What is Talmud Tweets?

What is Talmud Tweets? A short, personal take on a page of Talmud - every day!

For several years now, I have been following the tradition of "Daf Yomi" - reading a set page of Talmud daily. With the start of a new 7 1/2 year cycle, I thought I would share a taste of what the Talmud offers, with a bit of personal commentary included. The idea is not to give a scholarly explanation. Rather, it is for those new to Talmud to give a little taste - a tweet, as it were - of the richness of this text and dialogue it contains. The Talmud is a window into a style of thinking as well as the world as it changed over the centuries of its compilation.

These are not literal "tweets" - I don't limit myself to 140 characters. Rather, these are intended to be short, quick takes - focusing in on one part of a much richer discussion. Hopefully, I will pique your interest. As Hillel says: "Go and study it!" (Shabbat 31a)

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Shalom - V'toda

Dear Friends, my study partners:

Yesterday I posted my 365th “Talmud Tweet.” With over 6,000 page views, it seems a good place to bring this blog to an end. It has been my daily practice to rise early, as the Shulchan Aruch suggests, and to spend part of a quiet morning studying and preparing my small post. Every page has held a treasure – in fact the struggle at times has been choosing from among the gems.

I am looking forward to continuing my daily study – perhaps with Talmud, perhaps with other texts, but keeping the process as “Torah L’shma” – study for its own sake rather than for the purpose of preparing a post. I will miss the discipline this writing has forced on me and the joy of occasionally hearing from someone who has read a post.

Throughout this year, less than 1/7th of the total cycle of Daf Yomi, we have explored the Tractates of Berachot, Shabbat, Eruvin and a good portion of Pesachim. Blessings, Sabbath, Limits and Matzah; not a bad list. I hope you have enjoyed the journey as much as I have. I do hope something here has stirred a thought or impression and will encourage you to more study. As it says in Pirke Avot (5,6): Turn the Torah over and over for everything is in it.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Pesachim 40 – Shemurah Matzah

And ye shall guard the unleavened bread (Ex. 12:17)

It is not easy to guard against fermentation of wheat or other grains. Even washing can be a problem, as is outlined in this page.

Rabbah said: A conscientious man should not wash [corn]. Why particularly a conscientious man: even any other man too, for surely it was taught: One may not wash barley on Passover? He says thus: He should not wash even wheat, which is hard.

And yet, wheat has to be washed in order to make the fine flour needed. In fact, the argument is made, specifically because of the command to “guard” the grain must be washed:

Raba said: It is obligatory to wash [the grain], for it is said, And ye shall guard the unleavened bread. Now, if not that it requires washing, for what purpose is the guarding?

Since grain can only ferment if there is moisture on it, there would be no guarding without washing! Or maybe it can be applied to other stages?

If guarding for the kneading, the guarding of kneading is not “guarding”, for R. Huna said: The doughs of a heathen, a man may fill his stomach with them, providing that he eats as much as an olive of unleavened bread at the end (of the first night of Passover). [Thus] only at the end, but not at the beginning: what is the reason? Because he had not afforded it any guarding.

So, “guarding” is saving for the end? Or others:

Then let him guard it from the baking and onwards?

 Hence this surely proves that we require guarding from the beginning. . . .Yet even so, Raba did not retract. For he said to those who handled sheaves, Handle them for the purpose of the precept. This proves that he holds [that] we require guarding ab initio, from beginning to end.

Thus the custom some have of a special “shemurah (guarded) matzah” – a matzah used specifically to fulfill this commandment – guarded, or watched, from harvest to baking that no water or moisture touches it until moments before baking. Not very palatable, but useful for its purpose.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Pesachim 39 – Bitter Botany


On Passover one is required not only to eat matzah but also bitter herbs. This comes from Ex. 12:8: and with bitter herbs (m’rorim) they shall eat it. The question is, what species are specially included?

The rabbis list several, with names that were in common parlance. For example:

. . .with endives, with tamka, with harhallin, with harhabinin, and with hazeret (bitter lettuce). R. Judah said: Also with wild [field] endives and with garden endives and with lettuce. . . R. Meir said: Also with ‘aswaws, and tura and mar yero'ar. Said R. Jose to him: ‘Aswaws and tura are one; and mar is yero'ar.

Yeah. Me, too.

Eventually, it is agreed that rather than listing names (which change over time) it would be better to list observable features – and not even just a bitter taste:

Others say: Every bitter herb contains an acrid sap and its leaves are faded. R. Johanan said: From the words of all of them we may learn [that every] bitter herb contains an acrid sap and its leaves are faded. R. Huna said: The halachah is as the ‘Others’.

And, finally, a lesson is taught about the bitter herbs (maror):

R. Samuel b. Nahman said in R. Jonathan's name: Why were the Egyptians compared to maror? [and they embittered (va y’marraru) their lives (Ex. 1:14)]
To teach you: just as this maror, the beginning (top) of which is soft while its end (stalk) is hard, so were the Egyptians: their beginning was soft [mild]. but their end was hard [cruel]!

A lesson in a plant: subjugation doesn’t happen immediately, it starts with small restrictions, but ends up with great oppression.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Pesachim 38 – Timely Matzah

The Mishnah, back on page 35a, lists sources or unleavened breads with which one cannot fulfill the biblical obligation of eating matzah on Passover



Let’s concentrate on the “wafers of the Nazirite.” The Nazir, you will recall, is a person who made a specific vow to G-d. This was limited in time and scope and there was a ceremony to conclude it:

And this is the Law of the Nazirite, when the days of his separation are fulfilled; he shall be brought to the door of the Tent of Meeting; And he shall offer his offering to the Lord, [many listed items including:] wafers of unleavened bread anointed with oil. . . (Num. 6:13-15)

So, why can’t these Nazirite wafers be used for matzah on Passover? Several reasons are given:

1.       Said Rabbah, Because Scripture saith, And ye shall guard the unleavened bread: (Ex. 12:16) [it must be] unleavened bread which is guarded for the sake of [the precept of eating] unleavened bread, thus excluding this, which is guarded not for the sake of unleavened bread but for the sake of a sacrifice.

