Masechet Menachot 86a-92b

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Olive oil
16 Jun 2011

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.

Menachot 86a-b: The finest olive oil

Olive oil was used for different purposes in the Temple, among them to mix into the meal-offerings and to light the Menorah. The Mishna on today’s daf teaches that there were different levels of quality of the olive oil, and while the Menorah needed the purest oil (see Shemot 27:2), the menachot could use a second-level quality oil.

The Mishna explains that there were three harvests of the olive crop: first the olives at the very top of the tree that ripen first, then the olives that are in the middle of the tree ripen, and finally the olives that are at the bottom ripen. Each harvest produces three levels of oil – the finest quality oil, where the olives are pounded in a mortar and simply left in a reed basket to drip; the second level oil, where they are pressed with a beam in an olive press, and the lowest quality oil, which is produced by grinding up what is left of the olives. Only the first collection of each harvest could be used in the Menorah; the others could be used in the meal-offerings.

The beam, or korah, of the olive press forces the oil out of the olives by means of pressure applied by a weight. The basket with the olives is placed on a raised spot and a strong, heavy beam is placed across it with one side placed in a wall and the other with a heavy stone. The oil then runs into a quarried hole in the ground or into storage utensils arranged for this purpose.

The lowest quality oil, which was produced by grinding up the olives, was done with the grindstones that were ordinarily used to process grain into flour. This was usually accomplished by means of a hand grinder, which involved two stones, the bottom one set in the ground and the upper one that turned on the bottom one. The material to be ground was placed in between these two stones. The top stone had an indentation where a pole could be placed to allow it to be turned by hand.

Menachot 87a-b: Conversations during work

Much as the oil had to be brought from the finest ingredients, similarly the wine for the libations also needed to be of the highest quality. The Mishna on today’s daf includes information about where the grapes for this wine were, ideally, harvested, how they were to be grown, and how the wine was to be produced and stored. Finally, the Mishna teaches that the libation wine should not come from the top of the barrel, where there was “flour” (white dust that was produced during the fermentation process) nor from the bottom of the barrel where the sediment settled, but only from the middle. In order to assure this, the appointed official would sit next to the barrel of wine with a stick in his hand as it was being poured. As soon as he saw that there was refuse being poured out with the wine, he would bang on the barrel with his stick indicating that no more wine should be drawn from this barrel.

The Gemara discusses this situation and asks why the official needed to bang on the barrel. Would it not have been simpler for him to shout out his instructions? In response the Gemara quotes the teaching of Rabbi Yochanan who said that although speech was good for preparing the incense, it was bad for the preparation of wine.

Many explanations have been suggested to explain Rabbi Yochanan’s teaching. According to some, the sound waves produced by speech help the mixing process of preparing the ingredients for the incense; others say that a metered sing-song or recitation allowed the workers to work at an even pace. One further explanation is that large volumes of ingredients were worked on at one time, so there were two workers grasping the mortar together and it was essential that they worked in tandem. Speech was what allowed them to do that. According to these last approaches, rather than saying that speech was good for the incense, the statement should be understood as teaching that the sound of their voices was good for the people working at preparing the incense.

Tosafot point out that there is a parallel statement that appears in Masechet Keritot (daf 6b) where Rabbi Yochanan suggests that the workers should chant together “pound well, well pound!” as they work with the mortar, since that is good for the incense – even though it is bad for wine.

Menachot 88a-b: Sacrificial measuring cups

The tenth perek of Masechet Menachot began on yesterday’s daf, and it focuses on issues of measurements in the Temple. According to the Mishna, there were seven liquid measurements that were used in the Temple:

Rabbi Shimon argued that there was no utensil in the Temple that measured out a hin, since there was no Temple service that called for a hin of liquid.

The Gemara on today’s daf brings Rabbi Shimon’s teaching, and suggests that his argument is a good one. In fact, no service in the Temple called for a hin measurement. The Gemara explains that there was, at one time, a service that demanded a hin measurement. When the oil for anointing the Tabernacle and its utensils, as well as the kohanim themselves, was first produced, the Torah teaches that Moshe was commanded to take a full hin-measure of oil for that purpose (see Shemot 30:24-25). According to the Sages of the Mishna, once such a measurement was produced it remained in the Temple, even though it no longer served an active purpose. Rabbi Shimon disagreed, arguing that once it served its purpose it would have been set aside, and would no longer have been found in the Temple.

The commentaries on this Gemara explain that there was no longer any need for such a measurement because the anointing oil produced by Moshe had a miraculous quality about it inasmuch as it never ran out, even after it was used to anoint all of the vessels of the Tabernacle. Furthermore, even though it was used throughout the generations, nevertheless it remained full. According to the Gemara in Horayot (daf 11b) although King Yoshiyahu was forced to hide it in the Temple (together with the Ark of the Covenant and the container of manna), he did so only because of the impending destruction of the Temple and Diaspora. In any case, that flask of oil is expected to be used to anoint in the rebuilt temple in the future. Since the original hin of oil lasted forever, there was no need to produce another measuring utensil the size of a hin.

Menachot 89a-b: How much oil lasts all night?

As we learned on yesterday’s daf, there were different measuring utensils in the Temple, which served different purposes. The Mishna (88a) teaches that three-and-a-half logim of oil were measured out every day in order to light the menorah – the Temple candelabra – as there were seven candlesticks and each one received half of a log of oil.

The Gemara on today’s daf quotes a baraita that explains the source for this requirement. The Torah commands that the kohanim take oil to light the menorah “from evening until morning” (Shemot 27:20-21). This is understood to mean that the amount of oil that should be prepared is enough so that it will burn through the entire night. The Sages then established the appropriate amount of oil to burn for that long is half a log.

