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
When defining the amount of food that needs to be eaten – either the amount needed to fulfill a commandment or the amount needed to determine whether a person is liable for punishment for having eaten something that is forbidden – we must look not only at the volume of food, but also at the amount of time during which the act of eating is performed. Generally speaking, in order for an act of eating to be considered significant, a person must consume kezayit be-kheday akhilat peras – an amount the size of an olive in the amount of time that it takes to eat half a loaf of bread. Our Gemara posits that this amount is a biblical law.
Tosafot point out that the fact that kezayit be-kheday akhilat peras is a biblical law is clear from a Mishnah in Masechet Keritut (12b), but our Gemara is searching for a source that teaches whether we use the same criteria to determine the significance of the act of eating when the kezayit is mixed together with other food, rather than the simple case of eating a kezayit on its own.
One test case is kutach ha-Bavli – a Babylonian dip made with bread – where we find a disagreement whether you will be held liable for eating it on Pesach. The Gemara points out that this food is unique because it is used only as a condiment, so no one will ever eat an olive’s worth within the allotted time, and if someone does, we do not consider that to be significant, since batlah da’ato etzel kol adam – literally “his opinion is nullified in the face of everyone else.”
Kutach ha-Bavli is a food that was prepared for people to dip in their bread. It was popular in Bavel (which is why it is called kutach ha-Bavli) and was made from moldy bread mixed with whey and salt.
When we discuss the prohibition of eating forbidden foods, it is important to note that only foods that are edible will make a person liable for punishment if he eats them. In the event that the food has spoiled and is no longer fit for human consumption, then the usual prohibition would not be in force. This law – noten ta’am lifgam, mutar – has its source in neveilah, i.e. meat that has not been slaughtered properly that is forbidden. The Torah teaches (see Devarim 14:21) that neveilah cannot be eaten, rather that it should be given or sold to a non-Jew. From this we deduce that neveilah only needs to be given away or sold if it is edible; if it is not edible, then there is no prohibition attached to it.
A classic example of noten ta’am lifgam is the case of pots that were used to cook non-kosher food, and we assume that the pot itself absorbed some of the taste of the forbidden food. In such a case, as Rav Huna bar Chiya points out, we assume that any taste that was absorbed remains only for a day. Once the pot is an eino ben yomo – the taste in the pot is more than a day old – any taste that might transfer from the pot is considered bad, and will not be considered significant. According to Rav Huna, when the Torah required the people in the desert to place pots captured from the Midianites through fire to remove all taste from them (see Bamidbar 31:23), that requirement applied only to those pots that had been used within the last day. All others may have been subjected to the same treatment, but only for reasons of safek – of doubt – because of the possibility that they had been used so recently.
The Mishnah (34a-b) brought two opinions about the amount of grape juice or wine that a nazir must drink in order to be held liable. According to the Mishnah rishona the amount is a revi’it (one-fourth of a log), which is the usual requirement for drinking, while according to Rabbi Akiva the amount is a kezayit (the size of an olive) which is usually the amount required for solid foods. Our Gemara explains Rabbi Akiva’s position as being based on the passage that forbids drinking wine or other grape products and concludes va-anavim lahim ve-yeveshim lo yokhel – that neither fresh nor dried grapes can be eaten (see Bamidbar 6:3). Since the pasuk concludes with a statement about eating, that defines all of the other categories mentioned, as well.
In truth, there are two approaches to the disagreement between the Mishnah rishona and Rabbi Akiva. According to the first, the Mishnah rishona rules that the laws of nezirut match the normal laws of eating and drinking, i.e. kezayit for eating and revi’it for drinking, while Rabbi Akiva believes that all of the rules of nezirut are based on a kezayit. According to the second approach, the Mishnah rishona rules that all the laws of nezirut – both eating and drinking – require revi’it, while Rabbi Akiva says that they all require kezayit. The reading that appears in our Gemara matches the first approach, while the Rosh accepts the second approach, based on his reading of the Gemara that presents the Mishnah rishona (called the Tanna Kamma by our Gemara) as saying that all things forbidden to the nazir are compared to drinking.
The Meiri offers an alternative perspective. He has the reading that appears in our Gemara, according to which the Mishna rishona does not compare all things forbidden to the nazir to drinking, meaning that solid food from grapes cannot be combined with wine or grape juice, since they are separate entities. Rabbi Akiva disagrees, claiming that kezayit and revi’it are basically the same amount, just one is for solids and the other for liquids. Given that the pasuk uses the terminology of “eating” also when discussing wine, we learn that with regard to nazir there is no difference between grapes and wine, and they can be combined to add up to the minimum requirement.
