Sunday, February 24, 2019

Eating a bit before megillah / maariv

Based on today's Shivti seder.

If you tell me something is assur, I want to see it in the gemara and Rishonim. Today's discussion was about snacking a bit, as opposed to eating a full meal, and how it was prohibited. I was not convinced, based on the presentation, that such a prohibition exists.

The first focus was on the first Mishna in Berachot and on the ensuing gemara on 4a-b. The Mishna set out the time for keriat Shema at night, with the Chachamim saying until midnight, and Rabban Gamliel teaching that the time is really until dawn, and even that the Chachamim who say until midnight said so as a fence.

The gemara on 4a-b elaborates on the nature of this fence by citing a brayta:

והא דקא אמרי עד חצות כדי להרחיק את האדם מן העבירה 
כדתניא חכמים עשו סייג לדבריהם כדי שלא יהא אדם בא מן השדה בערב ואומר אלך לביתי ואוכל קימעא ואשתה קימעא ואישן קימעא ואחר כך אקרא קריאת שמע ואתפלל וחוטפתו שינה ונמצא ישן כל הלילה אבל אדם בא מן השדה בערב נכנס לבית הכנסת אם רגיל לקרות קורא ואם רגיל לשנות שונה וקורא קריאת שמע ומתפלל ואוכל פתו ומברך

and the fact that they say until midnight is in order to distance a person from transgression. 
As it was taught in a baraitathe Rabbis created a “fence” for their pronouncements with regard to the recitation of Shema in order to prevent a situation where a person comes home from the field in the evening, tired from his day’s work, and knowing that he is permitted to recite Shema until dawn says to himself: I will go home, eat a little, drink a little, sleep a little and then I will recite Shemaand recite the evening prayer. In the meantime, he is overcome by sleep and ends up sleeping all night. However, since one is concerned lest he fall asleep and fail to wake up before midnight in order to recite Shema at the appropriate time, he will come from the field in the evening, enter the synagogue, and until it is time to pray, he will immerse himself in Torah. If he is accustomed to reading the Bible, he reads. If he is accustomed to learning mishnayot, a more advanced level of study, he learns. And then he recites Shema and praysas he should. When he arrives home, he eats his meal with a contented heart and recites a blessing.

While the maggid shiur presented this as a separate fence / gezeira from that of the Mishna, I think that the plain meaning of the gemara is that this is the exact same fence. As Rashi writes ad loc.,

מן העבירה - שמא יסמוך על שהות שיש לו כדתניא:

That is, Rashi explains that the Chachamim setting midnight as the end time is to distance a person from sin, for one will rely on the fact that he has time, as is written in the ensuing brayta.

If so, the fact that someone will procrastinate and eat a bit, drink a bit, nap a bit, and so on, are not new and individual prohibitions, but rather explaining what will happen if the person thinks he has time. As per Rashi, the brayta is expanding on the fence of the Mishna and saying what will happen. And by saying (and misleading? decreeing?) instead that there is a closer time, this will influence people to go to shul, learn, say Shema, daven, and only then eat a meal.

That does not indicate that the bit of eating is itself forbidden.

The source presented (in Shivti) that it was in fact forbidden was the top Tosafot on the daf:

וקורא קריאת שמע ומתפלל - מכאן משמע שמשעה שהגיע זמן קריאת שמע של לילה שאין לו לאכול סעודה עד שיקרא ק"ש ויתפלל ערבית:

But, as we noted immediately, Tosafot said le'echol seudah, to eat a meal until he reads Shema and prays Maariv. This is not necessarily the same as the ochel kim`a, eating a little bit, of earlier in the gemara.

Further, we should pay attention to the dibur hamatchil. What part of the gemara are Tosafot commenting upon when they say mikaan mashma? It seems like it is the end of the brayta, that the effect will be that someone will end up first saying Shema, then praying Maariv, and only then eating a meal. (And see the iba'it eima of the gemara that this is according to the position that davening Maariv is not something optional.) That is, it is going on ואוכל פתו, rather than the earlier ואוכל קימעא. I don't think you can derive from here a prohibition on snacking a bit. And the prohibition on a full meal is fully in line with the prohibition we saw in masechet Shabbat, about eating (a full meal) prior to keriat Shema.

I am not the only one to read closely like this. Look at the Rosh on this gemara.

When citing the gemara, he omits the final words ve'ochel pito umevarech. On the spot (note ס), we have Maadanei Yom Tov who comments:

That is, that the Rosh omitted these final words. But Tosafot were medakdek on those very words that one should not eat a meal until he read Shema and prayed. And even the Rosh agrees to this, except that here he is going after the girsa of the Rif.

