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Introduction to Masechet Beitzah by Gitta Jaroslawicz-Neufeld

Introduction to Masechet Beitzah by Gitta Jaroslawicz-Neufeld

לע”נ מרת איידל בת ר ‘ נתן ע”ה

(In “Yeshivish,” this masecheta is often called “Bei’ah,” the Aramaic word for “egg.”)


Masechet Beitzah, known in  Talmudic literature as Masechet  Yom Tov (holiday), deals with the  laws which are common to all the  holidays, as opposed to the  festival-specific laws which are dealt with in their respective  masechtot (Sukkah, Pesachim,  Yoma, Rosh HaShana and  Megilla), and the laws of Chol HaMoed (in Moed Katan). The  name of the masechta derives from the first case discussed, the status of an egg that was laid on Shabbat or a holiday. 

The primary focus is the obligation to rest from work, as expressed  through both positive and negative commandments. This is derived  from two pesukim: 

Vayikra 23:24 

דַּבֵּר אֶל־בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵאמֹר בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי בְּאֶחָד לַחֹדֶשׁ יִהְיֶה לָכֶם שַׁבָּתוֹן זִכְרוֹן תְּרוּעָה מִקְרָא־קֹדֶשׁ׃

Speak to the Israelite people thus: In the seventh month, on the  first day of the month, you shall observe complete rest, a sacred  occasion commemorated with loud blasts. 


Vayikra 23:7-8 
בַּיּוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן מִקְרָא־קֹדֶשׁ יִהְיֶה לָכֶם כׇּל־מְלֶאכֶת עֲבֹדָה לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ׃

וְהִקְרַבְתֶּם אִשֶּׁה לַיהֹוָה שִׁבְעַת יָמִים בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי מִקְרָא־קֹדֶשׁ כׇּל־מְלֶאכֶת עֲבֹדָה לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ׃ {פ}

On the first day you shall celebrate a sacred occasion: you shall not work at your occupations.
Seven days you shall make offerings by fire to the LORD. The seventh day shall be a sacred occasion: you shall not work at your occupations.


Just as intentional creative work is forbidden on Shabbat (the 39  melachot, found in Shabbat 73a), there is a prohibition of melacha on the holidays, with two primary differences: 

  • One who violates the prohibition of labor on Shabbat is subject  to the death penalty; on the holidays, the punishment is lashes  (as is the punishment for transgressing most negative  commandments) 
  • On Shabbat, all labor is forbidden; on the holidays, melechet  avoda (servile work) is prohibited. This is based on Vayikra  23:7 (above). According to tradition, labor that is required for  sustenance (the preparation of food) is permitted. The  exploration of this limitation is the primary focus of the  masecheta. 

Not all activities related to food preparation are permitted. There is  a debate among the commentaries whether the excluded activities  are prohibited on a Torah level or were added by the Rabbis as a  “safeguard” for the sanctity of the holidays. The distinction is made  between activities that prepare the items to become food (such as hunting and harvesting) and the actual food preparation (cooking  and baking). Although on a Torah level, we can do what is necessary for food preparation, the Rabbis limited this permission so that the  holidays would retain an extra dimension of sanctity. At the same  time, based on the principle of Beit Hillel on 12a: לצורך ה שהותר מתוך לצורך שלא נמי הותרה) Since [the melacha] was permitted for a [food related] purpose, it is also permitted even when there is not that  purpose). For example, since one is permitted to transport food  from one house to another, one may carry other items needed on  the holiday as well. 

In some cases, the Rabbis were stricter with regard to holidays than  with Shabbat, since the more lenient punishment status and ability  to perform some activities forbidden on Shabbat might lead people  to take the holidays lightly. On the other hand, there is a special  mitzva to rejoice on the holidays (Devarim 16:14-15): 

וְשָׂמַחְתָּ בְּחַגֶּךָ אַתָּה וּבִנְךָ וּבִתֶּךָ וְעַבְדְּךָ וַאֲמָתֶךָ וְהַלֵּוִי וְהַגֵּר וְהַיָּתוֹם וְהָאַלְמָנָה אֲשֶׁר בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ׃ שִׁבְעַת יָמִים תָּחֹג לַיהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בַּמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר־יִבְחַר יְהֹוָה כִּי יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּכֹל תְּבוּאָתְךָ וּבְכֹל מַעֲשֵׂה יָדֶיךָ וְהָיִיתָ אַךְ שָׂמֵחַ׃
You shall rejoice in your festival, with your son and daughter, your  male and female slave, the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and  the widow in your communities. You shall hold a festival for the  LORD your God seven days, in the place that the LORD will choose;  for the LORD your God will bless all your crops and all your  undertakings, and you shall have nothing but joy.


We have already seen in Pesachim (109a) that this joy is expressed  by food, drink and wearing special clothes. The Rabbis needed to balance between these two sometimes opposing mandates: to honor  the holiday as a day of respite and to allow people to rejoice. This  concern will be discussed in several places in the masechta. 

Additional Issues 

When Shabbat and a holiday occur in succession,  with the holiday on Sunday or (more critically) on  Friday, additional issues arise. We cannot prepare  for one day to the next on a holiday. How then,  especially in a time without the ability to prepare  food in advance and store it safely, can we prepare  for Shabbat if the holiday is on Friday? The main  solution for this issue is the rabbinic enactment of  the eiruv tavshilin (the joining of cooked foods), which allows one to  prepare food on the Friday holiday for Shabbat. 

