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
According to most opinions in the Gemara, if a man and a woman are prohibited from marrying one another because they are issurei ervah (forbidden because of an incestuous relationship) for which they would be liable to receive a death penalty, then Jewish law will not recognize their marriage, and any children that they may have together will be considered mamzerim. If, however, the prohibition is only a lav – a simple prohibition for which the transgressor is punished by receiving lashes – then halakha will recognize the marriage (of course, the courts will obligate them to divorce), and the children will not be stigmatized as mamzerim.
The case of yevamah may be an exception, however.
The Gemara brings the opinion of Rav Yehuda in the name of Rav who teaches that the passage (Devarim 25:5) forbidding a yevamah from marrying a man from outside the family should be understood to mean that any attempt on her part to get married will be rejected by the Jewish courts. Shmuel disagrees, and requires her to receive a divorce from her husband.
According to Rav, why should the case of yevamah differ from all other such cases in the Torah?
The Maharik explains that yevamah is a unique halakhah, in which the connection between the widow and the yavam is so strong that it actually allows the couple to marry, even though she is the yavam’s brother’s wife – an issur ervah – that ordinarily would make them forbidden to one another, even after the first husband’s death. If the relationship between the yavam and yevamah is even stronger than an issur ervah, and we know that marriage with an issur ervah cannot take place according to the halakha, it is a kal va-homer (an a fortiori inference) to conclude that marriage cannot take place in the face of this relationship.
One of the basic questions that comes up regarding issues of ownership in Jewish law is whether or not adam makneh davar she-lo ba la-olam – whether a person can buy or sell an object that is not in existence right now. Rav Nahman bar Yitzhak believes that according to Rabbi Akiva a person has the ability to do so, and lists tanna’im and amora’im who follow that approach.
The simplest way to understand this approach is to say that we view an object that is expected (e.g. fruits that have not yet appeared on the tree; a purchase that has not yet been completed) to be seen as already in existence from a legal standpoint. Thus, the seller can then transact business with it, either by stipulating that the sale go into effect immediately, or that it take place at some later date. In bringing examples, the Gemara offers both types of cases. Rav’s case has the seller saying “I am selling this field, and when the purchase is complete, it will belong to you from now.” Rav Huna’s case is when the seller says “I am selling you the dates on this tree.” It is clear that the sale will not be complete until the fruit actually appears, which is why Rav Huna allows the seller to back out of the deal – until the fruits appear.
Another case that appears in the Gemara is that of Rabbi Yannai, who had a tenant on his land who paid him by delivering fruit every Friday. One Friday the tenant did not arrive at the usual time, and Rabbi Yannai – relying on the fact that the fruit would be delivered – chose to separate tithes from other fruit that he had in his house so that he would be able to eat the fruit from his tenant on Shabbat. When he turned to his teacher, Rabbi Chiya to ask about this, Rabbi Chiya agreed that his behavior was correct. The proof from this story is that neither Rabbi Yannai nor Rabbi Chiya appear to be concerned with the fact that the fruit had not been delivered. Their concern was whether or not tithes could be taken when the fruit was not all together.
The Mishnah (92a) closed with the ruling that a woman who was told that her husband had died, and accepted betrothal from another man – but never consummated the marriage – will not be considered a divorcee (i.e. she will still be permitted to a kohen), even if her second husband gave her a get (a writ of divorce). Rabbi Elazar ben Matya derives this from the passage (Vayikra 21:7) that a woman who has received a divorce “from her husband” is forbidden to a kohen. In our case, however, the second man was never truly her husband – as she was already married – so the divorce has no significance whatsoever.
In our Gemara, Rav Yehuda quoting Rav critiques Rabbi Elazar ben Matya’s teaching. He says that Rabbi Elazar ben Matya “could have found a pearl and instead came up with a pottery shard (something worthless).” Rather than learning from that passage that a meaningless get has no significance, he could have derived that even someone who is only divorced “from her husband” cannot marry a kohen. The intention here is a rule called rei’ah ha-get, “the smell of a divorce” where a woman who receives an invalid divorce – e.g. when her husband writes a get that states that she is divorced from him but cannot marry anyone else – will still be forbidden to a kohen.
