Talmud Tips

For the week ending 9 December 2017 / 21 Kislev 5778

Shavuot 2 - 8

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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The Order of the Tractates

“The Tana just completed teaching us Masechet Maccot. What is the connection here that now he teaches us Masechet Shavuot?”

This is the very first question posed by the gemara in Masechet Shavuot. Maccot dealt with eidim zommemim, followed by ari miklat (cities of refuge), and then concluding with which transgressions are punishable in Beit Din with malkot (lashes) — and under what circumstances. The main topic of Masechet Shavuot is “oaths”. Indeed, what is the connection between these two Tractates?

The gemara answers this question: At the end of Maccot the Mishna states that one is obligated lashes for “the head” (cutting off the sideburns, pei’ot), one obligation for each side; and for the cutting the beard with a razor blade the obligation is five — two on one side and two on the other side and one in the middle (the chin). Since the Tana teaches this idea of “for transgressing one lav (commandment not to remove his sideburns) he is obligated for two (sets of lashes)”, the Tana begins the next Masechet with a similar construct: “Shavuot two that are four…” — two obligations for violating oaths to be fulfilled in the future (as stated in the Torah), and two more obligations for violation of oaths that refer to the past (based on a derivation from a verse in the Torah). Examples are oaths that: I will eat, I won’t eat, I did eat, I didn’t eat. So the Tana continues from “one that is two” to “two that is a four” — seemingly a helpful way of remembering by heart the Oral Law by its arithmetically progressive organization in this case.

Rashi explains that the meaning of one in the expression of “one that is two” for removing sideburns (“Do not round the corner of your head and do not destroy the borders of your beard” — Vayikra 19:27) refers to there being only one statement of warning in the Torah (meaning only one “negative” commandment). And despite transgressing only one warning in the Torah, a man who intentionally removes his two sideburns could be obligated for two separate sets of lashes.

I have heard a question that is raised in comparing these two phrases in the nearby Mishnayot. The case at the end of Maccot is not really that similar to the case at the beginning of Shavuot, since the case in Maccot is saying that one prohibition leads to two sets of lashes, whereas in the Shavuot the Tana is saying that two prohibitions (those that are more readily seen in the Torah) are really four prohibitions altogether. The former phrase is commenting on the resulting punishment, but the latter is focused entirely on the number of prohibitions that exist. However, the gemara in Maccot (20a) teaches, based on the plural verb — “lo takifu” — that not only does the person who does the act of shaving transgress Vayikra 19:27 and is punished with lashes (even if he is not being shaved), but also a person who allows himself to be shaved (even if he is not doing the act of shaving) transgresses and deserves lashes. Therefore, the statement “one that is two” does not only mean he deserves two sets of lashes for transgressing one statement in the Torah, but that he is actually transgressing two prohibitions which are included in the one plural commandment in the Torah. “One that is two” refers to the prohibitions, just as the Shavuot phrase that “two are four” refers to the prohibitions.

  • Shavuot 3b

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