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
The Mishnah that we have today is a collection of statements of Torah she’ba’al peh (oral tradition) collated and edited by Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi. Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi often chose the opinion that he believed to be the one accepted as the halakha and included it in the Mishnah without attributing it to a particular Rabbi. Such a Mishnah is called stam – a simple Mishnah – i.e. one about which we find no argument.
Obviously, Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi could not include all of the statements of oral tradition in his Mishnah, and many of them were later collected by his students, Rabbi Hiyya and Rabbi Oshiya. These collections were called baraitot – “outside” collections – i.e. those that were not included in the collection of the Mishnah. The baraitot are often brought into discussions in the Gemara in an attempt to clarify or broaden our understanding of the laws taught in the Mishnah.
Our Gemara describes a conversation between Rabbi Nahum and Rabbi Abahu. Rabbi Nahum was serving Rabbi Abahu and took the opportunity to ask him a series of questions about how to determine the halakha when learning Mishnah.
The conversation went as follows:
Q: What if we find a disagreement followed by a stam Mishnah?
A: We follow the stam Mishnah.
Q: What if we find a stam Mishnah followed by a disagreement?
A: We do not automatically follow the stam Mishnah.
Q: What if we find a stam Mishnah and a disagreement appears in a baraita?
A: We follow the stam Mishnah.
- What if we find a stam baraita and an argument in the Mishnah?
- If Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi did not teach a clear conclusion, from where would Rabbi Chiya, editor of the baraita know it?
The Maharik explains the argument put forward by Rabbi Abahu as follows. We can assume that Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi was more knowledgeable than his student, Rabbi Chiya, so if Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi was not aware of a compelling reason to rule in a particular case, we cannot assume that Rabbi Chiya had additional information that would enable us to accept his ruling in the face of the disagreement that appears in the Mishnah.
We usually understand the case of mamzer – a person who is forbidden to marry within the normative Jewish community – as a child born as the result of an adulterous or incestuous relationship. The Mishna on our daf introduces us to the position of Rabbi Akiva – a position that is not accepted as the halakha – which claims that the offspring of any forbidden relationship will create mamzerim. Thus, in a situation where a husband and wife divorced and the woman remarried, and then (after a second divorce or if her second husband died) they remarried, Rabbi Akiva believes that any children from that union would be mamzerim, since machzir gerushato is forbidden (see Devarim 24:1-4).
From the next Mishnah (49a) we learn that Rabbi Akiva’s position would include all cases of relatives who are forbidden to marry and the Gemara explains that the source for this ruling is based on his interpretation of the passages in Sefer Devarim (23:1-3) that place the law of mamzer in the same context as a forbidden sexual union. According to this, even Rabbi Akiva will rule only that a child from a forbidden relationship between relatives (issur ervah) will become a mamzer. In response to the question that our Mishnah has Rabbi Akiva ruling that even a case of machzir gerushato will lead to mamzerut – and marrying one’s own divorced wife does not seem to be a case of issur ervah – the Rashba argues that since they were once married their relationship is considered like that of family members. The Rambam reads the Mishnah on 49a as offering two possibilities – either relatives who are forbidden to marry or any other forbidden relationship. This interpretation of the Mishnah appears to be supported by the Talmud Yerushalmi.
It should be noted that we follow the position of Shmuel ha-Temani who rules that only a sexual relationship that would lead to a punishment of karet will lead to offspring who will be mamzerim.
What is the halakhic status of a child who is born of a Jewish mother but a non-Jewish father?
This question is the subject of a disagreement among the Sages, with opinions ranging from those who rule that the child is a mamzer to those who view him as mekulkal – problematic – to those who see him as a regular Jewish child. This last view is the opinion of such Sages as Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi and Rav.
The Gemara relates that Rav was approached and asked about the personal status of someone who had a Jewish mother and non-Jewish father. When Rav replied that he believed such a person to be perfectly acceptable, the questioner – who was, apparently, the product of such a union – asked to marry Rav’s daughter. Rav refused.
Upon witnessing the exchange, Rav’s grandson, Shimi bar Chiya asked: ‘People say that in Media a camel can dance on a kab (a small measure); here is the kab, here is the camel and here is Media, but there is no dancing’ – i.e. people exaggerate about events that happen in a far-away place, but here, when your ruling is being put to the test, you are not willing to support your position with an action. Rav replied that even if this man were like Yehoshua bin Nun, he would not be willing to allow his daughter to marry him.
Although Media was not very far from Babylonia, this expression was in use already in the time of the Mishna – i.e. in Israel – and Media is often used to express something that is very far away. The amazing story that is told about camels in Media is understood in a number of different ways by the rishonim. Rashi explains that a large camel is thought to be dancing in a small area. According to the Rivan, camels there were thought to have been trained to stand with all four of their legs in a closed area. The Me’iri says that people suggested that the camels there were unusually small.
While some view Rav’s refusal to allow his daughter to marry this suitor as indicating that Rav believed that there was some problem with a person like this, others understand that he was simply saying that he was not interested in this man as a son-in-law for reasons separate than his family background.
Conversion to Judaism involves a number of stages. The potential convert must accept the laws of Judaism, if he is male he must undergo a brit milah (circumcision) and he must go to the mikvah for ritual immersion. What would such a person’s status be were he to become circumcised without having gone to the mikvah?
We find a discussion of this question in a baraita.
The chachamim rule that both are essential for conversion, and one without the other is meaningless. Thus, such a person is not considered Jewish until he has completed the process.
Rabbi Yehoshua says that we can accept someone who has not completed both, just as the imahot – women who became converts – only went to the mikvah without circumcision.