2.       R. Joseph said, Scripture saith, seven days shall ye eat unleavened bread: (Lev. 7:15) [that implies] unleavened bread which may be eaten seven days. thus excluding this, which is not eaten seven days but [only] a day and a night.

3.       Yet deduce it from [the fact that it is designated], ‘the bread of affliction’, teaching, [it must be] that which may be eaten in grief, thus excluding this, which is not eaten in grief but [only] in joy

4.       Then let him deduce it [from the fact] that it is rich unleavened bread? (that is, the wafers are made with oil)

5.       Yet deduce it [from the fact] that they might not be eaten in all habitations? (that is, after the Temple was built, the wafers of the Nazirite were eaten only in Jerusalem - therefore not universal enough)

But sometimes – even with all these reasons – the answer might be more simple:

R. Il'ai said. . . When I went and discussed the matter before R. Eleazar, he said to me, By the covenant! These are the very words which were stated to Moses at Sinai.

That is – because G-d said so! Well maybe there is a reason even here. Because, remember, the Mishnah goes on to say that he CAN discharge his obligation with them if they are made to be sold in the market.

And what is the reason? — Said Rabbah: Whatever is for market, he may change his mind [about it]. And he says, ‘If it is sold, it is sold; if it will not be sold, I will discharge my duty with it’.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Pesachim 37 – Syrian Cakes!

Not only must you refrain from eating leaven on Passover, but there is also the obligation to eat matzah. (Ex. 12:15 and others). So, the discussion continues, what kinds of unleavened bread are considered matzah for the sake of fulfilling this obligation?

Our Rabbis taught: You discharge [your obligation] with fine bread, with coarse bread, and with Syrian cakes shaped in figures; although [the Sages] said, ‘Syrian cakes shaped in figures must not be made on Passover.’

So you can eat Syrian cakes if they’re made – you just can’t make them! Why? Glad you asked:

Rab Judah said: This thing Boethus b. Zonin asked the Sages: Why was it said [that] Syrian cakes shaped in figures must not be made on Passover? Said they to him: Because a woman would tarry over it and cause it to turn leaven. [But], he objected, it is possible to make it in a mold, which would form it without delay. Then it shall be said, replied they, [that] all Syrian cakes [shaped in figures] are forbidden, but the Syrian cakes of Boethus are permitted!

R. Jose said: One may make Syrian cakes like wafers, but one may not make Syrian cakes like rolls. We learned elsewhere: Sponge cakes, honey cakes, paste-balls, cakes made in a mold, and mixed dough are exempt from hallah (the obligation to set aside or burn a portion of the dough).

And therefore, one would assume, are not really “bread.” The text goes on to describe breads made in a stew pot called an ilpes. These might be placed in the sun to bake. And the dough might be placed into a mold to form a shape. Maybe this is professional bakers, maybe home-based. 

There is more discussion – but it’s all making me too hungry!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Pesachim 36 – Trust Me, I’m a Professional

The making of matzah or of unleavened bread is complicated. Fermentation can happy quickly if not carefully supervised. So a general principle is that the dough cannot be kneaded with hot or even lukewarm water.

However, meal-offerings – which were also unleavened bread – were made specifically with lukewarm water. If it is good enough for the sacrifices, why not for regular matzah? The Mishnah related to this meal offering is:


The “watcher” is an official, a priest, who insure that the dough does not rise.

If this was said of [very] careful men [priests], shall it [also] be said of those who are not careful?

In other words, the priest could be trusted to insure that the process is followed correctly, but the ordinary Israelite, baking matzah in his or her own home, could not.

Very interesting to see this kind of professionalization. This would be expected surrounding the sacrifices, which could only be done by a priest. But extending it to restrictions of Passover baking is unusual!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Pesachim 35 – Wake Up!

Ah, back to Passover related laws! The Mishanah deals with the kinds of grain out of which matzah can be made:


The text refers to “discharging his obligation” because the Passover commandment is not only to refrain from eating leaven, but also the responsibility to eat matzah – at least on the first night. (see Ex. 12:18)
These five listed grains are also the ones which are forbidden during Passover if they have not been prepared as matzah. However, the exact grains are somewhat unclear. The Talmud continues by giving Aramaic names to the species. Other grains like rice and corn are discussed

R. Johanan b. Nuri prohibits [the use of] rice and millet, because it is near to turn leaven. The scholars asked: does ‘because it is near to turn leaven’ mean that it quickly becomes leaven, or perhaps it is near to leaven, but is not completely leaven? — Come and hear: For it was taught, R. Johanan b. Nuri said: Rice is a species of corn and kareth (Divine punishment) is incurred for [eating it in] its leavened state, and a man discharges his obligation with it on Passover.

A fun story is told about the rabbis discussing a particular pastry made with dough kneaded with wine, oil or honey. Is eating it subject to kareth or not?

Now, R. Papa and R. Huna son of R. Joshua sat before R. Idi b. Abin, while R. Idi b. Abin was sitting and dozing. Said R. Huna son of R. Joshua to R. Papa: What is Resh Lakish's reason? — He replied, Scripture saith, Thou shalt eat no leavened bread with it etc.: [In the case of] the commodities with which a man discharges his obligation in respect of unleavened bread, kareth is incurred for [eating them in] their leavened state; but [with regard to] this [dough], since a man cannot discharge his obligation therewith, because it is “rich matzah”, kareth is not incurred for its leaven.

Matzah is supposed to be the “bread of poverty” – not a rich treat! The argument continues for some time, when suddenly:

R. Idi b. Abin awoke [and] said to them, Children! This is the reason of Resh Lakish, because they are fruit juice, and fruit juice does not cause fermentation.

Wake up and smell the fruit juice!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Pesachim 34 – Team of Rivals

There were two schools of rabbinic discourse; one located in Israel the other in Babylonia. Both developed commentary on the same Mishnah, but ultimately gave rise to two forms of the Talmud, the Bavli and the Yerushalmi – named for their two locations, Babylon and Jerusalem.

Although they discussed the same issues, and there was some communication between the two, they often approached things differently.

