Chullin 23 - 29
Learning a Language
How long does it take to determine whether a student will succeed in the career course he is pursuing?
In contrast to one opinion that it takes five years, a view based on the maximum training period assigned by the Torah to the Levites for their functioning in the Mishkan Sanctuary, it is the opinion of Rabbi Yossi that three years is the cutoff point.
His source is a passage which describes the training which the Babylonian king Nevuchadnetzer assigned to some aristocratic young Jews from Eretz Yisrael he had taken into captivity along with their king Yehoyakim and a portion of the populace. Anxious to exploit the extraordinary talent of this exiled nobility for his own purposes he ordered that the strongest and brightest of them be trained for service in his palace and be "taught the script and language of the Chaldeans and thus developed for three years" (Daniel 1:4-5).
Rabbi Yossi rejects the position that five years are required based on the Levite precedent because learning the laws of service in the Mishkan was particularly demanding and is not representative of other courses of study. But why, it may be asked, were even three years necessary for such capable candidates as Daniel, Chananya, Mishael and Azariah to learn a language?
Malbim, in his commentary on Daniel, provides the answer. The language of the masses in Babylon was Aramaic while the intellectuals and royalty communicated in the poetic imaginative Chaldean style. To successfully serve such a powerful king and converse in this language one needed special strength of body, mind and spirit. These were indeed the prerequisites spelled out by the king who insisted that "they have the strength to stand in the kings palace" (ibid.). There was also a need of three years of study, a period which Rabbi Yossi saw as a fair barometer for the maximum length of time for every other course.
Searching for the Bones
A vessel or garment that comes into contact with a spiritually contaminating agent such as a human corpse contracts a state of tuma impurity and must be purified in the way directed by the Torah.
Does every vessel come under this category?
The Torah teaches about this subject when it relates the aftermath of the Israelite victory over the Midianites when Moshe and Elazar Hakohen instructed the soldiers how to deal with the spoils they had brought back with them. While explicit mention is made of metal and wood vessels there is none in regard to vessels made of animal bones.
Rabbi Yishmael, the son of Rabbi Yochanan ben Brokah, came to the conclusion that such vessels are indeed susceptible to tuma on the basis of his analysis of the passage listing such items. "All objects made of animal skins and all things made from goats" are included in this list (Bamidbar 31:20).
What exactly is meant by "things made from goats"? It cannot be a reference to garments made from goatskin because they already come under the heading of the previously mentioned "animal skins". We must therefore conclude that this is a reference to vessels made out of the bones, horns and hooves of goats. The use of the term "all" indicates that this rule extends to vessels made of these parts of other animals besides goats as well.
The question then arises as to why the Torah singled out goats if this rule applies to all animal life. The answer is that the Torah wished to limit this rule about vessels made from bone to animals only and not to those made from the talons of birds which were also used in making vessels.