Masechet Zevachim 93a-99b

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10 Feb 2011

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 93a-b: Cleaning up sacrificial blood

As we learned on yesterday’s daf if sacrificial blood is absorbed by another object, the laws pertaining to the sacrifice are transferred to the object unless the blood is removed. Therefore, clothing that was stained by blood had to be washed in the Temple courtyard, metal vessels that absorbed blood could be heated until the blood is removed, but earthenware vessels, which retain anything that they absorb, must be destroyed.

The Mishnayot on today’s daf offer a number of limitations to that rule:

First, this law does not apply to all sacrificial blood; it is limited to blood that was collected by a kohen in a keli sharet – in the appropriate Temple service vessel – and is valid for sprinkling on the altar. Therefore, if the blood was sprayed directly from the neck of the animal, or if the clothing came directly in contact with blood after the blood had already been applied to the altar, there would be no need to wash it out.

Second, this law only applies to keilim – to usable objects (the examples in the biblical source include a garment, earthenware vessels and metal vessels – see Sefer Vayikra 6:20-21). This excludes objects in their raw state that have not reached a final, usable form. So, for example, unprocessed animal skin would not be included in this category, even though leather, which did undergo processing, would need to be cleaned.

The Torah teaches that cleaning these objects must be done be-makom kadosh – in a holy place. Rashi explains that this refers to the Temple courtyard. In his commentary on the Torah, the Chizkuni explains that this blood cannot be taken out of the courtyard, just like any other sacrificial blood which would become disqualified if it removed from the Temple precincts. It could, however, be washed in any of the lishkot – the offices – that were adjacent to the courtyard that had the same status as the courtyard itself.

Zevachim 94a-b: Washing different materials

As we saw on yesterday’s daf if sacrificial blood was spilled on a garment, the Torah requires that it be cleaned and removed. We learned, however, that this only applies to a finished garment, but something that was not considered a kli – a usable object – would not be included in this category. Thus, unprocessed animal skin would not need to be cleaned of sacrificial blood, but leather, which has undergone processing, would need to be cleaned.

The Gemara on today’s daf asks how the law requiring cleansing would apply to leather. Does leather absorb blood in an ordinary fashion? Can it be cleaned of the blood in the same way that a garment is cleaned? The basis for the Gemara’s question are the laws of Shabbat that prohibit washing fabrics, where we find a Mishnah that teaches that if clothing became soiled with lashleshet (Aruch: chicken excrement; Rashi: something disgusting like saliva or excrement) it can be removed by means of a dry cloth, but if the garment was made of leather then water can be poured on it until it becomes clean.

In response, Rava points out that it is clear that the halacha recognizes that leather can be washed, inasmuch as it is a clear passage in the Torah regarding a nega tzara’at – biblical leprosy (see Sefer Vayikra 13:58) – that washing leather is part of the purification process. Rava’s conclusion is that we must distinguish between cloth, where simply placing it in water would already be considered “washing” that is forbidden on Shabbat, and leather, where “washing” only takes place if there is additional agitation that enhances the cleansing property of the water, what he calls kiskus.

Rashi explains that kiskus is the activity that is normally done by launderers who rub the material of the clothing against itself (in modern washing machines this is done mechanically). Rabbeinu Chananel (in Masechet Shabbat daf 140a) suggests similarly that it refers to folding and stretching the cloth that is being cleaned. Regarding this action in the context of leather, the She’iltot explains that even if this type of agitation cannot be done to all types of leather, the point is that an additional action is necessary beyond simply placing water on the garment.

Zevachim 95a-b: What did they use as detergent in the Temple?

According to the Mishnah (94b), if clothing became stained with blood from a korban chatat – a sin-offering – it must be washed within the Temple courtyard. With what was it washed?

Rav Nahman quotes Rabbah bar Avuha as teaching that there are seven different cleansing agents that must be used to remove the stain properly. These seven cleansing agents are those enumerated in a Mishnah in Masechet Niddah (61b), which teaches that only by means of these specific cleansers could blood be removed from clothing, so that it could be rendered ritually pure.

