Masechet Yevamot 99a-105b

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09 Aug 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 99a-b

The Mishnah on our daf teaches about situations where newborn children are inadvertently switched and we do not know which child belongs to which mother. For example, if the child of a kohen was mixed up with the child of his wife’s maidservant, the Mishnah teaches that both children can eat terumah (either as the child of the kohen or as the property of the kohen), and neither can come into contact with a dead body (since we cannot know which one is really the kohen and which one is not.)

In clarifying the rules of a kohen and his servants, the Gemara relates a disagreement between Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Yossi. Rabbi Yehuda insists that such a person can only receive terumah in the granary if he is accompanying his master, the kohen. Rabbi Yossi allows the servant to receive terumah on his own, with the argument that he is deserving of the terumah, either on his own merit as a kohen, or else because he is owned by a kohen. The Gemara explains that this disagreement is based on different practices that existed in each of their communities. In Rabbi Yehuda’s community, receiving terumah was considered tantamount to proof that the recipient was a kohen; in Rabbi Yossi’s community, it was not considered proof.

Rabbi Elazar bar Tzadok then relates that this difference almost led to a servant being accepted as a kohen. As explained by the Gemara, while in Rabbi Yossi’s community he saw someone receiving terumah. Upon testifying to this fact in Rabbi Yehuda’s community, the man was almost accepted as a kohen.

The Gemara is certain that ultimately no mistake had been made, arguing that “if no error can ensue from the activities of the animal of a tzaddik, certainly the actions of an actual tzaddik cannot lead to error.” The source for this concept is a story that appears in Chullin (7a) where Pinchas ben Yair‘s donkey refuses to eat food that had not been properly tithed. Although Rabbeinu Tam also extends this idea to other areas of halakha (as in our case), Tosafot on our page erase the discussion of this idea, arguing that it only applies to eating forbidden food, and not to other possible errors.

Yevamot 100a-b

We have already learned the concept of havchanah – the requirement that a woman whose marriage ends must wait at least three months before marrying another man. The purpose of this rule is to ensure that, if the woman becomes pregnant during this period, we know who the father of the child is.

What if the woman does not wait the required period, and is pregnant with a child whose father is one of two people? The Mishnah on our daf relates to this question in a number of different settings, e.g. with regards to questions of yibum (levirate marriage), if one was a kohen and the other an ordinary Jew, and if they were both kohanim.

In the Gemara, Shmuel is quoted as teaching that in another case where there is lack of clarity with regard to the identity of the father, i.e. when we know that one man stepped out from among a group of kohanim and engaged in relations with a woman, we consider the child a shtuki (of unknown fatherhood). The Gemara explains that we do not consider him a kohen – even though we are certain that his father was a kohen. The source presented by the Gemara for this is the passage in Bamidbar (25:13) which teaches that the covenant of priesthood goes from father to son. When we do not know who the father is, the son cannot claim that family heritage.

In truth, the child only loses the benefits of being a kohen; he will still be obligated to keep all of the restrictions of the priesthood, for in essence this is a knas – a penalty imposed by the Sages to discourage sexual relationships outside the framework of marriage.

The term shtuki in the Gemara is ordinarily used to refer to a child whose parentage is unclear, even to his mother. In such cases he is treated as a safek (possible) mamzer and thus not allowed to marry ordinary Jews. Our case is unique in that even as we are unsure about who the child’s father is, we are certain that he is a kohen.

Yevamot 101a-b

Up until this point, Masechet Yevamot has focused on the rules and regulations of the commandment of yibum – levirate marriage. With the twelfth perek that begins on our daf, the focus of the Gemara shifts to the other end of the spectrum – the mitzvah of chalitzah (see Devarim 25:7-10) that will end the relationship of the widow with her first husband’s family, allowing her to marry whomever she pleases. The pesukim describe the procedure in some detail, although the Gemara clarifies the specifics. For example, when the Torah commands that this procedure take place before the zekaynim – the elders – to whom is it referring? How many need there be? Where should it take place?

Among the responsibilities of the bet din is to advise the potential yavam and yevamah about their options. In a case where there is a great discrepancy in age, for example, it would be appropriate for the elders to recommend chalitzah rather than yibum.

