Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Learner/Burner Question -- part 2

Note: It is difficult to jump into the middle of a discussion. If you haven't already, I suggest you read part 1 of this article, which consists of a brief introduction and discussion of the relevant brayta.

What and When: A Traditional Approach

We now turn to the question of what substance is being nullified. The simplest interpretation of the brayta is that it is actual chametz being nullified. However, there are potential problems with this approach. The gemara states:

בשלמא שבת משכחת לה כגון שחל ארבעה עשר להיות בשבת אלא יום טוב בתר איסורא הוא אמר רב אחא בר יעקב הכא בתלמיד יושב לפני רבו עסקינן ונזכר שיש עיסה מגולגלת בתוך ביתו ומתיירא שמא תחמיץ קדים ומבטיל ליה מיקמי דתחמיץ דיקא נמי דקתני היה יושב בתוך בית המדרש שמע מינה

The setama digmara has a problem with this interpretation given its assumption that actual chametz cannot be nullified on Pesach itself, and given that one of the times the brayta allows nullification is Yom Tov. That the brayta states אחד שבת is not problematic, since this can refer to Shabbat on erev Pesach. However, אחד יום טוב is problematic since the nullification should not be able to take effect!

Rav Acha bar Yaakov, an Amora, resolves the setama digmara's issue by suggesting that the brayta speaks of dough which is about to become chametz, rather than something that is actually chametz. Somehow, proof to this interpretation is read into a careful analysis of the brayta.

Is the brayta only speaking about dough which is about to become chametz, or does it speak of actual chametz as well? After all, the setama digmara states בשלמא שבת משכחת לה כגון שחל ארבעה .עשר להיות בשבת Thus, at least initially, we can establish one of the two cases explicitly mentioned -- that of Shabbat -- as referring to actual chametz. Thus, the nullification must happen before the onset of Pesach, and thus before the associated prohibition to make use of chametz which would cause nullification to be ineffective.

However, once we have Rav Acha bar Yaakov's reinterpretation in hand, we might state that אחד שבת refers to Shabbat on chol haMoed Pesach. If so, this would be over the course of Pesach as well, and so nullification of actual chametz would be ineffective, which is why he would be nullifying dough that was about to become chametz.

The benefit of reclassifying Shabbat as Shabbat Yom Tov or Shabbat chol haMoed is that, this was, the brayta is consistent in terms of time period -- during Pesach rather than before, as well as substance -- dough that will soon be chametz as rather than actual chametz. Otherwise, it is slightly awkward to suddenly shift in terms of time and substance being nullified, using the same term ונזכר שיש חמץ בתוך ביתו. Furthermore, Rav Acha bar Yaakov's statement does not specifically address the אחד יום טוב. While the setama digmara utilizes the statement to address אחד יום טוב, it would be neater for him to be explaining the brayta as a whole. Furthermore, the development of the analysis of the brayta in the gemara seems to be one of gradual grudging reinterpretation of the situation. It does not wish to reinterpret chametz in the phrase ונזכר שיש חמץ בתוך ביתו and so states that it need not do so in the case of Shabbat by appealing to a slightly awkward definition of Shabbat. However, in the case of Yom Tov, one is forced into that interpretation of the word chametz. Thus, the defense of the primary meaning of the word chametz has been lost, so we might as well not result to the awkwardness in interpreting Shabbat as Shabbat before Pesach.

One can make a convincing argument for the maintaining אחד שבת as Shabbat erev Pesach, however. To my mind, the most persuasive argument is the לש, kneading, is a forbidden labor on Shabbat. How can one reinterpret chametz as dough about to become chametz if dough could not be legally produced on Shabbat? On Yom Tov, labors which would otherwise be forbidden are allowed for the purpose of producing food, and so one can have dough about to become chametz, but this is not the case for Shabbat! This difficulty can be surmounted by stating, for example, that the dough had been kneaded a minute before Shabbat (within the 18 minutes before Shabbat), and then he quickly went to the study hall, began learning, and then remembered that he had kneaded and not baked. Dough takes 18 minutes to become chametz, and so there are a few minutes to realize this and nullify it. Still, it is quite a farfetched case and unlikely to be the intend of the brayta.

One can also make stylistic arguments for maintaining אחד שבת as Shabbat erev Pesach, parallelling the arguments against. The plain meaning of chametz is actual chametz, and so interpreting it as dough which is soon to be chametz is a bit forced. The parsimonious approach would be to apply this reinterpretation of chametz to the fewest cases possible. Indeed, the reinterpretation of chametz as dough which is not yet chametz is much less forced than the interpretation of Shabbat as Shabbat erev Pesach. An examination of other Tannaitic sources actually will bear out the idea that establishing a case as referring to erev Pesach is in fact not forced as all. Furthermore, the setama digmara states that there is no problem posed by אחד שבת because בשלמא שבת משכחת לה כגון שחל ארבעה עשר להיות .בשבת In the absence of an overt statement to the contrary, why should we abandon the interpretation proposed by the gemara?

A related question is how to interpret the weekdays referred to implicitly in the brayta. The brayta ends אחד שבת ואחד יום טוב and thus teaches us the additional law that even during Yom Tov and Shabbat when acquisition is forbidden by Rabbinic decree, one can still nullify the chametz (or near-chametz) in his heart. The implication is that these are the exceptional cases, but of course one can successfully and should nullify chametz (or near-chametz) on a day which is neither Shabbat nor Yom Tov.

