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The Many Faces of Gemara – Gefet 12

We are in the midst of learning the perakim in Masechet Rosh Hashana which deal with the mitzvah of kiddush hachodesh, and there is a lot to think about regarding Rabbi Yehuda Hanasiโ€™s choice to include these perakim in the masechet. The simple connection is obviously the fact that Rosh Hashana is the only holiday which takes place on rosh chodesh itself, which naturally begs the question of when is kiddush hachodesh: whether the month is thirty days long (ืžืœื) or twenty nine days long (ื—ืกืจ) has dramatic significance on the day itself, and is what led the rabbis to establish it as a two day holiday, called “ื™ื•ืžื ืืจื™ื›ืชื” in Masechet Bava Metzia. However, beyond this obvious connection, it is possible to think of other connections, such as the power held by humanity to anoint Hashem as King of the world, and also to determine the calendar. It also makes us think about Rosh Hashana as the day where Hashem judges man according to his actions and demands of us an exactness and alignment with truth, in contrast to kiddush hachodesh where manโ€™s actions determine the reality, even in situations where this turns out to be incorrect, whether by accident or even on purpose. It is also possible to notice the fact that in the perakim which discuss Rosh Hashana, hearing is the significant one of the five senses versus sight which takes the spotlight in the perakim which discuss kiddush hachodesh.ย 

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Each of the above ideas can be further developed within the sugiyot, however today we will focus on a short and simple section of Tosfot which will take us from the realm of content to entirely different areas.


The sugiya on daf 20 deals with the question of whether it is possible to add a day to the month due to external factors before or after the witnesses see the molad. In this context, the sugiya brings a contradiction between a statement of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi and the statement of Rabbi Yochanan, which is brought in a story about Rabbi Yehuda Nesia:


ื•ื›ื™ ื”ื ื“ืืžืจ ืจื‘ื™ ื™ื”ื•ืฉืข ื‘ืŸ ืœื•ื™: ืžืื™ื™ืžื™ืŸ ืขืœ ื”ืขื“ื™ื ืขืœ ื”ื—ื“ืฉ ืฉื ืจืื” ื‘ื–ืžื ื• ืœืขื‘ืจื•, ื•ืื™ืŸ ืžืื™ื™ืžื™ืŸ ืขืœ ื”ืขื“ื™ื ืขืœ ื”ื—ื“ืฉ ืฉืœื ื ืจืื” ื‘ื–ืžื ื• ืœืงื“ืฉื•. ืื™ื ื™? ื•ื”ื ืฉืœื— ืœื™ื” ืจื‘ื™ ื™ื”ื•ื“ื” ื ืฉื™ืื” ืœืจื‘ื™ ืืžื™: ื”ื•ื• ื™ื•ื“ืขื™ืŸ ืฉื›ืœ ื™ืžื™ื• ืฉืœ ืจื‘ื™ ื™ื•ื—ื ืŸ ื”ื™ื” ืžืœืžื“ื ื•: ืžืื™ื™ืžื™ืŸ ืขืœ ื”ืขื“ื™ื ืขืœ ื”ื—ื“ืฉ ืฉืœื ื ืจืื” ื‘ื–ืžื ื• ืœืงื“ืฉื•, ืืฃ ืขืœ ืคื™ ืฉืœื ืจืื•ื”ื• – ื™ืืžืจื• ืจืื™ื ื•! – ืืžืจ ืื‘ื™ื™: ืœื ืงืฉื™ื; ื”ื – ื‘ื ื™ืกืŸ ื•ืชืฉืจื™, ื”ื – ื‘ืฉืืจ ื™ืจื—ื™.ย 


Tosfot, in ื“”ื” “ืฉืœื— ืœื™ื”” try to determine the identity of Rabbi Yehuda Nesia, who is mentioned in the sugiya:

ืื™ืŸ ื–ื” ืจื‘ื™ ื™ื”ื•ื“ื” ื ืฉื™ืื” ืฉื”ืชื™ืจ ื”ืฉืžืŸ ื‘ืคืจืง ืื™ืŸ ืžืขืžื™ื“ื™ืŸ (ืข”ื– ื“ืฃ ืœื•. ื•ืฉื) ืฉื”ื™ื” ื‘ื™ืžื™ ืจื‘ ื•ืฉืžื•ืืœ ื“ื”ื”ื•ื ื‘ื ื• ืฉืœ ืจ”ื’ ื‘ืŸ ืจื‘ื™ ื™ื”ื•ื“ื” ื”ื ืฉื™ื ื•ื”ืื™ ื“ื”ื›ื ืชืœืžื™ื“ื• ืฉืœ ืจ’ ื™ื•ื—ื ืŸ ื“ื”ื•ื” ื›ื™ื™ืฃ ืœืจื‘ ื•ืฉืžื•ืืœ.


