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
As we have learned, Judaism views sexual relations between husband and wife to be not just a mitzvah, but an obligation that a husband has to his wife.
The Mishnah (61b) discusses the frequency with which such relations are required and concludes that depending on the husband’s job – which determines how often he is home – there are greater or lesser expectations. Thus, an unemployed man may be expected to sleep with his wife every night, while a sailor is only obligated to do so once every six months.
Our Gemara discusses the obligation of married talmidei chachamim – individuals who have dedicated themselves to the study of Torah. Rav Yehuda quotes Shmuel as ruling that talmidei chachamim are obligated to have marital relations every Friday night. In the Talmud Yerushalmi, Rav is quoted as pointing out that this ruling follows his interpretation of the next Mishnah (64b), where we learn that talmidei chachamim eat with their wives every Friday night, a teaching that is understood by Rav to be a euphemism for engaging in marital relations.
Rashi offers a simple explanation for the choice of Friday night. He says that the night of Shabbat is a time that is set aside for rest and physical pleasure, which makes it particularly appropriate for sexual relations. The Rivan adds that according to the Gemara in Masechet Shabbat, Friday night is not a time that talmidei chachamim would ordinarily be in the study hall, so it does not divert their attention from their studies.
The ruling that Friday night is the ideal time for talmidei chachamim to be engaged in sexual relations is repeated numerous times in the Zohar, which offers Kabbalistic explanations for this practice, going so far as to suggest that Friday night is the only time that talmidei chachamim are permitted to have relations.
Our Gemara is the source for one of the greatest Talmudic love stories – Rabbi Akiva and Rachel.
Rachel was the daughter of Ben Kalba Savu’a, who came from one of the wealthiest and most politically powerful families in Israel during the time of the destruction of the Second Temple. Akiva, a 40-year-old shepherd who worked for Ben Kalba Savu’a, asked Rachel to marry him. She agreed to do so if he promised to devote himself to the study of Torah after their wedding. Akiva agreed to do so, and they secretly married. Upon learning of this Ben Kalba Savu’a threw Rachel out of his house and disowned her, condemning her to a life of poverty while Akiva studied. The Talmud relates that after 12 years of study, Akiva returned with 12,000 students, but before entering his house he heard his wife say that she would be willing to have her husband continue to learn for another 12 years. Taking her on her word, he returned to the beit midrash for another 12 years, returning home this time with 24,000 students.
According to the Gemara, by this time Ben Kalba Savu’a had come to regret the decision to disown his daughter, and upon hearing that a great Rabbi had come to town he called on him to ask to annul his vow. Rabbi Akiva asked him whether he would have made the vow to disown his daughter had she married a Torah scholar. Upon informing him that he would not have done so even if his son-in-law knew a single chapter or verse, Akiva identified himself. Released from his vow, Ben Kalba Savu’a gave the couple half of his estate.
One question that is raised by the commentaries focuses on how Rabbi Akiva’s newfound knowledge could be a reason to annul a vow. Ordinarily an argument that is nolad – a new situation – cannot be used as a reason to undo a vow; rather, it needs to be a mistake that existed at the time that the vow was made. The Ritva argues that since the marriage was predicated on Akiva’s willingness to study, his success could not be considered nolad; furthermore it is likely that he did have some learning at the time the vow was made. The Me’iri suggests that every person who is potentially a scholar – as Rabbi Akiva proved to be – cannot be considered without knowledge.
Our Mishnah discusses the case of someone who leaves his wife and appoints someone to make sure that she has all of her needs as delineated by the ketubah. The Mishnah lists the basic requirements that must be supplied in such a case: food, furnishings, clothing and so on. The simple reading of the Rambam seems to imply that a husband can unilaterally choose this arrangement with his wife. Many point out that the simple reading of the Gemara – both the Talmud Bavli and Talmud Yerushalmi – does not appear to permit such an arrangement without the wife’s agreement. In fact, the Rashba, the Re’ah and others explain the Mishnah according to the Yerushalmi – that our case is one in which the wife agreed to this arrangement.
The Ri”d and the Ra’avad explain our case to be when the husband’s work keeps him away from home for the entire week, a situation that existed from the time of their wedding, indicating that she accepted this when she married. The Me’iri argues that even the Rambam would not have allowed a man to arrange for his wife to sleep with another family; this arrangement could only be made with the wife living in her husband’s house and being clothed and fed by a third party.
As noted, the husband must arrange for his wife to be fed and clothed, and the Mishnah enumerates specific foods, clothing and furniture for which monies must be made available for her. Clothing, for example, includes a kippah for her head and a belt, shoes, and 50 zuz annually for the purchase of clothing. The kippah was the common head covering made of wool or some other material, which covered most of a woman’s hair. During the time of the Mishnah, women would not walk outside with just a kippah on, but rather would cover themselves a second time with a shawl, kerchief or hat, as well as other fashion items.
The Mishnah (64b) discusses a case where the husband is not living at home and has instructed a third-party to make sure that his wife’s needs are taken care of, as required by the ketubah. In such a case the Mishnah lists basic requirements (such as food, furnishings, clothing and the like) that must be supplied.
The Gemara notes that among the food and drinks that are listed, wine does not appear. This would seem to support the teaching of Rabbi Eliezer that women are not given wine as part of their regular support, the passage in Hoshea (2:7) notwithstanding (the word shikuyay in that pasuk, or verse, is interpreted to mean “jewelry”). In a parallel discussion of this topic in the Talmud Yerushalmi a different passage from Hoshea is brought (4:11), which indicates that wine is seen as the source of licentiousness. This explains why it is seen as particularly inappropriate for inclusion in the diet of a married woman who is living alone.
