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
Our Gemara refers to a korban asham taluy – a sacrifice brought for doing a questionable action – in the context of discussing the halakhic status of a cheresh and chareshet – a deaf mute.
The rule of asham taluy appears in the Torah (Vayikra 5:17-19), and its rules are discussed in detail mainly in Masechet Keritot. The Torah does not specify what transgression would obligate this sacrifice to be brought; nevertheless, there is a long-standing Rabbinic tradition which teaches that an asham taluy was brought when a person accidentally performed an act that may have been forbidden by the Torah – one for which he would have been obligated to bring a korban chatat (a sin offering) had we known for sure that the act was prohibited. In such a case, the person would bring the asham taluy, and if it later became clear that he had, in fact, transgressed, the sinner would bring an additional korban chatat at that time.
The tanna’im differ as to the level of uncertainty that obligates a person in an asham taluy, but the conclusion is that the sacrifice is brought only in the case of hatikhah achat mi-shtei hatikhot – “one piece out of two.” This means that an asham taluy is only brought when the question is whether an act which is forbidden was done. If, however, there is a question with regard to the act itself, i.e. we are not certain whether the act was forbidden at all, then an asham taluy would not be brought. The specific example given is a case where a person had two pieces of meat in front of him: one was permitted and one was forbidden; we are certain that he ate one piece, but we are unsure which piece it was. Another such case would be if we knew for certain that the piece was forbidden, but we are uncertain as to whether the person ate the minimum amount necessary to be obligated in a sin-offering. In these two cases, an asham taluy would be required. If, however, we are not sure whether the piece that was eaten was truly forbidden – it was a case of hatikhah ahat, “a single piece” – then an asham taluy would not be brought.
What level of responsibility do adults have to keep children from transgressing halakhic prohibitions?
This question of whether katan okhel nevelot en bet din metzuvin lehafrisho – “if a minor is eating non-kosher food the Jewish court would not need to stop him from doing so” – is dealt with in our Gemara, where a number of cases are brought that seem to offer different perspectives on this matter.
For example, one baraita quoted by the Gemara teaches that an adult cannot tell a child to bring him keys on Shabbat (where the child will have to carry them in a public domain), but if he sees the child throwing something there, he is not obligated to stop him. Abayye explains that this case may be specifically in a karmelit – a place where the prohibition is only Rabbinic. Another baraita teaches that a non-Jew who comes to put out a fire on Shabbat should not be stopped, but a Jewish child must be told that he cannot extinguish the flames. Rabbi Yochanan limits this case to a situation where the child is doing so under the direction of his parent.
There is no clear conclusion in the Gemara, which leaves the question open for the rishonim and aharonim to discuss. While it is clear that an adult cannot feed a minor with food forbidden by the Torah, what is the ruling if the food is only forbidden on a Rabbinic level? The Rashba, for example, believes that, according to the letter of the law, the latter case would be permissible.
Another question discussed by the rishonim is whether the rules of the Jewish court also apply to the father. According to the Ri”d and others, if the bet din is not obligated to intercede when they see a child transgressing, neither is the father. The Rambam, however, is of the opinion that a father, who is specifically commanded to educate his child and is obligated to teach him to perform positive mitzvot like tzitzit and prayer, must be concerned with negative commandments as well, even if the bet din is not.
The fifteenth perek returns us to the discussion of the tenth perek and the question of what level of testimony is necessary to allow us to permit a woman to marry when her husband has disappeared. As we have seen, the Sages found a number of ways to be lenient in such cases, both because of their desire to ease the suffering of the widow and because they rely on her to ascertain that her husband is truly dead before she marries another man.
One question that is raised on our daf is whether we need to concern ourselves with the fear that the witness who testifies that a person died may mistake one person for another if they both had the same name. The Gemara relates that Rav Beivai‘s nephew, who was called Yitzhak Reish Galuta (Isaac, the Exilarch), was traveling from Cordoba to Aspamia and died. (It appears that Cordoba is the place known by that same name in modern-day Spain. This ancient city, which was originally settled by the Phoenicians, was important in the days of the Talmud, as it was the capital of the Roman province H. Baetica. Aspamia may refer to the area of Spain whose name in Latin and Greek was Hispania.) When word got back of Yitzhak Resh Galuta’s death, Abayye and Rava disagreed about whether they could be certain that they knew who had died, or if they had to be concerned that there was more than one person known by that name. Abayye felt that such a concern had to be taken into account, while Rava was not concerned.
