Masechet Makkot 14a-20b

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17 Jun 2010

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.

Makkot 14a-b: The value of admitting “I don’t know”

As we learned on yesterday’s daf, the third perek of Masechet Makkot focuses on the punishment of malkot (lashes). According to the Mishnah (13a) someone who engages in a variety of incestuous relationships is liable to receive malkot. The Gemara on today’s daf tries to establish whether someone who engaged in a number of different forbidden unions would receive a separate punishment for each one, or, perhaps, a single punishment would suffice for all.

The Gemara quotes a baraita that relates that this question was not raised in the bet midrash, rather that Rabbi Akiva posed the matter to Rabban Gamliel and Rabbi Yehoshua when he chanced upon them in the itliz in the city of Eima’um (the city was situated about 30 kilometers west of Jerusalem and was a popular vacation spot thanks to its thermal pools). According to the baraita, Rabban Gamliel and Rabbi Yehoshua could not answer this question directly, and their attempts to cite comparable cases with clear rulings as precedent were rejected.

In modern Hebrew an itliz is a butcher store, and it is likely that that was where these Sages met. The source for the word in Latin may be a marketplace, or, perhaps a duty-free zone, which eventually became interchangeable with a market.

According to Tosafot, the detail describing that the interaction took place in the itliz was brought in order to teach that even while busy in the marketplace the Sages were open to discuss topics of Torah. Furthermore the Tiferet Yisrael points out that according to this story even though they were standing in a public place with crowds of people watching, Rabban Gamliel and Rabbi Yehoshua were not embarrassed to admit that they did not know the answer to Rabbi Akiva’s question (when this story appears in Masechet Keritot there is a list of questions to which they admit that they did not know the answer).

Makkot 15a-b: When will the Torah punish an offender, and when not?

We have learned that there are many Biblical prohibitions that will lead to different types of punishment. Are there any for which there is no punishment at all?

It should be noted that generally speaking, a person will only receive punishment for actions that he did that are prohibited. Were someone to neglect to perform a positive commandment, in most cases, the Torah does not punish him at all; he simply missed out on his opportunity to do a mitzvah.

The Gemara on today’s daf mentions a number of situations where a person may commit a forbidden act, and yet the normal punishment of malkot (lashes) would not apply to him.

One such case is a lav she-ein bo ma’aseh – a negative commandment that does not have an action attached to it. The example in the Gemara is someone who takes an oath that he will eat a loaf of bread today, and then the day passes and he has not eaten the bread. In this case Rabbi Yochanan explains that as a lav she-ein bo ma’aseh there will be no punishment at all.

Another situation where there is no punishment is in a case of a lav ha-nitak la’asei – a negative commandment that must be repaired by the performance of a positive commandment. An example of this is the prohibition against stealing (see Vayikra 19:13) that is followed by a positive commandment to return stolen property (Vayikra 5:23).

Although the ruling is the same in these two cases, the mechanism behind them differs. In the case of a lav she-ein bo ma’aseh, we have a situation that is similar to someone who overlooks a positive commandment. He has not done anything that is a punishable offense. On the other hand, in the case of a lav ha-nitak la’asei the person did commit a punishable crime, but the Torah prefers that a different, more equitable, correction be made to the act, rather than simply offer a random punishment to the offender.

Makkot 16a-b: The Torah requires us to avoid disgusting activities

Among the people listed in the Mishnah as deserving the punishment of malkot (lashes) are people who eat animals that are not kosher, including animals that were killed improperly, those that were sick when they were slaughtered, as well as insects and other creepy-crawly creatures. The Gemara lists some of these creatures, noting that they may fall under more than one category and cause the person who eats them to be liable for several sets of lashes. For example, Abayye teaches that someone who eats an ant would be liable for five separate transgressions (two based on Vayikra 11:43, as well as additional transgressions that appear in that chapter in verses 41, 42 and 44), while someone who eats a hornet would be liable for six (the ones noted above, as well as one mentioned in Devarim 14:19).