The challenge presented by the Gemara to this ruling is that one of the seven cleansing agents is mei raglayim, and according to a baraita, ein makhnisin mei raglayim la-mikdash – mei raglayim are not permitted within the precincts of the Temple. Ultimately the Gemara concludes that the mei raglayim must be mixed with ordinary saliva so that it could be used.

What is this mei raglayim and why was it not permitted in the Temple?

The literal translation of mei raglayim is “water of the feet” and a simple explanation would be that this is a polite reference to urine. The high acid content of urine makes it a powerful cleansing agent, but we can easily understand why it would be forbidden to use in the Temple. The Shitah Mekubetzet (in Masechet Keritot 6a) suggests that this term refers to a kind of plant, which was forbidden to use in the Temple because of the associations that the name mei raglayim held for people. According to the Kol Bothe reference to mei raglayim is actually to water from one of the springs that flows near the Temple Mount – Ein Rogel. Again, according to this opinion, the water itself is fine; the problem is the association that people made with this name.

Zevachim 96a-b: Switching teachers

The Gemara relates that Rabbi Yitzhak bar Yehuda was a regular student of Rami bar Hama, but then he moved to study under the direction of Rav Sheshet. One day Rami bar Hama met his former student and said to him “The nobleman has taken us by the hand, and his scent has come into the hand! Because you have gone to Rav Sheshet, you are like Rav Sheshet!?” This colloquial expression meant to ask whether he believed – as do many people – that being in the company of a great person confers some level of greatness on him as well.

By way of explaining his choice to switch teachers, Rabbi Yitzhak bar Yehuda explained that when he asked a question of Rami bar Hama, invariably he would receive a logical explanation, and when he found that a Mishnah contradicted the explanation, he was left confused. When he asked Rav Sheshet, however, Rav Sheshet would quote a Mishnaic ruling, so even if a contradictory Mishnah was presented challenging that teaching, at least he could be certain that this was no worse than a simple disagreement between tanna’im.

The Gemara continues by telling that Rami bar Hama then asked Rabbi Yitzhak to challenge him with a question, and Rabbi Yitzhak asked him about the halacha of the Mishnah that required cleaning the blood off of vessels in the Temple. Rami bar Hama responded with a logical explanation of a ruling, which was ultimately contradicted by a Mishnaic statement.

Rami bar Hama was a fourth generation Babylonian amora, who was a close student of Rav Chisda. He was well known for his sharp, logical mind; occasionally we find that his sharp intellect caused him to miss basic errors in his conclusions. Rav Sheshet was one of the great amoraim in Babylonia in the third generation of amoraim. He studied with Rav Huna and was so well versed in the oral traditions of the baraitot that he was referred to as “Sinai” – the center of Torah knowledge. Many of the students who chose to study with him did so because they could be certain that all of his teachings were based on the solid traditions of early sources.

Zevachim 97a-b: When positive commandment and negative commandments clash

According to the Torah (see Sefer Vayikra 6:20), when something comes into contact with a sacrifice and absorbs some of its taste, it takes on the laws of that sacrifice. So if a loaf of sacrificial bread came into contact with a sacrifice, it becomes limited by the same parameters of the sacrifice, i.e. if the sacrifice becomes disqualified the loaf cannot be eaten; even if the sacrifice is valid it can only be eaten at the time and in the place where the sacrifice can be eaten.

The Gemara presents a simple question. Given that the prohibition to eat the loaf under these circumstances is a mitzvat lo ta’aseh – a negative commandment – and eating the sacrificial loaf is the fulfillment of a mitzvat aseh – a positive commandment – shouldn’t we apply the principle asei docheh lo ta’aseh – that performing a positive commandment “pushes aside” the prohibition – and the loaf should be eaten!

In response Rava explains that the principle of asei docheh lo ta’aseh does not apply in the Temple.

