Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Exceptions to two rules TB Nazir 57

 With today's daf TB Nazir 57 we conclude the seventh chapter and begin the eighth chapter of our massekhet. As with most rules there are exceptions. Today's daf highlights the limitations of two rules.

At the bottom of daf TB Nazir 56b, Rabbi Akiva uses a kal vekomer to create a new halakha. “Rabbi Akiva said: I discussed this matter before Rabbi Eliezer and suggested the following a fortiori inference: If, with regard to a bone that is a barley-grain-bulk, which does not render a person impure in a tent, a nazirite must nevertheless shave for touching it or carrying it, then in the case of a quarter-log of blood, which is more stringent in that it renders a person impure in a tent, is it not logical that a nazirite should shave for touching it or carrying it? (One needs a half log of blood to be sufficient to render a nazir tamei by touching-g or carrying-gg)” (Sefaria,org translation)Although this is a strong inference, Rabbi Eliezer, one of his teachers, rejects it. One can apply a kal vekhomer to verses written in the Torah; however, one may not apply it to an oral law which originates from Moses upon Mount Sinai. “And when I came and presented these matters before Rabbi Yehoshua, he said to me: You spoke well, i.e., your logic is flawless, but they indeed said that this is a halakha transmitted to Moses from Sinai, which cannot be refuted by means of an a fortiori inference.” Today's daf determines that the law concerning the bone chip is the halahka passed down from Moses upon Mount Sinai.

The next massekhet we shall study is TB Sotah. We shall learn that a husband warns his wife not to seclude herself with a specific man. He is afraid she is having an affair with that man. She disregards her jealous husband and witnesses see that she secluded herself with that person. There is a doubt in her status. Did she commit adultery or not? She is now a sotah whether or not she had intimate relations with that man. Until she goes through the rite of the sotah which will prove her innocence or guilt, the Torah calls her tamei. This doubtful classification is a stringency. Because the Torah uses the word tamei to describe this woman, they learn that a doubtful tamei nazir shares the same laws. Below is the case of the doubtful tamei nazir discussed in the Mishnah.

MISHNA: With regard to two nazirites, where one other person said to them: I saw one of you become impure, but I do not know which one of you it was, they must each complete their naziriteship terms, shave their hair, and both together bring an offering of ritual impurity and an offering of purity, due to the uncertainty. And one of them says to the other: If I am the impure one, the offering of impurity is mine and the offering of purity is yours; and if I am the pure one, the offering of purity is mine and the offering of impurity is yours.

And because of the uncertainty they each count a further thirty days of naziriteship and both together bring an offering of purity. And one of them says: If I am the previously impure one, that offering of impurity sacrificed earlier was mine, and the offering of purity was yours; and this offering sacrificed now is my offering of purity. And if I am the previously pure one, the offering of purity brought earlier was mine, and the offering of impurity was yours; and this current offering is your offering of purity.” Sefaria.org translation)

Tosefot ד"ה שְׁנֵי נְזִירִים שֶׁאָמַר לָהֶן asks an excellent question. In the doubtful case of the sotah, the law deals stringently with her and classifies her as tamei. In the case of the two nazirs, why doesn't the law deals stringently with them as well? Since one doesn't know which one is tamei, why not declare both of them tamei?

Here is the exception to this rule. The two cases are not similar. There's a real possibility that the woman is an adulterous. On the other hand, for one of the nazirs, there's no possibility that he is tamei. There is a general rule that one cannot draw conclusions from something that is possible and apply it to something that is impossible. Consequently the Mishnah outlines the sequence where only three sets of sacrifices (two for the completion of the nezirut and one for the nazir who really was tamei) are offered up instead of four.