How did the Sages arrive at this amount? The Gemara suggests two possibilities –

Rabbenu Gershom points out that beyond the theoretical difference between these two positions, there is also a practical, halakhic application. According to the opinion that we behave in a generous manner in the Temple, on any given day the kohanim have the right to place more than a half log of oil in each candle. On the other hand, if we apply the value of frugality in this setting, then the kohanim must be careful to use only the mandated amount of oil and no more than that.

Menachot 90a-b: Libations – When to pour wine on the altar

Many of the sacrifices that were brought in the Temple were accompanied by wine libations. According to the Mishna on today’s daf all sacrifices, both communal sacrifices and individual sacrifices, are accompanied by wine libations, with the exception of a –

The exceptions to this list are the chatat and asham brought by a metzorah – someone who suffers from biblical leprosy who recovers and brings sacrifices as part of his process of returning to society.

In explaining the obligation to bring libations to accompany animal sacrifices, Rabbi Ovadia Seforno suggests in his commentary to the Torah (Bamidbar 15:3), that it is really the sacrifice itself that serves to offer a connection between God and the person – or community – offering the sacrifice, and that essentially there is no need for the additional libation. In fact, the early sacrifices that we find described in the Torah – those brought by Hevel, Noach and Avraham, for example – did not include libations. From the time of the sin of the Golden Calf, the korban tamid – the daily communal sacrifice – came accompanied by a meal-offering and libation, and after the sin of the Spies even personal sacrifices had to include those elements.

The explanation given by the Rambam in his Commentary to the Mishna for why the metzorah is an exception and does have wine libations included with his sin-offering and guilt-offering is that ordinarily we do not want sacrifices that come as an atonement to be adorned with additional finery. The sacrifices brought by the metzorah do not fall into this category. This stands in contrast to the nazir who brings a hatat and an asham at the end of his period of nezirut, who is seen by the Sages as atoning for the fact that he denied himself the pleasure of wine (see Masechet Ta’anit 11a). Although the metzorah may have developed his disease because of sins that he committed, by the time he is bringing these sacrifices he has already atoned for his sins.

Menahot 91a-b: Somewhere between a lamb and a ram

As we learned on yesterday’s daf the Mishna teaches that with only a few exceptions, all sacrifices – both communal sacrifices and individual sacrifices – are accompanied by wine libations. The source for this is the passages in Sefer Bamidbar (15:1-16) that describes the various sacrifices and how each one comes together with a meal-offering and a wine libation. The Gemara then quotes a baraita that examines these pesukim closely and derives a series of halakhot from them regarding the laws of the sacrifices.

One example is the way the Gemara examines the words o la-ayil – “or for a ram” (see pesukim 6-7). The word ayil – ram – is understood as including even the unique sacrifice brought by the kohen gadol on Yom Kippur, in the laws of libations. The word o – “or” – that introduces the ram, is understood as including a palges.

The source for the word palges is found in Greek, where it refers to someone who is no longer a child, but has not yet gained the status of an adult. In our case it refers to an animal that is an “in-between” stage of development. One the one hand, it is more than a year old, so it is no longer a keves – a lamb. On the other hand it is not yet an ayil – a ram – a status that it does not obtain until it is in its second year. Rashi seems to extend this status to the animal during its thirteenth month; the Rambam appears to give it this status only on the last day of the animal’s thirteenth month; according to other rishonim, during the entire second year of the animal’s life it is considered a palges.

The Gemara points out that we need this derivation according to Rabbi Yochanan who believes that a palges is a beriah bifnei atzmah – it has a unique status and situation, as it is neither a keves nor an ayil. According to those who believe that a palges is simply a safek – that its status is an unresolved question – the Torah would not teach a law for a safek situation.

Menachot 92a-b: Laying hands on the sacrifice

The second half of the tenth perek of Masechet Menachot focuses on the laws of semikha – laying of hands on the sacrifice. The Mishna on today’s daf teaches that no communal sacrifices include semikha, except for the unique se’ir ha-mishtale’ach – the goat sent off to Azazel as part of the Yom Kippur service – and the par he’elam davar shel tzibbur – the sacrifice brought by the Sanhedrin when they mistakenly misled the people with an erroneous ruling, leading the community to sin. Rabbi Shimon adds another communal sin-offering – the one brought when a mistaken ruling leads the community to commit an act of avodah zara – of idol worship.

Semikha as part of the sacrificial service in the Temple, was an important part of the process of atonement of the individual who brought the sin or guilt offering, as is indicated in the Torah (Vayikra 1:4). Semikha was performed as follows: The sacrificial animal is positioned in the northern part of the Temple courtyard with its head facing to the west. The person doing semikha places both of his hands on the head of the animal, between its horns. He then recites viduy, that is, he confesses the sins for which the sacrifice is being brought, as appropriate for a chatat, an asham or an olah (for neglecting positive commandments).

The semikha and viduy serve to clarify the connection between the person bringing the korban and the atonement that is sought by means of the sacrifice. In the cases of communal sacrifices where there was semikha, the kohen gadol (High Priest) acted as the representative of the community on Yom Kippur and three members of the Sanhedrin played that role when the par he’elam davar shel tzibbur was brought. Some suggest that the 24 ma’amadot of ordinary Jews who came to the Temple throughout the year were established to serve as representatives of the people in communal sacrifices that do not ordinarily have these elements. See Ta’anit 26a for a discussion of ma’amadot and their role in the sacrificial service.

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.