We have already learned that a person who accepts upon himself a standard nezirut is obligated to grow his hair for thirty days. The Mishnah on our daf teaches that if his head is shaven during that period – even against his will, for example by bandits – he will need to begin his nezirut anew, since he must have 30 days of growth.
This halakha leads the Gemara to discuss an apparently trivial matter – does hair grow from the end or from the root? The argument is that if it grows from the bottom, or the root, then as long as some hair remained it is not a problem, since the hair of nezirut remains to be cut off at the end of the nezirut. If, however, it grows from the top, once you cut the nazir‘s hair off, even if you leave some at the bottom, you have removed the hair of nezirut.
One of the proofs brought in an attempt to solve this conundrum is the case of blorit d’goyim – the non-Jews’ blorit hairstyle. The Gemara’s assumption is that this proves that hair grows from the bottom, since we see that the hair that was braided remained tight, while the hair closer to the head became loose. This proof is eventually rejected by the Gemara, which argues that the looseness at the bottom may be the result of some other development.
Many suggestions are offered to define the term blorit, but no word in Greek or Latin is a perfect match for it. The hairstyle involved allowed the hair to grow long particularly on the sides and in the back of the head, and the hair was tied and braided into different shapes. Later on, the braided hair was shaved off in a special pagan ritual ceremony.
Our Gemara quotes a Mishnah from Masechet Nega’im, which teaches that there are three people who shave their heads and fulfill a mitzvah by doing so. They are:
- A nazir (a Nazerite)
- A metzora (someone who suffers from biblical leprosy)
- The Levi’im (when the Levites were first consecrated for work in the mishkan – the Tabernacle – their bodies were shaved. See Bamidbar 8:7)
In all of these cases, the obligation is to shave the head totally with a razor. If someone leaves even two hairs or removes the hair by other means, he does not fulfill his obligation.
In response to the challenge that these laws are obvious, the Gemara suggests that we may have thought that the obligation was simply to remove the hair by any means, and there was no specific obligation to do so by mean of a razor, so that even nasha – depilatory cream – could be used. The Mishna therefore needed to teach us this rule.
The source of the term nasha is unclear, and some prefer a variant reading that appears in the Mishnah in Nega’im that the word is nasham, which is understood to mean that it is medicinal cream of some sort.
Even today we find that creams are used for hair removal, which work on a basis of chemicals that break down the hair so that it can be removed simply by brushing it off. Generally speaking sulfur salts are the active chemical in such creams, and it is possible that nasha was made from similar compounds, perhaps with the addition of lime. Nasha successfully removed hair for an extended period of time, and sometimes the compounds were so strong that they permanently removed the hair.
In truth, the nazir is not obligated to remove his hair, although, as noted, he fulfills a mitzvah by doing so, and should do it even if a significant amount of time had passed since his nezirut was completed.
Jewish law forbids a man from removing the hair around his head – pe’at roshkhem – and from shaving his beard – pe’at zekanekhah (see Vayikra 19:27). Common practice today accepts that the only prohibition involved in shaving one’s beard is if it is done with a razor, but otherwise it is permissible, even if it mispara’im ke-en ta’ar – even if it is cut with a scissors so close to the skin as to appear to have been done with a razor.
In the context of discussing the requirement to shave one’s head in the cases of nazir and metzorah (see our discussion on the last daf) and the potential conflict that removing all of one’s hair presents, the Gemara discusses whether pe’at ha-rosh also is forbidden only with a razor, or if it will be forbidden even if it is mispara’im ke-en ta’ar.
From our Gemara’s conclusion, Tosafot understand that pe’at ha-rosh differs from pe’at ha-zakan, and although pe’at ha-zakan is forbidden only if it is done with a razor, shaving pe’at ha-rosh will be forbidden no matter what method is used. The Me’iri, who follows the Rambam‘s approach to this question, suggests that the Gemara raises the possibility that pe’at ha-rosh will be forbidden in all circumstances as part of the discussion, but that is not the final conclusion of the halakhah. According to his reasoning, even pe’at ha-rosh will be forbidden only if it is done with a razor.