Monday, March 20, 2023

How to bring our final redemption closer TB Nazir 56

 The Mishnah on daf TB Nazir 54a and the Mishna on today’s daf TB Nazir 56 are probably the two more important mishnayot in our chapter. By studying them we have learned that there are two levels of a tamei nazir. In level A, the tamei nazir must shave his head, go through a process of becoming ritually ready, offering up specific sacrifices, and begin his nezirut all over again from the beginning. In level B the nazir does not shave nor bring sacrifices. His nezirut is only suspended until he becomes ritually ready

Rabbi Eliezer in the Mishna adds another distinction between the two levels. If a tamei nazir in level A enters the Temple he is liable for the punishment of koreit, a death sentence meted out by God and not humans. The tamei nazir in level B is not culpable for this punishment. “Rabbi Eliezer said in the name of Rabbi Yehoshua: With regard to any ritual impurity from a corpse for which a nazirite must shave, one is liable due to the prohibition of entering the Temple after contracting that impurity. If someone who became impure from one of those sources of impurity enters the Temple, he violates the prohibition against an impure individual entering the sacred space. And with regard to any impurity from a corpse for which a nazirite does not shave, one is likewise not liable due to the prohibition of entering the Temple after contracting it.” (Sefaria.org translation)

Reporting the chain of tradition in the rabbinic mind is of up most importance because they teach in Pirkei Avot 6:6 “And who says a thing in the name of him who said it. Thus you have learned: everyone who says a thing in the name of him who said it, brings deliverance into the world, as it is said: “And Esther told the king in Mordecai’s name” (Esther 2:22).”  (Sefaria.org translation) That is why we the Gemara is troubled by the chain of tradition mentioned in the Mishna.

Apparently he did not learn this from Rabbi Yehoshua but rather he learned it from Rabbi Yehoshua bar Memel. “Rabbi Eliezer continued: I said to Rabbi Meir: Are you at all familiar with Rabbi Yehoshua bar Memel? He said to me: Yes. I continued: Rabbi Yehoshua bar Memel said this to me in the name of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Ḥananya: With regard to any ritual impurity from a corpse for which a nazirite must shave, one is liable due to the prohibition of entering the Temple after contracting it. And with regard to any impurity from a corpse for which a nazirite does not shave, one is not liable due to the prohibition of entering the Temple after contracting it. This concludes the baraita. The Gemara comments: This is proof that Rabbi Eliezer learned this halakha in the name of Rabbi Yehoshua bar Memel, not directly from Rabbi Yehoshua ben Ḥananya.” (Sefaria.org translation)

The answer is simple. If you want to speed our final redemption, you should attribute the quote correctly. Nevertheless, you don’t have to include all the “middlemen.” Sometimes the first and the last are sufficient

 They said: Learn from this case the following principle: With regard to any statement of halakha that was stated as a tradition of three scholars, we say the first and the last names in the chain but we do not say the middle one. Therefore, the mishna mentions the name of Rabbi Eliezer, the last link in the tradition, and Rabbi Yehoshua ben Ḥananya, the first scholar, but it omits that of Rabbi Yehoshua bar Memel, the middle scholar in the chain.

Rav Naḥman bar Yitzḥak said: We, too, learn in a mishna (Pe’a 2:6): Naḥum the Scribe [lavlar] said: This is the tradition that I received from Rabbi Meyasha, who received it from father, who received it from the pairs of Sages who served during the period of the Second Temple, who received it from the Prophets: It is a halakha transmitted to Moses from Sinai with regard to one who sows the plants of dill and mustard in two or three separate locations in a single field, that he leaves a corner to the poor for each and every one of these plots on its own, rather than one corner for all of them.

The Gemara explains the proof from this source: And yet Naḥum the Scribe does not mention the names of Joshua and Caleb, despite the fact that they were the Elders who passed down this halakha from Moses to the Prophets. Learn from this that the middle links in a tradition are not necessarily listed.” (Sefaria.org translation)




May a kohen travel in an airplane? TB Nazir 54-55

 The Mishnah on TB Nazir 54a lists sources of tumah, ritual unreadiness, which a nazir does not have to shave and begin counting the days of his nezirut from the very beginning all over again. All the land outside of Israel is on this list. “And the land of the nations, i.e., a nazirite left Eretz Yisrael for another land. The Sages decreed that all land outside of Eretz Yisrael is ritually impure.” (Sefaaria.org translation) The Gemara asks the question what is the source of this tumah? “A dilemma was raised before the Sages: Did the Sages decree the land of the nations impure with regard to the air, i.e., is one rendered impure merely by being there? Or perhaps they decreed it impure with regard to the earth, i.e., one who touches the ground or overlays it becomes impure.” (Sefaria. org translation)

