Talmud Tips

For the week ending 23 January 2016 / 13 Shevat 5776

Gittin 44 - 50

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

“Captives may not be redeemed for more than their value due to ‘tikun olam’ (lit. “fixing the world”, i.e. for the good of the society).”

The gemara on our daf asks what the meaning of “tikun olam” is in this teaching in the mishna. How does the decree of Sages not to redeem captives for more than their value help society?

The gemara offers two possible explanations. One is that paying exorbitant ransom would cause undue burden on the community’s resources. The second reason is that paying too much would greatly encourage more prisoner-taking for the sake of large payments. What is the practical difference between these two reasons? Rashi explains that if the hostage has a wealthy relative who wants to free him, according to the first reason the relative should be permitted to do so, but according to the second reason he should not be permitted, since doing so would be detrimental to the safety of the community.

However, asks Tosafot, we find later in our masechta that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya paid an excessive ransom to free a youngster, which seems to contradict the second reason taught on our daf. Two possible answers are offered by Tosafot. One is that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya saw that the youngster was a blossoming Torah scholar, whose real value was “priceless”. Another possible reason to permit overpayment and not fear that this payment would encourage further kidnappings is that this story took place in the era of the destruction of the Second Beit Hamikdash, when kidnapping Jews for ransom required no special incentive.

  • Gittin 45a

Rabbi Ilish said, “The Jewish People are compared to a dove, so I can trust the dove’s words and I will be saved by a miracle.”

Rabbi Ilish was kidnapped along with the daughters of Rav Nachman. One day he sat with a man who understood the language of birds. First a raven came and “said” something. The man explained to Rabbi Ilish that the raven was saying, “Flee Ilish, flee Ilish!” Rabbi Ilish, however, said that the raven was lying and did not trust it. Later, a dove came and “said”, according to the man who was with Rabbi Ilish, “Escape Ilish, escape Ilish!”

When Rabbi Ilish heard this he said, “The Jewish People are compared to a dove, so I can certainly trust the dove’s words, and I will be saved by a miracle.”

Rashi on our daf writes that we learn that the Jewish People are compared to a dove based on the verse in Shir Hashirim (5:2) where G-d says to the Jewish People, “My dove, My perfect one.” One might wonder, however, in what way is the Jewish People compared to a dove?

One explanation for this comparison is taught by our Sages in Masechet Shabbat (130a). “The Jewish People are compared to a dove as is stated: ‘the wings of a dove covered with silver, and its pinions with brilliant gold’ (Tehillim 68:14). Just as the wings (rather than its beak — Rashi) of the dove protect it from its enemies, so too do the mitzvot of the Jewish People protect them from their enemies.”

Another explanation for this comparison is taught by our Sages in the Midrash Rabbah for Shir Hashirim (1:15) where G-d says to the Jewish People, “Your eyes are like doves.” The Midrash teaches that we learn from this that “Just like a dove, from the time she meets her mate, is faithful to him, likewise the Jewish People are faithful to Gd from the time they first knew Him.”

  • Gittin 45a

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