Masechet Menachot 44a-50b

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14 Apr 2011

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.

Menachot 44a-b: How tzitzit saved a sinner

The Gemara relates one concluding story about the power of fulfilling the commandment of tzitzit.

Once a man, who was very scrupulous about the precept of tzitzit, heard of a certain harlot in one of the towns by the sea who accepted four hundred gold dinars for her hire. He sent her four hundred gold dinars and made an appointment with her.

When the day arrived he came and waited at her door, and her maid came and told her, ‘That man who sent you four hundred gold dinars is here and waiting at the door’; to which she replied ‘Let him come in.’ When he came in she prepared for him seven beds, six of silver and one of gold; and between one bed and the other there were steps of silver, but the last were of gold. She then went up to the top bed and lay down upon it naked. He too went up after her in his desire to sit naked with her, when all of a sudden the four tzitzit of his garment struck him across the face; whereupon he slipped off and sat upon the ground. She also slipped off and sat upon the ground and swore, ‘By the Roman Capitol, I will not leave you alone until you tell me what blemish you saw in me.’ ‘By the Temple,’ he replied, ‘never have I seen a woman as beautiful as you are; but there is one precept which the Lord our God has commanded us, it is called tzitzit, and with regard to it the expression ‘I am the Lord your God’ is twice written, signifying, I am He who will exact punishment in the future, and I am He who will give reward in the future. Now the tzitzit appeared to me as four witnesses testifying against me.’

She said, ‘I will not leave you until you tell me your name, the name of your town, the name of your teacher, the name of your school in which you study the Torah.’ He wrote all this down and handed it to her. Thereupon she arose and divided her estate into three parts; one third for the government, one third to be distributed among the poor, and one third she took with her in her hand; the bed clothes, however, she retained. She then came to the Bet Midrash of Rabbi Chiya, and said to him, ‘Master, give instructions about me that they make me a proselyte.’ ‘My daughter,’ he replied ‘perhaps you have set your eyes on one of the disciples?’ She thereupon took out the script and handed it to him. ‘Go,’ said he ‘and enjoy your acquisition.’

Those very bed-clothes which she had spread for him for an illicit purpose she now spread out for him lawfully.

This story, whose details can be interpreted in many ways, teaches how repentance based on love of God can successfully turn sins into merits to the extent that the sinner can reach the heights of holiness.

Menachot 45a-b: Saving the Book of Yechezkel from oblivion

Following the Gemara‘s interpretation of a series of difficult passages from Sefer Yechezkel, Rav Yehuda quoted Rav as saying:

That man is to be remembered for good, and Chanina ben Chizkiya is his name; for were it not for him the Book of Yechezkel would have been suppressed, since its sayings contradicted the words of the Torah. What did he do? He took up with him three hundred barrels of oil and remained there in the upper chamber until he had explained away everything.

Chanina (or Chananiah) ben Chizkiya ben Gurion was one of the important scholars who lived in the generation following Hillel and Shammai. Chanina’s attic served as an important meeting place for the Sages of that time, where significant issues were discussed and decided. Among his most noteworthy works was Chanina’s collection of Megillat Ta’anit , the first time Rabbinic oral traditions were set into writing. In this effort he was assisted by his son, Rabbi Eliezer, who may, in fact, have done most of the work in organizing and producing that material.

Megillat Ta’anit is a little known collection of statements about minor holidays and fasts that commemorate events which took place during the Second Temple period. On the minor holidays, fasting and eulogies were forbidden. Most of the events that are commemorated are from the period of the Hasmonean monarchy – a prime example being the story of Hanukkah – although there are also events from earlier and later periods included, as well. This work is set up chronologically, and it includes the date and a brief account of the incident written in Aramaic, followed by a fuller description of the event in Hebrew.  (Although it is not part of the standard texts of Talmud, the Steinsaltz Talmud includes it as an addendum to the volume that contains Masechet Ta’anit).

As our Gemara explains, and as appears in other places, Chanina ben Chizkiya devoted himself to assuring that the Book of Yechezkel would be included in the accepted Biblical canon which was a matter of concern since there are a number of passages that appear to contradict Biblical teachings.