For example, on this page there is a discussion about terumah – the set aside portion for the priests – and ways that it becomes defiled. The Babyloynian school went on to discuss how wheat of terumah which is planted becomes terumah itself. But what if it is defiled?

Abaye b. Abin and R. Hanania b. Abin studied (the Tractate) Terumoth at Rabbah's academy. Rabbah b. Mattenah met them [and] asked them, What have you discussed in Terumoth, at the Master's academy? — Said they to him, But what is your difficulty? He replied. We learned: Plants of terumah which were defiled, and he [their owner] replanted them, are clean in that they do not defile [other eatables], but they are forbidden to be eaten [as terumah]. But since they are clean in that they do not defile, why are they forbidden to be eaten?

The analysis continues, but their conversation that defilement is solidified by the priests “mental neglect;” that is, he put it out of his mind and thus it is no longer terumah.

Thus did R. Shesheth say, he answered, what does ‘forbidden’ mean? They are forbidden to priests, since they became unfit [for eating] through [his] mental neglect.

The rabbis back in Palestine were, shall we say, not impressed:

When Rabin went up (to Palestine from Babylonia) he reported this teaching with reference to the terumah plants (R. Shesheth’s statement) before R. Jeremiah, whereupon he observed: The Babylonians are fools. Because they dwell in a land of darkness they engage in dark [obscure] discussions.

Nice comment – maybe having to do with the fire-worshipers of Babylon who forbade Jews to use fire during certain Babylonian holidays. Or maybe it’s just a commentary on how easy it is to get lost in obscure discussion and forget the light.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Pesachim 33 – Outside and In

Food items are subject to ritual impurity – for example if they are handled by someone who has come into contact with corpse. Especially a problem with trumah which is set aside for the priests. Ok. But what about when the foods are on the inside – say a grape or an egg. Are liquid insides also defiled?

R. Ala b. R. ‘Awia sat before R. Joshua and he sat and said in R. Johanan's name: If grapes are defiled, one may tread them out less than an egg in quantity at a time, and their wine is fit for libations (on the alter). This proves that he holds that the juice is indeed stored up;

The juice of the grape is contained by its skin, according to this view, and not part of the whole.

 [consequently] when is it [the juice] defiled? When he expresses it; [but] when he expresses it, its standard quantity [for defiling] is absent. If so, [he can tread] as much as an egg too, for we learned: If a man unclean through a corpse squeezes out olives or grapes exactly as much as an egg in quantity, they are clean? . . .
Said R. Hisda to him, Who needs you and R. Johanan your teacher: whither then has their uncleanness gone? This proves that he holds that the juice is indeed absorbed, and since the [solid] eatable is defiled, the juice too is defiled. And do you not hold that the juice is stored up? he replied. Surely we learned: If he who is unclean through a corpse squeezes out olives and grapes exactly as much as an egg in quantity, they are clean.

More than this amount – an egg’s worth of liquid – is subject to being defiled.

To what is this like? To terumah of mulberries and grapes which were defiled, which is not permitted to him either for eating or for burning.’ — but surely it may be eaten too, for if he wishes, he can tread them out less than an egg at a time? — Said Raba: It is (not allowed as) a preventive measure, lest he come to a stumbling-block through them.

While one may find a technical way around a problem, it is still not permitted because of the possibility of coming to error accidently; i.e. eating the defiled grapes absentmindedly. They become like a stumbling block before the blind. (Lev. 19:14)

Monday, July 22, 2013

Pesachim 32 – An Olive or a Penny?

The Mishnah deals with a combination of forbidden this – eating the trumah the heave-offering set aside for the priests. What happens when one eats it on Passover?


This is based on the Torah commandment:

And if a man eats of the holy thing unwittingly, then he shall put its fifth part, and shall give it to the priest with the holy thing (Lev. 22: 14)

Which treats the eating of trumah as a theft from the priests and so there has to be restoration plus 1/5. But we’ve seen that since no benefit can be derived from chametz, it can’t have any value. How can you restore it?

R. Akiba holds: He must pay according to value; while R. Johanan b. Nuri holds: He must pay according to quantity.

Not everyone agrees on the non-existent value of chametz during Passover. But for those who do, you cannot deny its physical existence and therefore can be restored (plus 1/5th) in quantity.

Which gets us to an interesting point about quantity: what is the minimum amount considered “real” ?
Our Rabbis taught: He who eats as much as an olive of terumah must pay the principal plus a fifth. Abba Saul said: [He is not liable] unless it has the worth of a perutah (the smallest coin – let’s call it a penny).

What is the first Tanna's reason? — Scripture says: And if a man eat of the holy thing unwittingly and “eating” [requires] as much as an olive.

And Abba Saul: what is [his] reason? — Scripture says, and he shall give [unto the priest the holy thing] and “giving” is not less than the worth of a perutah.

So, is it the size or is the value? An olive or a penny?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Pesachim 31 – Leaven, Lending and Ruin

On the analysis of leaven which has been left over throughout Passover, we look now at when it has been used as a pledge for a loan. The Mishnah from the previous page states:


The problem being that leaven belonging to a Jew is renounced before Passover and therefore has no value. This is discussed at length on our page; i.e. whether ownership can be given retrospectively to a time before it was renounced or not.

In addition, there is this interesting passage:

Our Rabbis taught: A shop belonging to an Israelite and its wares belong to an Israelite, while Gentile workers enter therein, leaven that is found there after Passover is forbidden for use, while it need not be stated for eating. A shop belonging to a Gentile and the wares belong to a Gentile, while Israelite workers go in and out, leaven that is found there after Passover may be eaten, while it is unnecessary to state [that] benefit [is permitted].

And also a mishnah which deems that leaven on which a ruin has collapsed does not have to be physically removed, because it is already buried. But it has to be buried three handbreaths deep so that a dog can’t sniff it out!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Pesachim 30 – The Real World

Loyal readers of this little guide through the Talmud might be excused for thinking that the rabbis were often obsessed with small details which old little practical relevance. For you, this page of Talmud offers a few dispatches from the real world – and how acutely aware the rabbis were of the implications of their rulings.

