Masechet Yevamot 71a-77b

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Chair of Eliyahu for bris
13 Jul 2007

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

Yevamot 71a-b

The first Mishnah in the eighth perek (see 70a) taught that an arel – someone who is not circumcised – cannot eat terumah. The Gemara derived this law from a similar one forbidding an arel from partaking in the korban Pesach (see Shemot 12:48).  There are other people who also cannot participate in the Pesach sacrifice – specifically non-Jews, who are listed as ben-neikhar (an “alien,” as in Shemot 12:43), and toshav ve-sakhir (“a sojourner and a hired servant,” see Shemot 12:45).

The Gemara understands the ben-neikhar to be a Jew who has become an apostate.

One suggestion regarding the definition of toshav ve-sakhir is that these are the cases of aravi mahul ve-givoni mahul – Arabs or Gibeonites who had a tradition of circumcision, but who nonetheless could not participate in the Passover sacrifice.

The rishonim question why we need to be taught that a non-Jew cannot participate in the korban Pesach once we know that a Jewish apostate cannot do so. The Ramban and Rashba argue that someone who rejects the Jewish faith could very well be considered worse than a non-Jew. The Behag suggests that the case of an aravi mahul is one where the non-Jew had begun the process of conversion to Judaism and had already accepted mitzvot and gone to the mikveh, but had not yet completed his brit. This halakha is teaching that he must complete the conversion, even though he already has undergone a circumcision of sorts.

It appears that the case of the givoni mahul is not a reference to the Gibeonites mentioned in Sefer Yehoshua (see chapter 9), but rather to another nation. Some manuscripts refer to them as gavnuni mahul, and Rabbeinu Chananel explains that they were a nation who lived in the mountains – some say on the east bank of the Jordan, other suggest that they were in an area called Gubia, south of the Caucasus. In any case, as Rashi explains, they were a nation that had a tradition of circumcision, even in the times of the Talmud.

Yevamot 72a-b

We have already learned (in the first Mishnah in this perek, or chapter – 70a) that a kohen who is an arel – a Jewish man who has not been circumcised – cannot eat terumah. The Gemara on our daf discusses the case of a mashukh – a person who had a brit milah and then had his skin stretched back so that it would appear to be a foreskin, in order to hide his circumcision. This type of operation was done during certain times in Jewish history – for example, under Greek/Hellenistic rule – when being circumcised was an embarrassment for someone who was interested in assimilating into the dominant culture, which viewed circumcision as mutilation. It should be noted that under the Greeks, sporting events – including the original Olympic Games – were held with the participants unclothed.

Rav Huna rules that, on a biblical level, someone who has undergone this operation and has hidden his brit milah is still considered circumcised; nevertheless the Rabbis ruled that such a person should undergo a second circumcision. Furthermore, the Gemara reports that during the rule of Ben Kuziba, many people who had hidden their brit milah arranged to undergo a second circumcision.

The individual who is known to the Gemara as Ben Kuziba is the same person who is known to us – as he was called by Rabbi Akiva – as Bar Kokhba. In letters written by him that have been unearthed in archaeological excavations, we find that he signed his name Shimon bar Kusba. Apparently, the other names that he had “played off” of his actual name. His supporters called him Bar Kohkba – “the son of the star” – basing themselves on the passage recited by the prophet, Bilam (Bamidbar 24:17), darakh kokhav mi-Yaakov. Those who opposed his revolt – especially after it failed – called him Bar Kuziba – “the son of falsehood.”

One of the underlying causes of the Bar Kokhba revolt was the edict of the Caesar forbidding circumcision around 130 CE. From our Gemara we see that there were also people who tried to hide their circumcisions, an act that they later removed under the inspiration of Bar Kokhba.

Yevamot 73a-b

The “taxes” paid by an average farmer during Temple times went largely to the mikdash itself and to the people – kohanim and levi’im – who worked there. The major matanot (literally “presents” but effectively taxes) included:

Our Gemara quotes a Mishnah that teaches a number of halakhot regarding bikkurim and terumah. For example, someone who is not a kohen who eats them will be liable to receive the death penalty if he consumes them with malicious intent, or will have to pay restitution and add a 20% penalty if he eats them accidentally. Nevertheless, they are considered the property of the kohen (i.e. he can sell them to another kohen), and if they were to fall into a mixture, they would become nullified at a ratio of 100:1 (ordinary forbidden foods become nullified at a ratio of 60:1). The Mishnah points out that all this is in contrast to the laws of ma’aser rishon, which has no unique holiness to it; it is simply a portion of the harvest that must be separated and given to the levi to do with it as he sees fit.

The Ramban points out that that the emphasis made by the Mishnah on the fact that bikurim and terumah are the property of the kohen is to point out the contrast with ma’aser sheni, which is considered by the Sages to be in the category of mi-shulhan gavoah ka-zakhu – coming to the individual “from the table of the Almighty.”

