Masechet Nedarim 35a-41b

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24 Jan 2008

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

Nedarim 35a-b

One of the basic sources in the Talmud that deals with issues of birth control appears on our daf.

Rav Bevai taught a baraita before Rav Nahman. Three categories of women may use a mokh (an absorbent cloth) while engaged in marital relations – a minor, a pregnant woman and a nursing woman. The minor, because she might become pregnant and as a result might die.

In Masechet Yevamot (12b) Rav Bevai’s explanation continues:

A pregnant woman may use a mokh because she might cause her fetus to degenerate into a sandal (a formless creature); and a nursing woman, because she might have to wean her child prematurely, which may result in its death. What is the age of such a minor? From the age of eleven years and one day until the age of twelve years and one day. One who is under or over this age must carry on her marital intercourse in the usual manner. This is the opinion of Rabbi Meir. The hakhamim say that all women should carry on marital intercourse in the usual manner, and heaven will have mercy on them (i.e. no harm will come to them), based on the passage that states (Tehillim 116:6) “HaShem preserves the simple.”

The rishonim differ as to how to understand this baraita and what its implications are for the halakha. According to Rashi, the discussion is whether a woman can insert a physical barrier into her vaginal canal as a means of birth control. Rabbi Meir’s position is that a woman who has reason to fear that pregnancy will result in a danger to her or to her unborn child is permitted to do so, although it would be forbidden to other women. Tosafot and others reject Rashi’s explanation, arguing that inserting a mokh during relations would be forbidden. They suggest that the mokh is an absorbent cloth that is inserted following sexual relations in an attempt to remove the semen. According to Rabbi Meir, a minor as well as a pregnant or nursing woman would be obligated to use this mokh in an attempt to keep a potentially dangerous pregnancy from developing (a method that is recognized today as being of limited use, if any), while other women would be permitted to do so.

Nedarim 36a-b

The commandment obligating a person to bring a korban Pesach – the Passover sacrifice – says seh le-bet avot (see Shemot 12:3), which appears to mean that a single sacrifice is brought for every family.  Nevertheless, Rabbi Zeira teaches that this does not mean that all family members, including small children, are automatically included in the sacrifice by the Torah. Our Gemara points to a Mishnah in Masechet Pesachim that supports this ruling. The Mishnah (Pesachim 89a) teaches that when a father tells his children “I will slaughter the korban Pesach on behalf of whoever gets to Jerusalem first,” the child who reaches the city first is credited with the sacrifice for himself, but his siblings are ultimately included as well. While it is clear from this Mishnah that children are not automatically included, the Gemara questions how the other children can be included at all. The rule is that the only people who participate in a korban Pesach are those who had arranged to do so in advance. If the animal was already slaughtered for sacrifice, how can the children be included?

The Gemara responds that in this case the father was simply trying to encourage his children to be enthusiastic and hurry to perform the mitzvah.

Tosafot and the Ran conclude from this discussion that children who are under bar and bat mitzvah age are not obligated to participate in the korban Pesach, and none of the rules of the sacrifice apply to them. Thus, the rule that they need to arrange to be participants in this specific korban does not apply to them, and they can eat it even if they were not included.

Some point out that the Gemara in Pesachim offers an alternative explanation for the Mishnah; it suggests that the children under discussion are adult children who are obligated in the sacrifice. According to that approach, the father would certainly have needed to include his children in the sacrifice before it was slaughtered, and that he, in fact, did so. The suggestion is that the father did not disclose this to his children however, and in the interest of encouraging their enthusiasm, made them think that only the child who arrived in Jerusalem first would merit participation in the korban.

Nedarim 37a-b

It is surprising to learn that teaching Torah on Shabbat should be restricted in any way. Nevertheless, our Gemara quotes a baraita according to which tinokot lo korim ba-tehilah be-Shabbat, ela shonim be-rishon – children should not be taught to read a new section on Shabbat, although they can review something that they have already learned.