The Mishnah teaches that under ordinary circumstances, three judges – and even non-ordained people who act as judges (i.e. they know the requirements of the ceremony) – can supervise a chalitzah. Nevertheless, the Gemara relates that several of the Sages recommended convening a group of five judges for a chalitzah, and tells of chalitzot that were performed in the presence of a specially invited group of five. The Gemara explains that the additional people are brought in ki heikhi de-li-farsame milta – in order to publicize the event.

The need for special publicity is explained by the rishonim in a number of different ways. The Me’iri suggests that the community has an interest in making it known that this woman is no longer connected to a specific family and that she is now available for marriage. Another reason is to serve notice to kohanim that although this woman is a widow (and under ordinary circumstances kohanim are allowed to marry widows) she can no longer marry a kohen because she has undergone chalitzah.

Yevamot 102a-b

The centerpiece of the chalitzah ceremony – whose purpose is to embarrass the yavam who has chosen to avoid fulfilling his family obligation – is the removal of a shoe from the foot of the yavam by the widow.

Obviously, there is a wide variety of footwear. The Torah appears to require a shoe (na’al). Our Gemara discusses at length whether it must be a shoe, or can it be a sandal or a slipper? What must it be made from? Because of the various demands, it has become accepted practice that we do not use a shoe that belongs to the yavam, but rather every Jewish bet din has a special “chalitzah shoe.”

These pictures show, from a number of different vantage points, the “chalitzah shoe” that is currently used in Jewish courts. Sandals are not used anymore because we are no longer certain of how it can be made and still meet all of the requirements. The general shape and appearance of the shoe is similar to one that was commonly worn in the times of the Talmud (see image), although specially made to match those requirements.

The straps that go around and tie the shoe to the leg are referred to in the Gemara as the shintzi, and their job is to hold the shoe on the yavam’s foot tightly.

In this illustration, the second figure from the right (labeled letter bet) shows how the sole is stitched to the shoe and how the straps are connected. The straps, which act as laces, are made out of leather so that the shoe can be an entirely leather shoe.

The other three pictures show that, aside from the straps of laces, there are also three leather buttons that fit into three leather buttonholes. These are the humreta described in the Gemara.

When chalitzah is performed, the yevamah undoes the top bow and the buttons and removes the shoe from the yavam’s foot.

Yevamot 103a-b

Our Gemara quotes a baraita that rejects the simple interpretation of the passage in Sefer Devarim (25:9) – ve-haltzah na’alo me-al raglo – which seemingly requires the removal of the yavam‘s own personal shoe. The baraita‘s interpretation of the pasuk is that it must be a shoe that is appropriate for him, which excludes a shoe that is so big on him that he cannot walk, or one so small that it will not cover most of his foot. It also excludes a sandal ha-mesulyam she-en lo akev.

Rashi explains that a sandal ha-mesulyam she-en lo akev is a sandal with no sole.

According to the Arukh and the Ge’onim, the correct reading in the Gemara is sandal ha-mesulyas, which comes from the Latin soleas, a type of sandal that is open in the back and does not hold the back of the foot (see image). The mitzvah of chalitzah is for the yevamah to remove the yavam’s heel from the shoe, so an open-backed sandal is not appropriate for the mitzvah.

To illustrate the halakha of ownership of the shoe, the Gemara tells of a chalitzah that took place in the presence of Abayye and Rav Yosef. Rav Yosef asked Abayye to offer his own shoe to the yavam. Abayye offered his left shoe, which was rejected by Rav Yosef, who argued that the Mishnah (104a) only permits the use of the left shoe b’dieved (after the fact), but that ideally the right one should be used. Abayye responded by saying that although someone else’s shoe can be used, ideally the yavam should use his own. Rav Yosef responded that he, in fact, intended that Abayye should offer his shoe to the yavam as a present.

As we noted on yesterday’s daf, today every Jewish court that arranges for a chalitzah has a special chalitzah shoe. The Shulchan Arukh (Even ha-Ezer 169:14) rules that the shoe should be given to the yavam to own in order to satisfy Rav Yosef’s ruling.

