Masechet Zevachim 30a-36b

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09 Dec 2010

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.

Zevachim 30a-b – Simultaneous statements of sanctification

Once an animal has been set aside as a specific korban, it must be brought as that sacrifice and cannot be redeemed or switched for another. This Biblical law (see Vayikra 27:10) includes a penalty for trying to do so. According to the Torah, if someone does try to switch a sanctified animal and exchange it for an ordinary one, both animals will become sanctified. The first remains in its original state, since it cannot be switched, and the second, by means of the laws of temurah – “switching” – becomes sanctified, as well.

The Gemara on today’s daf quotes a Mishnah from Masechet Temurah (25b) that discusses someone who has two sanctified animals before him, an olah – a burnt-offering – together with a shelamim – a peace-offering – and wants to switch with another animal. According to the Mishnah, Rabbi Meir says that in such a case, where a single animal is positioned to replace one of the sanctified animals, and the person says “this animal should switch the olah, should switch the shelamim,” we accept his first statement and the animal becomes an olah. Rabbi Yossi says that if he really intended for the animal to switch both, recognizing the fact that a person cannot say both things simultaneously we give the new animal the status of half-olah, half-shelamim. Since such an animal cannot be sacrificed, we wait until it develops a blemish that would render it unfit for sacrifice. At that time, when halakhah allows it to be redeemed, we will require that the owner redeem it and with half of the proceeds purchase an olah and with the other half purchase a shelamim. If, however, he changed his mind when he made his second statement (“this animal should switch the shelamim“), then only the first statement is meaningful, and the animal will become an olah.

Tosafot point out that when Rabbi Yossi’s opinion is discussed in Masechet Bava Kamma (73b) the Gemara concludes that we are not concerned with the subjective question of whether or not the person changed his mind, rather with the objective question of tokh kedei dibbur – were the statements made within the same statement. If the two statements were made virtually simultaneously, then they are considered to be the same statement. If, however, there was even a small time lapse between his statements, only the first one is significant, and the second neither replaces nor affects the one that was made first.

Zevachim 31a-b: Women as ritual slaughterers

We have already learned (see the introduction to Masechet Zevachim) that there are four basic avodot – activities – that must be performed for each animal sacrifice –

On today’s daf, the first Mishnah in the third perek of Masechet Zevachim teaches that although shechita is one of the requirements in the sacrificial service, it need not be performed by a kohen, and will be considered valid if performed by an ordinary Jew. According to the Mishnah, it can even be done by a woman, a slave or a tamei – someone who is in a ritually defiled state.

With regard to women performing ritual slaughter, Tosafot point out that the statement in this Mishnah is clear proof that women can act as ritual slaughterers, in contradiction to a teaching presented in the book Hilkhot Eretz Yisrael, which precludes them from acting as shochtim because nashim da’atan kalot – that halacha perceives women as being “lightheaded.” That work includes a number of other restrictions in the act of shechita; for example, shechita performed by someone who was not properly dressed or someone who did not recite the appropriate benediction at the time of slaughter will be invalid. Tosafot argue that in all of these cases, these are chumrot – stringencies – established by the author of that work that are not actually requirements of Jewish law.

With regard to slaves performing ritual slaughter, the Mishnah is referring to an eved Kena’ani – a non-Jewish slave – who has undergone conversion and circumcision, and is obligated in mitzvot on the same level as a woman. An eved Ivri – a Jewish slave – has the status of an ordinary Jewish person and can act as a ritual slaughterer for sacrifices like anyone else.

Zevachim 32a-b – A ritually defiled slaughterer in the Temple

As we learned on yesterday’s daf  although shechita – ritual slaughter of the sacrifice – is one of the four essential parts of the sacrificial service, nevertheless it need not be performed by a kohen, and even women, slaves or temei’im – people who are in ritually defiled states – can play the role of a shochet in the Temple.