For example, there is the ongoing question from the past several pages of what happens with leaven which might accidently be kept in a Jewish home throughout Passover – can it be used afterwards? This is all very well, but once Passover is over where is one to get hametz? Wouldn’t it take a day or two to get some flour to bake some bread? Not necessarily:

For Raba said: When we were at R. Nahman's house, when the seven days of Passover were gone he would say to us, ‘Go out and buy leaven from the troops (billeted nearby).’

The scrupulous might think that this bread baked during Passover would be forbidden even though it was baked by Gentiles (and soldiers, no less! Or at least those supporting the soldiers). But no, Rabbi Nahman allowed it.

Another point, there is an argument that clay pots which had held leaven had to be broken before Passover so that even absorbed leaven would “not be found.” But then, once Passover was over, wouldn’t there be a rush on new pottery? And wouldn’t that cause a rise in the price? The rabbis were aware of the pressure of the marketplace and leant a hand:

For Samuel said to the pottery merchants: Charge all equitable price for your pots, for if not I will publicly lecture [that the law is] in accordance with R. Simeon. (i.e. that pots do not have to be broken)

I love that! Rabbi Samuel intervening in the marketplace. What would Adam Smith say?!

And lastly:
Rabina asked R. Ashi: What does one do about the knives on Passover? — I provide [make] new ones for myself, he replied. That is well for you, who can [afford] this, said he to him, [but] what about one who cannot [afford] this? I mean like new ones, he answered: [I thrust] their handles in loam, and their blades in fire, and then I place their handles in boiling water.

Maybe it would be ideal to buy all new knives for Passover – but in the real world not everyone could afford such an expenditure. So there is a procedure for kashering the knives and other vessels. Ultimately the procedure is even easier than R. Ashi suggests: the whole knife simply needs to be placed in directly boiling water (not boiling water poured into another pot).

There is theory. But in the real world, there have to be simple solutions.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Pesachim 29 – Just a Taste

There is continuing disagreement about the nature of leaven left over through Passover. To what extent does it remain forbidden after Passover, and does it have any value / benefit? 

Now we discuss mixing.

What happens when a minute quantity of leaven which has been leftover during Passover is mixed in with other foods after Passover?

Rab said: Leaven, in its time, whether [mixed] with its own kind or with a different kind, is forbidden; when not in its time, [if mixed] with its own kind, it is forbidden; [if with] a different kind, it is permitted.

Samuel said: Leaven, in its time, [if mixed] with its own kind, is forbidden; if with a different kind, it is permitted. When not in its time, whether [mixed] with its own kind or with a different kind, it is permitted.

While R. Johanan said: Leaven, in its time, whether [mixed] with its own kind or with a different kind, is forbidden when it imparts [its] taste; when not in its time, whether [mixed] with its own kind or with a different kind, it is permitted

These views are all based on a particular principle:

For Rab and Samuel both said: All forbidden things of the Torah, [if mixed] with their own kind, [render forbidden the mixture even] when there is a minute quantity; [if] with a different kind, [only] when [the forbidden element] imparts its taste.

The forbidden substance is significant in a diverse mixture when it changes the taste.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Pesachim 28 – The Original Passover

An anonymous Mishnah appears on this page:


Now that seems fairly clear – if leaven had remained with an Israelite, even though it was not used during Passover, it cannot be used after for it had broken the commandment as stated.

The Rabbis ask who the author of this Mishnah is and begin by stating it cannot be R. Judah, R. Simon or R. Jose the Galilean because each used this verse to elucidate another law.

R. Judah, for example, points out that there are 3 laws of leaven – that is 3 verses:

There shall no leavened bread be eaten; (Ex. 13:3) Ye shall eat nothing leavened; (Ex. 12:20) and Thou shalt eat no leavened bread with it [the Passover sacrifice] (Deut. 16:3).

One refers to before its time; another to after its time; and the third to during its time.

Others interpret differently. This one, I found fascinating:

R. Jose the Galilean said: How do we know that at the Passover of Egypt its [prohibition of] leaven was in force one day only? Because it is said, ‘There shall no leavened bread be eaten’, and in proximity thereto [is written], This day ye go forth.

Quite an interesting idea: according to this view (not universally accepted), the first Passover was observed one day only and with the Passover sacrifice (and the Exodus!). All subsequent ones were observed in full and without hametz throughout.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Pesachim 27 – Burning and Crumbling

After a long series of asides (including most of this page) we return to the Passover related question (this being the tractate Pesachim!) of removing leaven the evening before Passover begins.

The Mishnah (back on page 21) states:


So, how does R. Judah maintain that the hametz (leaven) must be burnt?

It was taught, R. Judah said: There is no removal of leaven save by burning, and logic impels this: if nothar, which is not subject to ‘there shall not be seen’ and ‘there shall not be found’, requires burning, then leaven, which is subject to ‘there shall not be seen’ and ‘there shall not be found’, how much the more does it require burning!

Nothar – which are portions of the sacrifices which are left over beyond their time limit, must be burned. But this requirement is not mentioned in the Torah. Yet for hametz the Torah states: neither shall there be leaven seen with you in all your quarters (Ex. 13:7) Seven days shall there be no leaven found in your houses (Ex. 12:19). If the law is stringent with nothar, it must be so with hametz!

Well, this is not universally accepted:

Said they to him: Every argument that you argue [which] in the first place is stringent yet in the end leads to leniency is not a [valid] argument: [for] if he did not find wood for burning, shall he sit and do nothing, whereas the Torah ordered, Ye shall put away leaven out of your houses, (Ex. 12:15) [which means] with anything wherewith you can put it away?

Since burning requires an outside agency (the availability of wood) it can’t be the only required means of disposal. Rabbi Judah continues the argument using a variety of other comparisons. Ultimately: “R. Judah was silent.” Meaning he falls to the logic of the sages. Crumble away!

(PS not only does R. Judah fall to the logic of the Sages, they wind up using his own words against him. There follow on the next page a series of aphorisms from the time. For example: “When the arrow maker is slain by his own arrows, he is paid with the clue which his own hand wound” - which we might replace today with “hoisted on his own petard” [which needs it’s own updating – any suggestions?]).

