commentaries with regard to this case is whether we consider the father to have fulfilled his agreement if he has no money at all, since he is then viewed by the halacha as an anoos – someone who was forced by circumstance and cannot be held responsible.
In discussing the plight of the poor, who cannot even enjoy improvement in their situation, the Gemara quotes Sefer Ben-Sira as saying that “All the days of a poor man are bad,” for even Shabbat and the holidays are difficult for him. Furthermore, Ben Sira is quoted as saying, “The nights also. Lower than all the roofs is his roof, and on the height of mountains is his vineyard, so that the rain of other roofs pours down upon his roof and the earth of his vineyard is washed down into the vineyards of others.”
These statements are based on the passage in Mishlei (15:15), and the quote appears to be additional insights that are attributed to Ben Sira.
Sefer Ben-Sira is one of the earliest books composed after the closing of the Biblical canon. It was authored by Shimon ben Yehoshua ben Sira, a native of Jerusalem, who was a younger contemporary of Shimon ha-Tzaddik, prior to the Hasmonean era. The book of Ben-Sira was held in great esteem, and after its translation into Greek by the author’s grandson (in the year 132 BCE in Alexandria), it because widely known even among those who were not familiar with the Hebrew language. Sefer Ben-Sira is included as a canonical work in the Septuagint (and therefore is considered such in many other translations of the Bible), and although the Sages chose to view it as one of the sefarim chitzoni’im – books outside of the canon – they quote it in a respectful manner throughout the Talmud, sometimes even referring to it as Ketuvim. Still, because of confusion between this work and another one that was known as Alfa-Beta d’Ben-Sira, which was a popular – and problematic – work, we find statements in the Gemara forbidding the study of Sefer Ben-Sira.
For generations Sefer Ben-Sira was known only from its translations, but recently parts of it have been found in the original Hebrew (in Masada and elsewhere). Since it was not part of the official Biblical canon it appears that the copyists felt more freedom when working with it and we find several different versions of the same text. When it appears in the Talmud it seems likely that it is being quoted by heart by the Sages, rather than from a written text. The statements quoted in our Gemara, for example, are not found in extant translations or manuscripts of Sefer Ben-Sira.
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.