In this case, we do not find a clear conclusion in the halakha, and both opinions are quoted in the Shulhan Arukh (see Yoreh De’ah 181:2). The Rambam‘s ruling appears in his Mishna Torah, Sefer ha-Mada, Hilkhot Yesodei ha-Torah, chapter 12. It is interesting to note that the traditional picture of the Rambam presents him with a beard, but with no hair on his pe’at ha-rosh, indicating, perhaps, that the Rambam cut off his pe’at ha-rosh using mispara’im ke-en ta’ar.
We have learned that a nazir cannot cut his hair. The Mishnayot on our daf discuss whether the nazir would be allowed to perform activities – like shampooing his hair – that may lead to some of his hair being removed.
The first Mishnah teaches that a nazir can be chofef or mefaspes, but he cannot be sorek.
While sorek is understood as combing hair, which is forbidden according to the Gemara because the intent of combing is to pull out dangling hairs, the other two terms are the subject of some discussion among the rishonim. Chofef is defined by the Aruch as meaning to simply scratch his hair. In his commentary to the Mishnah, the Rambam explains chofef as rubbing one’s hair with one’s hand, while mefaspes means to use one’s nails or some other hard object. Tosafot and the Rosh understand chofef as meaning to use soap or shampoo to wash the hair, and mefaspes as separating the hairs from one another.
In the daf‘s second Mishna, Rabbi Yishmael teaches that chafifah cannot be done using dirt, since it pulls out hair.
During Talmudic times, when acceptable soap was not available, it was common practice to use other materials that broke down fats and oils. These were usually specific types of plants or minerals that were available. On occasion people used earth that was known to contain such minerals for shampooing. Since these materials were very coarse, particularly when combined with earth, one could expect that their use would lead to some level of hair removal.
According to the Rambam, Rabbi Yishmael’s position in the second Mishnah is not disagreeing with the first Mishnah; he is simply making a point that shampooing with dirt will certainly cause hairs to be removed, which is forbidden. One of the commentaries quoted in the Shitah Mekubetzet disagrees. His reading of the second Mishnah adds the word af at the beginning of Rabbi Yishmael’s statement, indicating that Rabbi Yishmael believes that even if the nazir does not intend to remove his hair, such a questionable activity is forbidden.
Although a nazir cannot allow himself to become tamei (ritually defiled through contact with a dead body) even for his immediate relatives, a kohen is permitted – in fact, with the exception of a kohen gadol, he is required – to participate in the funeral of his immediate relatives, including his mother, father, son, daughter, brother and unmarried sister (see Vayikra 21:1-3).
Rav Chisda quotes Rav as teaching that this is true only if the father’s body is whole; if his head was removed from his body, the kohen is not allowed to become tameh. The Ramban, in his Torat ha-Adam, limits this to cases where a limb was removed at the time of death or after death. If the relative lived without a limb, upon his death we consider his body to be “complete” and the kohen is expected to participate in his burial.
The Gemara quotes a baraita that appears to contradict Rav Chisda’s teaching. We find that although a kohen cannot allow himself to become tamei through contact with a limb that was cut off from his father’s body while he was still alive, should his father die he will become obligated to search for every body part to bury, even an etzem ke-se’orah – a bone the size of a grain of barley. Clearly even if this bone was missing, the kohen is nevertheless involved in his father’s burial. In response, the Gemara suggests that there is a disagreement among the tanna’im, and that the baraita follows the opinion of Rabbi Yehuda, while Rav Chisda followed the other sages.
In order to understand the concept of etzem ke-se’orah, it should be noted that most of the bones in an adult body are much larger than a barley grain. Still, there are some very small bones that are found in an adult, e.g. sesamoid bones (which are called by that name because they are the size of a sesame seed) in joints. There are certainly bones this small found in the tiny bodies of infants.
We have already learned that a nazir is prohibited from coming into contact with a dead body, as well as cutting his hair and eating or drinking grape products. The Mishnah on our daf teaches that there are differences between these various prohibitions:
- If a nazir becomes tamei (i.e. comes into contact with a dead body) or if his hair is cut, he must begin his nezirut anew, but if he drinks wine his nezirut continues even though he transgressed a prohibition.
- There is a difference between these two laws. Coming into contact with the dead obligates the nazir to bring a sacrifice and start his nezirut from the beginning; having his hair cut does not obligate him to bring a sacrifice, and at most he will need to count 30 days, even if he had accepted a lengthier nezirut on himself.