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Pesachim 26 - Sound, Sight and Smell

One cannot gain benefit from that which is forbidden. But sometimes that benefit comes unintentionally.

Raba says thus: R. Judah rules that the unintentional is the same as the intentional only in the direction of stringency, but he did not rule that the intentional is the same as the unintentional where it is in the direction of leniency.

The story is told of R. Johanan b. Zakkai who preached in Jerusalem during the festivals. His lectures were so popular that he outgrew his tiny lecture hall and had to preach outdoors. He did so standing in the shade of the Temple walls. Now is intention was not to gain benefit from the Temple (which is not permitted – the Temple service and its accoutrements were dedicated to G-d.)

But Raba said: The Temple was different, because it was made for its inside.

Which becomes interesting when we think about the holiness of the modern Western Wall, which is no more than the retaining wall of the Temple Mount, not even part of the destroyed Temple itself. But I digress.

But what of workers who come near the Holy of Holies, for example, to do repairs?

Surely R. Simeon b. Pazzi said in R. Joshua b. Levi's name on Bar Kappara's authority: Sound, sight, and smell do not involve trespass?

If one were to taste, for example, part of the sacrifice that would be a serious trespass. It would be benefiting from a sacred thing. But hearing the Temple music, seeing the beauty of the Temple, or smelling the spices – even though one does gain benefit from something sacred does not cause any reduction and is therefore is not a trespass. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Pesachim 25 - Saving a Life

Saving a life takes precedent over all laws in the Torah, except three. Those are illuminated here:

R. Jacob said in R. Johanan's name: We may cure ourselves with all things, save with the wood of the asherah (a tree worship for idolatry).

That is, when a human life is in danger, any means of curing is permitted – even if, for example, it involved a product from a non-kosher animal like a pig.

When Rabin came, (to Babylon from Israel) he said in R. Johanan's name: We may cure [i.e., save] ourselves with all [forbidden] things, except idolatry, incest (sexual immorality), and murder.

Idolatry, as we have stated (with the wood of the asharah). Incest and murder, as it was taught: Rabbi said: For as when a man riseth against his neighbour, and slayeth him, even so is this matter (Deut. 22:26).

The Deuteronomy verse quoted has to do with rape and the punishment of the aggressor. The full section is:

But if a man finds a betrothed girl in the field, and the man forces her, and lies with her; then the man only who lay with her shall die; But to the girl you shall do nothing; there is in the girl no sin deserving death; for as when a man rises against his neighbor, and slays him, so is this matter; For he found her in the field, and the betrothed girl cried, and there was no one to save her. (ibid. 25-27)

Now, this is a section not without some controversy, because (a) if this happens in the city (where if she cried someone would have heard her) they are both killed and (b) if she is not betrothed, the penalty is merely financial. Still, the point is that in this verse (22:26) rape is directly connected with murder.

 Now, what connection has a murderer with a betrothed maiden? Thus this comes to throw light, and is itself illumined. The murderer is compared to a betrothed maiden: just as a betrothed maiden must be saved [from dishonor] at the cost of his [her ravisher's] life, so [in the case of] a murderer, he [the victim] must be saved at the cost of his [the attacker's] life. Conversely, a betrothed maiden [is learned] from a murderer: just as [in the case of] murder, one must be slain rather than transgress, so a betrothed maiden must be slain yet not transgress.

Ok, that last part is also problematic. The point here, though, is that sexual immorality is on the same level as murder.

And how do we know it of murder itself? (i.e. that one must accept death rather than commit murder)

 It is common sense. Even as one who came before Raba and said to him: The governor of my town has ordered me, ‘Go and kill So-and-so, if not, I will kill you.’ He answered him: ‘Let him kill you rather than that you should commit murder; what [reason] do you see [for thinking] that your blood is redder? Perhaps his blood is redder.’

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Pesachim 24 – Milk and Meat

We all know that the kosher laws forbid mixing milk and meat. But what's the proof?

Issi b. Judah said: How do we know that meat and milk [seethed together] are forbidden?

Well, yes; it's more of a problem than you might think. The biblical prohibition says simply: You shall not seethe a kid in its mother’s milk (Deut. 14:21. The same phrase appears with no more explanation in Ex. 23:19 and 34:27). 

How do we know that it cannot be eaten – say if someone else does the cooking?

It is stated here, for thou art a holy people [...thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother's milk], and it is stated elsewhere, And ye shall be holy men unto me; [therefore ye shall not eat any flesh that is torn of beasts in the field; ye shall cast it to the dogs]: (Ex.22:30) just as there it is forbidden, so here too it is forbidden.

By connecting two verses with the common phrase of ‘being holy’ (even though the first is am kadosh and the second is anshei kadosh), we learn that the rule of one applies to the other. Since you cannot eat an animal torn by a wild animal, so you cannot eat the meat which has been seethed in milk!

No mention here of two sets of dishes. That comes elsewhere.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Pesachim 23 – Double Positive

A discussion of this Torah verse:
And when you shall come into the land, and shall have planted all kinds of trees for food, then you shall count its fruit as uncircumcised; three years shall it be uncircumcised unto you; it shall not be eaten. (Lev. 19:23)
 Now of all the questions that could be asked about this verse – here we look at two words:

what is the purpose of ‘unto you’?

Remember, according to standard rabbinic exegesis, nothing in the Torah is superfluous. Every word is an opportunity for a lesson. This one, though, is not so clear:

For what was taught: ‘unto you’: this is to include what is planted for the public.

R. Judah said: It is to exclude what is planted for the public.

What is the reason of the first Tanna (that it includes the public)? Because it is written, ‘and ye shall have planted;’ [this] implies [a law] to the individual, but it does not imply [a law] for the public ; [therefore] the Merciful One wrote, ‘unto you’, to include what is planted for the public.
While R. Judah [argues]: ‘and ye shall have planted’ implies [a law] both to the public and to the individual, and ‘unto you’ [too] implies both for the public and for the individual: thus it is an extension after an extension, and an extension after an extension has no [other significance] save to limit.

