Masechet Yoma 72a-78b

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15 Aug 2006

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


Yoma 72a-b

The Gemara on this daf discusses the bigdei kehuna – the special uniform worn by the priests who are involved in the Temple service – and particularly the respect and honor that these clothing deserve. The amora Rahava quotes Rav Yehuda as ruling that someone who tears the bigdei kehuna has transgressed a negative commandment and will receive malkot. This ruling is based on the passage (Shemot 28:32), which commands that the openings in the priestly clothing be hemmed so that they will not tear.

The Sefer Hachinuch explains the prohibition as stemming from the heightened respect that needs to be shown to the priestly uniform, both by kohanim and by the general population. Some commentaries distinguish between the me’il (outer garment) – where the prohibition applies to any tear – and the other bigdei kehunah, where the only prohibition is when the tear was made in a destructive manner.

Rav Aha bar Yaakov objects to this ruling, arguing that the passage is merely recommending a method of stitching that will ensure well-made clothing that will not tear easily. According to him, it should not be seen as a negative commandment to tear the garment, but a positive commandment to sew it well. The Gemara responds that the passage does not say “…so that it will not tear,” but rather “it should not be torn,” which is understood to be a statement that establishes tearing bigdei kehuna as a negative commandment.

Rabbi Moshe Galanti points out in his Sefer Korban Chagigah that it is unusual for the Talmudic sages to interpret a passage that is clearly an explanation of a commandment and understand it to be a prohibition. For example, when the Torah commands a Jewish king to refrain from marrying too many wives, concluding “and his heart will not be swayed,” it is not understood as a separate prohibition, forbidding the king from turning away; rather, it is interpreted as an explanation of why too many wives is a bad thing. One suggestion put forward by the commentaries (see Rashi on the Torah) is that this case is unique because the Torah repeats the same words in both the commandment to make the bigdei kehuna and the description of the fulfillment of that commandment. It is difficult to accept that the Torah would give the same explanation twice, particularly in the case where the Torah is describing
that the garments were being made. Thus it is understood to be teaching a law, rather than simply offering an explanation.

Yoma 73a-b

The eighth perek of Masechet Yoma begins on today’s daf. In contrast to the rest of the masechet, this final chapter deals with the commandments of Yom Kippur that apply to every Jewish person, not specifically to the High Priest serving in the Temple.

There are two commandments that apply to all Jews on Yom Kippur: the prohibition of melachah, and the mitzvah of inuy – to create a sense of suffering or oppression, as defined by the Sages. We are familiar with the prohibition against work from our study of the rules and regulations of Shabbat, and, in fact, the Gemara learns that melacha is forbidden on Yom Kippur in a similar manner to the prohibition on Shabbat. Inuy, on the other hand, has no clear parallels in the realm of halakha, and the Torah does not make clear what exactly must be done to fulfill this mitzvah. Do we simply refrain from pleasurable activities, or are we obligated to perform specific acts that bring with them a certain level of suffering?

The first Mishnah in the perek enumerates five pleasurable activities that are forbidden as a result of this mitzvah. They are:

  1. Eating and drinking
  2. Washing
  3. Anointing
  4. Wearing shoes
  5. Sexual relations

There is a difference of opinion between the commentaries regarding the level of these prohibitions. According to the Rambam, they are all Biblically forbidden, while the Rosh and the Tosafot Yeshanim understand that only eating and drinking are forbidden by the Torah, while the other inuyim are Rabbinic in origin.

Included in the Mishnah are some exceptions to the rule. For example, a Jewish king and a newly married bride are permitted to wash their faces. According to the reasoning of the Rosh and Tosafot Yeshanim, it is fairly easy to accept these exceptions. Given that the obligation is Rabbinic, the Rabbis apparently chose not to apply the prohibition in these particular cases when they established the law. It is more difficult to explain the Rambam’s position, however.

The Ran suggests that this is an example of a case where the Torah presents a commandment, but leaves it to the Sages to determine how exactly that mitzvah should be fulfilled. In our case, the Torah commanded that people reach a level of inuy, but left it to the Rabbinic leaders to decide how that state should be reached.

Yoma 74a-b

The Mishnah (73b) taught that in order to be held liable for eating or drinking on Yom Kippur, one must consume a certain amount of food or drink. What if one eats less than that amount – is it still forbidden by the Torah, or is it permitted by the Torah (i.e. such eating is not significant as far as halakha is concerned) and only forbidden on a Rabbinic level? Rabbi Yochanan believes that eating less than the full amount is still forbidden by the Torah (although there will be no punishment for having done so); Resh Lakish believes that it is permitted by the Torah.