The rishonim ask how this particular case came to be the point of discussion; after all, how many “Yitzhak Resh Galuta”s could there be?!
The Ri”d and others argue that he could not have been the Exilarch; that was merely his nickname. According to the Rashba, Yitzhak was not the head of the entire Jewish community in exile, but rather only the head of the community of Cordoba. Other leaders of the Diaspora, says the Rashba, were also known by similar titles.
The Alshikh takes a different approach entirely. He suggests that the discussion did not revolve around this specific case, but when Yitzhak Reish Galuta passed away, it led to this situation being discussed.
We learned on yesterday’s daf that, in a situation where testimony is given about the marital status of a particular person, Abayye expressed concern that someone else may have the same name as the subject of the testimony, while Rava is not concerned about this.
Our Gemara tells the story of a divorce document found in the city of Sura, which read: “Here in the city of Sura, I, Anan bar Chiya of Neharda’a, have divorced my wife.” After checking throughout Babylonia, only one other person with the name Anan bar Chiya was found. He was a resident of the city of Hagra, and there were witnesses who testified that on the day that the document in question was written, he was with them in Neharda’a – not Sura. Surprisingly, Abayye says that in this case he is not concerned that there might be a mistake, since the witnesses say clearly that the other possible Anan bar Chiya was with them in another city. Rava, on the other hand, is specifically concerned in this case; due to the proximity of Neharda’a and Sura, if the man had gamla parcha – a “flying camel” – or could travel be-kefitzah – by “jumping” from one to the other – he may have gotten to the other city the same day. Additionally, he could have sent a messenger to have the document written, so he did not need to be present at the time.
The rishonim argue that Rava invoking flying camels and jumping from one city to another is not the heart of the matter. The real concern is that the man divorcing his wife may have sent a messenger to have the document written on his behalf. Nevertheless, the cases mentioned by Rava do have reasonable explanations. Different types of camels have specific characteristics and are used for different types of work. Most camels are used as beasts of burden and are rather slow. There are, however, also racing camels that can gallop like horses for long distances, and they are known as “flying camels.” Although most of the commentaries explain that kefitzah is done by use of some magical device, the Me’iri suggests that it may simply refer to a fast runner and explains that Rava is saying that the man in question was swift afoot and thus able to travel from one city to the other in less time than we would imagine.
We have learned that a woman whose husband has disappeared can be trusted to say that he has died, and the Sages will allow her to marry – both because of a desire to ease the suffering of the widow and because they rely on her to ascertain that her husband is truly dead before she marries again. This applies to issues of marriage. But does it also apply to monetary issues connected with the husband’s death? Specifically, will she receive her ketubah, which guarantees her support in the event that her husband dies?
The Mishna teaches that Bet Hillel believe that the wife’s testimony is trustworthy only for issues of marriage, but not for monetary matters, while Bet Shammai accept her word for money matters, which they perceive as being less weighty than the possibility of adultery. In the ensuing give-and-take, the Mishnah quotes Bet Shammai as arguing that their position can be deduced from a close reading of the ketubah – midrash ketubah – which says that in the event that she remarries, she will collect the ketubah. Convinced by this argument, Bet Hillel accepted Bet Shammai’s position.
The concept of midrash ketubah is not, by any means, a simple or obvious one. Can one really reach conclusions about issues of Jewish law from the language of a legal document?
Tosafot grapple with the question of whether Bet Hillel truly accepts the idea of midrash ketubah. In Masechet Ketubot (53a), Tosafot suggest that Bet Hillel may only accept midrash ketubah when it is in favor of the husband, which can be supported by the argument that, because the husband is the one obligated to write the document, we assume his intention is to minimize his potential financial liability. The Talmud Yerushalmi brings a lengthy list of Sages, all of whom accept the idea of midrash ketubah, because it appears that the conclusion of our Mishnah is that midrash ketubah is accepted by all, likely because of the realization that the text of the ketubah is largely established by the Sages themselves. Therefore it is logical to say that the language of the ketubah can be treated as though it were the language of the Mishnah itself.