That is: a double positive (extension) is a negative (limitation)!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Pesachim 22 – It’s the Little Things (and Lead Not to Temptation)

There is a general discussion on the principle that anything which is forbidden in the Torah is forbidden, even to derive benefit from – for example selling non-kosher items to a non-Jew. According to R. Judah (R. Meir disagrees) this derived from an implied limitation:

He deduces it from, [ye shall not eat any flesh that is torn of beasts in the field;] ye shall cast it to the dogs (Ex. 22:30). ‘It’ you may cast to dogs, but you may not cast to dogs all [other] things forbidden in the Torah.

The fact that this particular item (torn flesh) may be given to dogs implies (by virtue of the specifying word “it”) that only it may be given to dogs – and nothing else forbidden. And if none of these other forbidden things can be given to dog, the certainly no other benefit can be derived from them!

That’s a lot to ask of an “it.”

But that’s nothing. “It” is an actual word, with meaning. What about “et” ?

In Hebrew grammar, the word “et” is a preposition which indicates a direct object. It has no actual meaning by itself. And yet, perhaps, it is subject to interpretation as well – especially when it is in the Torah!

Simeon Imsoni — others state, Nehemiah Imsoni — interpreted every et in the Torah; [but] as soon as he came to, thou shalt fear [et] the Lord thy God, (Deut. 6:13) he desisted.

Because there can be no other to whom that fear would be extended, God being unique. Now, it would be perfectly reasonable to say – every et except this one is subject to interpretation. Instead, he throws out the whole project!

 Said his disciples to him, ‘Master, what is to happen with all the ets which you have interpreted?’ ‘Just as I received reward for interpreting them’, he replied, ‘so will I receive reward for retracting’.
Subsequently, R. Akiba came and taught: Thou shalt fear [et] the Lord thy God is to include scholars.

Akiba’s interpretation, extending the fear of God to the fear (awe, respect) for scholars comes and saves Simon’s work! And the power of the smallest of words. Even when they are not words.

A postscript. This page also continues an earlier reference to a “stumbling-block” – that is avoiding tempting another into sin:

R. Nathan said: How do we know that a man must not hold out a cup of wine to a nazirite or the limb of a living animal to a b’nai Noah? Because it is stated, thou shalt not put a stumbling-block before the blind. (Lev. 19:14)

B’nai Noah is a rabbinic term for the descendants of Noah – i.e. everyone! (The term is used to designate non-Jews). There are certain laws – seven to precise - which apply to non-Jews as well as Jews. These are the “Seven Laws of Noah.” Among them are not cutting the limb from a living animal (i.e. for meat).

The point here being, you cannot hold out a forbidden item (wine to a Nazirite, cut off limb to a b’nai Noah) because you are tempting them to sin.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Pesachim 21 – Cattle and Beasts and Birds

We come (finally!) to a new chapter of the Mishnah. It begins with a bit of an elliptical statement about the use of leaven before and during Passover:


In other words, not only can one not own leaven during Passover, one cannot even gain benefit from it, for example selling it using it as feed. Now this may be a bit obvious (how can you gain benefit from something you don’t own?) but, the argument goes, it is necessary.

This, by the way, becomes the basis of the now common custom to sell hametz to a non-Jew before Passover – at a time when benefit is still allowed.

But let’s start with the animals. First some terms: “Cattle” (behaymah) refers to domesticated animals. “Beasts” (chayya) refers to wild or semi-domesticated.

For what purpose does he state, CATTLE and for what purpose does he state BEASTS? They are necessary: for if he stated CATTLE, [I might say] that is because if they leave over it is fit for them; but [as for] BEASTS, which if they leave over hide it, I would say [that it is] not [so].

Could the principle be stated using just one example? Maybe not, because of their different habits. Whatever cattle don’t eat, they leave for next time, but whatever beasts leave over they hide for the future. All that hidden food is still in the owners possession even though he can’t see it. So maybe it only needs to say “Beasts.”

While if he stated BEASTS, [I might say] that is because if they leave over they at least hide it; but as for cattle, sometimes they leave over and he [the owner] may not think about it, and so transgress ‘it shall not be seen’ and ‘it shall not be found’ on its account,

So all that leaven for cattle feed is lying around but it is still in the owner’s possession and he may forget about it once he’s fed the cattle.

[and therefore] I might say [that it is] not [so]: thus they [both] are necessary.

I guess they are! But, wait. Aren’t we forgetting something?

What is the purpose of [including] BIRDS?
Because he states CATTLE and BEASTS, he also states BIRDS.

Oh, well. Less rhetorical logic there. But, fine. “Cattle” and “Beasts” and “Birds” it is.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Pesachim 20 – Beer Brewing Defilement

We come, at last, to (almost) the end of the discussion on levels of impurity. All this stemmed, you may recall, for the mention that both clean and unclean trumah are burned along with leaven on the day before Passover. So we come full circle and explain:

R. Hisda opposed two teachings of Passover, and reconciled [them]. Did R. Joshua say, Both of them (clean and unclean trumah) [may be burnt] together? But the following contradicts it: R. Jose said [to R. Meir]: The conclusion is not similar to the premise. For when our Masters testified, concerning what did they testify? If concerning flesh which was defiled through a derivative uncleanness, that we burn it together with flesh which was defiled through a father of uncleanness, [then] this is unclean and that is unclean. If concerning oil which was rendered unfit by a tebul yom, that it is lit in a lamp which was defiled by one unclean through a corpse, — one is unfit and the other is unclean. So too do we admit in the case of terumah which was defiled through a derivative uncleanness, that we may burn it together with terumah which was defiled through a ‘father’ of uncleanness. But how can we burn even that which is doubtful together with that which is unclean: perhaps Elijah will come and declare it clean!

Yes, I know. Here, maybe this will make it clear:

A tanna recited before R. Shesheth: A sherez (unclean creeping thing) defiles liquids, and the liquids defile a utensil, and the utensil defiles eatables, and the eatables defile liquids, and [thus] we learn three [stages of] uncleanness in the case of a sherez.

But there are four? [actually there are five!]

Delete “liquids” in the first clause.

On the contrary, delete “liquids” in the last clause — [because] we find no other Tanna who maintains [that] liquids defile utensils save R. Judah, and he retracted!