Menachot 46a-b: Testifying about Temple practice in Yavneh

As the Torah tells us (see Shemot 30:11-16) every Jewish adult male was commanded to bring a machatzit ha-shekel – a half-shekel – as a donation to the Temple service. It is clear from stories in Tanach that this obligation was not just for use in the mishkan – the Tabernacle – in the desert, but was an on-going requirement for as long as the Temple stood. The money was used for communal sacrifices throughout the year.

Was this obligation incumbent on the kohanim who worked in the Temple as well as the general community? This question was the center of debate in Yavneh after the destruction of the Temple.

Our Gemara relates that ben Bukhri permits kohanim to bring machatzit ha-shekel, although they are not required to do so. Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai argued that although this was the position taken by the kohanim, in fact they were obligated in machatzit ha-shekel just like every other Jew.

Yavneh is an ancient city that is mentioned in the navi, identified with the Judean city called Yavne’el. For a long time it was a Philistine city, near the Mediterranean coast, almost due west of Jerusalem. When King Uziyahu lists the cities whose walls he destroyed in battle, Yavneh is mentioned among them (see Divrei HaYamim II 26:6-8).

In the course of putting down the Great Revolt, the Roman general Vespasian captured the city. At that time it apparently attracted many Sages who did not support the rebellion, and when Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai joined them after the fall of Jerusalem it became the spiritual center of the Jewish people, where the Sanhedrin sat for an extended period of time – apparently until the Bar Kochba rebellion. The main yeshiva, called Kerem B’Yavneh was established there, together with the seat of the Patriarch. Among the projects done in Yavneh was the recording of testimony regarding normative procedure in the Temple in different areas of practice, similar to what we find in today’s Gemara regarding ben Bukhri’s statement.

Menachot 47a-b: Shavuot sacrifices

A number of different offerings are brought as part of the sacrificial service on the holiday of Shavuot –

The Mishnah (on daf, or page 45b) teaches that all of these offerings are independent and can be brought one without the other, with the exception of the shtei ha-lehem and the special korban olah that is meant to accompany it. Rabbi Akiva rules that the kivsei atzeret cannot be brought without the shtei ha-lechem; Shimon ben Nanas argues that it is the shtei ha-lehem that cannot be brought without the kivsei atzeret.

The Gemara on today’s daf quotes a baraita that teaches that the kivsei atzeret do not sanctify and thereby permit the shtei ha-lechem to be eaten until they are slaughtered. Thus, if they were properly slaughtered and their blood was properly collected and sprinkled, the shtei ha-lechem can be eaten.

What if the preparatory sacrifice and subsequent sprinkling of the blood was not completed properly?

Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi rules that if the animals were slaughtered properly but the blood was not sprinkled with the proper intentions, then the shtei ha-lechem is kadosh v’eino kadosh – it is only partially sanctified (Abayye and Rava disagree about the defining the level of sanctification). Rabbi Elazar b’Rabbi Shimon argues, ruling that the shtei ha-lechem will only become sanctified if both the slaughter and the sprinkling of the blood is done properly.

Although the Gemara quotes Biblical passages that each of these Sages would bring to support their positions, the Gri”z, Rav Yitzhak Zev Soloveitchik suggests that this argument is related to a general disagreement between Rabbi Yehuda ha-Nasi and Rabbi Elazar b’Rabbi Shimon. While Rabbi Yehuda ha-Nasi believes that if there are two requirements in sanctification, one offers partial sanctification, Rabbi Elazar rules that one cannot work without the other.

Menachot 48a-b: Wine presses in the Talmudic age

The arrangement of wine presses during Talmudic times was such that there were actually two separate areas hewn out of the rock, one above the other, with a connection between them. In this way the grapes could be placed in the upper press where they were trampled, allowing the grape juice to flow into the lower area.

The Gemara on today’s daf refers to this wine press arrangement in the context of a question about terumah wine that becomes mixed with ordinary wine that has been ritually defiled. When ordinary wine is tamei (ritually defiled) it can be drunk by anyone who is, themselves, in a state of ritual impurity, or, indeed, by anyone who was not careful to keep the stringency of drinking only wine in a purified state. Terumah wine, which is separated as one of the priestly offerings, has a high level of sanctity, can only be drunk by kohanim and cannot be drunk by anyone if it has become tamei.

