Masechet Rosh Hashanah 10a-16b

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14 Dec 2006

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

Rosh Hashanah 10

We find a disagreement in our Gemara as to the time of year when the world was created. According to Rabbi Eliezer, the world was created in Tishrei.  Similarly, the Avot – Avraham, Yitzhak and Yaakov – were born and died in Tishrei. Rabbi Yehoshua argues that all of these events took place took place in Nissan.

The rishonim (see the Ran, for example) point out that Rabbi Eliezer does not really mean to say that the world was created in Tishrei, since it is the creation of Man which takes place on Rosh HaShanah, the first day of Tishrei. Thus, the six days of creation began on the 25th day of the month of Elul. Nevertheless, he is expressing the idea that creation took place during the time of year when Tishrei occurs.

Although both of these tanna’im bring textual support for their positions (see page 11a), the Ritva explains that none of the proofs is truly convincing, and that the passages quoted are, at best, hints brought in support of a tradition held by each of the Rabbis, or, perhaps, based on their logic in understanding which time of year it would be most logical for the world to have been created. The Maharal explains in great length that their disagreement stems from different views that each of them held with regards to a deep understanding of life and its meaning. According to the Maharal, the month of Nissan, which occurs in the Spring, represents the driving force of life that grows and blossoms, and compares it to the heart of Man. Tishrei, which falls in Autumn, expresses the holiness, spirituality and solemnity of life, which is the realm of the human mind. Which of these times of year is most appropriate for the creation of the world is the source for the argument between Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua.

Rosh Hashanah 11

On yesterday’s daf we learned that Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua disagree about the time of year when the world was created. There are some events of note that took place during the course of Jewish history that they agree about. Both agree, for example, that three barren women in Tanach – Sarah, Rachel and Chana – all gave birth on Rosh Hashanah, and that Yosef was freed from prison on Rosh Hashanah, as well. Furthermore, both agree that the Children of Israel were released from their work as slaves in Egypt on Rosh Hashanah, even though their redemption from Egypt does not take place until Nissan. They differ, however, on the time of the ultimate redemption. Rabbi Eliezer believes that the final redemption will take place in Tishrei; Rabbi Yehoshua believes that it will happen in Nissan.

Baraitot in the Gemara provide sources for dating all of these events, which, as we saw explained by the Ritva on yesterday’s daf, are more hints and less definitive proofs. With regard to the time of the future redemption, where we find a disagreement, Rabbi Eliezer derives the occasion of redemption as Tishrei by comparing the commandment of shofar on Rosh Hashanah to the shofar that will announce the coming of the Moshiach (see Yeshayahu 27:13); Rabbi Yehoshua derives it from a comparison between the ultimate redemption and the redemption from Egypt. The passage describing the redemption says that it took place on leil shimurim – a night of watching (see Shemot 12:42). The pasuk repeats the words leil shimurim a second time, which is understood by Rabbi Yehoshua as a reference not only to the redemption from Egypt, but an indication that this date was established from the moment of creation as a time of redemption, foretelling the ultimate redemption, as well.

An interesting question is raised by R. Aryeh Leib in his Turei Even, who asks how a specific date can be placed on the coming of Moshiach, when the Gemara is clear that Moshiach can come at any time. In answer, he suggests that there are different Messianic paths that can take place. Moshiach can come be-itah – in its time – or achishenah – in a hastened kind of way (see Yeshayahu 60:22). If it is in its time, there may be a specific date set for it. If it is “hastened” then it can come at any time. The Sefat Emet suggests that we must recognize the process involved in the coming of Moshi’ah. When Moshe comes to set the Children of Israel free from servitude in Egypt, he arrived well before the actual redemption takes place. Similarly in the future, Moshiach can come at any time, with the ultimate redemption set for either Nissan or Tishrei.

Rosh Hashanah 12

The Mishnah (2a) taught that the first day of Tishrei is the beginning of a new year for vegetables. The Gemara on our daf clarifies that the intention of the Mishnah is to teach that the ma’asrot – tithes that are taken from produce grown in Israel – begin a new season on the first day of Tishrei.

The rules of terumot and ma’asrot – contributions given to the kohanim and Levi’im from produce – are as follows:

Which types of produce are obligated in these terumot and ma’asrot on a Biblical level is subject to a disagreement between the rishonim (which may be based on different positions taken by the Talmud Bavli and Talmud Yerushalmi). Generally speaking, vegetables are divided into three categories: dagan (grains), kitniyot (pulses), and yerakot (vegetables). Examples of dagan are wheat and barley, which are included in the seven species of produce of the Land of Israel. They are certainly included in the obligation of terumot and ma’asrot. Some opinions place kitniyot in that category, as well. All agree that the obligation of terumot and ma’asrot for yerakot is only of Rabbinic origin.

Rosh HaShanah 13

We learned on yesterday’s daf that there is a difference of opinion as to whether the obligation to separate terumot and ma’asrot from kitniyot (pulses) is of Biblical or Rabbinic origin. Our Gemara discusses the cases of orez (rice), dohan (millet) and peragin (identified by the Geonim as Papaver somniferum or poppy). According to Rabbah, kitniyot are unique in that it is the time that they take root that determines whether they are to be tithed with last year’s crop (if they take root prior to Rosh Hashanah) or with next year’s crop (if they first take root after Rosh Hashanah). This is different from olives and grain, whose readiness is determined by completion of one-third of their growth, from other fruits, which are determined by the time that they bud, and from vegetables, whose harvest establishes the year that they belong to. Rabbah explains that kitniyot are different because they are made perakhim, perakhim.

Some rishonim (Rabbeinu Chananel, the Aruch, the Ra’avad and others) understand this expression to mean that they do not all ripen at the same time and therefore are not all harvested at the same time, even if they were planted and took root at the same time.