And your sign [for remembering the order] is the brewing process.

That’s right: beer brewing is the model for ritual defilement! (In an empty vat, place solids [dates, hops, etc.] then liquids). 

And also, it is delicious.

By the way, this page also brings up the problem of “stumbling blocks.” More on that later.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Pesachim 19 – Needled

The transmission of ritual impurity continues to be discussed. Here’s an interesting example:

We learned elsewhere: [He testified] concerning an [unclean] needle which is found in the flesh [of a sacrifice], that the knife and the hands (of the priest) are clean, while the flesh is unclean

What is this needle? One in a doubtful condition – i.e. we are not sure if it was made impure by, for example, being held by someone who had come into contact with a dead body (metal takes on the same level of impurity as the person or object it comes into contact with). Here, the sacrifice and the person performing the sacrifice are persevered from impurity by being given the benefit of the doubt – a special condition for the Temple.

But sometimes that benefit is also given:

‘We have learned [about] utensils,’ for we learned: ‘All utensils which are found in Jerusalem on the way of the descent to the ritual bath-house are unclean’, hence those [found] elsewhere are clean!

A single path led down to the mikve where unclean vessels were immersed to make them clean. Anything found on the side of the road must have been dropped on the way to the mikve and must therefore be unclean. All others must therefore be assumed clean!

Then according to your reasoning, consider the second clause: — [those found] on the way of the ascent [from the bath] are clean’, hence those [found] anywhere else are unclean? 

Oh, well there is that.

Rather, the first clause is exact, whereas the second is not exact, and it is to exclude the narrow paths (where people walk the same path before and after the mikve).

But how do we know? We inquire.

Consider: this needle is an object which has no understanding to be questioned, and everything which has no understanding to be questioned . . . its doubt is clean

How then can we doubt it?

— Because it is a doubt of uncleanness which arises through a person, and R. Johanan said: A doubt of uncleanness which arises through a person, we inquire about it, even in the case of a utensil lying on the ground, just as though it were an object which has the understanding to be questioned.

So, we question the needle!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Pesachim 18 – Purifying Liquid and Spreading Impurity

In discussing laws of shertz, “creeping things” in the Torah, Leviticus states:

And every earthen utensil, in which any of them falls, whatever is in it shall be unclean; and you shall break it (Lev. 11:33)

This shows, as is pointed out on our Talmud page, that this contamination – ritual impurity – follows over several levels:

R. Akiba lectured: And every earthen vessel, wherein any of them [sc. creeping things] falleth, whatsoever is in it shall be unclean [yitma]: it does not state tame [unclean] but yitma. [intimating that] it defiles [yetamme] others.

This intimation or hint is the basis for a whole range of levels of contamination – water from the vessel, for example, can contaminate food, which can contaminate other vessels, etc. to about the 4th level. This contamination is much discussed in rabbinic literature. Here is one example from our page:

Said R. Nahman b. Isaac, Come and hear: If a cow drinks the water of lustration (purifying liquid used in Temple ceremonies), its flesh is unclean. R. Judah said It [the water] is nullified in its bowels.

What purifies can also make unclean!

What does, ‘it is nullified in its bowels’ mean? It is indeed nullified from [imposing] grave uncleanness, but it does defile [with] light uncleanness. Hence it follows that the first Tanna holds that it is unclean even with the graver uncleanness; but surely he states, ‘Its flesh is unclean?’ The whole is R. Judah, but the text is defective, and it was thus taught: If a cow drinks the water of lustration, its flesh is unclean. When is that said? In respect of light uncleanness, but not in respect of grave uncleanness, for R. Judah maintained: It is nullified in its bowels. R. Ashi said: In truth it is completely nullified in its bowels, because it is [now] noisome liquid.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Pesachim 17 – Priests and Rabbis and Prophets

Continuing in a discussion of the transmission of impurity, the Talmud presents an examination of the priest by the rabbis in a dispute on minutiae on the law. This comes from the prophetic book of Haggai:
Thus says the Lord of hosts; Ask now the priests concerning the Torah, saying, If one carries consecrated meat in the skirt of his garment, and with his skirt touches bread, or pottage, or wine, or oil, or any food, shall it become consecrated? And the priests answered and said, No. (Hag. 2:11-12)

Sorry, wrong answer – as least as far as some see it:

Rab said: The priests erred; but Samuel maintained, The priests did not err.

The test continues:

Then said Haggai, If one that is unclean by a dead body touch any of these, shall it be unclean? And the priests answered and said, It shall be unclean. (ibid, 13)

The rabbis agree with that answer.

 As for Samuel, it is well: since they did not err here, they did not err there [either]; but according to Rab, why did they err here yet did not err there? —
Said R. Nahman in Rabbah b. Abbuha's name: They were well-versed in the uncleanness of a corpse, but not well-versed in the uncleanness of a sherez (creeping things which defile).

Ah, but what does the prophet say:

Then answered Haggai and said, So is this people, and so is this nation before me, saith the Lord: and so is every work of their hands: and that which they offer there is unclean. (ibid. 14)

As for Rab, it is well: hence ‘unclean’ is written. But according to Samuel, why was it unclean? — He indeed wondered. But it is written, and so is every work of their hands? — Said Mar Zutra, others state, R. Ashi: Because they perverted their actions the Writ stigmatizes them as though they offered up [sacrifices] in uncleanness.

See, it is not just the technicalities. The person who performs the ritual is as important as the ritual itself.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Pesachim 16 – Torah or Rabbinic Impurity?

There is a long disputation, lasting several pages, about the ways that ritual impurity is or is not communicated through fluids. While generally true, there seems to have been an exception made for the blood and water of sacrifice in the Temple:

R. Eleazar said: Liquids have no uncleanness at all [by Scriptural law]; the proof is that Jose b. Jo'ezer of Zeredah testified . . . that the fluids (blood and water) in the [Temple] slaughter-house are clean.

Now if it were Torah law, no exception could have been made! So the impurity, such as it is, must be Rabbinic law.

Come and hear: If blood became unclean and he [the priest] sprinkled it unwittingly, it [the sacrifice] is accepted; if deliberately, it is not accepted?