According to the Mishnah in Masechet Terumot (8:9), in a case where a barrel of terumah wine breaks and spills into the upper chamber of the wine press described above, and the bottom chamber contains ordinary wine that is tamei, we face a challenge. Assuming that there is not enough wine in the lower chamber to nullify the terumah wine spilling in, once the terumah wine mixes with the ordinary, tamei wine, none of it can be drunk, not even by kohanim. The Mishnah teaches that if even a small amount – a revi’it – can be saved by finding pure vessels and drawing out wine from the upper chamber, that is what should be done. If no pure vessels can be found, Rabbi Eliezer rules that we cannot collect the terumah wine in vessels that are tamei in the interest of keeping it from spilling into the lower chamber (which would render all of the wine unfit for consumption). This is because Rabbi Eliezer does not allow anyone to actively defile terumah. Rabbi Yehoshua disagrees, arguing that since in any case this terumah wine will become defiled when it falls into the lower chamber, it is permissible to collect it in tamei vessels in the interest of saving the ordinary wine in the lower chamber.

Menachot 49a-b: Setting priorities in the Temple, and in our prayers

According to the Mishnah on today’s daf, on Shabbat or a holiday when a special korban mussaf – an additional sacrifice – was brought, the korban mussaf and the korban tamid – the daily sacrifice – were independent of one-another, and if one was not brought, it did not keep the other one from being offered on the altar.

One of the issues raised in the Gemara regarding this ruling is the fact that the morning korban tamid is the sacrifice that opens the Temple service in the morning and that no other sacrifice can be brought before it. Thus it would certainly appear that if the korban tamid is not brought it will keep the korban mussaf from being sacrificed, inasmuch as no sacrifice can precede the korban tamid.

Abayye rejects this question by arguing that the need to sacrifice the korban tamid prior to any other offering in the Temple is a mitzvah be-alma – it is meritorious to do so ab initio, but if it was not done in that order, the sacrifices that are brought are, nonetheless, valid.

Based on this explanation, the intent of the Mishnah in ruling that neglecting to bring the korban tamid does not preclude bringing the korban mussaf is to teach that at least after-the-fact, if the korban mussaf is brought first, it is acceptable. The Rashba suggests that we can derive from this a practical application. Since our daily prayers mirror the sacrifices brought in the Temple, we can learn from this that a person who prayed the mussaf prayer on Shabbat or on a holiday before he prayed the morning service of Shacharit, would fulfill his obligation and would not be required to repeat the prayer. The Aruch HaShulchan, however, questions this conclusion, pointing out that according to Tosafot the korban mussaf is disqualified on a Rabbinic level and a second mussaf sacrifice would be required.

Menachot 50a-b: Daily offerings; daily incense

Two daily offerings were brought in the Temple every, single day – the tamid shel shachar and the tamid shel bein ha-arbayim (the daily morning sacrifice and the daily afternoon sacrifice). Accompanying these sacrifices was the ketoret – the incense offering – that was brought both morning and afternoon.

According to the Mishnah (daf 49a), there is a difference of opinion regarding situations where either the korban tamid or the ketoret was not offered in the morning.

On today’s daf, Rava explains Rabbi Shimon’s position as meaning that the kohanim who neglected the morning korban tamid are punished, but the sacrifice is still brought, albeit by other kohanim.

In this case the Gemara explains Rabbi Shimon’s position, that since the ketoret was unusual and there was a tradition that the person who brought it would become wealthy, there was no need to establish a punishment for kohanim who did not bring it, since it was never neglected.

Two explanations are offered by Rashi as to why the daily ketoret was considered “unusual.” One is that the korban tamid is actually a form of a common korban olah (a burnt-offering) while the ketoret was unique and limited to the twice daily offerings. Another approach is that according to the Gemara in Yoma (daf 26a), no kohen would merit the service of offering the ketoret more than one time in his life.

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.