Yevamot 104a-b

The Mishnah brings a disagreement about a court that arranged to have a chalitzah performed and it turned out that one of the three members of the court was a relative or could not serve as a judge for some other reason. The Tanna Kamma insists that we need three, while Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi Yochanan ha-Sandlar believe that two will suffice. The Mishnah concludes by telling a story about a case where a yavam and a yevamah were in prison together and they performed chalitzah on their own, which was accepted by Rabbi Akiva as valid.

This story appears in greater detail in the Tosefta and the Talmud Yerushalmi. It took place toward the end of the Bar Kokhba rebellion, when the Roman decrees against the Jews were being carried out with great ferocity, and all Torah study was forbidden. At that time, Rabbi Akiva was being held in prison, and in order to hide the fact that a question of religious law was being discussed, Rabbi Yochanan ha-Sandlar, a close student of Rabbi Akiva, disguised himself as a peddler. He marched back and forth in front of the prison windows, announcing the goods that he had for sale, but also interspersing questions for his mentor: “Who would like to buy needles? Who would like to buy forks? What about private chalitzah with only the principals present?”

Rabbi Akiva answered in a similar vein so that their conversation appeared to be one of bargaining over a sale and purchase, rather than a discussion of the halakha.

Although we do not accept the ruling of Rabbi Akiva or of Rabbi Yochanan ha-Sandlar, the Gemara nevertheless examines their story, asking, for example, whether it was the chalitzah or the ruling that took place in prison. Rav Yehuda quotes Rav as asserting that they both took place in prison. The Yam shel Shlomo explains that even though we do not accept Rabbi Akiva’s ruling, there is still much to learn from this story. Among other things, we see that had there been three people, the chalitzah would certainly have been valid, even though it was not a formal bet din.

Yevamot 105a-b

The Mishnah (104b) teaches that an underage yevamah (widow) who received halitzah should have it done a second time when she reaches physical maturity. In our Gemara, Rav Yehudah quotes Rav as teaching that this is only the opinion of Rabbi Me’ir, but others rule that a ketanah (female minor) can have chalitzah.

In the course of searching for the source of that opinion, the Gemara shares a fascinating story that sheds light on the norms and behaviors of the world of the yeshiva in Talmudic times.

The Gemara relates that Rabbi Hiyya and Rabbi Shimon the son of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi were discussing whether a person should look upwards during prayer (based on the passage in Eicha 3:41) or downwards (based on the passage in I Melakhim 9:3). Rabbi Yishmael the son of Rabbi Yossi overheard their discussion and shared his father’s teaching – that a person should look upwards but direct his heart downwards in order to fulfill both passages.

As they were talking, Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi entered and the students – who sat in assigned places on the floor during the lecture – all hurried to find their seats. Rabbi Yishmael the son of Rabbi Yossi was heavy-set and was unable to reach his place easily, so he appeared to be “walking on people’s heads” as he made his way to his seat. The Gemara then records the following exchange between Rabbi Yishmael the son of Rabbi Yossi and Avdan, one of Rabbi Yehuda’s HaNasi’s students:

Avdan: Who is stepping on people’s heads?

Rabbi Yishmael: It is I, Rabbi Yishmael the son of Rabbi Yossi, who has come to learn Torah from Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi.

Avdan:  And are you worthy of studying with Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi?

Rabbi Yishmael: Was Moses worthy of studying from God?

Avdan:  Do you think that you are Moses?

Rabbi Yishmael: Is your teacher God?

At that point, a yevamah came in who appeared to be underage, asking whether she needed to have a second chalitzah. Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi sent Avdan to investigate the case, but before he left the study hall, Rabbi Yishmael the son of Rabbi Yossi quoted his father as ruling that chalitzah done with an underage yevamah is valid. Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, accepting the ruling of Rabbi Yossi, called Avdan back, leading Rabbi Yishmael the son of Rabbi Yossi to declare “someone who the community needs can step on the heads of the community. But why should someone who is not needed by the community do so?”

Rabbi Yishmael the son of Rabbi Yossi lived in the last generation of tannaim.  He was close friends with the family of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi and thus accepted him as his teacher, even as he was de facto head of the city of Tzippori, a position he inherited from his father. From all appearances, Rabbi Yishmael was a wealthy businessman and landowner who was forced to work for the Roman government, but we know little about his family or his personal life.

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.