Now this is interesting, because the Torah makes no accommodation for deliberate or unwitting in this case.

 It was Rabbinically [unclean], this not being in accordance with R. Jose b. Jo'ezer of Zeredah.

Or perhaps not – maybe there is a scriptural “out” – the Priest’s headplate, which was supposed to provide a certain kind of atonement on its own:

Come and hear: For what does the headplate propitiate? For the blood, flesh, and the fat which were defiled, whether in ignorance or deliberately, accidentally or intentionally. . .[It was defiled] by Rabbinical law [only], this not being in accordance with Jose b. Jo'ezer of Zeredah.

This statement of Jose b. Jo'ezer of Zeredah comes, by the way, as a testimony during a historic battle for control of the Sanhedrin between R. Gamaliel and R. Joshua. “Traditional” rabbinic laws were examined to determine their validity.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Pesachim 15 – Benefit of the Doubt?

What to do when there is a doubt about a food item being ritually impure or not? Do you treat it as real or potential?

For we learned: In the case of a cask of terumah wherein a doubt of uncleanness is born,

That is, whether this food item for the priests was touched by someone ritually impure or not. If it was, it could not be used.

R. Eliezer said: If it is lying in an exposed place it must be laid in a hidden place, and if it was uncovered, it must be covered.

R. Joshua said: If it is lying in a hidden place, one may lay it in an exposed place, and if it is covered it may be uncovered!

R. Eliezer claiming that it should be treated as potentially clean and therefore not allow any other opportunity for certain defilement. R. Joshua argues the opposite – treat it as already impure, so it doesn’t matter what happens to it.

Why do we care? It is the issue of how we think of things when we have a doubt. Is the benefit given or not?

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Pesachim 14 – Impure Weapons

The discussion on this page is about issues of ritual impurity. The Mishnah brings it up here because of the question of burning unclean trumah (ritual offering) alongside leaven before Passover.

We will be reading a great deal about the transmission of ritual impurity in other tractates. But one fascinating aside mentioned on this page caught my eye. That is the special case of transmission of impurity through a sword:

[And whosoever . . . toucheth] one that is slain by the sword, (Num. 19:16) [which intimates], the sword is as the slain; hence it is a principal defilement

We’ll see this again several times in this tractate (Pesachim 19b and 79a). A corpse is a principal source of defilement (that is ritual impurity). The sword which slays becomes impure though the contact with a corpse – that is, but killing someone. It then creates impurity by those who touch it, just as a corpse does.

It’s a powerful and unique case. Thinking about weapons as objects which, when used, defile.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Pesachim 13 – Elijah Rocks!

Leaven is to be burnt on the evening of the 14th day of Nisan (the night before Passover). But what if it is Shabbat?

If the fourteenth falls on the Sabbath, everything [sc. Leaven] must be removed before the Sabbath

And burnt. That makes sense. But what about trumah  the special offerings which are reserved for the priests?

and of the clean [terumah] food for two meals is left over, so as to eat until four hours

That is, one meal for Friday evening and one meal for Saturday – for the priest.

Said they to him: Clean [terumoth] should not be burnt, in case eaters may be found for them?

For example if priest should come visiting.

He replied: They have already sought [eaters] but not found [them].

[But maybe] they have spent the night outside the [city] wall?

Then on your reasoning, he retorted, even [trumah] in suspense should not be burnt, lest Elijah come and declare them clean?

Said they to him, it has long been assured to Israel that Elijah will come neither on the eve of the Sabbath nor on the eve of Festivals, on account of the trouble.

Elijah, who is supposed to come not only to announce the coming of the Messiah, but also to clear up all kinds of legal doubts and misunderstanding, is considerate enough not to come at the beginning of Shabbat or Festivals, because it would cause all kinds of inconvenience. You go, Elijah!

(One other thing on the page which doesn’t relate to the above: when the keepers of a charity have more goods or food than they can distribute – that cannot keep it or even sell it to themselves. Based on and ye shall be guiltless towards the Lord, and towards Israel [Num. 32:22] – avoiding even the appearance in impropriety.)

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Pesachim 12 – Interrogating the Witnesses

In the question of when is the proper time to stop eating leaven on the day before Passover, an analogy is drawn with questioning witnesses at a murder trial (stay with me, here).

In interrogation during trial, two credible witnesses must agree on the details of the crime. There are two forms of questions (see Sanhedrin 40a) hakiroth and bedikot:

We learned: They were examined with seven hakiroth: In which septennate (7 year period) [was the crime committed], in which year, in which month, on what day of the month, on what day [of the week]. at which hour and in which place?

Hakiroth, are facts of the time and place. Bedikoth, deals with other details of the case. The importance of these two kinds of questioning are outlined:

What is the difference between hakiroth and bedikoth? In hakiroth, if one of [the witnesses] replied. ‘I do not know’, their testimony is null; in bedikoth, even if both declare, ‘We do not know’, their testimony is valid.

If factual questions cannot be answered accurately the accused is given the benefit of the doubt.

The rabbis continue to discuss how precise this notion of time must be (again, given that there are no watches or ubiquitous clocks). Can they agree within an hour or two or three? Yes, under some circumstances – and the rabbis disagree as to the specifics. But not between day and night or between hours when the sun is in the East or the West.

This correlates to the discussion of times for eating leaven.

R. Ashi said: As there is a controversy in respect of testimony, so is there a controversy in respect of leaven.

The exact hours may be in dispute, and some latitude is allowed. But there are limits!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Pesachim 11 – Watch For It

The Mishnah on the previous page talks about the appropriate times for searching for leaven.



Now this is not the first time that Rabbi Judah and the Sages disagree. And, in fact, the page contains a lot of back and forth accusing Rabbi Judah and the Rabbis of inconsistency in their respective rulings over a broad range of subjects. It feels a little like someone who has been holding on to resentments and finally let them all out!

But, there is a really interesting example given in the next Mishnah of who the times for searching for leaven were announced:





At a time of no clocks or watches, it is so interesting to have this visual announcement. Thanks, R. Judah, for letting us know about this custom!