Rabbi Yohanan presents a baraita that challenges Resh Lakish’s position. The baraita teaches that cheilev – forbidden fats – cannot be eaten, even in a case where there is no punishment, like a case of a koy (a type of animal) or eating less than a full amount, which is based on the passage that says kol helev (Vayikra 7:23) – any cheilev. Resh Lakish responds by saying that the law is Rabbinic in origin and the passage quoted is merely an asmakhta – a support used by the Rabbis for their rule.

The koy discussed here is an animal that is not clearly defined as either a behemah (a domesticated animal) or a chayah (a wild animal). The Gemara in Chullin discusses the difference between wild and domesticated animals in some detail. While it is clear that cattle (cows, sheep, goats) are domesticated animals, some of their close relatives are considered wild animals, and it is often difficult to draw a clear line of demarcation between, for example, a wild and a domesticated goat. On occasion, wild animals that are closely related to cattle are herded and raised together with domesticated ones. Those animals would fall into the halakhic quandary of the koy.

Given the unclear status of such animals, there are a number of laws that may or may not apply to them, like our case of helev (which is only forbidden in behemot – see Vayikra 7:22-25), the case of kisuy ha-dam (covering the blood of an animal that is slaughtered, which applies only to a hayah – see Vayikra 17:13), etc.

Yoma 75a-b

In trying to determine the definition of inuy (suffering), the Gemara turns to the passages in Tanach where the term is used. For example, the Torah describes the act of feeding manna to the Jewish people in the desert as a type of inuy (see Devarim 8:3). This allows the Gemara to segue into a discussion of the bread and meat eaten by the Israelites in their travels through the desert – the “bread” being manna and the “meat” being slav, usually translated as quail.

Many descriptions of manna are given. For example, Rabbi Akiva interprets the passage in Tehillim 78:24-25 as teaching that the manna was the food of angels. Rabbi Yishmael objected to this explanation, arguing that spiritual beings cannot be perceived as eating food. He explains the pasuk in Tehillim as meaning that the manna was the perfect food – it was completely absorbed by the body with absolutely no waste (i.e. no need for excretion). It can be assumed that Rabbi Akiva agrees that the heavenly angels did not eat as human beings do, and he was speaking metaphorically that the manna was a manifestation of a supreme level of spirituality, similar to the makeup of angels. Rabbi Yishmael objects even to the metaphor which may be misunderstood.  (For more on the differences between angels and human beings, click here.)

As far as the slav is concerned, Rav Chanin bar Rava teaches that there are four separate birds called slav. We cannot identify each of these birds with certainty, but it appears that they are all members of the pheasant family of birds, which are similar to chickens. The birds mentioned in the Gemara are variously identified as Alectoris, Francolinus, Ammoperdix and Phasianus, all of which have similar body structures and make up a natural family. The pheasant (Phasianus) is raised as poultry in many places. Standard quail – Coturnix coturnix – is the smallest of the birds related to the chicken.  Due to its short neck and legs, it appears fatter and rounder than other related birds, even though the fat in its body changes, particularly after a lengthy migration. Migration patterns take these birds from Europe to Africa in large flock, and many birds fall from the sky due to exhaustion on the shores of the Mediterranean. Some types of quail remain in Israel and its environs for nesting.

Yoma 76a-b

Still in the midst of a discussion of the manna that the Jewish people ate in the desert, the Gemara quotes Rabbi Elazar ha-Moda’i as claiming that when the manna fell for the Jewish people it piled 60 amot (cubits) high. This teaching was rejected out-of-hand by Rabbi Tarfon, who admonished Rabbi Elazar ha-Moda’i to refrain from making such exaggerated claims. In response, Rabbi Elazar ha-Moda’i presented his logic:

  1. In the Flood story, the Torah records that the waters reached 15 cubits above the tops of the mountains (see Bereshit 7:20).
  2. God is more generous when offering reward than he is when presenting
    punishment (Rashi points out that there is a 500:1 ration of positive to negative, based on the passages describing the 2000-generation reward that God promises to those who love Him and follow His commandments, in contrast with the four-generation punishment with which evil people are threatened – see Shmot 20:5-6).
  3. In the Flood story, we are told that the openings to the heavens opened (Bereshit 7:11), while regarding the manna we learn that “the doors of heaven were opened” (Tehillim 78:23-24).
  4. A door has four openings (or windows), and the passage in Tehillim refers to “doors” in the plural, which we will assume is a minimum of two, giving us eight openings. 8 (openings through which the manna fell) x 15 (cubits worth of rain, which fell through the opening during the flood) = 60 amot of manna.

