Niddah 58 - 64
The Mysterious Mass Grave
Sela Beit Choron in Eretz Yisrael had a reputation as the site of an unmarked grave which defied detection because of the broad area which would have to be excavated. Under the ingenious guidance of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chanania the mysterious grave was found and it was discovered that it was filled with human bones. This mass grave was subsequently identified as "the pit into which Yishmael had thrown all the dead bodies of the men who had been slain by Gedaliah" (Yirmiyahu 41:9).
Centuries earlier, Jews had been exiled from their land by Nebuchedenetzer, King of Babylon, who appointed a very righteous Jew, Gedaliah ben Achikam, to serve as the governor of those Jews he left behind. There soon joined Gedaliah soldiers and their officers who had fled into the countryside and now saw an opportunity to join the kings representative. One of these officers, Yochanan ben Kareach, warned Gedaliah that another officer by the name of Yishmael ben Natanya was planning to assassinate him after being bribed to do so by a neighboring king. Gedaliah refused to heed this warning and on the third day of the Month of Tishrei he was indeed assassinated. (This is the day on which observant Jews fast each year to recall this tragedy.)
One of the sad events which followed this assassination involved a group of 80 Jews who reached the headquarters of Gedaliah in Mitzpa. Fearful that they would learn of his crime, the wicked Yishmael put all of them to death except for ten men who bribed him with precious supplies they had stored. It was the bodies of these men, who had set out from Shechem to bring offerings and incense to the Beit Hamikdash in Jerusalem whose destruction only became known to them while en route, which Yishmael threw into this pit.
If it was Yishmael who murdered them, asks the gemara, why does the above passage say that they had been slain by Gedaliah? The answer given is that Gedaliahs failure to heed the warning given him about the impending assassination rendered him an accomplice to a mass murder which could have been avoided.
Based on this, the Sage Rava hands down a ruling that when one hears lashon hara a slanderous report about another he should not accept it as true but should nevertheless exercise the caution such information demands.
- Niddah 61a
Shatnez in the Shrouds
Will there be an obligation to fulfill mitzvot even after techiat hameitim the Resurrection of the Dead?
This highly theoretical question has a practical application in the here and now. Our Sages in a beraita taught that even though it is forbidden to wear kilaim (commonly referred to as shatnez), it is permissible to make shrouds for the dead from the forbidden combination of wool and linen.
When Rabbi Yosef attempted to infer from this that the Torah commandments will not apply in the hereafter, he was challenged by his disciple, the Sage Abaye, who quoted the opinion of Rabbi Yannai that the shatnez shrouds were permitted only during the time of the funeral eulogies. As for the interment itself those shrouds were not permitted because it would mean that upon resurrection he would be wearing a forbidden garment.
Rabbi Yosefs response was the citing of the conflicting opinion of Rabbi Yochanan that even burial in a shatnez shroud was permissible. This was based on a passage in which the psalmist describes his desperate condition as being "among the dead; free from all concerns of the world." (Tehillim 88:6). Rabbi Yochanans interpretation is that once a person dies he is free of any obligations even after resurrection.
Although Tosefot understands the debate between Rabbi Yanai and Rabbi Yochanan as relating to the time of resurrection, there is another approach. Rabbi Shlomo ben Aderet (RaSHbA) insists that mitzvah observance is eternal and will be binding even after resurrection. The debate in our gemara is whether they are binding on a person in his own afterlife.
The ruling of the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 301:7) is that the dead can be buried in shatnez shrouds. According to RaSHbA if ones family took advantage of this permission there will have to be a quick change of clothes upon leaving the grave.
- Niddah 61b