Yevamot 74a-b

On yesterday’s daf, we learned about the basic rules of terumah and ma’aser. The Gemara on our daf points out a number of qualities unique to each one of them. According to the Gemara, terumah is special because it has “mahpaz”, while ma’aser is unique in that it is “hadas tav”. These words are actually acrostics – mnemonic devices used by the Sages to help them remember certain lists of rules or attributes. Here they stand for the following:

Terumah has these unique rules –

Ma’aser sheni has these unique rules –

Finally, the Gemara points out that kodashim have their own set of unique rules, whose mnemonic abbreviation is pankakes

The Gemara brings these lists in an attempt to clarify which of these laws is the more severe one, assuming that the one with the largest collection of rules is the most severe.

Yevamot 75a-b

The Torah (Devarim 23) lists people who are not permitted to “join” the Jewish people through marriage. Aside from individuals from foreign nations (e.g. Egyptians and Midianites), the Torah also includes men who have been physically injured in a way that affects their ability to have normal sexual relations (see Devarim 23:2). In an attempt to define one of these categories, our Gemara brings the opinion of Rabbi Yishmael the son of Rabbi Yochanan ben Beroka, who says that he learned from the Sages in Kerem be-Yavneh that someone who has only one testicle does not fall into these categories and can marry freely.

From a medical perspective, a person who is in this state, whether he was born with just one testicle or if he lost it through an injury or an operation, can still produce viable sperm and have children. Thus, such a person would not fall into the category of someone who cannot marry.

The Sages of Kerem Be-Yavneh were those who learned in the great yeshiva in Yavneh, which was the seat of the nasi after the destruction of the second Temple. According to the Talmud Yerushalmi, the gathering was not called Kerem be-Yavneh because of a vineyard that grew there (kerem = vineyard), but rather it was because the students sat in a series of long rows that were reminiscent of the standing vines of a vineyard. Since this was the gathering place of the majority of the Sages of that generation, it became known as the bet ha-va’ad – the gathering-place of the committee (of scholars). This is the place where the most serious issues of halakhah – those that would impact on the future of the Jewish community in a particularly difficult period in history – were raised for discussion; therefore the decisions that were made in Kerem be-Yavneh were treated with the greatest respect by all.

Yevamot 76a-b

Among the people that the Torah teaches cannot join the Jewish people through marriage are Egyptians and people from the nations of Edom, Amon and Mo’av (see Devarim 23:2-5). The Mishnah teaches that there are differences between them, however. Egyptians and Edomites who convert will be allowed to marry only other converts for three generations, after which they can marry anyone. Amon and Mo’av can never join the Jewish people through marriage, although women from those nations can convert and marry immediately.

Do these rules apply in the modern age?

Already in the time of the Mishnah (see Masechet Yadayim 4:4) there was an awareness that the ancient people could no longer be considered direct descendants of the countries in which they lived. We find tana’im like Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Yehoshua, who told prospective converts from these nations that King Sanherib of Assyria exiled people from their lands to such an extent that we cannot possibly know from what nation someone descends. For this reason, the rule limiting converts from marrying into the Jewish people was not applied.

Nevertheless, our Gemara tells of Minyamin, an Egyptian convert who was a student of Rabbi Akiva’s, who shared his plan of marrying off his children and grandchildren to other converts so that they would eventually be allowed to freely marry. Many rishonim understand that there is a need to distinguish between the nations to the north and east of Israel, who were dispersed by Sanherib and Nevuhadnezzar, and Egypt, which was more successful in retaining a national identity throughout history.

In fact, we find two conflicting statements in the Tosefta, one of which suggests that the prophetic statement guaranteeing the return of the Egyptian nation to its land lends credence to the possibility that the people living in Egypt are truly Egyptians. Nevertheless, the Rambam rules that all of the nations have moved from one place to another and that we can no longer really know who is who. According to this ruling, none of the Torah’s rules about these nations apply any longer.

Yevamot 77a-b

King David was a descendant of Rut ha-Mo’aviah – Ruth the Moabite (see Ruth 4:17).

Our Gemara relates that when King Saul was concerned that David would claim the monarchy, his advisor, Do’eg ha-Edomi argued – convincingly – that David should be forbidden from being considered a true member of the Jewish people, due to this ancestry. According to Rava, a man named Amasa (see II Shmuel 17:25) rose in David’s defense and threatened to stab anyone who rejected the teaching that women from Amon and Mo’av were allowed to marry into the Jewish community, even though the Torah prohibits males from doing so. He argues that, Do’eg’s proofs notwithstanding, he had a tradition from the prophet Shmu’el and his court that such women were permitted.

The disagreement revolved around the question of how to understand the reason given by the Torah for the limitation on people from Amon and Mo’av. The Torah explains (see Devarim 23:5) that this is punishment for the fact that they did not offer bread and water to the children of Israel during their trek through the desert. The traditional perspective is that it was the responsibility of the men to welcome the tired strangers, so the prohibition was limited to them. Do’eg argued that the men should have welcomed the men and the women should have welcomed the women – an assertion that was rejected by Shmu’el and his court.

The Rashba raises a different question on this source. The people who did not greet the children of Israel with bread and water were the people of Amon, yet Ruth was from the nation of Mo’av. How do we know that the same exclusion applies to that nation? Several answers are suggested, but the simplest approach may be that of the Yerushalmi, which points out that the sin of Mo’av was that Balak, their king, hired the services of the prophet Balaam to curse the people. The Yerushalmi argues that the women of Mo’av played no role in that incident at all.

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.