Today’s daf discusses the classic case of a mesokhria d’naizyata – a stopper made of cloth – that cannot be used to close a wine barrel on Yom Tov. The prohibition stems from the fact that when the stopper is tightened it will invariably squeeze out some of the liquid, and squeezing liquid out of cloth is forbidden on Shabbat and Yom Tov.
Although it is taken for granted that squeezing liquid out of cloth is forbidden on Shabbat, the exact source of this prohibition is unclear. It appears that sohet – squeezing – is most likely a toldah – a derivative – of one of the 39 activities forbidden on Shabbat, specifically:
- Dash (threshing), or mefarek, which involves removing desirable contents from a peel or covering that is unnecessary or unwanted,
- Melaben (whitening), when squeezing out the liquid is part of a washing process, or
- Tzove’ah (coloring), when squeezing out the liquid leaves the cloth a different color.
The Sho’el U’Meishiv suggests an interesting proof that the prohibition on squeezing is not derived from mefarek. The case presented in our Gemara refers specifically to the activity being performed on Yom Tov, when, unlike on Shabbat, activities done for the purpose of food preparation are permitted. Thus the prohibition must stem from either melaben or tzove’ah.
The Arukh presents an entirely different approach to this Gemara, one that is apparently a tradition dating back to the time of the Ge’onim. According to this approach, the mesokhria d’naizyata is not a cloth stopper, but a wooden piece that acts as a cover to an opening in the side of the wine barrel. Thus, the concern is not one of squeezing, but rather an issue of possible boneh – building. For all that the individual’s intent is to keep the wine from leaking out of the barrel, nevertheless by securing the cover on the barrel, he is effectively completing the side of the barrel, which would be forbidden on Shabbat and Yom Tov.
Today’s daf continues the discussion of activities that are permitted or forbidden on Yom Tov. As we have learned, activities that are essential for food preparation (e.g. cooking and kneading) are permitted on Yom Tov, even though they are prohibited on Shabbat. This is based on a passage in Sefer Shemot (12:16), which clearly forbids work on the holiday, but permits those activities that are needed to prepare food. Our Gemara suggests that this rule can also be extended to other situations – mi-tokh she-hutrah letzorekh, hutrah nami she-lo le-tzorekh – that is to say, once a specific activity is permitted on Yom Tov for cooking, we may rule that it is permitted even in situations when the activity is done for reasons other than cooking.
In general, the question of whether certain activities are permitted on Yom Tov – even if they are not directly connected with food preparation – is a disagreement between Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel in Masechet Beitzah (daf 12). Both Tosafot and the Rashba point out, however, that even according to Bet Hillel, who permit food preparation activities in other settings, we do not have blanket permission to do those activities. Only if they are necessary for Yom Tov will they be permitted. Furthermore, the Gemara makes it clear that if the activity is not universally perceived as being necessary, it will remain forbidden.
Rav Papa gives an example of something that not everyone feels is essential for Yom Tov: mugmar. This burning incense was used to perfume clothing or a dwelling-place. A clay or metal vessel held the incense, whose vapor would rise up through holes in the cover, or, in some cases, once the incense was heated, the cover was removed to allow the smoke to rise. Mugmar was only used in wealthy homes, and even in such homes it was a matter of personal taste; this clearly explains Rav Papa’s presentation of it as a davar she’eino shaveh le-khol nefesh – something that is not universally desired or required.
Our Gemara discusses the seven blessings that are made at a Jewish wedding, and also recited afterwards. For the entire week after the wedding, celebratory meals in honor of the bride and the groom are accompanied by sheva berakhot – a series of seven unique blessings that are added to birkat ha-mazon, the grace after meals. These blessings include statements that welcome the wedding guests, recall the creation of Adam and Chava (the first couple in the Garden of Eden), mention the consolation of Jerusalem (based on the passage in Tehillim 137:6), and finally wish the new couple well at their wedding and their future endeavors.
It is interesting to note that the Gemara describes situations where six blessings were recited, even though the special blessings have been referred to in Rabbinic literature as sheva brachot – seven blessings – since before the time of the rishonim. It is clear that, already in the time of the Ge’onim, the blessing of borei peri ha-gafen on a cup of wine was added to the special wedding blessings, which would, indeed, create a set of seven berakhot. The Rokeach brings proofs from the Talmud Yerushalmi that seem to support the idea that the blessing over a cup of wine was part-and-parcel of the wedding ceremony. Other sources (Siddur Rav Amram Ga’on, for example) suggest that an additional blessing was made over a hadas (myrtle leaves) as part of the ceremony. There are also opinions which seemingly indicate that it was common practice to recite both a borei peri ha-gafen on a cup of wine and a borei minei besamim on a hadas during the wedding ceremony.
In his Sefer ha-Yashar, Rabbenu Tam deals with this question differently. As we have learned, it is common practice today to combine the kiddushin (betrothal) and nissu’in (marriage) in one ceremony under a huppah. Thus, the blessing that is made on the betrothal, along with the six marriage blessings, comprise the sheva berakhot.
Our Gemara describes an adulterous relationship that would lead to a wife becoming forbidden to her husband as one that is similar to ma’aseh she-hayah – “the event that took place.”
Rabbenu Chananel writes that there was a long-standing tradition to identify this ma’aseh she-hayah with the story of King David and Bat-Sheva (see II Shmuel, chapters 11–12), and this tradition is accepted by all of the commentaries on the Gemara. They explain that, out of respect for King David, the story is referred to obliquely rather than in a straightforward manner.