At first the Gemara tries to connect the above question to a disagreement between two tanna’im. “Let us say that this is parallel to a dispute between tanna’im, as it is taught: With regard to one who enters the land of the nations not on foot but in a chest, a box, or a cabinet, Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi deems him ritually impure. And Rabbi Yosei, son of Rabbi Yehuda, deems him pure. What, is it not correct to say that they disagree in this regard: Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, who deems him impure, holds that the Sages decreed impurity with regard to the air, and Rabbi Yosei, son of Rabbi Yehuda, holds that the Sages decreed impurity with regard to the earth, and consequently he is not impure, as the container prevents him from overlying the impurity?” (Sefaria.org translation)

Then the Gemara offers different interpretations where Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi and Rabbi Yosei don’t disagree about the land or the air is the source of contamination, but they disagree on something else. One conclusion caught my attention. “The Gemara concedes that the previous explanation of the dispute is incorrect. Rather, one must say that everyone agrees that the decree of impurity concerning the land of the nations is with regard to its air, and one Sage, Rabbi Yosei, son of Rabbi Yehuda, holds that since it is not common for one to move around in an enclosure (earlier the case was a person was in a closed chest, box, or cabinet-gg) the Sages did not decree impurity with regard to this case. And one Sage, Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, holds that although it is not common the Sages nevertheless decreed impurity with regard to it.” (Sefaria.org translation)

I agree that back when this law was being discussed, traveling in a closed container was not common all; however, we do it all the time. Who hasn’t flown in an airplane?! We’ve already seen that the laws of a nazir are very similar to the laws of a kohen. Just like the nazir in the past, an observant kohen today will not enter a cemetery except for his closest relatives, mother, father, wife, son, daughter, brother, and sister. Many Jewish funeral homes will have a completely separate room for kohanim so that they will not be under the same roof where the deceased is kept. Should and observant kohen fly?

Rabbi Daniel Wolf has written on this topic. He does not decide Jewish law at all. His goal is to explain the complexity of the issue and why different rabbinic sages disagree whether a kohen should fly in an airplane. It's long and complex, but worth reading and not skipping to the bottom.

Could the plane itself block the tum'a for the kohen? Two different approaches need to be investigated: 1] ohel; 2] tzamid patil.  As we mentioned before, an ohel can separate from or block the tum'a.  Can the space at the bottom of the plane, since it measures more than a handbreadth above the source of tum'a, serve as an ohel to block it?  This heter (permission-gg) encounters two problems: 1] ohel zaruk (an ohel in motion-gg); 2] anything that is tamei cannot block tum'a.  Let us deal with each problem separately.  The mishna in Ohalot (ch. 8) addresses a situation of an ohel in motion, such as large boxes during transport, and determines that such an ohel loses its formal status as such.  It is considered an ohel for neither spreading nor blocking tum'a.  The gemara in Eruvin (30b) determines that this issue is debated by the tanna'im.  Tosafot and the Rambam concur that an ohel in motion cannot block tum'a.  Though there might be some exceptions (see Tosafot there), it is unlikely that any would exclude an airplane.  However, the Rashba prefers the opinion that an ohel in motion can block tum'a; according to the Rashba, then, this problem (of ohel zaruk) is solved.  The second problem arises from the general rule that anything that is tamei or can become tamei cannot block or separate from tum'a.  Can an airplane contract tum'a? Rav Moshe Feinstein deals with this issue (with regard to the related issue of a corpse transported on the same plane as a kohen).  The question revolves around the issue as to whether aluminum, which, together with its alloys, constitutes 80% of a plane's weight (my thanks to Dr. Farber, an eminent metallurgist), is susceptible to tum'a.  On the one hand, metallic utensils are generally assured capable of contracting tum'a.  On the other hand, the Torah mentions only the six metals that were known to man at that time.  Can tum'a apply to metals that were discovered only after Matan Torah?  Rav Moshe wavers on this very issue, and also questions whether aluminum is a new metal or a combination of the six mentioned.  Scientifically, we know that aluminum is, in fact, a new metal, and not a composite of other metals.


