Talmud Tips

For the week ending 30 January 2016 / 20 Shevat 5776

Gittin 51 - 57

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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Rabbi Yossi said, "I never called my wife ‘my wife’… but rather ‘my home’.”

This statement of Rabbi Yossi is part of a beraita on our daf. Rashi explains that his wife handled all the needs of the home and that she was the mainstay of their home. We similarly find that the women are called “bayit” or “home” at the time of the giving of the Torah: “Moshe ascended to G-d, and the L-rd called to him from the mountain, saying, "So will you say to the house (“beit”) of Yaakov, and tell the sons of Yisrael… (Ex. 19:3). Rashi, in explaining this verse, cites the Mechilta that teaches that “Beit Yaakov” refers to “the women”.

I have also heard another explanation for referring to the wife as the home. We find in Mesechta Sotah (17a) that Rabbi Akiva states, “If a married man and woman are meritorious, the Divine Presence is with them.” Rashi writes, “G-d took His Name (of Yud and Heh) and divided it, and caused it to dwell with both of them — the letter Yud in “ish” (man, i.e., husband), and the letter Heh in “isha” (woman, i.e., wife).” A man alone does not an ideal home make. Only if the man is with a wife, living in marital peace and harmony, is there a true Jewish home, blessed with the Divine Presence.

  • Gittin 52a

Rabbi Yochanan said, “The humility of Rabbi Zecharia ben Avkulus destroyed our Beit Hamikdash and burned our Heichal and exiled us from our Land”.

This statement concludes the well-known story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza which led to the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the Jewish People by the Romans. When Bar Kamtza was ejected from a certain celebration, he sought revenge by telling the Roman Caesar that the Jews were rebelling against him. The Caesar sent an animal with him to be sacrificed in the Beit Hamikdash to test their loyalty, but Bar Kamtza intentionally made a blemish in the animal as he took it to Jerusalem. The Sages had a great dilemma. If they refused to offer the Caesar’s sacrifice and word of their refusal got back to the Caesar, they and the Jewish People were likely to face serious consequences. Many Sages were therefore inclined to either offer the Caesar’s sacrifice or kill Bar Kamtza, thereby removing the danger. However, Rabbi Zecharia ben Avkulus “in his humility” convinced the Sages to neither offer the sacrifice nor to kill Bar Kamtza, resulting in destruction and exile.

Why does the gemara attribute this decision to his “humility”? Where do we see his humility in this decision? It would seem that the more correct description for the basis of his decision would be his “righteousness” or his “piety”. (In fact, Rashi translates “anvatanuto” in the gemara not as “humility” but rather as “patience”, which is not the “normal” translation, and begs explanation). Rabbi Zecharia ben Avkulus was an outstanding Torah scholar of his generation and had the authority to declare a temporary “overriding” of Torah law for the sake of the welfare of the Jewish People. Nevertheless, he was extremely humble, and did not feel that he was a great enough Sage to actually carry out either one of the suggested rulings that would have spared the national tragedy. And for this “misplaced” humility our gemara places blame on him for the ensuing disaster. (Maharitz Chiyut)

  • Gittin 55b-56a

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