Many have asked what the underlying reason is for the rule that aseh doheh lo ta’aseh, given the general sense that we have that biblical prohibitions are more severe than positive commandments, since there are punishments for transgressions, but no punishments for merely neglecting to perform a mitzvah. Rabbenu Nissim Ga’on suggests that this rule is built into prohibitions, that they do not apply when a positive commandment stands in its way – an explanation that appears in the Talmud Yerushalmi, as well. In his Commentary to the Torah (Shemot 20:8) the Ramban argues that the performance of positive commandments is based on the love of God, while negative commandments are based on the fear of God, and that love is greater than fear.

Neither the Gemara nor the rishonim explain why this rule does not apply in the Temple. It appears that the service in the Temple, which is restrictive in many ways and does not encourage individual creativity in worship, limits a rule such as this one.

Zevachim 98a-b: Does painting our skin affect ritual immersion?

The closing discussion in the perek revolves around a question of chatzitzah – of a separation – that would keep a ritually defiled object from becoming purified when placed in a mikvah. This discussion does not relate specifically to the laws of the Temple, but to other situations when an object is to be purified. Does a spot of blood or grease on the object keep the purification from taking effect?

Rava states that it is obvious to him that if there is a spot of blood on clothing it will act as a separation and will preclude the possibility of ritual purification. An exception to this ruling is a case where the owner of the clothing is a slaughterer. Such a person always has such spots on his clothing and he is oblivious to them. Similarly, if there is grease from fat or wax on clothing, it will act as a separation, unless the owner deals in those substances. Since such a person will always have clothing that is spattered with fat or wax, he pays no attention to them, and they are considered unimportant. The general principle is that the laws of chatzitzah are subjective, and a spot or stain will only be considered a chatzitzah if the person cares about it and would ordinarily remove it.

Rabbeinu Tam understands that Rava’s teaching applies not only to clothing, but also to spots on a person’s body. Therefore he rules that if there is a relatively small spot on someone’s body and that person is not concerned with it at all, it would not be considered a chatzitzah. The Rashba even has a reading of our Gemara that specifically has Rava talking about a case where the spot is on someone’s body. Based on this the Shulchan Aruch rules that when a woman dyes her hair or paints her face, that would not be considered a chatzitzah and her ritual immersion would not be affected (see Yoreh De’ah 198:16-17).

Zevachim 99a-b: Which kohanim get to eat from the sacrifices?

In almost all of the sacrifices that are brought in the Temple, the kohanim receive some part of the meat for them to eat. While the Torah commands that the kohen who actually brings the sacrifice is the one who receives the portion from that korban (see Sefer Vayikra 7:7-8, 14), nevertheless it was accepted practice for the meat to be divided up among the kohanim from the family of priests that were working in the Temple at that time (see Sefer Devarim 18:6-8). Which of the kohanim are deserving of a share? Are kohanim who are unable to perform the Temple service – either because of a long-term condition, e.g. a permanent blemish, or a short-term condition, e.g. ritual defilement – also eligible to receive a portion?

The twelfth perek of Masechet Zevachim began on yesterday’s daf, and its focus is the portion that the kohanim receive from sacrifices that are brought in the Temple. According to the Mishnah, whoever is not able to perform the Temple service will not be able to share in the priestly portion, and will receive neither meat nor the skins from the sacrifices. One exception mentioned by the Mishnah is a ba’al mum – someone who suffers a physical blemish that precludes him from participating in the service. As the Gemara explains, this is because the Torah clearly includes a ba’al mum as someone who receives and eats this portion (see Vayikra 6:22; 21:22).

On today’s daf Reish Lakish raises the following question: What is the status of a ba’al mum who is tamei – ritually defiled? Should we say that the Torah included a ba’al mum under all circumstances, even if he cannot actually eat from the sacrifice at this moment, or, perhaps, the fact that he is ritually defiled and cannot eat will preclude him from receiving a portion?

Rabbah clarifies this issue by quoting a baraita that teaches that in the case of the High Priest who is allowed to perform the Temple service even when he is in mourning for a parent, nevertheless he cannot partake from the meat of that sacrifice.

We can derive from here that unless someone can actually eat from the sacrifice, he will not receive a portion of the meat.

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.