Sunday, April 20, 2014

Beitzah 8 - Earth

Having exhausted on the previous six pages the question of an egg laid on a Holiday (Yom Tov), the Talmud turns to the next question in the group - earth. Both questions deal with muktzeh - objects set aside from use, which should therefore not be used on Shabbat or Yom Tov.

One can slaughter, cook, and eat animals on a Yom Tov, because although work in general is prohibited, preparing food is permitted. Furthermore, if one slaughters foul or wild animals, he needs to cover their blood with earth. However, digging earth on a Yom Tov is prohibited, because it is akin to plowing or building, and in addition earth is muktzeh - set aside and not prepared for use on a Yom. Nevertheless, Beit Shammai permit one to dig with a spade and cover the blood with earth, whereas Beit Hillel require earth to be prepared on the previous day.

But how can digging be allowed? - It turns out that there are limiting conditions: the spade has to be inserted into the ground on the previous day. But he is crumbling the clods of earth, which is akin grinding? - We are talking about loose earth. And yet, why did Beit Shammai permit this outright, seeing that it is so close to violating Yom Tov and that Beit Hillel tell him not to? - Because they did not want to withhold from people the joy of a Yom Tov, which is a mitzvah in itself.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Beitzah 7 – A hen and an egg

Let us start with a rule: any creature whose mating occurs during the day (like a chicken) gives birth during the day; one whose mating is at night (a bat) gives birth at night, and people and other similar creatures, who mate both by night and by day – they give birth both at night and during the day.

What practical lesson does this teach? The following: if one checked his coup before the Holiday (Yom Tov) and there were no eggs, and then he checked early in the morning and found an egg, he can eat that egg, because he can be assured that the hen laid it during the day – just that he missed it. But what if he checked really well? - Perhaps the egg came out only partially, and then went back – but it is still considered laid the day before the Holiday and is therefore permitted.

What about Rabbi Yose who says that the egg in such a situation is forbidden? – Rabbi Yose is talking about the egg that was not fertilized by a rooster, and which the hen laid by warming itself against the ground. But if the rooster is present – the hen will not do that and will wait for the rooster instead, so we can be sure that the egg is laid by day and consequently eat it.

How far can the rooster be? – Even sixty houses away, as long as the hen hears its crowing in the morning. However, if there is a river, the rooster will not cross, but if there is a bridge – he will. But not a bridge made out of rope. And yet, there was a incident when the rooster crossed the river over the bridge made of rope.

Art: Rooster with Hens and Chicks By Carl Jutz

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Beitzah 6 – A chick

Having discussed an egg laid on a Holiday (Yom Tov), the Talmud turns to a chick that hatched on a Holiday. What is its status, can it be eaten? We have two opinions. One is that it is muktzeh (set aside) – since before it hatched, it was not fit for any use. The other opinion is that it is permitted: if one were to slaughter it, it would become permitted as food – and this permission removes the prohibition of muktzeh.

But why would it be muktzeh? We know that a calf born on a Yom Tov can definitely be eaten, so what is the difference between it and and egg? – The answer would be that the calf was permitted even while inside of its mother – if one slaughtered the mother. This logic obviously does not apply to the chick.

There is also the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer ben Yakov, who says that the chick is prohibited even on a weekday – all the time that it has not opened its eyes. This is because before this time it is not properly a bird but a creepy-crawly, and is prohibited together with other “things that creep upon the earth.”

Art: The Proud Mother Hen and Chicks by John Frederick Herring Snr

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Beitzah 5 – Why do we observe two days of Yom Tov?

Even though the appearance of the moon, and hence the beginning of the new month, was calculated by Sanhedrin, they would not announce it until witnesses testified that they saw the new moon. Once the official day beginning the month was known, all Holidays: Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, etc., were set.

The Jews in Diaspora, starting with Babylon, had to wait until the messengers of the Court would arrive and tell them about the new moon, and since it often took quite long, they celebrated two days of Holidays (Yom Tov), out of doubt. Only one day of the two was the real Holiday. Therefore, an egg laid on the first day was always permitted on the second. Here is why. Either the first day was a real Holiday, and then the second was a weekday, or the first was a weekday – and the egg laid then was permitted on the second day.

If so, then after the calendar was fixed by Hillel, the last Prince, in about eighth century – why do people still celebrate two days of Yom Tov? – Because the Sages living in the Land of Israel urged everybody to keep the custom. The fear was that some new government may forbid the study of Torah, the Sages of the Diaspora would forget how to calculate the calendar, and as a result eat leavened bread on Passover.