In his commentary to the Ri”f, the Ri Almandri writes that Rabbi Elazar ben Matya’s original teaching is referred to as a “pottery shard” because it is unnecessary, as it is obvious that someone who is not married cannot give a meaningful divorce. The Arukh la-Ner takes another approach, pointing out that according to the Rambam the concept of rei’ah ha-get that prohibits a woman from marrying a kohen is Rabbinic in origin. Apparently the Rambam understands that by using this passage to teach the rule of the Mishnah, Rabbi Elazar ben Matya shows that he rejects the possibility that rei’ah ha-get can be derived from it as a Biblical prohibition.
The Mishnayot in this perek work with the assumption that a woman who remarries with the permission of a Jewish court, only to discover that the witness was mistaken and her first husband is still alive, cannot return to her original husband, and must get a divorce from both husbands (see, for example, the first Mishnah on daf 87b). In the Mishnah on daf 94b, however, Rabbi Yossi offers an alternative approach, saying “whoever disqualifies for others disqualifies for himself and whoever does not disqualify for others does not disqualify for himself.” This enigmatic statement is explained on our daf.
Rabbi Yossi understood that according to the Tanna Kamma –
- if two unrelated men married sisters,
- and one man’s wife and brother-in-law (i.e. the other man) go traveling and are reported dead,
- if the man marries his sister-in-law under the assumption that his own wife is dead and that this woman is a widow,
- but then both his first wife and his brother-in-law return,
- then he will be allowed to return to his wife, but his sister-in-law will be forbidden to her husband (since she had willingly – albeit accidentally – lived with another man).
Rabbi Yossi disagrees with this ruling, arguing that assuming that both couples were married and not merely betrothed to one-another, the same rule will apply to both. Either both couples can return to one-another, or neither one can.
The basic differences of opinion among the rishonim on these issues stem from different approaches to how to understand the rule that a woman who mistakenly married – based on testimony or on the ruling of a bet din – cannot return to her husband. According to some, it is a knas – a penalty – that is put in place in order to ensure that the woman will check very carefully before she accepts the testimony of witnesses who say that her husband died. Others suggest that the issue at hand is a concern lest people think that perhaps the man divorced his first wife and married the second woman, which would prohibit them from remarrying. Some apply both reasons to the conversation in the Gemara.
Our Gemara relates that Rabbi Elazar taught a ruling about a nine-year-old yavam (that we classify his attempt at yibum – levirate marriage – in the same category as ma’amar), and he did not attribute the ruling to his teacher, Rabbi Yochanan, who had been the one who originally said it. Upon hearing this, Rabbi Yochanan became upset.
Seeing their teacher upset, Rabbi Ammi and Rabbi Assi tried to calm him by relating a story. They said “Did it not happen at the synagogue of Tiberias that Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yossi argued a point so strongly that a sefer Torah was torn in their excitement. And Rabbi Yossi ben Kisma who was there exclaimed, ‘I shall be surprised if this synagogue is not turned into a house of idolatry’, which then, in fact, happened.” Far from calming Rabbi Yochanan, this annoyed him all the more. “Comradeship too!?” he exclaimed.
At that point, Rabbi Yaakov bar Idi came in and pointed out to him that when a student teaches any law, it is clear to all that he is merely quoting his teacher. As a prooftext he pointed to the passage in Sefer Yehoshua (11:15) in which we find that Yehoshua is complimented on carrying out all of the commandments that had been given to Moshe. This was clearly done without giving credit to Moshe on every occasion, rather it was clear to all that Yehoshua was following the instructions laid out by Moshe. Similarly, argued Rabbi Yaakov bar Idi, all the students know that Rabbi Elazar was quoting his teacher, Rabbi Yochanan. This argument pacified Rabbi Yochanan.
Rabbi Yochanan’s complaint against Rabbi Ammi and Rabbi Assi is interpreted by Rashi to mean that they were equating his student with him, just as Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yossi were colleagues and peers. The Iyun Yaakov suggests that his complaint stemmed from the fact that they were chastising him for becoming upset, in effect treating him like a peer; he felt that as his students it was inappropriate for them to respond to him in such a manner.