Rashi, Tosafot and others suggest that this means that they are shelled (i.e. removed from their husks and prepared for sale) over a relatively long period of time. The Ran and the Ramban combine these explanations and say that the concern is that since the kitniyot do not ripen all together they are harvested slowly over a long period of time and are collected and stored prior to their sale. Therefore it is likely that we will find older and more recent harvests stored together and it would be difficult to clearly distinguish what belongs to this year’s crop and what belongs to last year’s crop unless a more standard date (taking root) was chosen.

It should be noted that in modern times, great efforts have been made to arrange that kitniyot (mainly produce like rice and millet) ripen together in order to allow for mechanical harvesting. The Talmud is discussing the situation at that time, when it was necessary to return to complete the harvest in a single field over and over again over a fairly lengthy period of time.

Rosh Hashanah 14

The Mishnah (2a) brought a disagreement between Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel as to whether the new year for trees begins on the first day of Shevat or on the fifteenth day of that month. Thus, fruits that bud before this date will belong to the previous year with regard to the rules of terumot and ma’asrot (tithes); if they bud afterwards, then they will belong to the subsequent year. In explanation for the choice of a date in Shevat, Rabbi Elazar quotes Rabbi Oshaya as teaching that even though the winter has not yet ended, by this time the rainy season is almost over, so the new year has begun.

Since Tu B’Shevat is based on the lunar calendar, it can fluctuate anywhere from January 17 until February 14, although in most years it falls out at the end of January or beginning of February. Winter runs from December 22 through March 21, so most years the majority of winter occurs after Tu B’Shevat. As far as the rainy season in Israel is concerned, there is evidence that suggests that in ancient times rains fell earlier in the year than they do today. Nevertheless, even today more than 50% of annual rainfall takes place before February, so usually most rainfall comes prior to Tu B’Shevat.

How do Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel arrive at the dates that they choose to identify as the new year?

The Me’iri suggests that this date is the middle of the rainy period. Perhaps Bet Shammai is reluctant to divide a month in half (the Talmud Yerushalmi teaches that the months are established as single units based on the passage in Shemot 12:2 – le-chodshei Hashanah – “of the months of the year”). Bet Hillel, on the other hand, is less concerned with keeping every month as a single unit, and is more concerned with the relationship between the trees and the natural cycle of the seasons.

Rosh Hashanah 15

As we have learned on the previous dapim, there are several different dates on the calendar that distinguish one agricultural year from another. This is significant in establishing when tithes are taken, since every individual year’s harvest must have terumot and ma’asrot taken separately. We have seen that the Mishnah (2a) teaches that the first day of Tishrei is the date of the new year for vegetables, while the new year for fruits begins in Shevat when most of the year’s rains have already fallen.

The Gemara on our daf discusses the etrog, which does not follow all of the usual rules of fruit because of its unique growth and harvest cycle. The citron or citrus medica L. differs from other fruits that grew in Israel during the Talmudic period in a number of ways. For one thing, unlike other trees for which the annual winter rain rains sufficed for their needs, the etrog needs constant watering. Furthermore, it flowers and produces fruit all year round, so that one can find ripe fruits on the tree at the same time that new budding is taking place. For these reasons it makes sense to compare the etrog tree to vegetables, which also need constant watering and are often harvested and eaten at different times, rather than in a particular, set season.

Another factor in the confusion about establishing a set new year for the etrog tree is that in the time of the Talmud it was not common practice to plant full orchards of etrog trees. More often a small number of such trees were planted in a field that contained other trees. This led to a situation where people who came into a field during the Sabbatical year to pick the fruits that had been left to grow that were considered hefker – ownerless – would also handle the etrogim, even though their produce may have been considered part of the previous year’s harvest and should not have been taken. The Rambam explains that the Gemara’s sensitivity to people handling the etrog tree stems from its being relatively short in height with an attractive smell that led people to it. Touching any tree during its flowering period or when it first begins to bud damages the fruit. Since the etrog has continuous flowering throughout the year, too much contact with it can destroy an entire year’s produce.

Rosh Hashanah 16

The Mishnah on our daf teaches that the world is judged on four occasions during the year:

Both the early and later commentaries discuss how the decisions made on grain, fruit and water relate to the general judgment made about every person on Rosh Hashanah. The Ran suggests that the heavenly judgments about food and water relate to the entire world, while the rulings handed down on Rosh Hashanah relate to the individual and how much he or she will receive from that amount. The Rama mi-Fano explains that the general ruling is made at the beginning of the year, on Rosh Hashanah, but that every person is judged again at certain points of the year (or, according to Rabbi Yossi in the Gemara, every day) to see if the original ruling is still appropriate at this time and how the person should receive it.

The Ran suggests that most of these dates of judgment are derived from the Temple sacrifices that are brought on those holidays that refer specifically to these different natural resources. The idea of Rosh Hashanah as a day of judgment stems from the passage in Tehillim 81:5, which is understood to be a reference to Rosh Hashanah, and discusses it as a time of “statute” and “law.”

Our Gemara is the source for the famous image of three books opened before the Almighty on Rosh Hashanah, where the tzadikim – the righteous – are signed and sealed for life, the resha’im – the evil-doers – are signed and sealed for death and the benonim – the average people – have an opportunity to add to their good deeds until a final decision is made on Yom Kippur. The commentaries struggle with the symbolic language of this story. Rashi suggests that the Gemara does not mean to discuss righteous and evil people, rather those who have been chosen for life or death in the upcoming year. The Rashba, on the other hand, believes that the story really does talk about righteous and evil people, but that “life” refers to a share in the world to come, and does not guarantee that they will live out the year in this world.

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.