What day is that? There are two possibilities. One is that this is a weekday on erev Pesach. The other is that is a weekday on chol haMoed. Many of the same stylistic arguments in favor and against which we advanced in terms of Shabbat would apply here as well. Obviously, לש, kneading, would not be a problem during weekday chol haMoed. However, arguments in terms of reinterpreting the word chametz or about establishing the case as before Pesach would apply.

We can then establish the brayta as referring specifically to cases on Pesach: Yom Tov, Shabbat Yom Tov and Shabbat chol haMoed, and weekdat chol haMoed. Alternatively, we can establish this as referring to cases before and during Pesach: Shabbat erev Pesach, weekday erev Pesach, and Yom Tov. Other combinations of course exist2. For example, we can establish this as referring to all possible occassions - both weekday and Shabbat, both on erev Pesach and during Pesach, with chametz referring to whatever would be possible.

{footnote 2: However, it would be awkward and unfounded to refer to Shabbat erev Pesach to the exclusion of weekday erev Pesach, and similarly, it would be awkward to refer to Shabbat chol haMoed to the exclusion of weekday chol haMoed.}

One point that should be very helpful in deciding whether Shabbat can or should legitimately refer to Shabbat erev Pesach is how the case is framed in parallel Tannaitic sources. These sources -- one Mishna, one brayta, and one Tosefta -- discuss whether one should abandon performance of another mitzvah, such as berit milah or learning Torah, in order to destroy chametz in his possession if he remembers that he has it in his house. Some of these sources seem to contradict the law laid down in our brayta, but this will only become our focus at a later later in the paper. At this point, we simply wish to highlight that the standard case seems to be one on erev Pesach.

Thus, for example, the Mishna on Pesachim 49a begins:

ההולך לשחוט את פסחו ולמול את בנו ולאכול סעודת אירוסין בבית חמיו ונזכר שיש לו חמץ בתוך ביתו אם יכול לחזור ולבער ולחזור למצותו יחזור ויבער ואם לאו מבטלו בלבו

The third case, that of eating a feast of betrothal in his father-in-law's house, is different from the first two cases, for which one incurs karet if one does not fulfill, and in Yerushalmi Pesachim 23b, Rabbi Yosa bei Rabbi Bon uses this strange linking of cases to highlight the importance of shalom.

The first case, though, seems to occur specifically on erev Pesach. After all, the Pesach sacrifice is slaughtered on the fourteenth after chatzot. I would argue that the second case, that of circumcising his son, also has a special connection to the fourteenth of Nissan.

Indeed, once we exclude the feast of betrothal, the set of slaughter of the Pesach sacrifice, the circumcision of his son, and the removal of chametz from his possession all seem to share in common that they are requirements for the eating of the Pesach offering. Specifically, the paschal lamb cannot be eaten if it is not slaughtered on the fourteenth. Further, so long as a man has a son who is not circumcised, he cannot eat of the Pesach offering3.

{footnote 3: This is learned in Yevamot 71 from a gezera shava based on the verse in Shemot 12:28:
וְכִי-יָגוּר אִתְּךָ גֵּר, וְעָשָׂה פֶסַח לַיהוָה--הִמּוֹל לוֹ כָל-זָכָר וְאָז יִקְרַב לַעֲשֹׂתוֹ, וְהָיָה כְּאֶזְרַח הָאָרֶץ; וְכָל-עָרֵל, לֹא-יֹאכַל בּוֹ. }

Furthermore, so long as a man has chametz in his possession, he cannot slaughter the Pesach offering4.

{footnote 4: This is based on the pasuk in Shemot 34:25:
לֹא-תִשְׁחַט עַל-חָמֵץ, דַּם-זִבְחִי; וְלֹא-יָלִין לַבֹּקֶר, זֶבַח חַג הַפָּסַח.

Thus, the trio of slaughtering the Pesach offering, circumcising his son, and removing chametz from his house seem specifically to target erev Pesach. Whether this link has substance and whether it plays a role in the specific law there is outside the scope of this article. Regardless, at the least, the first activity, going to slaughter his paschal offering, demonstrates that the phrase ונזכר שיש לו חמץ בתוך ביתו was applied by Tannaim in a case occurring on erev Pesach (footnote: and presumably to actual chametz, but this will be discussed later}. Other Tannaitic sources as well imply or state that this nullification occurs on erev Pesach and to actual chametz, but we will leave discussion of these sources to later.

We conclude this section with the following important observation: Regardless of the actual cases described by our brayta, a fair conclusion to make is that if one is in possession of actual chametz on erev Pesach, and recalls this fact when he is studying in the study hall, rather than stopping his learning and destroying it physically, he should nullify it in his heart and continue learning. Even if the brayta was only discussing nullifying dough which was about to become chametz, this was because the specific case was such that nullification of actual chametz would be ineffective. Even in the case of the dough, the dough would become chametz in a few minutes and physically be inside his house, and so in both cases, chametz would physically be inside his house after nullification. And, nullification of chametz before Pesach is equally effective as nullification of non-chametz dough during Pesach. Thus, it stands to reason that in a parallel situation, one should nullify the actual chametz on erev Pesach rather than leaving the study hall. This is so whether or not the brayta explicitly discusses the case.

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