In his commentary to the Ein Yaakov, the Ir Binyamin – Rabbi Binyamin Zev ben Shmuel Darshan – suggests that Rabbi Yochanan was upset because he had no sons, and he was particularly concerned that his teachings, which were his legacy, should be said in his name.
The eleventh perek of Masechet Yevamot deals with out of the ordinary family connections and relationships. While most of them focus on relationships in the context of yibum (levirate marriage), which is, after all, the topic of this tractate, other relationships are dealt with, as well. One example that is discussed is based on the fact that some issurei ervah – incestuous relationships – take effect only when the man and woman involved were married, and not if their sexual relationship took place outside of marriage. Thus, for example, the Tanna Kamma of the Mishnah on our daf permits someone to marry a woman who his father had seduced or raped, even though that person would not have been allowed to marry her had she been his father’s wife.
While discussing these matters, the Gemara presents a series of odd family relationships that can take place under a variety of circumstances, most of which are identified as stemming from forbidden relationships. Examples include:
- ‘He whom I carry on my shoulder is my brother and my son and I am his sister’ — is possible when an idolater cohabited with his daughter.
- ‘Greetings to you my son; I am the daughter of your sister’ — is possible where an idolater cohabited with his daughter’s daughter.
- ‘Ye water-drawers, we shall ask you a riddle that defies solution: He whom I carry is my son and I am the daughter of his brother.’ — This is possible where an idolater cohabited with the daughter of his son.
- ‘Woe, woe, for my brother who is my father; he is my husband and the son of my husband; he is the husband of my mother and I am the daughter of his wife; and he provides no food for his orphan brothers, the children of his daughter.’ — This is possible when an idolater cohabited with his mother and begot from her a daughter; then he cohabited with that daughter; and then the grandfather cohabited with her and begot from her sons.
- ‘I and you are brother and sister, I and your father are brother and sister, and I and your mother are sisters’ — This is possible where an idolater cohabited with his mother and from her begot two daughters, and then he cohabited with one of these and begot from her a son. When the son’s mother’s sister carries him she addresses him thus.
It is not clear why the Gemara sees it appropriate to bring these, and other similar cases, since there seems to be no logical conclusion from them.
Rashi suggests that these were popular expressions – or riddles – of the times, and the Gemara chose to respond to them, even though there is no significant meaning to them. (Even today there are such expressions, like the popular song from the 1940s “I am my own grandpa.”)
The Me’iri suggests that the Gemara brings these in order to poke fun at pagans, whose promiscuity could lead to such confusing family relationships.
When a non-Jew converts, he is treated by Jewish law as a newborn – ger she-nitgayer ke-katan she-nolad dami. One of the questions that the Sages dealt with is whether restrictions on marriage between family members apply to converts, given that we view them as newly born.
For example, can a convert marry his brother’s widowed wife? Does the prohibition of marrying your brother’s wife apply to two brothers who are viewed by the halakhah as being unrelated?
The Gemara relates that a convert who was married to his brother’s wife was asked who had permitted the marriage. In response, the convert said “Behold the woman and her seven children; on this bench Rabbi Akiva sat when he made two statements: ‘A proselyte may marry the wife of his maternal brother’, and he also said that the passage (Yonah 3:1) ‘And the word of the Lord came unto Jonah the second time, saying,’ should be interpreted to mean that only a second time did the Shechina speak to him; a third time the Shechina did not speak to him.'”
Rashi explains that the convert pointed to the woman and her seven children, who were the product of such a marriage, which was done according to Rabbi Akiva’s ruling. The Arukh la-Ner suggests that he swore on the lives of his wife and children.
One of the explanations put forward by the Gemara to clarify why this convert’s word is trusted is that he included a second teaching by Rabbi Akiva – the one about the prophet Yonah. The Ritva explains that our concern is that perhaps the person who has a personal interest in a given case may misinterpret what he heard from the Sage, given the fact that he will be personally affected by the ruling. Hearing a second teaching was considered to be a convincing indication that the individual had carefully listened to the teachings and had shared them in a precise manner.
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.