The typical method of teaching that was practiced in Talmudic times was that the teacher would teach a passage to his students and review it with them until they were able to read it on their own. They would also add explanations appropriate to the age of the student. After the children learned how the passage should be pronounced properly, together with its explanation, they would review it over and over again (shonim be-rishon, shonim ba-sheni) until they learned it by heart. Only then would they continue on to the next passage. We can well understand that the very first interaction with the passage was the most difficult one, while subsequent review sessions – even the very first one, i.e. shonim be-rishon – became easier and easier.

Although Tosafot suggest that the reason to restrict an initial presentation of a lesson on Shabbat is because of a concern with oneg Shabbat – that the child will find the lesson tedious and will be upset on Shabbat – the simple understanding of the Gemara is that our concern is with payment: the salary that the teacher will be paid for his work on Shabbat. If the teacher is getting paid for teaching proper pronunciation of the pasuk, or verse (there is another opinion that the teacher is getting paid more for his babysitting), the main “work” is getting the student to grasp the basics of the passage – i.e. the first presentation – while subsequent repetition is merely review. Rashi suggests that the point of the baraita is to allow the first review, which is permissible and would not be considered to be payment for work on Shabbat, but certainly subsequent review would be permitted, as well.

Nedarim 38a-b

What qualification does a person need to be a prophet?

Our Gemara brings a statement taught by Rabbi Yochanan, who says that by using Moshe as an archetype we learn that a prophet must be:

The Gemara then continues by quoting Biblical passages indicating that Moshe Rabbeinu had each one of these qualifications.

The Ri”af points out that there is a clear source from Sefer Devarim (18:15) which alludes to the fact that all prophets are modeled after Moshe: navi mi-kirbekha me-ahekha kamoni yakim lecha Hashem – that God will establish a prophet from among the Jewish people who is “like me.” The Rosh explains that this means that only someone with these qualities will receive permanent prophetic capabilities, but it does not preclude someone who lacks these qualities from receiving a single prophetic message, like Hagar (see Bereshit 21:17-19) or Lavan (see Bereshit 31:24).

With regard to the qualifications themselves, the Rambam appears to interpret all of them within the context of spiritual qualities, i.e. the gibor is a person who can control his impulses and the ashir is a person who is satisfied with what he has.  This approach follows the explanations presented by the Mishnah in Pirkei Avot. The Ran disagrees and accepts the Gemara for its simple meaning, which is certainly the way the continuation of the Gemara reads. He explains that aside from the highly developed spiritual qualities that a prophet must have in order to communicate with God, he also must possess qualities that will encourage the populace to listen to his message. This requires him to have such qualities as wealth, strength, and, according to the Midrash (as well as one variant reading of our Gemara), physical height and presence (ba’al komah).

Nedarim 39a-b

The Mishnah (38b) discusses whether a person who has taken a vow not to derive benefit from another can sit or stand in the other person’s presence if the other person is ill and he is fulfilling the mitzvah of bikur cholim (visiting the sick). This leads our Gemara to discuss various aspects of this mitzvah.

The baraita teaches that there is no limit to bikur holim. Although Rav Yosef suggests that this means that there is no limit to the reward that a person gets for fulfilling the mitzvah of visiting the sick, Abayye counters that this is true of all mitzvot. Rather, Abayye suggests that even a gadol (an adult or a great person) can visit a katan (a child or a lesser person); Rava teaches that it is appropriate for a person to visit his ill friend even 100 times a day. The point of this teaching, according to Abayye, is that even though we find that with regard to some mitzvot (returning lost objects, for example), if performance of the mitzvah may cause embarrassment, one is not obligated in the mitzvah, this is not the case regarding the mitzvah of bikur cholim. We never view visiting the sick as belittling the visitor.