We can see the words of the Rif here, and I get the same sense, that there is no innovated prohibition of eating a bit, but rather the one gezeira we are speaking of is the time of midnight:

However, this that Rabban Gamliel said {that you can say the entire night} and this that R Shimon ben Yochai said {that the night one you can fulfill right before either dawn or sunrise} is bedieved - after the fact - and even if you did so willfully {bemeizid} and read keriat Shema before dawn you will have fulfilled your obligation, even though you are not permitted to do this, for we learnt in a brayta {Berachot 4b}:
The Sages made a fence to their words in order that a man should not come from the field in the evening and say 'I will eat a bit, drink a bit, and sleep a bit, and afterwards I will read Shema and pray' and if sleep snatches him he will have slept the entire night; but rather a man should come from the field and go to the house of gathering {shul} or the house of study - if he is used to reading {Scripture} he should read, and if he is used to learning he should learn - and afterwards read the Shema and pray. And all who violate the words of the Sages is liable the death penalty.
You are not permitted to delay until after Chatzos, and the brayta is brought for elaboration. I see no indication that prohibiting eating a bit, in and of itself, was a decree from Chazal.

So too, in the Tosafot HaRosh, he says the same thing as Tosafot, that one should not begin the seudah. And I took pains to point out during the shiur that we have to pay careful attention to the dibbur hamatchil, which in this case is explicit that it includes ואוכל פתו ומברך.

I don't think that Rashi on the daf, defining terms, is a clear-cut introduction of a prohibition. He writes:

קימעא - מעט:

We should not produce from here a machlokes between Rashi and Tosafot as to what is being prohibited. Even Tosafot know what the word kimi`ah means. They aren't arguing a definition in terms. Rather, Tosafot don't see any prohibition here, just and explanation of the procrastination that the person will do. And Rashi can agree with this as well, that this is an explanation of what the person will say and do as he procrastinates, if he thinks he will have time. It is just that, entirely separate from this, Tosafot and Rosh look at other words at the end and derive a prohibition on starting an entire meal, even before Maariv.

Maybe we can see such a decree in the words of the Rambam, though.In Hilchot Tefillah 6:7, we have:
ז  אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁתְּפִלַּת הָעֶרֶב רְשׁוּת, לֹא יָבוֹא אָדָם מִמְּלַאכְתּוֹ וְיֹאמַר, אֹכַל מְעַט וְאֶשְׁתֶה מְעַט וְאִישַׁן קִמְעָה, וְאַחַר כָּךְ אֶתְפַּלַּל--שֶׁמֶּא תֶּאֱנֹס אוֹתוֹ שִׁינָה, וְנִמְצָא יָשֵׁן כָּל הַלַּיְלָה; אֵלָא מִתְפַּלֵּל עַרְבִּית, וְאַחַר כָּךְ אוֹכֵל וְשׁוֹתֶה אוֹ יִישַׁן.  וּמֻתָּר לְהִסְתַּפַּר וּלְהִכָּנֵס לַמֶּרְחֵץ, סָמוּךְ לַשַּׁחְרִית, מִפְּנֵי שֶׁלֹּא גָזְרוּ אֵלָא סָמוּךְ לַמִּנְחָה שְׁהוּא דָּבָר הַמָּצוּי, שֶׁרֹב הָעָם נִכְנָסִין בַּיּוֹם; אֲבָל בַּשַּׁחַר, דָּבָר שְׁאֵינוּ מָצוּי, לֹא גָזְרוּ בּוֹ.

However, I don't think that even this needs to be a prohibition. The brayta was explaining the reason for the gezeira of until midnight, because they feared people would do this. They were thus coralling people away from falling into this trap. And the implication is that, totally separate from this, it makes sense that one should not fall into this trap. There is the correct hanhagah, and that is what one should follow, and that is why Rambam encodes it.

Even so, I would not say that this is a gezeira, and that this is an issur deRabbanan.

The result of all of this is that I don't think that it is correct to turn around and (like the Terumas HaDashen), in places of need, such as hearing a late Megillah reading after a long fast (which Chazal would have not have held of, since it is Yom Nikanor), that there is a gezeira that one cannot nibble on something.

That is my reading of the sources, though various Acharonim apparently read this differently.

Update: Here is a lengthy Artscroll footnote on the subject, which shows how others read differently. Bli neder, I will address in a follow-up post. Note that it is Rif (as explained by the Rashba) rather than just plain Rif. The Rashba is here and the (later, meaning siman 9) Rosh is here. And Avot deRabbi Natan, illustrating how the phrase asa seyag lidvarav is used as an expression of overstating one's opinion to be more stringent than the actual law, is here.

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