June 19, 2020

Shabbat 14


Mishna Shabbat (1:4), found on Shabbat 13b, informs us that there were 18 rulings that the Rabbis enacted which reflected the position of Beit Shammai, and in the ensuing pages the Gemara considers what each of these enactments were (while citing from other rabbinic sources such as Mishna Zavim 5:12). However, on closer look two things become clear: a) There is, in fact, significant disagreement about what these 18 rulings were, and a very different list of enactments can be found in the Yerushalmi (Shabbat 1:4); b) While some people (eg. Rambam) claim that this disagreement was amicable, other sources strongly imply that the process which led to Beit Shammai’s position being adopted was possibly violent and, according to some, even involved members of Beit Shammai killing members of Beit Hillel (see, for example, Pnei Moshe’s commentary on Yerushalmi ibid.). Given that this is a complex topic with various opinions, you are encouraged to look at the excellent sourcesheet produced by Pardes which can be downloaded from https://bit.ly/2Qxi45M. Here, however, is a short insight based on one of the disagreements as presented in our daf (Shabbat 14a):

As noted above, some of the rulings listed in Mishna Zavim 5:12 are assumed by our Gemara to be among the 18 that the Rabbis enacted reflecting the position of Beit Shammai, of which one was that a Torah scroll could be affected with ‘tumah’ (spiritual impurity). And why was such an enactment made? Because it had become the practice of some people to store sanctified ‘terumah’ food next to their Torah scrolls since they believed that as both were sacred they should be stored together. However, the terumah food would often attract mice who, aside from consuming part of the food, would also do damage to the Torah scrolls. Given this, the Rabbis decreed that Torah scrolls are susceptible to a level of ‘tumah’ that can be transferred to terumah foods in order to make sure people stopped storing these items together.

For some people, the categorisation of a Torah scroll as an item that is susceptible to ‘tumah’ merely to prevent people from storing it alongside sanctified food may have been viewed as a step too far. Others, however, agreed with this enactment, and this is because sometimes extreme measures – which may even appear to diminish the sanctity of holy items or spaces – are necessary to protect those very holy items or spaces.

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