Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Daf Yomi Nedarim 53a: The Common Local Oil As Min haMuvchar

As discussed in a previous post about what oil, wax candles, and min hamuvchar, the gemara in Shabbat 23a reads:
א"ר יהושע בן לוי כל השמנים כולן יפין לנר ושמן זית מן המובחר אמר אביי מריש הוה מהדר מר אמשחא דשומשמי אמר האי משך נהורי טפי כיון דשמע לה להא דרבי יהושע בן לוי מהדר אמשחא דזיתא אמר האי צליל נהוריה
R. Joshua b. Levi said: All oils are fit for the Hanukkah lamp, but olive oil is of the best. Abaye observed: At first the Master [Rabbah] used to seek poppy-seed {/sesame} oil, saying, The light of this is more lasting; but when he heard this [dictum] of R. Joshua b. Levi, he was particular for olive oil, saying, This yields a clearer light.
Before considering justifications of each practice as locally proclaimed in the gemara Shabbat (both reasons being offered by Rabba), there is perhaps another factor in play. And this is what we find in our local gemara in Nedarim, 53a:
תניא הנודר מן השמן בארץ ישראל מותר בשמן שומשומין ואסור בשמן זית ובבבל אסור בשמן שומשמין ומותר בשמן זית
מקום שמסתפקין מזה ומזה אסור בזה ובזה
לא צריכא דרובא מסתפקין בחד מנהון מהו דתימא ניזל בתר רובא
קמ"ל ספק איסורא לחומרא
They learnt {in a brayta}: If one vowed from oil, in Eretz Yisrael, he is permitted sesame oil and forbidden olive oil. And in Bavel he is forbidden sesame oil and permitted olive oil.
In a place where they are both commonly used, he is forbidden in this and that.
Thus, according to this brayta, what was commonly called "oil," based on what was commonly used, was dependent on locale. In Bavel, shemen shumshemin, or sesame or poppy-seed oil, was commonly used. In Eretz Yisrael, shemen zayit, or olive oil, was commonly used. And this is a brayta, which is Tannaitic.

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi was a fairly early Amora, and was based in Eretz Yisrael. His preference was this classic Eretz Yisrael preference. Rabba was later, and was an Amora of Bavel. He initially had the Babylonian preference, but switched based on this dictum, and reanalysis as to the best quality of the oil.


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