Given the fact that the animal that is to be sacrificed cannot become ritually defiled after slaughter (in any case, while it is alive it cannot contract tumah), we must assume that the person who is the shochet is not tamei on a severe level of defilement – e.g. a tamei met, someone who was in contact with a dead body – which would transfer the tumah to the slaughtering knife, as well, rather he must have been on a lower level of tumah, whose impurity would not transfer to the knife. Alternatively, as Rashi on the Mishnah suggests, in this case the knife may have been made of a sharpened reed, and simple wooden objects do not conduct ritual defilement.

The Gemara on today’s daf deals with a basic question. Since animals must be slaughtered in the Temple courtyard and people who are temei’im cannot enter that area, how could they possibly act as ritual slaughterers for sacrifices? The answer suggested by the Gemara is deceptively simple: He must be using a particularly long knife to slaughter the animal.

Tosafot discuss how this would have been done, and how long the knife would need to be. As noted, the slaughter had to be done in the Temple courtyard, a place that a tamei person could not enter. Even the area of the ezrat nashim was forbidden to people in a state of ritual defilement, and its length was 13 amot. Rabbeinu Tam suggests that the prohibition against entering the ezrat nashim was only Rabbinic in origin, and if someone had become tamei while he was in that area, perhaps he was not required to leave.  Other suggestions in Tosafot make clear that there were other places from which the tamei person may have been able to get relatively close to the place where the slaughter was done, including upper chambers that were not sanctified.

Zevachim 33a-b: Sha’ar Nikanor: Gateway to the Temple courtyard

One of the activities that were incumbent on the person who brought a sacrifice was semikha – laying hands on the animal that was to be sacrificed before its slaughter. The Gemara on today’s daf quotes a Tosefta that teaches that tekef le-semikha, shechita – that this laying of hands was performed immediately prior to the slaughter of the animal. One exception was the case of a metzorah – someone who had recovered from biblical leprosy and was obligated to bring a number of sacrifices to formally put an end to his ordeal. Since his status as someone who was ritually impure did not allow him to enter the Temple courtyard where the slaughter took place, he would perform it in sha’ar Nikanorthe Nikanor gate – at the entrance to the courtyard.

Sha’ar Nikanor served as the main entrance to the Temple courtyard from the outer precincts of the Temple Mount, at the top of a series of steps leading from the ezrat nashim. As our Gemara explains, one of its purposes was to allow someone who needed access to the Temple courtyard to get as close as possible without actually entering it.

Generally speaking, halacha considers the entrance to a place to have the legal status of the place to which it leads, but sha’ar Nikanor, which was to the east of the Temple courtyard, was specifically denied the status of the courtyard in order to allow people who were ritually defiled to approach the Temple and perform whatever rituals were necessary. In the case of a metzorah, for example, part of the ritual that would lead to his being readmitted to society was bringing a number of sacrifices, and also having blood from the sacrifice, as well as oil, placed on his right ear, thumb and big toe (see Vayikra 14:10-32). All of these had to be performed in the Temple courtyard, and only by having the metzorah stand in sha’ar Nikanor could this be accomplished.

Zevachim 34a-b – Inappropriate animals on the altar

Every korban that is sacrificed must be brought from a specific animal. For example, an ordinary korban chatat – sin-offering – can be brought only from a female sheep or goat (see Vayikra 4:28, 32). What if a different animal is brought as a sacrifice? What if a non-kosher animal was brought? While it is clear that a different animal cannot be substituted for the one that is required, how severe is the penalty for bringing an inappropriate animal as a sacrifice?

On today’s daf Reish Lakish is quoted as saying that someone who brings a non-kosher animal on the altar in the Temple is liable to receive malkot – lashes. Rabbi Yochanan agrees that it is forbidden to do, but argues that there is no punishment for doing so. The source of their argument is how to extrapolate from the passage that requires sacrifices to be brought from kosher animals (see Vayikra 1:2). Rabbi Yochanan views this as a mitzvat asei – a positive commandment – and there is no formal punishment meted out for neglecting to fulfill a positive commandment. According to Reish Lakish this would be considered a lav ha-ba michlal asei – a negative commandment derived from a positive one – which he considers equivalent to a negative commandment.