We are generally used to finding in depth discussions in Tosfot – โ€œiyunโ€ in yeshiva terminology, meaning the defining of terms, coming to halachic decisions, and the like. Yet here, in this short Tosfot, they use their regular interpretive methodology: noticing contradictions and synthesizing different sugiyot, but this time, the subject matter is completely different.ย 


Tosfot hold our gemara, which tells one story about a figure named Rabbi Yehuda Nesia, up against a gemara in Masechet Avoda Zara 36a, where Rabbi Yehuda Nesia is mentioned as allowing use of oil made by a non-Jew, thus removing it from the list of products prepared by non-Jews that are forbidden to be eaten (bread and wine). The question bothering Tosfot is not a halachic or an โ€œiyunโ€ one, rather one that would be asked by a history department: who is the figure mentioned in two different sugiyot by the same name?ย 


Tosfot determine that this is actually two different people who had the same name. In Masechet Avoda Zara, Rabbi Yehuda Nesia is none other than the grandson of Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi who compiled the mishnah, and lived in the time of Rav and Shmuel. However, in Masechet Rosh Hashana, Rabbi Yehuda Nesia is the student of Rabbi Yochanan who lived a generation after Rav and Shmuel.ย 


This Tosfot does not provide us with any information that is significant for the average gemara student, and in modern times, we would not expect these types of questions to be asked by those who fill the benches of the classic, traditional beit midrash, but rather by those in the academy. Yet an examination of this Tosfot brings up two important methodological points:ย 


  1. While in our time, it often seems as though there exists a large dichotomy between the academy and the yeshiva – the academic world deals with questions of versions of the text, questions of history and archaeology and the like, while the yeshiva asks questions of depth regarding the content, questions of defining terms, of practical halachic ramifications, etc. – we can see that in the world of the Rishonim, this dichotomy didnโ€™t exist, and it is possible to find many discussions of this type within the Rishonim.ย 
  2. The talmudic text, meaning our gemara, is a book which can be studied through many different prisms. What is โ€œiyunโ€™ learning? What types of questions do we ask? What tools do we use to analyze a sugiya? These are questions which have different answers: oneโ€™s learningย  can be in search of a halachic conclusion, in which case the central question will be what from the sugiya was paskined as halacha. The learning can be in the conceptual โ€œBriskโ€ style, in which case the central task will be to find exact definitions of terms mentioned in the sugiya. The learning can be philosophical, in which case the main question will be what is the idea or theme that runs through the sugiya. The learning can be academic, in which case the main question will be what is the most accurate version of the text, and the like. All of these questions fall under the title of โ€œlearning gemara bโ€™iyunโ€, and the ability to gather these different tools into our learning toolbox is praiseworthy and allows us to study each sugiya from within the areas of study which fit it best.ย 


(Translated by Daphna Ansel-Nizan)


Rabbanit Yael Shimoni

Rabbanit Yael Shimoni is the Ramit and Deputy Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshivat Drisha in Kfar Etzion. Rabbanit Shimoni has learned at Migdal Oz, Matan, and the Susi Bradfield Womenโ€™s Institute for Halakhic Leadership at Midreshet Lindenbaum. She holds a BFA from Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design and a BEd in Torah Shebeโ€™al Peh and Jewish Thought from Herzog College. She is currently studying towards an MA in Jewish Thought Education at Herzog College. Rabbanit Shimoni taught gemara and halakha at Pelech High School and served as a ramit for shana bet at Migdal Oz. She directs Meshivat Nefesh, the online responsa program of the rabbaniyot of Beit Hillel. She is also a plastic artist and member of โ€œA Studio of Her Own.
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