“As for Rav Moshe's first question, this point is not new and seems to be a dispute between the Rambam (who holds that all metals are tamei) and Rashi (who limits tum'a to just the six mentioned).  The Vilna Gaon and Tiferet Yisrael concur with Rashi, and in the introduction of the Tiferet Yisrael to Taharot, a parenthetical comment of unknown origin questions the limitation to the six metals.  (Interestingly, in another responsum about tevilat kelim, Rav Moshe determines that aluminum is not tamei as a metal utensil, but it nevertheless requires immersion as it is included in the rabbinic requirement to immerse glass utensils.) Therefore, there is a clear opinion that aluminum objects are not tamei.  The existence of rivets or other parts of the plane can be overlooked so long as all the major components are aluminum or carbon composites.  There might be another possibility, that ships are not defined as "utensils" capable of contracting tum'a because of their size; this may apply to airplanes, as well.  As this possibility is speculative at best, it certainly would not merit a heter on its own right, but it may be included as an additional consideration when reaching a final conclusion ("senif le-hakel"). 

     “In order to accept this heter, both assumptions must be correct.  We must assume that an ohel in motion is an ohel, and that airplanes are tahor (for any reason).  As we noted, however, both assumptions are not at all clear; this heter thus leaves much to be desired.

     “Another possible heter involves the halakha of "tzamid patil."  I struggled to come up with a proper translation and eventually gave up; I will nevertheless try to explain it.  If a sealed utensil is in an ohel with a corpse, it and its contents remain tahor.  Of course, this is not so simple.  There are certain prerequisites for the application of this halakha:  1] The utensil cannot be mekabel tum'a from its exterior. This halakha is thus limited to earthenware utensils (which contract tum'a only from the inside) and utensils which are not mekabel tum'a at all, such as stone or mud utensils.  The inclusion of aluminum planes, then, depends on our previous discussion as to whether they are susceptible to tum'a.

“2] It must be closed and sealed with a lid and a material such as mud, wax, dough, etc. We may consider several reasons why such a seal is required.  Two logical reasons might be a requirement for a hermetical seal or for a seal which is not easily opened.  One could reasonably argue that the seal of airplanes fulfill this requirement since the door seals are hermetic (hopefully) and cannot be opened during flight.  However, given the subject matter in question, it is hard to rule out the possibility of a gezeirat ha-katuv - that the requirement for a seal made from the aforementioned materials - provision constitutes an edict with no explanation.  I have not found any definitive indication in either direction.

     “In summary, there are two possible bases for a heter: 1] ohel 2] tzamid patil (a sealed utensil).  Both, however, are faulty on two accounts, one that they share in common and another unique to each.  The common problem involves the tum'a of airplanes themselves.  The heter based on ohel encounters the problem of an ohel in motion, and the tzamid patil heter raises the question regarding the nature of the seal required.