The obvious question here, however, is that it appears from the story that Bat-Sheva becomes forbidden to neither her husband Uriah, nor to King David! By way of explanation, the Gemara brings a teaching of Rav Shmu’el bar Nahmani in the name of Rabbi Yohanan, which says that every soldier who went off to battle in King David’s army would first write a get keritut – a divorce document – to his wife.
Rashi explains that these divorces were conditional; they were to take effect retroactively only if the soldier were to die in battle. The purpose of the divorce was to save the widow from the need to deal with issues of yibum (levirate marriage) or halitzah. Although this appears to limit the effect of the divorce to a very narrow range of people, it is likely that we should understand Rashi as referring more broadly to any case where the soldier does not return at the end of the war, including situations where the soldier is captured or goes missing. This explanation, which is offered by the Ramban and Tosafot, would apply to any woman who would then be saved from being an agunah – a woman “anchored” to a missing husband – by means of this get.
The Mishnah teaches that the ketubah of an almanah (widow) guarantees the sum of a maneh (100 dinars), while that of a betulah (virgin) is 200 dinar. In searching for the etymology of the term almanah, Rav Hana Bagdata’ah suggests that it stems from the maneh that a widow receives.
In typical Gemara fashion, this statement segues into other statements made by this sage, Rav Hana Bagdata’ah. In one of them, he teaches of the virtues of eating dates: dates warm a person, satiate him, act as a laxative and strengthen, but they do not make him delicate. This discussion includes other opinions on this subject, as well. Rav teaches that if one has eaten dates, he should not give legal decisions. The Gemara explains that this is because dates are similar to wine, which can be intoxicating. Another position is presented by Abayye, who quotes his mother as teaching him that dates are problematic before a meal, but they are good to eat after a meal.
Dates are very high in calories – about 270 calories per 100 grams of dried dates, most of which are sugars that are easily digested. This gives dates both the qualities of satiation and warming. The high fiber content of dates is what gives them the quality of a laxative. The advice to avoid eating dates before the meal stems from the fact that they give a sense of being full, thus limiting one’s appetite. For the same reason they are ideal at the end of a meal.
Eating a large amount of highly concentrated sugar-heavy foods raises the sugar level in the blood, which can lead to dizziness and drowsiness – similar to the effects of alcohol consumption. This is probably the source for the ruling that someone who eats dates should not offer legal decisions.
Our Gemara focuses on the question of a convert, and specifically of a child who is brought before the bet din to convert. Rav Huna teaches that the Jewish courts will accept a child as a convert, although Rav Yosef adds that when such a convert reaches maturity, he or she will have the option of rejecting Judaism.
Under what circumstances will the court actually convert a minor?
The Gemara offers one straightforward case – when a father comes before the court to convert and brings his children to convert, as well. In such a case, we assume that children are inclined to accept their father’s choices for them. In other cases, we work with the assumption that becoming Jewish is ultimately a benefit for the individual, and bet din will convert the child based on the rule that something which is beneficial can be done on another person’s behalf, even without his/her knowledge.
Rashi suggests that the case under discussion is one in which the family has no father and the child’s mother is bringing him before the court for conversion. Other rishonim object to this reading of the Gemara, arguing that this is the same case as the one where a father brings his child to the bet din; there is really no reason to distinguish between a mother and a father in such cases. The Ritva suggests that the case is where the parents bring their child to convert even though they have no intention of converting themselves. Others understand the case to be where a child – one who has clearly reached the age of understanding even though he is still a minor – appears before the Jewish court on his own.
According to all of these opinions, it appears that Jewish courts will consider converting a child who is brought before them or comes on his own. Under no circumstances, however, will bet din initiate such proceedings on their own. There is an opinion brought by the Ran, however, that if the court acted on its own initiative, the conversion will be acceptable bedi’avad (ex post facto).
As we have learned, during Talmudic times it was common practice for the kiddushin (betrothal) to take place a full year before the nissu’in (marriage). Our Mishnah teaches that in Yehudah – the southern part of Israel – it was not unusual to allow the bride and groom to become intimate prior to the nissu’in, and that in such cases the groom could not claim at the time of the nissu’in that his wife was not a virgin (as we have learned – see 2a – such a claim would need to be brought before the bet din to clarify whether adultery may have taken place).
The Talmud Yerushalmi offers an explanation for the tradition of Yehudah that is quoted by many of the commentaries on our Gemara. As we learned earlier in Masechet Ketubot (3a), during the times of the Mishnah there was a governmental decree stating that 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.” In order to ensure that the couple would develop a healthy marital relationship – and that the wife would not have her first sexual experience at the hands of a Roman prefect – the man and woman were encouraged to develop a close relationship even before the completion of the marriage ceremony. Rabbenu Yehonatan adds that once the prefect realized that the Jewish women were no longer virgins at the time of their weddings, the edict was no longer kept and it fell into disuse.
What is clear from all of the rishonim is that for all that the Mishnah uses a term of modesty “when one eats at his father-in-law’s home in Yehudah,” the bride and groom actually engaged in a physical – and perhaps even sexual – relationship. The Me’iri writes that this relationship, which was, in effect, consummation of their marriage, was often celebrated with a festive meal, which is the reference in the Mishnah to a meal at the father-in-law’s house.
The Talmud Yerushalmi concludes by saying that this Judean tradition remained, even after the governmental edict ended.
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.