Rabbi Elazar ha-Moda’i was one of the Sages in the generation after the destruction of the Second Temple. He was, apparently, one of the youngest students of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai and he lived a long life. The vast majority of his statements that appear in the Talmud are aggadic in nature. We find many times that Rabban Gamliel – who enjoyed his homilies – would comment that “we still need Moda’i”, i.e. his commentary and observations.

As is clear from his name, Rabbi Elazar ha-Moda’i was a resident of Modi’in. Tradition has it that he was Bar Kochba‘s uncle and that he died during the siege of Beitar.

Yoma 77a-b

The Mishnah at the beginning of the perek (73b) enumerated five specific activities that are forbidden on Yom Kippur in order to fulfill inuy – the commandment to reach a sense of suffering or oppression. Therefore, most of these activities are forbidden only if they are done for pleasure. Thus, the baraita on our daf  teaches that someone who is dirty is allowed to wash himself and someone who has sores on his body can anoint them with oil. Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel is quoted as teaching that a woman who needs to feed her children can wash one hand so that she can give them food.

The baraita continues with a story about Shamai ha-Zaken, who did not want to feed his child on Yom Kippur, and the Sages ordered him to wash both hands and feed him.

Most of the commentaries explain that Shamai ha-Zaken was reluctant to rely on the “leniency” and wash his hand. The Sages ruled that he should therefore wash both his hands, because they wanted to emphasize that, in this case, there was no prohibition at all. The Ritva points out that there are several similar cases in the Talmud, where the Sages went beyond the letter of the law in order to emphasize the correct ruling. Rabbeinu Yehonatan understands this case differently. He argues that Shamai ha-Zaken was concerned lest he touch the food with his unwashed hand, so he refrained from feeding his children entirely. The Sages reacted to this by permitting him to wash both hands.

What was the great concern about touching food?

The Gemara quotes Abayye as explaining that the Sages were afraid of shivta. Rashi explains that shivta is a ru’ach ra’ah – an evil spirit. According to the responsa literature from the period of the Geonim, shivta was a disease that affected mainly babies and younger children. From the descriptions that appear in the Gemara it seems likely that it is some type of contagious infection that can be carried by dirty hands.

Yoma 78a-b

Today, it is commonplace that someone who wants to rule in questions of Jewish law first study the material and then go to be tested in order to be “ordained” as a Rabbi, that is, receive semikha [lit. “resting of the hands”] or permission to rule from a prominent Rabbi. This system stems from the time of the Talmud, when a student would turn to the Nasi for permission to rule.

There were three areas of study, each of which required specific approval that would
allow the candidate to be accepted as one who could rule in each type of case:

  1. Yoreh – issues of ritual law
  2. Yadin – monetary cases
  3. Yatir bechorot – rules of blemishes in animals that would allow a first-born animal to be used by a kohen rather than be sacrificed on the altar.

The first two categories are still in use, referred to today as “Yoreh Yoreh” and “Yadin Yadin.” The third category fell into disuse after the destruction of the Temple, although it has become common practice to avoid situations where an animal will have a first-born by selling a pregnant animal to a non-Jew, so that no such questions will arise.

Our daf discusses whether Rabbi Yossi ben Zimra would be permitted to rule regarding a blemish in a first-born animal, given that he was a kohen and had a vested interest in the matter. From the discussion that takes place, it appears that this story happens during the time that the Nasi was the second Rabbi Yehuda Nesia. By that time, the position of Nasi was inherited, and the person who held the title was not necessarily a great Torah Sage. The actual religious leadership fell to the heads of the academies – the Roshei Yeshiva. Nevertheless, a number of ceremonial responsibilities remained in the hands of the Nasi, one of them being the approval of new Rabbis and judges.

The discussion in the Gemara of whether a Sage who is already teaching in the academy needs to receive permission from the Nasi in order to rule is an indication of the tension that existed between the Sages and the house of the Nasi.

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.