     ‘How, then, should we deal with this question in pesak, in determining the final halakha? Although it is hard to consider either heter as certain, perhaps both together should yield a lenient ruling.  At first glance, the operative principle we should follow here should be "safek de-oraita le-chumra" (we rule stringently in situations of doubt concerning Torah law). On the other hand, perhaps we may consider this issue a situation of sha'at ha-dechak, extenuating circumstances, which allows reliance on a minority opinion. A leniency on these grounds, however, would naturally apply only to travel for certain purposes and barring reasonable alternatives.  We might also consider the rule, "safek tum'a be-reshut harabim tahor" - any questionable instance of tum'a in public areas is considered tahor.  However, the application of this rule to our case is far from clear.  Although the plane is considered a public area, we must take into account two other issues: 1] does the prohibition against kohanim coming in contact with dead bodies follow the guidelines of the laws of tum'a, or of standard issurim?  The Minchat Chinukh leaves this as an open question;  the Marcheshet and the Noda Be-Yehuda took compromise positions regarding this issue. The provision of "safek tum'a" would apply in our case according to the Noda Be-Yehuda, whereas the Marcheshet would render it inapplicable.  Rav Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor applied it hesitantly (if two other authorities would agree) to the issue of trains riding over cemeteries.  Our issue, regarding airplanes, bears some similarity to the issue of trains (ohel zaruk and the dispute between the Rashba and Tosafot), but, in some respects, differs.  Some of these differences render the situation of planes more problematic (trains have direct contact with the ground), while others render it less problematic (planes have a better chance of being tahor since they contain major components of aluminum).  There seems to have been a minhag in Jerusalem for kohanim to place a board underneath their car when they traveled to Jericho, a trip that required passing over part of the famed cemetery on Har Ha-zeitim.  This minhag is more difficult to justify than either allowing one to travel without a board or forbidding the trip even with a board.  Some Acharonim (Penei Yehoshua and Shevut Yaakov) claim that on the level of Torah law, an ohel in motion is an ohel; it is only as a result of rabbinic enactment that we do not consider it as such.  This would thus allow room for leniency in cases of doubt.  This position, however, though widely quoted, seems to my mind very doubtful. If this were true, then an ohel in motion should spread tum'a, just as it blocks it (recall our earlier discussion as to the two different roles of an ohel), and this is clearly not the case.

“Where does that leave us, if not altogether confused? Hopefully, it leaves us with an understanding of both positions and a bit more knowledge of the fascinating and complex world of taharot (ritual readiness and ritual unreadiness.-gg).  Sometimes it is better to be perplexed and confounded rather than confused.” (https://www.etzion.org.il/en/publications/books-yeshiva-faculty/publications-philosophy-and-current-affairs/kohanim-flying)

I’ll leave it up to the individual kohen whether he will travel via airplane.


Friday, March 17, 2023

How much are we really talking about? TB Nazir 53

Today’s daf TB Nazir 53 concludes the discussion how much bone fragments and how much blood is enough to make the nazir ritually unready (tamei-טָמֵא) when they are in the same room that has a ceiling (ohel-אוֹהֶל) 

Rabbi Eliezer said that some of the early Elders would say: A half-kav of bones and a half-log of blood impart ritual impurity in all forms. Their impurity applies by Torah law, and therefore they impart impurity in a tent. But a quarter-kav of bones and a quarter-log of blood, they do not impart impurity in all forms, i.e., they do not impart impurity in a tent. And some of these Elders would say that even a quarter-kav of bones and a quarter-log of blood impart impurity in all forms. This was the dispute of earlier generations.

“The court that followed them said: A half-kav of bones and a half-log of blood impart ritual impurity in all forms. A quarter-kav of bones and a quarter-log of blood impart impurity only with regard to teruma and offerings, i.e., the Sages decreed that they impart impurity in a tent to invalidate teruma and offerings but not with regard to a nazirite. A nazirite is not required to shave or bring offerings for impurity after contact with a quarter-kav of bones or a quarter-log of blood. And similarly, one who performs the ritual of the Paschal offering may proceed despite the fact that he came into contact with this amount of blood or bones, as the Sages did not apply this decree in cases where one’s impurity precludes the performance of a mitzva whose neglect is punishable by karet.” (Sefaria.org translation) Remember that the larger the measurement for the nazir the more lenient the position is.