The most basic prohibition appears in Sefer Vayikra (20:25) lo teshaktzu et nafshoteikhem. While the passage in the Torah clearly relates to eating shekatzim – insects and similar disgusting creatures – some of the Sages applied the prohibition to other settings, as well. For example, Rav Achai understands that we can learn from that passage that someone who does not go to the bathroom when he needs to violates this commandment; Rav Beivai bar Abayye learns that someone who drinks from a karna d’umna – an instrument used in the course of bloodletting – has violated it.

Rashi explains that the karna d’umna are the small beakers that were used in cupping, where the blood was extracted from the body by means of the creation of a vacuum. It is also possible that it refers to the siphon that was used to remove the blood during bloodletting. In any case, the instrument likely had on it remnants of congealed human blood.

Almost all of the commentaries explain that these are not actually Torah prohibitions, rather the Sages taught that certain behaviors paralleled the commandment to avoid disgusting activities, and that they are, therefore, forbidden on a rabbinic level.

Makkot 17a-b: Sometimes even eating “just a little” can be significant

When discussing the prohibition against eating forbidden foods, how much must a person eat in order to be held liable?

According to the Mishnah (13a) there is a difference of opinion on this question. With regard to tevel – untithed produce that is forbidden – Rabbi Shimon believes that eating even a tiny amount would be enough for someone to be held liable; the Chachamim rule that a person must eat at least a kezayit – an amount of food equivalent to an olive-size. By way of explanation, the Mishnah brings a conversation between the Sages. Rabbi Shimon argued “Do you not agree that someone who eats a tiny ant will be held liable?” To which the Chachamim answered “A tiny ant is ke-beriyato” – it is a full creature. Rabbi Shimon replied that a single piece of grain is also ke-beriyato.

Our Gemara explains that the point of disagreement between the Sages is dependent on the question of whether only a living creature would be considered important enough for its statues as ke-beriyato to be significant. The Gemara concludes the explanation of Rabbi Shimon’s position by explaining that according to him a person would be liable to receive the punishment of malkot (lashes) even if he ate a small amount; were he to have done the forbidden act accidentally and have been required to bring a sin-offering, he would only be obligated in a sacrifice if he ate the amount of a kezayit.

Rashi explains this last ruling – that a sacrifice will only be brought if a kezayit worth was eaten – as being based on a halacha le-Moshe mi-Sinai – an oral tradition handed to Moses on Mount Sinai. The Ritva, however, offers an explanation. If someone is liable to receive malkot, he clearly has eaten the forbidden food on purpose. In that case, his decision to eat the food shows that in his mind the food is important, even if it is a very small amount – for which he will be punished. If he ate the forbidden food by accident, however, then the food will only be important enough to bring a sacrifice if there is an objectively significant amount – a kezayit.

Makkot 18a-b: Taxes during Temple times

The “taxes” paid by your average farmer during Temple times went largely to the mikdash itself and to the people – kohanim and levi’im – who worked there. The major matanot (literally “presents” but effectively taxes) included:

The Mishnah (17a) discusses situations where people eat these tithes in a forbidden manner or a forbidden place. For example, if a kohen eats bikurim before they were formally presented with the appropriate formula (see Devarim 26:3-10) he has transgressed a negative commandment and will be liable to receive malkot (lashes).

According to the Gemara on our daf there are three separate activities that need to be done when the bikurim are brought to the Temple, but it appears that not all of them are essential. The Rambam (Sefer Zera’im, Hilkhot Bikurim 3:12) describes the procedure as follows. The farmer comes to the Temple with the basket of fruits on his shoulder and begins to recite the formula from Sefer Devarim (26:3). Then the kohen places his hands under the basket together with the farmer, and they raise the basket together, during which time the farmer recites the continuation of the formula (26:5-10), until he completes it. Finally, he places the basket on the south-east corner of the altar.

According to the conclusion of the Gemara, we follow the opinion of the Chachamim that even if the formula was not recited, there will be no malkot so long as the bikurim were brought to the altar.