- The prohibitions against becoming tamei or cutting hair may be pushed aside by other considerations – e.g. taking care of a met mitzvah (a dead person who has no one to bury him) or a metzorah (leper) who is obligated to shave his body upon recovering from his tzara’at. There are no exceptions to the rule about drinking wine, which will always be forbidden.
The Gemara derives the rule that forbids all situations of drinking wine for a nazir from the pesukim (see Bamidbar 6:3), and it appears to refer to a case where a person had taken a vow to drink wine. That vow cannot be fulfilled, since the obligation of nezirut is more powerful than the vow that had been taken. Rashi suggests that one case that is more powerful than nezirut is drinking wine at kiddush and havdalah, which would be permitted, since this wine is obligatory and the nezirut cannot override this obligation. Most of the commentaries, however, disagree with this position. The Rambam argues that making Kiddush and Havdalah over wine is only a rabbinic obligation, and it certainly does not take precedence over the biblical laws of nezirut.
After a nazir completes his nezirut, he is obligated to visit the Temple and bring three sacrifices – a chatat (sin offering), an olah (an offering entirely burned on the altar) and a shelamim (an offering that is shared by the kohanim and the owner, aside from what is burned on the altar). In addition, the nazir is obligated to cut his hair.
Although the Torah clearly states that the nazir‘s hair be cut petach ohel mo’ed – “in the entrance to the Tabernacle” (see Bamidbar 6:18), our Gemara quotes a baraita that explains that doing so would be derech bizayon (degrading). The requirement is therefore understood to be that the hair is cut in conjunction with the shelamim sacrifice, which is the only sacrifice that is said to be brought petach ohel mo’ed (see Vayikra 3:1-2). This also makes sense according to the flow of events, since the hair is burned under the pot in which the meat of the shelamim is cooked.
In the baraita, Rabbi Shimon Shezuri suggests that another halacha can be learned from the passage petach ohel mo’ed – one which obligates only a nazir, but not a female nezirah. The explanation offered is that the sight of a woman with her hair uncovered was inappropriate in the Temple, so she should have her hair cut in the privacy of her home. In response to the objections that we find that a sotah (a woman accused of adultery – see Bamidbar 5:18) has her hair uncovered in the Temple, Rabbi Shimon replied that the nezirah comes kochelet u-pokeset – wearing makeup and rouge – while the sotah does not.
The makeup described by the Gemara is, apparently, what was popular during Talmudic times. Kehal appears to be a black-blue color that was derived from the mineral stibnite (Sb2S3). The stibnite crystals were ground up and women would use them to color the area around their eyes to emphasize them and make them appear larger.
As we have learned, a nazir cannot cut his hair during the period of his nezirut; after he has completed his nezirut he is commanded to cut his hair and burn it. What if he has no hair? Our Gemara quotes a baraita that discusses a case of nazir memorat – a nazir who is totally bald. In such a situation, Bet Shammai rules that there is no need to take a razor to his head, while Bet Hillel rules that he must do so.
There are two readings offered by the Gemara with regard to this disagreement.
According to the first approach, Ravina explains Bet Shammai’s position as meaning that there is nothing that the nazir can do to fulfill his obligation; according to Bet Hillel once the nazir performs the symbolic act of shaving he has fulfilled his obligation, even though there was no hair to cut off. According to the second approach, Ravina explains that according to Bet Hillel the nazir is obligated to shave, but he cannot, while Bet Shammai believes that since he cannot cut off his hair he is not obligated to do so.
In any case, the Gemara parallels the question of cutting the hair of a bald nazir to the question of placing oil and the blood of the sacrifice on the right thumb and big toe of a healed metzora (leper) who has brought the required korbanot (see Vayikra 14:14-17). What if the metzorah has no thumb? The baraita offers three positions on this matter:
- Rabbi Eliezer rules that the metzorah will remain tamei (ritually defiled) forever.
- Rabbi Shimon says that the oil and sacrificial blood should be placed where his thumb should be.
- The Chachamim say that in such a case, the left thumb can be used instead of the right.
Rabbi Pedat identifies Bet Shammai with Rabbi Eliezer, which matches the first version of Ravina’s explanation. According to the second version, Ravina disagrees with Rabbi Pedat’s position.
