Thursday, September 18, 2008

Daf: Gittin 55a-56a - Feeding a child treif, suspect kiddush HaShem, Bar Kamtza's story

Still catching up, but I have tons of notes on 56-58… For those who aren't into this, feel free to jump down and see my comments on the Agunah crisis and on the rabbinic role in End of Life situations.

Gittin 55a
The gemara asks why a cheresh (deaf and mute person whose intelligence cannot be ascertained and who cannot be educated) could not eat terumah; after all, she would be like a child, who is not obligated in mitzvot, and may therefore eat non-kosher food.
Note that this permits a child to eat non-kosher food, but it does not permit us to give him non-kosher food to eat – and the same would be true for a cheresh. Therefore, one need not stop a minor or a mentally challenged person from eating non-kosher, but one may not actively give that person non-kosher food to eat. See the comments of Aruch haShulchan Orach Chaim 266:15-16.

The ban against giving a cheresh terumah d’rabbanan lest he give a chereshet terumah d’orayta must be a case of חדא גזירה היא.

The gemara says that the sages decreed that a stolen sin offering would be valid, lest kohanim be upset that they had been fooled into bringing an invalid, stolen offering. But how can the sages make an offering acceptable?! I presume this is a case of hefker beit din, the sages removing the item from its owner, as we have discussed in other cases.

Gittin 55b

Note Tosafot שלא.

The gemara here presents a decree against using stolen offerings, lest people say that the altar consumes stolen goods. It is not clear to me why this should be a concern – if the practice is truly legal, then what kind of kiddush HaShem is there in altering that law?!

Here we arrive at the famous “Tisha b’Av” gemara, so named because it deals with the destruction of the two Batei Mikdash [Jerusalem Temples] and the destruction of Beitar, so that one is permitted to learn this mournful segment on Tisha b’Av, even when the normal joy of learning Torah is prohibited.
I don’t have the time to transcribe all of my notes on this gemara, but I’ll include some ‘highlights’.

See Tosafot אשרי.

Gittin 56a

Note that the anonymous host of the party invites his guests via a servant, but he kicks out the guests with his own two hands. As we see regarding Bilam’s saddling of his donkey, השנאה מקלקלת את השורה, Hatred corrupts the normal order of things.

The “third calf” is supposed to be especially fine. See Tosafot for a beginning of some of the views on the definition of “עגלא תילתא – third calf.”

On the blemish to the animal’s mouth or eye, see the Maharsha’s comment on what Bar Kamtza was trying to say by creating these types of blemishes.

I was horrified, some years ago, to hear a well-respected rav and rosh yeshiva speak on the story of Bar Kamtza and arrive at the statement that the Beit haMikdash was destroyed because of ענוותנותו של ר' זכריה בן אבקולוס, the humility and patience of R’ Zecharyah ben Avkulus, and give a bizarre, original reading in an attempt to explain how this word might apply to R’ Zecharyah’s rejection of killing Bar Kamtza and rejection of bringing the korban. This is what happens when we refuse to read alternative editions. The midrash in Eichah Rabbah has this story, but adds one detail which makes everything clear: R’ Zecharyah ben Avkulus was at the party at which Bar Kamtza was humililiated, and he did not protest, feeling he was not worthy. This perfect fits ענוותנותו as it is used here and elsewhere, and no creative twisting is necessary.

The Nero mentioned here was not Emperor Nero, but rather a general by that name. See the Maharam Shif.

Nero’s refusal of his mission to destroy Jerusalem is important – it matches the Rambam’s point regarding Nevuchadnezzar and Free Will, that even if Gd wants something bad to happen, you don’t have to be the one to do it.

The gemara’s mention of “hungry as a dog” here is interesting; in the interest of clean language, we usually prefer to say “as a goat,” per Pesachim 3b.

Marta bat Baytus is not an actual name. “Marta” is a Matron, the feminine of Mar. Baytus (Boethus) was a wealthy family.

Maharsha notes the parallel between the 4 types of flour and the 4 flour offerings of the Beit haMikdash.

Marta and her servant both don’t think ahead, to realize that soon everything will be gone from the market. This reflects the general feeling of Jews of that time, that things couldn’t get any worse and that Gd would save them. Rav Y. D. Soloveitchik used to make this point on the kinah of שבת סורו, that, per Yirmiyah himself, the Jews always believed that HaShem would save them.

The reference to Abba Sikra as head of the Zealots is interesting; there were Sicarii zealots around, per the historians, known by that name because it was the title for the dagger they used. This also fits the Aramaic of סיקרא – Sikra for the color red (as in חוט הסיקרא and a red ink called סיקרא).


  1. About R' Zecharyah ben Avkulos, I'm not sure that it's "a refusal to read alternative editions." There are other substantive differences between the account in Gittin and the one in Eichah Rabbah - among other things, whether it was one animal or several that the Romans sent as a korban.

    It's equally likely, then, that there were two different traditions as to the part R' Zecharyah played in the tragedy. (Eichah Rabbah doesn't mention him in connection with the decision on the korban; that doesn't mean that the text there is defective either.)

    So we have to understand the Gemara on its own terms - that his "anvetanut," whatever exactly that means, was evidenced by his speaking up about the disposition of the korban and/or of Bar Kamtza himself.

    (Note, too, that Rashi here defines "anvetanuto" as "his forbearance, in tolerating this person [Bar Kamtza] and not having him killed."]

  2. Alex,
    Thanks for commenting.
    Yse, there are other differences between the accounts, but I'm not clear on why that should matter.

    I'm not the only one who thinks we should just look at the midrashic account - see Maharim Shif. Even Maharatz Chajes, who spends quite a bit of time trying to explain our edition, eventually says, "Go look at Midrash Kinot," but which he means Eichah Rabti.

    Rashi, for his part, does seem to want to explain our gemara without resorting to the midrashic edition - but his explanation (savlanut) is entirely consistent with the midrash. Although Maharatz Chajes says ענוה לחוד וסבלנות לחוד, the connection between them is evident, especially as seen in the stories about Hillel in Shabbat 30b-31a.