A second issue is the rabbinic enactment  that people living outside the land of  Israel are required to observe a second  day of the holiday (yom tov sheini shel  galuyot – the second holiday of the Diaspora). This decree was originally  established because of problems in timely  and accurate communication between  Israel (where the new month was sanctified and declared) and the  far-flung communities of Jews outside the land of Israel. The Rabbis  decreed that those communities observe two days for the holiday;  one would certainly be the correct one (since there are astronomical and mathematical limitations to when the new month can begin – it  only varies by one day). (More about this when we learn Masechet Rosh haShana!) This enactment continued (for a variety of  reasons) even when the calendar was fixed and dates of holidays  predetermined for millennia. 



The laws of muktzeh comprise a significant  portion of the  discussions in this  masechta. The word  muktzeh literally  means “set aside,” and  refers to objects which  usually are not intended for use on Shabbat or holidays. As we  learned on Shabbat 123b, the decree of muktzeh dates back to the  early days of the Second Temple, when Nechemya ruled that these  objects may not be handled or moved, as a safeguard for the  sanctity of Shabbat and to prevent people from inadvertently transgressing by using these objects.(*)

* There are other reasons given for this enactment: So that Shabbat would be discernably different from weekdays  (based on Isaiah 58:13), and so that those who do not usually engage in labor would have a distinction made for  Shabbat. The Raavad claims that the original decree was to prevent people from transporting utensils from one  domain to another. Later, it was modified to exclude utensils that would be used for permissible activities.

There are several categories of muktzeh, with the underlying  consideration being the idea that the item was not מוכן prepared before Shabbat. Note that the preparation does not have to be overt  – if an item is normally used for permissible activities, it is  considered prepared. The Shulchan Aruch lists the following  categories of muktzeh: 

  • Fear of monetary loss מחמת חיסרון כיס: Any object whose owner would object to its general use for  fear that it become damaged. For example, one might think that he  could use a surgeon’s scalpel to cut fruit. While its primary use is prohibited (surgery), cutting fruit  is not. However, since the owner of the scalpel would be  concerned that the unskilled (permitted) use of the scalpel  would damage it, the scalpel is muktzeh (Of course, if there is a need for life-saving surgery, this does not apply.) If the object may be  used for its skilled purpose on the holiday (for example, a  shochet’s knife), it is not muktzeh on the holiday.
  • Primarily used for prohibited work כלי שמלאכתו לאיסור: Any utensil whose primary use is for a prohibited action, but can occasionally be used for permitted activities. For ex ample, a hammer is generally used for building, which  is forbidden, but is also used for cracking nuts, which is  permitted, and the owner is not concerned about damage to  the hammer when engaged in this activity. This level of  muktzeh is more lenient.
  • Intrinsic מחמת גופו: An object which is neither a utensil or edible (for humans or animals) food. This would include stones, money, earth, a corpse, fruit which need to be processed to be edible (raisins, olives) or living animals. If the object may be used on the holiday (for example, wood for kindling or an animal designated for slaughter on that day), it  is not muktzeh on the holiday.
  • A base for a forbidden object בסיס לדבר האסור: An otherwise non muktzeh item upon which a muktzeh item rests. Even after the muktzeh item has been removed (for example, by a non-Jew), the “base item” retains its muktzeh status until the conclusion of that Shabbat or holiday.  This extension of muktzeh status only applies if the muktzeh item was on the base at the beginning of Shabbat or the  holiday. If the muktzeh item was placed on the base during  Shabbat or the holiday, once it is removed, the base is no  longer muktzeh.
  • Attached to the ground or uncaptured מחובר ומחוסר צדה: A growing item which was not cut before twilight, or an animal which was not trapped before that time. Should the fruit/vegetable become detached over the course of Shabbat or the holiday, it remains muktzeh for the rest o f the day. Similarly, although one may slaughter and cook an animal on the holiday, if it was not trapped before the holiday, it may not be slaughtered on  the holiday.
  • Newborn נולד: An object which first becomes useable on  Shabbat or the holiday. An example would be ashes that were  formed by wood that had burned on Shabbat. The logic is that  it was not useable before the onset of Shabbat and therefore  could not have been prepared. Interestingly, this category is  more stringent on holidays than on Shabbat. If something is  not “entirely” new, it is permitted on Shabbat, yet forbidden on  the holiday. For example, bones left over from meat that was  eaten may be given to animals on Shabbat, but not on a  holiday. The bones are not “entirely” new in the sense that they  were prepared with the meat. Yet on the holiday, they are seen  as having become something new – bones fit for animal  consumption. (Note that they still may be removed and discarded, since they are repugnant.)
  • Set aside for its mitzva מוקצה למצוותו: An item which was designated for the mitzva of the day (for example, the wood and decorations of the sukka). Note that this category is different from the others – more about that on 30b).

The prohibitions of Muktzeh: 

  • Moving a muktzeh object: The primary restriction is carrying or  moving an object that is designated as muktzeh 
  • Eating a muktzeh object: This is a more stringent restriction, based on Shemot 16:5 וְהָיָה בַּיּוֹם הַשִּׁשִּׁי וְהֵכִינוּ אֵת אֲשֶׁר־יָבִיאוּ וְהָיָה מִשְׁנֶה עַל אֲשֶׁר־יִלְקְטוּ יוֹם  יוֹם׃, on the sixth day, when they apportion what they have brought in, it shall prove to be double the amount they gather each day. This implies that  the food of Shabbat needs to be prepared in advance
The primary disagreements with reference to muktzeh are  between Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Shimon. In most cases, Rabbi  Shimon is more lenient. 


The Content of the Masecheta

לע”נ מרת איידל בת ר ‘ נת ן ע”ה 

Gitta Jaroslawicz-Neufeld

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