Daf Yomi

For the week ending 12 April 2003 / 10 Nisan 5763

Avoda Zara 23-29

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
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A Woman Mohel

"Tziporah took a sharp stone and circumcised the foreskin of her son" (Shmot 4:25).

The circumcision of the son of Moshe, which took place at a station on his way to Egypt to initiate the Exodus of his people, raises an interesting question with historical and halachic implications. Was Moshes wife the actual mohel and does this prove that circumcision may be performed by a woman?

It all depends on what we view as the Torah source for disqualifying a non-Jew for performing circumcision. The Sage Rav was quoted as citing the Divine guidelines given to Avraham regarding the first mitzvah. He was commanded: "You shall observe this covenant, you and your posterity" (Bereishet 17:9). This ruled out the non-Jew who is not a descendant of Avraham, but also disqualifies a woman whose physiology places her outside the covenant of actual circumcision.

Rabbi Yochanan, however, cites as his source a phrase four passages later which he reads as "One who is circumcised can perform a circumcision" (ibid. 13). This does not mean that being circumcised is the criterion for a mohel but rather membership in the nation commanded to perform circumcision. The Jewish woman, in contrast to the non-Jew, even a circumcised one, is a member of the nation of the circumcised. And is therefore considered eligible to serve as a mohel.

Rabbi Yochanan can draw support from the circumcision performed by Tziporah. Rav, however, reads the passage cited at the beginning of this article as stating that Tziporah merely handed the stone to a man and instructed him to remove the foreskin. Even if we read this passage in its simple form that Tziporah actually performed the circumcision this does not prove that a woman can be a mohel because she only initiated the process which was completed by Moshe.

Tosefot points out that the gemaras interpretation of the passage (Bereishiet 21:4) describing Avrahams circumcision of his son Yitzchak "as G-d had commanded him " as excluding women (Mesechta Kiddushin 29a) is necessary even according to Rav who rules that a woman is ineligible to be a mohel. It teaches us that a woman does not even have the responsibility of seeing to it that her son is circumcised by a man, a responsibility reserved for the father or the rabbinical heads of the community.

The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 264:1) rules like Rabbi Yochanan that a woman can be a mohel. Rema, however, discourages this because of the ruling of other halachic authorities in favor of Ravs view that a woman is ineligible for this role.

Avoda Zara 27a

The Cows That Sang

"The cows sang on the way leading to Beit Shemesh" (Shmuel I 6:12).

This is how Rabbi Yochanan in the name of Rabbi Meir interpreted the passage describing the miraculous return of the Holy Ark from the hands of the Philistines.

As punishment for the sins of Eli Hakohens sons, G-d inflicted upon Israel a disastrous loss in battle with the Philistines in which the Holy Ark was taken to the conquerors idolatrous temple. Only after suffering terrible illnesses did the Philistines realize that they had incurred Divine wrath by thus shaming the Holy Ark and thereupon decided to return it to the Israelites.

The wagon upon which they placed the Holy Ark was pulled by two cows who not only headed on their own towards the Israelite town of Beit Shemesh but broke out in a song of praise to G-d. Different versions of what words they sang are offered by the various sages. Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish states that it was the "orphaned psalm" which they sang. This is a reference to Psalm 98 of Tehillim which begins with the word "Song" but fails to identify its author or the occasion when it was sung in the Beit Hamikdash as is the case in all other Psalms with such an opening.

How the words of this "orphaned psalm" relate to the subject of the cows singing is explained by Maharsha. "Sing to G-d a new song for He has done marvelous things" refers to the miraculous return of the Holy Ark after a crushing military defeat. In the wondrous way He coerced the Philistines to return the Holy Ark "G-d made known His salvation and revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations".

Avoda Zara 27b

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