Rabbi Aha bar Chanina teaches that a person who visits an ill friend takes with him one-sixtieth of the illness. In response to the question “in that case shouldn’t we arrange for 60 people to visit every sick person?” Rabbi Aha explains that each subsequent visitor removes only one-sixtieth of what is left, so the illness cannot be eradicated by visitors. Furthermore, this would only be true if the visitor is ben gilo.

The Maharsha suggests that the expression one-sixtieth is a somewhat generic term used in order to indicate “a very small amount,” since in areas of halakhah that amount is generally considered to be negligible. With regard to the definition of ben gilo, Rashi suggests that it means someone who is his age, while the Ran says that it is someone who was born under the same constellation. In the Midrash Vayikra Rabbah it is presented as someone who “loves him like himself,” which matches the interpretation offered by the Me’iri – that it refers to someone whose visit lifts the spirit of the ill person because he is so happy to see him.

Nedarim 40a-b

Continuing with the discussion about bikur cholim – visiting the sick – which began on yesterday’s daf, our Gemara presents the teaching of Rav Shesha brei d’Rav Idi that one should not visit an ill person during the first three hours of the day or the last three hours of the day – de-lo lesah da’atei min rachamei – so that he does not despair from mercy. This is explained by the Gemara as follows: during the first three hours of the day he feels better; the last three hours of the day, the illness becomes stronger.

Generally speaking, body temperature fluctuates throughout the day, with relatively lower temperatures in the morning and the highest temperatures in the evening. These changes become more pronounced when someone is ill, particularly with an infectious disease, when temperatures can become markedly higher at night. Oftentimes this rise in temperature indicates a strengthening of the illness. After a night of rest, however, we often find that the natural resistance of the body strengthens, although as the patient tires during the day, we can anticipate a relapse the following evening. Thus we find that it is not uncommon that during the morning hours the patient feels better and at night he feels worse.

Most of the commentaries explain Rav Shesha brei d’Rav Idi’s rule as stemming from a concern with prayer. During the morning hours when the patient feels better, a visitor may feel that there is no need to pray on the patient’s behalf; during the evening hours when the patient’s condition worsens, the visitor may feel that the ill person is beyond help and thus may not choose to pray. The Rambam, however, suggests that the rule is based on the time that the guest will (or will not) be in the way, since the morning and evening hours are the times that the family will naturally be tending to the patient.

Nedarim 41a-b

Still in the context of the discussion of bikur cholim – visiting the sick – our Gemara mentions some of the repercussions of illness. The Gemara brings Rav Yosef’s warning that someone who becomes ill can forget his learning, and then reports that Rav Yosef himself forgot his learning after a serious illness, and it was his student, Abayye, who took it upon himself to remind Rav Yosef of his previous teachings. The Iyun Yaakov suggests that Rav Yosef’s example is a particularly powerful one since Rav Yosef is known in the Gemara by the soubriquet “Sinai,” implying that he had a vast store of knowledge and knew all that was taught on Mount Sinai.

The Gemara continues with the story of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, who developed thirteen different approaches to every halakha and shared seven of them with his student, Rabbi Chiya. When Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi became ill and forgot his teachings, Rabbi Chiya successfully reminded him of those approaches that he had learned. It turned out that a certain laundryman had overheard Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi while he was developing his approaches and was able to share them with Rabbi Chiya, who was then able to re-teach them to Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi. The Gemara records that when Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi met the laundryman again, he credited him with having reestablished these teachings.

Rav Sherira Gaon explains that Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi’s “approaches” were essentially the different versions of oral traditions that were brought before him. Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi’s success was in clarifying each of these versions and editing them into the work that we know as the Mishnah.

There are a number of different illnesses that directly affect the brain itself – aneurisms, meningitis, etc. Such diseases are likely to cause severe damage to brain function, to the extent that even total amnesia may result. Other diseases, too, may cause similar damage, even though they are not connected directly with the brain. Measles, for example, or whooping cough, can also cause brain damage. Such situations can cause damage to the sensory centers and even to thinking and recognition, which can bring about partial or total memory loss.

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.