Makkot 19a-b: Is there holiness in Israel and in Jerusalem even after the destruction of the Temple?

As we learned on yesterday’s daf, one of the tithes that was separated by the farmer is ma’aser sheni — a portion of the harvest that is taken by its owner to Jerusalem, where he can eat it on his own or give it to others, but it must be kept tahor and only eaten within the precincts of the city.

That was true during Temple times. What would the Halacha be today, when the Temple is no longer standing?

The Gemara on today’s daf brings a baraita where Rabbi Yishmael rules that the law of separating ma’aser sheni still exists, but that it is no longer eaten in Jerusalem.  Rather, after separating the tithe, we apply the biblical law that allows the farmer to redeem the ma’aser sheni. When the Temple stood, the money was taken to Jerusalem where it would be exchanged for food that had to be eaten in the city. Today, since the tithe cannot be eaten, the coin that was exchanged for the tithe is destroyed.

It appears that our Gemara assumes that the holiness of the Land of Israel remains in force today – which is why there is still a need to separate tithes, and the question that was posed was whether even after the Temple was destroyed there was still a need to bring the tithe to Jerusalem as commanded by the Torah.

The idea that the holiness given to the Land of Israel may have been established in such a way that it would last forever is subject to a dispute among the rishonim.

Tosafot accept the simple reading of the Gemara, which seems to view the holiness of the Land of Israel and that of Jerusalem as being the same, so if the destruction of the Temple removes the holiness from the Land, it does so for Jerusalem as well. The Rambam, on the other hand, sees the two as distinct and rules that even if the holiness of the Land is removed, kedushat Yerushalayim – which stems from the presence of God – can never be removed. With the return of the Jews to Israel under Ezra ha-Sofer and the building of the second Temple, the center of the kedusha was the rebuilt Temple – the seat of the Almighty – and the rest of the Land derived its holiness from Jerusalem. Thus the Rambam rules that even with the destruction of the Temple, kedushat Ezra remains forever.

Makkot 20a-b: Jewish hair styles

Among the negative commandments in the Torah, we find that Jewish men need to be careful about the way that they cut their hair. According to the Torah (Vayikra 19:27) – lo takifu pe’at roshkhem ve-lo tash’hit et pe’at zekanekhah – a man cannot round off the edges of his head, nor can he destroy the growth of his beard. The Mishnah on today’s daf teaches that the prohibition against rounding off the edges of one’s hair applies to the two sides of his head, while the prohibition regarding the beard relates to five different points – two on each side and one on the chin. The former forbids cutting the hair at the temples so that the back of the ear and the forehead are “evened out”; the latter forbids the points on the face where there is an accumulation of hair.

It should be noted that these are among the few negative prohibitions in the Torah that do not apply to women. The Gemara in Kiddushin (daf 35) notes the juxtaposition of the hair of one’s payot with the hair of one’s beard in the abovementioned passage in Vayikra (19:27) and argues that the law that applies to the beard also applies to the payot, and since women do not ordinarily have a beard, the prohibition against shaving one’s beard does not apply to them, thus the prohibition against cutting payot does not apply to them either.

With regard to men, the Gemara in Kiddushin concludes that since the Torah used the term lo tashchit (do not destroy) with regard to cutting one’s beard, the prohibition regarding shaving one’s beard would only be with a razor, which is mashchit (destructive), but mispara’im ke-en ta’ar – a scissor-like cutting action that removes hair – is permitted. Based on this, most rishonim permit shaving one’s beard if it is done using that method, but they still prohibit cutting one’s payot against the skin even mispara’im ke-en ta’ar, since regarding this halacha the Torah forbids the very act of hakafah (rounding the “corners”.) The Rambam, however, disagrees, apparently because he takes the juxtaposition of bal takif and bal tashchit very seriously, concluding that all of the laws of one apply to the other, as well. Thus, just as one’s beard can be cut with a scissors, so one’s payot can be cut with a scissors. [Note that in the famous portrait of the Rambam he does not appear to have payot.]

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.