Although this looks like a good compromise, the Gemara doesn’t think it’s a compromise at all. First of all, a compromise doesn’t add new factors to the discussion like in our case “teruma and offerings.” Secondly, “Rabbi Ya’akov bar Idi said: This ruling was not stated as a compromise. Rather, they said it from tradition, from Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, the last of the prophets. This was not a new attempt to mediate between two earlier opinions but an ancient ruling in its own right.” (Sefria.org translation)

I looked up the measurements of a kav and a log to find out how much were the sages really arguing about. ½ kav equals 1.11 dry pint and ¼ kav equals .2775 dry pint. ½ log equals 16.075 ounces and ¼ log equals 8.0375 ounces.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

One doesn’t have to be a Rabbi Akiva to be worthy of respect and dignity. TB Nazir 52

The letter vav (ו) connecting to nouns could either mean “and” or “or.” Today’s daf TB Nazir 52 brings sources to determine how we should understand the Mishna when this vav connects the spinal cord and the skull. “The mishna taught that a nazirite must shave (meaning that he has to go through the process of ritual purification the become ritually ready and start his nezirut all over again from the beginning-gg) for impurity imparted by a spine and skull. A dilemma was raised before the Sages: Did we learn a spine and [ve] skull together? Or perhaps the mishna means either a spine or a skull. Does the conjunctive vav signify: And, or: Or?” (Sefaria.org translation)

One proof that this vav means “or” comes from a baraita which cites that Rabbi Akiva disagreed with the sages initially six times, but ultimately retracted and agreed with them. “Come and hear from the tally in the above baraita: And what are those six items that Rabbi Akiva deems ritually impure and the Rabbis deem ritually pure? They consist of (1) a limb from a corpse that comes from, i.e., is combined with, two corpses; and (2) a severed limb from a living person that comes from two living people; and (3) half-kav of bones that come from two corpses; and  (4) a quarter-log of blood that comes from two corpses; and of a  (5) bone that is a barley-grain-bulk, even from one body, that was divided into two; and (6) the spine and the skull from two corpses.” (Sefaria.org translation, I added the numbers to help visualize the six items-gg) If we would translate the vav as “or,” i.e. the spine or the skull, we would have seven items that Rabbi Akiva deem ritually impure and the rabbis deem ritually pure before he retracted.

The Gemara pushes back several times saying that this proof is not conclusive, because we can massage the numbers that there will be only six items. The Gemara quotes Rabbi Shimon who was a student of Rabbi Akiva. “Similarly, Rabbi Shimon says: All his days, Rabbi Akiva would deem a quarter-log of blood from two corpses ritually impure. Whether he retracted his opinion after he died, this I do not know. A Sage taught: Rabbi Shimon’s teeth blackened due to his fasts, which he undertook for uttering this irreverent comment about Rabbi Akiva.” (Sefaria.org translation) Rabbi Shimon was responding sarcastically to those who claim that Rabbi Akiva retracted. If this was the case, he must have had to retract after he died. Probably almost immediately Rabbi Shimon realize that his response was too flippant. He should have made his point about his teacher Rabbi Akiva in a more respectful way. He fasted to do teshuva, repentance.

We’ve already learned “Gadol kavod habriyot (גָּדוֹל כְּבוֹד הַבְּרִיּוֹת) -Great is human dignity.” We should always choose our words wisely and speak respectfully when speaking to and about other people. One doesn’t need to be a Rabbi Akiva to be worthy of respect and dignity.


Wednesday, March 15, 2023

The states' antiabortion laws violate the Jewish approach to abortion TB Nazir 51

When a nazir comes into contact either by touching, carrying, or being in the same room as a full ladle [tarvad-תַּרְווֹד] of dust from a corpse (rakav-רָקָב), he becomes ritually unready, tamei, and has to go through the process of becoming ritually ready and begin his nezirut all over again from the very beginning. Today’s daf TB Nazir 51 discusses the exact definition of dust from a corpse (rakav-רָקָב) and how much is the minimum amount of this dust to render a nazir tamei.