Rabbi Yaakov offers an alternative version of this disagreement. His understanding is that both Sages agree that a lav ha-ba michlal asei is considered only a positive commandment and not a negative one, so there would be no punishment for bringing a non-kosher animal on the altar in the Temple. He believes that their argument revolves around someone who brought a chayah – a kosher wild animal like a deer or an antelope – on the altar. Rabbi Yochanan believes the Torah limits sacrifices to behemot – domesticated animals – and bringing a wild animal is an abrogation of the positive commandment to do so; according to Reish Lakish, although the mitzvah is to bring a beheima, that is the ideal, but there is nothing wrong if someone replaced it with another kosher animal. Rashi adds that it is clear that a non-kosher animal cannot be brought, based on the passage in Sefer Yechezkel (45:15) that limits sacrifices to God only to things that are permitted to be eaten by the Jewish people.

Zevachim 35a-b: When we think about a sacrifice, what parts of the animal are included?

We have already learned that when someone sacrifices a korban and has the wrong intention – he plans to eat it after the time allotted to the sacrifice or in a place where the sacrifice cannot be eaten – the korban is invalid; the sacrifice will have to be redone and the meat cannot be eaten (see above, daf 27).  The Mishnah on today’s daf teaches that this law only applies in a situation where the inappropriate thought refers to something that is ordinarily eaten. If the inappropriate thought was about a part of the animal that is not normally eaten, e.g. bones, hooves, sinews, horns, etc., then the sacrifice would not be affected.

In the continuation of the Mishnah we learn that if the sacrifice was a female and the inappropriate thought related to its unborn fetus or to the placenta itself, the korban is unaffected. Similarly, if the thought was to eat the unborn eggs of the sacrificial bird or drink the milk of the animal that was to be brought as a korban, it would not affect the sacrifice.

In his Keren Orah, Rabbi Yitzhak mi-Karlin explains that there are three different halakhot taught in the Mishnah with regard to wrong intent:

  1. There are cases where the person thinks about eating something that cannot ordinarily be eaten, like bones, hooves, sinews, etc. Since it cannot be eaten the laws that relate to how one thinks about eating his sacrifice do not apply.
  2. In some cases, like the fetus and placenta, the thing that the person is thinking about actually is edible, and the inappropriate thought about eating it at the wrong time or in the wrong place should impact on it. Nevertheless it is viewed as being a separate entity and not an intrinsic part of the animal, so the laws do not apply to it.
  3. The cases of eggs and milk produced by the animal are not considered part of the sacrifice at all, so the inappropriate thoughts regarding these things have no meaning whatsoever.

Zevachim 36a-b: Not all improper thoughts will invalidate a sacrifice

As we have learned, having the wrong intention when bringing the korban can invalidate the sacrifice. The final Mishnah in the third perek of Masechet Zevachim teaches that this applies only to thoughts that focus on issues of time and place – and, in the cases of the Passover sacrifice and a sin-offering, having the wrong intent with regard to the purpose of the korban – but other inappropriate thoughts will not invalidate the sacrifice. Thus, intending to sprinkle blood in the wrong place on the altar, or thinking that the sacrifice would be brought or eaten by people who were temei’im – ritually defiled – or by areilim – people who were not circumcised – both of which are forbidden, will not affect the sacrifice. Similarly, in the case of the korban Pesach, which has unique requirements, like eating it roasted (see Shemot 12:9) and not breaking any of the animals bones (see Shemot 12:46), if the person planned to eat it raw or to break its bones, the sacrifice itself would remain valid even though these things are forbidden.

The Gemara offers different explanations for these rules.

One suggestion is that even if these things actually took place – even if the sacrifices were eaten by temei’im and areilim, or even if the korban Pesach was eaten raw or had its bones broken – nevertheless the sacrifices would remain valid. Therefore such wrong intentions cannot be any worse that if these were actually done, and the sacrifice must remain valid.

Another approach suggested by the Gemara is that these activities are not controlled by the owner of the sacrifice. Rashi explains that the person bringing the sacrifice cannot determine that temei’im and areilim will eat the sacrifice, since only the temei’im and areilim themselves can choose to do that. Some explain that even if the person bringing the sacrifice was personally tamei, still it is not in his hands since the kohanim will not allow him to touch the sacrifice while in a state of ritual defilement.

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.