The sixth perek of Masechet Nazir begins on our daf, and its focus is on the law forbidding a nazir to allow himself to become ritually defiled by coming into contact with a dead body. The first Mishnah in the perek compares and contrasts these laws in the context of a nazir and a kohen gadol, since neither of them can allow themselves to become tamei (ritually defiled). The Mishnah teaches that a kohen gadol and a nazir are similar in that they cannot even participate in the funeral of an immediate relative; nevertheless, both of them are obligated to take care of the needs of a met mitzvah – someone who has died in a situation where no one is there to bury him.
The Mishnah asks: In the event that a kohen gadol and a nazir come across a met mitzvah together, which one of them should forgo his state of purity and deal with the met mitzvah? According to Rabbi Eliezer, it is the kohen gadol who should step forward; according to the Chachamim, the pure status of even an ordinary kohen takes precedence over that of a nazir. Rabbi Eliezer’s reasoning is that for a kohen gadol to reestablish his ritual purity, he merely needs to wait a week, undergoing the ordinary process of purification. The nazir, however, also needs to bring sacrifices, pointing to the greater severity of his tumah. The Chachamim argue that the ritual status of the kohen is greater, since it is kedushat olam – permanent holiness – as opposed to a nazir, whose unique status is temporary.
Several explanations are given in an attempt to clarify how the kedushat olam of the kohen differs from the status of a nazir, given that a nazir can also choose to accept his status as a nazir forever. Rabbi Avraham min ha-Har suggests that it means that the kohen is born with his kedusha, as opposed to the nazir who accepts his status later in life. The Talmud Yerushalmi argues that kedushat olam refers to the fact that the kedusha of a kohen is biblically imposed, while nezirut is created by the statement of the nazir. According to the Rashash, what is unique about the kohen is that his kedusha will be transferred to his children and his children’s children, while the nazir‘s status will not carry over to the next generation.
As we learned on yesterday’s daf, although a kohen gadol and a nazir are prohibited from coming into contact with a dead body, both of them will be obligated to deal with a met mitzvah (a situation where no one is available to bury a dead person). In examining the source for this halacha, our Gemara quotes a baraita that describes how a person who is on his way to bring his Passover sacrifice or to perform a brit (circumcision) on his son will go to perform these mitzvot even if he hears that a close relative has died; nevertheless, if he comes across a met mitzvah he is obligated to stop and take care of the burial, even at the expense of missing these important commandments.
The mitzvot of korban Pesach and brit milah are unique among positive commandments, as they are the only ones that are considered so central to Jewish life – both of them represent joining the Jewish community – that someone who does not perform them is liable to receive the punishment of karet (literally, being cut off from the Jewish people). Rashi notes that the story presented in the baraita may be describing one person who is on his way to perform both of these mitzvot, since a person cannot bring a korban Pesach unless all members of his family are circumcised. Rabbeinu Peretz points out that even though a father can circumcise his son while he is in a state of tumah (ritual defilement), still we can derive an important lesson from this ruling. The baraita is teaching that a person is obligated to postpone the required brit milah and spend as much time as is needed for the burial preparations for the met mitzvah.
Some of the commentaries assume that the baraita is discussing a nazir who was on his way to bring the korban Pesach and perform the brit milah; others suggest that the baraita could be referring to anyone, but the message of the centrality of taking care of the needs of the met mitzvah remains applicable in all cases.
While it is clear that a nazir cannot allow himself to become tamei met (ritually defiled through contact with the dead), not all situations that are considered tum’at met will necessarily force the nazir to begin his nezirut anew. In fact, as we will see in the upcoming mishnayot, there are circumstances in which the nazir will formally be considered tamei met, but he will not need to shave his hair and he will be allowed to return to the nezirut that he began once he has completed the process that will make him tahor (ritually pure) again.
What cases of tum’at met are considered significant enough to force the nazir to shave and begin his nezirut from the beginning? Among the cases listed in the Mishnah on our daf are the following:
- The dead body itself
- An olive size from the dead body
- An olive size of netzel (body fluids)
- A spoon full of rakav (putrid flesh)
- The spine
- The skull
- The limb of a dead person
- The separated limb of a live person
The case of netzel (body fluids) refers to either one of two cases. Certain parts of the living body are in liquid form – e.g. lubricating fluids in the joints of a healthy person or pus in the case of an infection. These liquids ordinarily harden after death, since the normal body functions that created them cease to function. A second situation would be found when a dead body is left in a very hot place – for example if someone died in a fire – and the fat in the body may melt and become liquid for a short time, hardening when the heat source is removed. These body fluids that become solid are what the Mishnah refers to as netzel.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.