It could be though that on Rosh HaShana this reasoning about the egg does not apply, because of a series of complicated logical derivations.

Art: Moonrise over the Sea By Caspar David Friedrich

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Beitzah 4 – And Beit Shammai was lenient

Rabbi Eliezer was the student of Beit Shammai, and he quoted the following opinion about the egg laid on a Holiday: it is permitted to eat it, and even its mother hen.

Now let's analyze this. If the hen is kept for food – then of course it is permitted, and Rabbi Eliezer is not telling us anything new. And if it is kept for laying eggs, then it should be forbidden!? – We are dealing with a special situation where someone bought a hen and did not tell us why he bought it. If later we see that he takes that hen to slaughter, we know that both the hen and the egg were designated for food. However, this explanation leads us to the analysis of the idea of retroactive designation, so let's try another one.

Another explanation of Rabbi Eliezer's statement is that it is simply an “exaggeration,” or special emphasis. He just wanted to emphasize that the egg can be eaten, so he included even the mother hen and said, “Everything can be eaten!” – even though the second part of the statement is obvious. He did say something similar on another occasion: “The egg may be eaten, and its mother, and the chick, and its shell.” Obviously, the shell is not edible. And if you want to say that he meant, “Chick in a shell” - that nobody allows. We see then, that it was said just to make the point.

Art: Two hens by (after) Adriaen Van Utrecht

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Beitzah 3 – More takes on the egg

Still trying to explain why an egg laid on a Holiday (Yom Tov) should not be eaten, Rabbah says that we need to think of when has this egg completed its growth while inside the hen. This happened on the day before. What if that day was Shabbat? Then we have food being prepared on Shabbat for consumption on a Holiday , and that is forbidden. Why? Because the Torah said, “On Friday they will prepare” – that is, only weekday can prepare for Shabbat or Yom Tov, but food cannot be prepared for Yom Tom on Shabbat, even inside the hen. They asked Rabbah, “Shabbat and Yom Tov do not always occur on consecutive days, so the egg should be permitted then!” He answered that the Sages prohibited this in all situations, because sometimes Shabbat and Yom Tov do fall out on consecutive days.

Rav Yosef said that the egg is forbidden because it is similar to fruit falling from a tree – which are forbidden. But, we may ask, the fruit are only forbidden because we want to stop the people from climbing trees and harvesting the fruit, so that itself is a stringency, why do we need another one on top of it? He answered that the Sages prohibited the fruit falling from a tree and the egg laid on a Yom Tom in one fell swoop.

Rav Yitzchak said that the egg is similar to juice flowing from a fruit. They asked him the same question as above: juice is forbidden only because one might come to squeeze it out himself, so that itself is a stringency, and you are adding another stringency on top of it! He gave a similar answer, that it is all part of one decree.

Now we have four possible explanations for the egg, and the Talmud discussed why each of the proponents does not accept the explanation of the others.

Art: Still Life with Fruit, Bird's Nest and Broken Egg By George Forster

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Beitzah 2 – An egg

If an egg was laid on a holiday (Yom Tov), Beit Shammai say that it can be eaten, but Beit Hillel prohibit it. Since one can cook food on a Yom Tov, he won't have to eat the egg raw, but can make a dish.

How are we to understand this argument? If the hen that laid the egg is designated for food, then the egg is part of it and is considered food; how could Beit Hillel prohibit it? And if that hen is kept only for laying eggs, then the egg was not designated for use before the Yom Tov and is therefore “muktzeh”, an item that cannot be handled, much less eaten!

Rav Nachman ventured this explanation: Beit Shammai do not accept the whole concept of mukzeh. Moreover, the don't even accept a prohibition of “newly created,” or “nolad” - something that was not here at all, and appeared just now, on a Yom Tov. Therefore, there is not reason not to eat the egg. Beit Hillel, on the contrary, subscribe to both prohibitions.

That explanation is very strange though. Usually Beit Shammai is the strict one! How can they be more lenient? Moreover, the explanation is self-contradictory. In other places, in the laws of Shabbat, Beit Hillel are said to follow Rabbi Shimon (no mukzeh), and here, in the laws of Yom Tov, they follow Rabbi Yehudah (yes mukzeh)?

Actually, there is no problem. Who wrote down the rules (Mishna?) - this is Rabbi Yehudah the Prince. In the laws of Shabbat, when cooking is not allowed and people are naturally more careful, he formulated the rules leniently. But in the laws of Yom Tov, where cooking is allowed and people may extend the permissions even further, he formulated the rules more stringently.

Art: Still Life With Bread And Eggs By Paul Cezanne