Talmud Tips

For the week ending 3 July 2021 / 23 Tammuz 5781

Pinchas: Yoma 72 - 78

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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No Half Measures

Rabbi Yochanan said, “A partial measure is forbidden by the Torah.” Reish Lakish said, “A partial measure is permitted by the Torah.”

Everyone agrees that a transgression with a “full measure” is forbidden by the Torah and is liable to result in punishment. Examples of full measure are the size of a k’zayit for eating most forbidden foods, and the size of a k’kotevet hagasah (a type of dried date) for eating on Yom Kippur, as taught in our mishna. But, what does the Torah say about a person who eats less than a full measure?

Rabbi Yochanan said, “A chatzi shiur (literally, “half a measure,” meaning transgressing with less than the full measure the Torah requires for punishment) is nevertheless prohibited by the Torah.” Reish Lakish said, “A chatzi shiur is permitted by the Torah.”

The gemara cites this debate between these Sages since the mishna says, “On Yom Hakippurim it is assur (forbidden) to eat and drink…. (or to do certain other specific activities).” The gemara immediately follows the mishna with a question: “Why does the mishna state that it is “merely” assur and not state that a person who eats or drinks on Yom Kippur is punished with karet (expiation, literally, ‘being cut off’)?” The gemara answers that the mishna is speaking about eating a chatzi shiur, which is assur according to Torah law, and is in accordance with Rabbi Yochanan’s position that “chatzi shiur is forbidden by Torah law.”

The gemara points out that if the case addressed in the mishna is one of eating a chatzi shiur, it would appear to contradict the position of Reish Lakish. This would require him to justify his position since, according to the rules of the Oral Law, any Amora, such as Reish Lakish, does not have the standing to disagree with anything taught in a mishna unless he is supported by the position of a Tana ( such as Rabbi Akiva or Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai). The gemara answers that Reish Lakish, despite saying that chatzi shiur is permitted by Torah law, agrees that it is nevertheless forbidden according to rabbincal law — and the word assur in the mishna means “forbidden by rabbinical law.”
Why is chatzi shiur forbidden by the Torah according to Rabbi Yochanan? One reason stated in the gemara is that a chatzi shiur is “chazi l’itztarufei,” which literally translates as “is fit to combine.” This means that less than a complete measure could potentially lead to the offender being liable for lashes or karet — or whatever punishment is specified by the Torah as applicable to any particular transgression.

Another possible reason for Rabbi Yochanan’s ruling is based on the interpretation of a seemingly unnecessary word in the Torah ban against eating cheilev (forbidden animal fats). The verse states “kol cheilev” — i.e. any amount of cheilev, even less than a k’zait “olive” measure required for receiving lashes or karet, is forbidden by the Torah to eat. The gemara concludes that although the word kol seems to be teaching a Torah prohibition of chatzi shiur, as is Rabbi Yochanan’s view, it is “merely” an asmachta that lends support to a rabbinical prohibition against eating a chatzi shiur according to Reish Lakish.

Perhaps surprisingly, and perhaps not, the various Torah commentaries explain Rabbi Yochanan’s logical reason of chazi l’itztarufei in a number of ways. Here we will, G-d-willing, address two of these explanations, and allow the reader to explore additional possibilities.

One understanding of chazi l’itztarufei is what would seem to be the most basic one — the literal translation of the words. Chazi l’itztarufei translates as “is fit to combine.” One who eats only “half of a measure” is eating less than the measure that “qualifies” the eater for the relevant Torah punishment. However, eating a partial measure of forbidden food — such as a small amount of non-kosher meat — could be viewed as “just the beginning.” In other words, if the same person eats more non-kosher meat within a certain time (a subject for another time), eating the two pieces of non-kosher meat can “combine,” adding up to the measure of a k’zayit, which is the minimum measure for which one could be punished by the Beit Din. Therefore, although eating the first small piece would not be enough for the person to deserve the Torah’s punishment, it is “fit to combine” with one or more pieces of non-kosher meat to add up to a k’zayit, which could then result in the Torah’s punishment of lashes.

Hence, since each individual act of eating could potentially combine with another act of eating and result in the Torah’s punishment, each individual act of eating less than a k’zayit of non-kosher meat is considered as a violation of Torah law. One might look at this as a type of “fence” that the Torah established in order to protect a person from getting into more serious trouble. Eating even a small amount of non-kosher meat is prohibited by the Torah since if the person would continue to eat the non-kosher meat, a serious Torah penalty would be the result.

According to this understanding, some commentaries suggest that if a person eats a chatzi shiur at the very end of Yom Kippur, the person would not be considered as transgressing a Torah prohibition according to Rabbi Yochanan’s reason of chazi l’itztarufei. Since there is not enough time left to eat an additional amount that would add up to the complete measure that is forbidden on Yom Kippur, the concept of chazi l’itztarufei is not applicable. (Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky of Vilna, 1863-1940, in his work Achiezer, and also other halachic authorities.)

Another, very different and novel explanation is offered by Rabbi Meir Simcha Hakohen of Dvinsk (1843-1926), whose sefer on the Rambam is titled “Ohr Somayach” and is the great Rabbi in honor of whom our Yeshiva is named. In his commentary on the Chumash, known as Meshech Chochma, he offers the following explanation for chazi l’itztarufei as being a reason for chatzi shiur being forbidden by the Torah. When the Torah forbids something, such as the eating of non-kosher meat, and that a person is liable to receive punishment of lashes if the minimum measure of a k’zayit is eaten intentionally in front of witnesses and after a warning, it is clearly illogical to say that one who eats less than this minimum measure is eating food that is permitted by the Torah.

If the Torah bans and punishes eating a k’zayit of non-kosher meat, the Torah would never in a million years allow a person to eat an iota less than a k'zayit. It is simply unimaginable that the Torah would permit eating a number of small bites that constitute less than a k’zayit, and then “Bam!” — everything would change with the eating of the last tiny morsel that completes the forbidden k’zayit! Why in the world would the last bit be forbidden according to Torah law while all of the non-kosher meat leading up to a k’zayit be permitted to eat according to the Torah? According to this explanation, chazi l’itztarufei means that since if the first bite would combine with the last bite to add up to a full measure punishable by the Torah, it only stands to reason that each and every bite and small measure that a person eats of the non-kosher meat is perforce a violation of Torah law.

  • Yoma 74a

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