If a man realizes that he is dying and desires to free his wife from the obligation of yibum (levirate marriage), can he appoint a third party to receive a get – divorce papers – on her behalf? From the perspective of Jewish law, is receiving a get in such a case considered a zechut (advantageous to the wife), or is it a chovah (detrimental)?
The Gemara does not come to a clear conclusion about this question, but it segues to another question – can a husband appoint someone to accept a get on his wife’s behalf if the couple is in a situation of constant argument (ketatah)? In such a case, would the woman consider it advantageous to be removed from this contentious situation, or is even a difficult marriage better than a situation of divorce?
On this question the Gemara is clear – a woman would prefer to be married than to be divorced. Four common idioms are brought to support this idea:
- Resh Lakish: Tav le-metav tan-do me-le-metav armelu (“It is preferable to live as a couple than to dwell in widowhood.”)
- Abayye: D’shumshemana gavra, kursei bei harata ramu lei (“With a husband the size of an ant, her seat is placed among the great.”)
- Rav Papa: D’naftza gavra, tiktei be-sefei bava ve-teitiv (“Though her husband be a carder, she calls him to the threshold and sits down at his side.”)
- Rav Ashi: D’kulsa gavra, lo ba’ei talfhei le-kidra (“If her husband is only a cabbage-head, she requires no lentils for her pot.”)
All of these statements, which were common in the time of the Gemara, indicate that no matter how simple, lowly or – according to the interpretation of the Geonim – odd-looking her husband is, a married woman is proud of her status as a wife.
The sixteenth perek of Masechet Yevamot begins on our daf. This chapter focuses on three topics:
- The case of a woman who testifies that her husband has died, when it is not clear whether she is obligated in yibum (levirate marriage) or is free to marry whoever she wants.
- What testimony is necessary in order for the court to accept that someone has died? What must the witnesses have seen in order for the court to rely on them?
- Might there be a situation in which we can rely on the fact that a person on his deathbed has died, even if no one witnessed his actual passing?
The first Mishna teaches that if a woman’s husband (who has no children) goes traveling with her tzarah (fellow wife) and word gets back to her that her husband has died, she can neither marry nor have yibum. She cannot marry because we must assume that she is obligated in the mitzvah of yibum. She cannot have yibum because we fear that her tzarah may have given birth and without the mitzvah of yibum, she is forbidden to her brother-in-law.
The Mishnah further teaches that in a case where her husband had no brothers, if his mother (i.e. her mother-in-law) was traveling as well, the widow does not need to be concerned that her mother-in-law gave birth to a son, which would put her in a situation of yibum, unless she left mele’ah – literally “full,” i.e. while pregnant. In such a case, the widow would need to ascertain whether or not her mother-in-law bore a son (who would be her husband’s brother) before she can marry someone else. According to the Talmud Yerushalmi this is a real concern because we must assume that there is an equal chance that the mother-in-law will give birth to a boy or to a girl. The Nimukei Yosef explains that the possibility of a miscarriage does not come into play here (except according to Rabbi Yehoshua, who permits her to marry based on the likelihood that her mother-in-law either miscarried or gave birth to a girl) because once a woman is at the end of her pregnancy, the possibility of a miscarriage is considered to be very small. The Rashash points to the odd language of the Mishnah – that the mother-in-law left when she was “full” – as an indication that she was not merely pregnant, but was, in fact, at the very end of her pregnancy. It is also possible that the language is based on the passage in Megillat Rut (1:21) – a book that deals with many issues connected with yibum – where Naomi describes herself as leaving mele’ah and returning empty, bereft of her husband and sons.
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 www.steinsaltz.org 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.
Like this article?
Sign up for our Shabbat Shalom e-newsletter, a weekly roundup of inspirational thoughts, insight into current events, divrei torah, relationship advice, recipes and so much more!