Nevertheless, the Gemara points to individual cases where women who ordinarily drank wine were given a set amount as part of their allotment of basic needs. Nakdimon ben Gurion‘s daughter-in-law, for example, was given two se’ah of wine for cooking purposes every week. The Gemara records that she blessed the Sages by saying “in their time, your daughters should be granted this, as well.” (While our Gemara appears to accept this as an attempt to bless the Sages for their sensitivity, and notes that they did not respond amen because she was a widow and they did not wish this on their daughters, the Talmud Yerushalmi tells the same story but interprets her “blessing” as one of sarcasm because she viewed the amount that she was given as less than her needs. According to the Yerushalmi they answered amen, because for an average person it was a huge allotment.)
The conclusion of both our Gemara and the Yerushalmi appears to be that wealthy women were given an allotment of wine for both drinking and cooking, if that was their common practice.
The sixth perek of Masechet Ketubot focuses on the nedunya – the dowry that a woman brings into her marriage. This nedunya is not a biblical obligation and is not considered a required part of the marriage agreement. Nevertheless, over time traditions developed that were given legal sanction by the Sages of the Mishnah.
Rav Yehudah quotes Rav as telling the story of Nakdimon ben Gurion‘s daughter, who was allotted 400 gold pieces for her daily perfumes. Upon hearing their decision, she blessed them that their daughters should receive such a dowry, as well – a blessing that the Sages readily accepted by saying amen (this is in contrast with the blessing that his daughter-in-law offered that we learned about on yesterday’s daf). The Talmud Yerushalmi presents her “blessing” as a sarcastic statement, because she felt that the money allotted was not enough to fulfill her daily needs. The Sages’ ready acceptance was because this was more than any common woman would receive.
Nakdimon ben Gurion was one of the wealthiest residents of Jerusalem during the period of the destruction of the Second Temple. The Gemara in Masechet Ta’anit (20a) tells of his generosity and concern for the Jewish people, as well as the miracle that happened to him to repay his debts.
His great wealth is mentioned a number of times in the Talmud. The Gemara in Gittin relates that he and two other wealthy people accepted upon themselves the responsibility to support the city of Jerusalem for the duration of the Roman siege around the city, and that with his wealth could have succeeded in doing so for 20 years. Nevertheless it appears that during the civil war that broke out in the city, his storehouses were destroyed and he was left destitute. This explains the continuation of our Gemara in which the daughter who mocked the allotment of perfume that she received eventually turns to Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai to beg for support.
We all know that it is a mitzvah to give charity. According to Jewish law, the ideal would be to offer support to others anonymously, particularly when it might be embarrassing to know who the giver is.
Our Gemara tells of Mar Ukva who would slip four zuz under a needy neighbor’s door every day. One particular day, when Mar Ukva was accompanied by his wife, the neighbor decided that he wanted to see his benefactor. When they realized that he was coming after them, the couple ran away and found a hiding place in a large oven. Although there was no fire going, it was still hot from previous use, and Mar Ukva’s feet were singed. His wife suggested that he stand on her feet in order to protect his own. Mar Ukva was disturbed that his wife’s merit protected her from the heat of the furnace, while his did not. Her explanation was that as someone who was found in her kitchen at home, she was able to offer direct support to poor people who came to her door, while he gave charity that still needed to be taken and used by the poor person to purchase his needs. In explaining their behavior, the Gemara quotes Rabbi Yochanan in the name of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, who taught that a person should sooner throw himself into a fiery furnace than publicly embarrass his friend.
Mar Ukva headed the Babylonian community in the first generation of Amoraim. Aside from his political position, he was also one of the acknowledged rabbinic leaders, who was a student of Shmuel. He is quoted many times throughout the Talmud in discussions with his contemporaries, and he was in close contact with the Sages of Israel, with whom he exchanged letters. Most important, for our purposes, was his reputation as a righteous, generous man, particularly in the realm of charity. This story also led to a nickname to which he was referred by his contemporaries; ketina harikh shaki – the short one with the burnt legs.
On yesterday’s daf, we learned of the importance of charity, an idea reaffirmed on our daf with the statement of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korha. He taught that a person who turns away from opportunities to give charity is compared to someone who worships idols. The idea that stands behind this is that a person who recognizes that his fortune is in the hand of God is willing to share with the poor, while someone who does not give to the poor is showing that he believes that his success is due solely to his own efforts and that God plays no role in it – a belief that is not far from denying God’s role in the world.
Nevertheless, there are rules that regulate whether one is allowed to accept charity. The Mishnah in Pe’ah (8:8) teaches that a person is only permitted to accept charity if he has less than 200 zuz to his name, but that does not include his home or other personal items that he is not obligated to sell. Our Gemara points to an apparently contradictory statement in the Tosefta, which teaches that a person who owns gold utensils should sell them and purchase silver ones for his use; if he own silver utensils he should sell them and purchase copper ones. Thus it appears that a person is obligated to sell his property to finance himself before he can take charity.
Several answers are suggested. Rav Papa distinguishes between kodem she-yavo le-yedei gibuy and le-ahar she-yavo le-yedei gibuy – whether or not it has reached a point of collection.
Defining this enigmatic statement is the point of some controversy among the rishonim:
- Rashi understands this to mean that we must distinguish between someone who has not taken money yet and someone who has done so illegally. In the latter case, we force him to sell personal items.
- The Rashba quotes Rabbeinu Tam as differentiating between someone who took from charity that was left for any poor person to take, and charity that was collected on his behalf.
- According to the Ritva the difference will be whether he had valuables that he used even before he was struck with poverty (which we do not make him sell) or if he received them when he was already getting charity (which we do make him sell). Interestingly, the Rosh quotes Rabbeinu Tam as suggesting exactly the opposite.
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.