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 first Mishnah in Masechet Ketubot teaches that there were specific days for marriages during that period in history. Women who were virgins getting married for the first time would get married on Wednesdays, while widows would get married on Thursdays. The Mishnah does not offer any reason for establishing wedding dates on Thursdays for widows, but explains that the establishment of Wednesday for first-time weddings stems from the desire of the Sages to encourage the husband to come to bet din on Thursday morning should he find that his wife was not, in fact, a virgin. Since Jewish courts ordinarily sat on Mondays and Thursdays, it made sense for weddings to take place on Wednesdays.
The Gemara goes on to explain that the establishment of Thursdays for widows – and, for that matter, the reason that first-time weddings did not take place on Sundays – was because of shakdu – that the Sages wanted to ensure at least three days of preparations for the wedding. In effect this meant that weddings could take place only at the end of the week.
It should be noted that the Mishna’s concern with the possibility that the woman was not a virgin was only a problem in Talmudic times when there was a significant amount of time between the betrothal (kiddushin) and completion of the marriage (nissu’in). In such a situation, if the woman had committed adultery during that period, she would be forbidden to her husband, and it would be essential for him to present the facts to the courts to rule on what happened. Today, when the kiddushin and nisu’in take place one after another under the chuppah, this concern no longer exists. In any case, the basic halakha of the Mishnah was one that raised a series of questions among the rishonim. Do we truly need to be suspicious of an adulterous act? And even if we do suspect that the woman had a sexual relationship with someone other than her husband, perhaps it took place before the kiddushin, and she will be permitted to her husband in any case. In short, why is there a need to establish such a rule for a most unlikely case?
Many explanations are given in answer to these questions. Rashi suggests that we are simply trying to bring a suspicious case to bet din in the hope that witnesses will step forward to help us clarify the matter. The Shita Mekubetzet suggests that the Mishnah offers only one reason for the rule. The main reasons are those mentioned in the Gemara – shakdu, as well as the idea that there is a special blessing for marriage on Thursday (i.e. Wednesday night, after the wedding) and Friday, paralleling the blessings given on the fifth and sixth days of creation (see Bereshit 1:22, 28).
We have learned that the Sages of the Mishnah established Wednesday as the appropriate day of the week for the wedding of a virgin to take place. The Gemara on our daf brings a baraita that teaches that already in Mishnaic times, this practice ended. According to the baraita, from the time of sakana – danger – people began to make weddings on Tuesdays, with the tacit approval of the Sages.
What danger existed that changed the traditional day of marriage?
The Gemara rejects the possibility that there was a threat of death for those who married on Wednesdays, and explains that there was a governmental decree that stated betula ha-niset be-yom ha-revi’i, tiba’el la-hegmon tehilah – “any virgin marrying on Wednesdays will first be deflowered by the prefect.”
Edicts like this one, whose purpose is to emphasize the total control that the local ruler has over his subjects, were commonplace in the ancient world. Even during medieval times, among the rights that the feudal lord had over his serfs was the “right of the first night (jus primae noctis).” Several sources – whose reliability is subject to question – indicate that these types of edicts existed in the period prior to the Hasmonean revolution.
In answer to the Gemara’s question that such a situation should have brought the Sages to rescind the original rule of Wednesday weddings, the Gemara retorts gezeira avidah de-batlah, ve-takanta de-rabbanan mi-kamei gezeira lo akrinan – the edict will likely be rescinded, and we do not want to abolish a Rabbinic ordinance because of such an edict. Interestingly, the word gezeirah – an edict – was inserted by the censor, replacing the term shemada. In Rabbinic sources, the word shemad refers generally to edicts or punishments whose purpose is to force Jews to renounce their religion. The geonim explain its etymology as stemming from the Aramaic “to wash” or “to immerse” and a meshumad – an apostate – is a Jew who was baptized. This term was viewed as being derogatory (the term also refers to a chamber pot), and was therefore replaced by the censors.
On today’s daf we are presented with a difficult case. What if just prior to the wedding one of the parents of the bride or groom passes away? Can the wedding celebration take precedence over the mourning and the funeral, or must the wedding be postponed?
The baraita teaches that we first perform the wedding (burying the parent afterwards) and the week of sheva brachot. Only afterwards does the week of mourning begin.
In order to understand this, we need to clarify the differences between an onen, who has lost a relative and is preoccupied with the funeral, and an avel, who has already begun the mourning process. According to the Rambam, an onen is not obligated in any of the restrictions of an avel, and he is essentially permitted to bathe, to eat meat and drink wine and to engage in relations with his wife. According to this approach, the baraita’s suggestion is easy to understand – as long as the late parent has not yet been buried there are no restrictions that would keep the couple from getting married.
The Ramban, however, believes that under ordinary circumstances an onen would not be permitted to engage in sexual relations. Nevertheless, as a rabbinic ordinance, it is permitted in this unique case. The Rosh explains that postponing the wedding may cause financial hardship that may limit the celebration of the marriage; the Radbaz points out that we are not eliminating the mourning period, merely postponing it.
When exactly the aninut ends and avelut begins is the subject of a dispute between Rabbi Eliezer, who rules that it is the moment that the mourner leaves his house for the burial, and Rabbi Yehoshua, according to whom it is the moment when the gollel is closed.
The commentaries disagree about how to define a gollel. Rashi explains that it is the cover to a casket. Tosafot suggest that it is a rounded stone that was used to close up a burial cave (several such stones have been found near ancient burial caves in Israel). During the times of the Mishnah , common burial practice was to place the body in a temporary grave where it would decompose. At a later date, the bones would be removed and transferred to a family burial cave. The round shape of the gollel stone allowed it to be rolled, closing the cave, yet easily opening when necessary.
The baraita teaches that a celebratory party for a wedding should not take place on Saturday night. This prohibition is at first explained by Rabbi Zeira as stemming from a concern that the groom will be involved in cheshbonot on Shabbat – that he will be focused on mundane matters on Shabbat. In response to this suggestion, Abayye queries v’cheshbonot shel mitzvah me asiri? – are cheshbonot connected with a mitzvah forbidden? To support his contention, Abayye lists a number of Sages who permit a wide variety of “mundane” activities that are permitted on Shabbat because of the mitzvah involved. These include:
- assigning charity to the poor on Shabbat
- discussions of public affairs that take place in synagogues and houses of study
- saving lives
- attending theatres and circuses to guard the public interest
- arranging marriages
- negotiating for tutors
Convinced by Abayye’s argument, Rabbi Zeira explains instead that the concern in our case is that actual preparations for the celebration may begin on Shabbat.
The prohibition to engage in discussions of mundane matters on Shabbat stems from the passage in Yeshayahu (58:13) that commands that Shabbat be honored, and that personal matters be avoided. The Gemara in Masechet Shabbat (150b) clarifies that only personal matters are forbidden, but that “matters of heaven” – i.e. mitzvot – would be permitted.
Of the list of activities permitted by Abayye, “attending theatres and circuses” stands out as an odd activity. Theatres and circuses were used not only for entertainment purposes, but also for other types of large gatherings. On occasion, the events that took place in these arenas – including anti-Jewish agitation – led to rioting that spilled into the streets. The presence of Jewish people in these theatres and circuses could be helpful, both to quiet these uprisings before they developed or minimally to warn others that they were about to take place. Occasionally, Jewish people were forced to participate in the matches in the arena, and with the support of Jews who were in the audience they might be saved.
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.