Rabbi Eliezer agrees that a lack of mikvah will not keep the person from becoming Jewish, pointing out that our forefathers also did not immerse in a mikvah when they had a brit milah.
Rabbi Eliezer’s statement – that mikvah did not accompany milah when the forefathers of the Torah performed a brit – is never clearly stated in the Torah, and there are many suggestions of sources that support that idea. The simplest suggested source is presented by the Rambam who points to the milah that accompanied the sacrifice of the Passover sacrifice, in which someone who had not been circumcised was not allowed to participate (see Shemot 12:48). This circumcision is viewed as a prerequisite for conversion, in as much as it was preparation not only for the korban Pesach but for receiving the Torah on Shavuot a short time later, an act that is seen as a mass conversion of the Children of Israel.
The conclusion of the Gemara is that all three elements are essential for the conversion to be a valid one: accepting mitzvot, milah and going to the mikvah. Furthermore, these essential acts must be done before a Jewish court, because conversion is seen as a mishpat – a judgment of sorts (see Bamidbar 15:16).
It is well-known that in contrast to other religions, Judaism does not proselytize. In fact, when a non-Jewish person approaches a Jewish court and asks to convert halakha requires the court to point out the difficulties experienced by the Jewish nation in today’s world, the commandments that he will now be obligated in and the punishments that he may be liable for should he transgress them. All this is done in an attempt to discourage converts, because – as Rabbi Chelbo says – “Converts are as painful to the Jewish people as is sapachat (a type of leprosy).”
This statement is one that clearly demands explanation.
Tosafot offer no less than four suggestions, among them:
- Converts are not so knowledgeable regarding Jewish law, and other Jews may learn from them
- All Jews are responsible for one another, and converts may err more easily
- We are commanded to be especially sensitive to the needs of the convert, and it is difficult to fulfill that mitzvah properly.
Other explanations are suggested, as well:
- The Rambam suggests that we are afraid that a convert will revert to his original set of beliefs, and perhaps will influence others to join him.
- Tosafot in Kiddushin (70b) point to a statement made by the Sages that the Jewish people were exiled so that they would interact with others who would be convinced of the truth of Judaism and convert. Thus, in a sense it is the converts who are the cause of the Jewish exile.
- Another approach that appears in that Tosafot is quoted in the name of “Avraham ha-Ger” – Abraham the proselyte. He says that this Gemara should be understood to mean that since converts are meticulously careful in their fulfillment of the commandments – much more than other Jews – the comparison puts non-converts in a bad light, which is why the converts are viewed as painful for the Jewish people.
One difficult halakha that appears in the Torah is the law of eshet yefat to’ar – if a Jewish soldier desires a woman captured in battle, the Torah forbids him to rape her (as is, unfortunately, the case in most armies). Recognizing that in the heat of battle men may want to behave in ways that are not acceptable under normal circumstances, the Torah concedes that the woman can be taken, but she is to be given a month to mourn the loss of her family, and only then will the soldier be given a choice to marry her or to set her free.
Regarding an eshet yefat to’ar the Torah rules (Devarim 21:12) that she should shave her head and “do” her nails. The definition of this term is subject to a disagreement between Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Eliezer rules that she should cut her nails short, while Rabbi Akiva believes that the Torah commands her to allow them to grow.
The Malbim explains the argument as follows. According to Rabbi Eliezer, the purpose of the activities that the Torah requires of the eshet yefat to’ar is a purification process, preparation for joining the Jewish people. We find similar requirements for a mumar (an apostate) who repents, and some say that all converts undergo similar preparations. Just as the levi’im shaved their bodies in preparation for accepting the responsibilities of the Temple service (see Bamidbar 8:7) similarly the eshet yefat to’ar is preparing for her new life.
Rabbi Akiva takes a very different view of the required activities. He sees them as an attempt to remove the beauty and luster of this woman captured in battle, since the Torah prefers that the soldier choose to reject his earlier lust for the foreign woman. Therefore he interprets all of these behaviors in a way that would make the eshet yefat to’ar less attractive.
Rabbi Shimon ben Azay reports that he found a scroll in Jerusalem that accused King Menashe as having killed the prophet Yeshayahu.
Rava comments that that Menashe did not simply murder him, rather he put him on trial for heresies that appear among his prophecies. Although Yeshayahu could explain each one of them, he chose not to do so, because he knew that Menashe would kill him in any case, and he preferred that Menashe should not be held responsible for murder.
What were the supposed heresies?
- The Torah says that no one can gaze upon God and live (see Shemot 33:20).
- Yeshayahu claims that he saw God sitting on his royal throne (see Yeshayahu 6:1).
- The Torah says that God is always available to us when we cry out to him (see Devarim 4:7)
- Yeshayahu teaches to call out to God when he is close by (see Yeshayahu 55:6)
- The Torah says that every person lives out his appointed days (see Shemot 23:26).
The Gemara gives explanations for each of these apparent contradictions, but, as noted above, Yeshayahu chose not to defend himself. The Gemara records that Yeshayahu hid in a tree, but the tree was felled and he was killed. The Gemara explains that Yeshayahu was deserving of death because of a disturbing statement that he made about the Jewish people when he said that he lives among a nation whose lips are defiled (see Yeshayahu 6:5).
The rishonim point out that although Yeshayahu makes much more serious accusations against the Jewish nation, in this particular case these words were his own – he was not commanded to say that by God.
The Ritva argues that he still should not have been punished, since the navi clearly writes that Yeshayahu was forgiven for his statement (see Yeshayahu 6:7). He offers two explanations – Yeshayahu was forgiven for making the original statement, but he should not have repeated it in his recorded prophesies, or else that the atonement that is mentioned would only be complete through his death.
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.