The only way to become rakav is to be from an unadulterated body. If something is decomposing along with the corpse like a wooden casket, the remains would not be considered rakav. “The Sages taught (Tosefta, Oholot 2:3): Which is a corpse that has the halakha of dust, i.e., whose dust imparts impurity? A corpse that was buried naked in a marble coffin or on a stone floor; this is a corpse that has the halakha of dust that imparts impurity. Any dust found there must have come from the corpse. However, if it was buried in its cloak, or in a wooden coffin, or on a brick floor, this is a corpse that does not have the halakha of dust that imparts impurity. In the latter cases it is assumed that the dust from the corpse includes particles from the clothes, wood, or bricks that disintegrated, and there is a tradition that the impurity of dust applies only to dust that comes solely from the corpse, not to a mixture from different sources.” (Sefaria.org translation)

The Gemara raises many questions what would be considered part and parcel of the body and what would you consider adulteration. One question has practical implications concerning a Jewish view of abortion. Is the fetus consider part of the woman’s body or a separate entity unto itself when comes to rakav?

“§ Rabbi Yirmeya raised yet another dilemma: Does a dead fetus in its dead mother’s womb form a mixture with regard to her, so that the bodies are considered like two corpses buried together, or not? The Gemara explains the two sides of the dilemma: Do we say that since the Master said that a fetus is considered as the thigh of its mother, it is therefore like her body and it does not form a mixture with it? Or perhaps one should maintain: Since in most cases a fetus will ultimately emerge from the womb at birth, it is already considered separated from her, and it is like any other corpse buried with the woman. And if you say that a fetus, which will ultimately emerge, is considered separated from her and is not part of her body, one must still ask this question” (Sefaria.org translation)

Adena Berkowitz writes in the journal Conservative Judaism, volume 2, number two, 1991 “We find reference in the Talmud that during the first 40 days, the fetus should be considered mere fluid (TB Yevamot 69b). In other Talmudic passages, the fetus is described as ‘ubar yerkh ‘imo [lit. A fetus is a thigh of his mother]. (TB Hullin 58a; TB Gittin 23b)” Throughout the rabbinic literature we find recognition the fetus is not a person. (See, e.g. TB Sanhedrin 72b and Rashi’s understanding that the fetus may be forfeited in utero because it is not a person (lav nefesh hu).” According to Jewish law, the fetus becomes a distinct and individual person only when his head crowns out of the womb.

All streams of Judaism believe that abortion is permitted under certain circumstances. They disagree whether or not a specific abortion is permitted depends upon when in the pregnancy and why the mother needs an abortion. Because the fetus represents a potential life, it is to be treated with a certain reverence when considering why and when to abort it.[1] The bottom line though is the rationale behind the states antiabortion laws are contrary to the spirit and letter of Jewish law.

Even though the Gemara never answers Rabbi Yirmeya’s the question, based upon the Jewish view of the fetus’ status, I feel safe in saying it is considered as the thigh of its mother; therefore, it is like her body and it does not form a mixture with it.



[1] I paraphrased Berkowitz in order to emphasize that the fetus is not an individual life separate from the mother, but considered like a limb.

“No legacy is as rich as honesty” Shabbathahodesh#parashatvayakelpekudai#parashathashavua

On vacation while driving in different parts of our country Judy and I see homes offer produce and perennials for sale by the road. Sometimes we’ll drive up to an unattended stand that operates on the “honor system.” As we make our selection, we put our money into a cash box or an old coffee can. Then we go on our way to enjoy the freshly picked fruits and vegetables.

But the honor system doesn’t always work. I read about Jackie who has a flower stand in front of her house. One day, as she glanced out her window she saw a well-dressed woman with a big hat loading pots of perennials into the trunk of her car. Jackie smiled as she mentally calculated a $50 profit from her labors in the garden. But when she checked the cash box later, it was empty! The honor system revealed that this woman was not honorable.

Perhaps to her, taking the flowers seemed like a small thing. But being honest in little things indicates how we will respond in the big things Perhaps that’s God included the redundant in the second half of this week’s double parasha Vayakel- Pekudai in the Torah.  Who wouldn’t have trusted God’s most faithful servant Moses in the distribution of the funds for the building of the Tabernacle?! Nevertheless, even Moses wanted an honest accounting so that all his actions would be transparent.

We sanctify God’s name in public when we are as honest as Moses.