Donkeys, Paupers, and Women

Daf 47.

Summary. Ravin and Abaye are travelling mounted on donkeys and Ravin’s donkey advances ahead of Abaye’s. Abaye is offended. Ravin responds (in the name of R’Yochanan), “We accord honor only at an entrance that has a mezuzah.” The gemara suggests that R’Yochanan was misquoted; that the meaning is “. . . an entrance that is fit for a mezuzah.” Examples of dining etiquette are discussed.

A poor person who ate food purchased from a questionable source is permitted to recite zimun; this also applies to a person who would only become poor by renouncing all that he owns. This ruling is followed by other examples of zimun permitted with questionably prepared food, and then by the precise details of how to separate tithes from produce.

Torah scholars may join zimun with a Cuthean but not an am haaretz. Why? Perhaps the Cuthean is a Torah scholar. The gemara seeks to understand what definition of an am haaretz was intended in the mishnah. In any event, ArtScroll notes, the prohibition applies only to Torah scholars and “today we cannot consider ourselves Torah scholars to whom this rule applies.

R’Eliezer found less than a minyan in his synagogue and freed his slave to complete the minyan. The gemara concludes that this is justified only to fulfill a communal mitzvah but not to fulfill a personal mitzvah.

Rav Huna says, “Nine men and the ark combine to complete a minyan.” Rav Nachman objects: “Is the ark a person?”

Comment. With startling humility, ArtScroll gently suggests that today there are none among us who may consider ourselves to be Torah scholars. But the gemara itself offers an even more sober caution in relating the story of Rami bar Chama, who, we are told, died on account of excluding Rav Menashya bar Tachlifa from zimun, assuming (apparently incorrectly) that he was an am haaretz. We are all am haaretz now, but, then, surrounded by Torah scholars, even the weakest scholar among them was breathing better air than we can even begin to imagine.

Daf 48.

Summary. The gemara seeks the origin of the text of Bircas haMazon. Portions of the text are ascribed to Moses, David, Solomon, and the Sages at Yavneh. It seeks a source in Torah for reciting Bircas haMazon, identifying Deut. 8:10; it goes on to seek sources for other blessings. It is suggested that a prayer should never end with two blessings and the rabbis look at several apparent exceptions, concluding that none are true exceptions except the Festival blessing for when a Festival falls on Shabbat.

The text of the Bircas haMazon includes references to circumcision and Torah that Rav Chisda omits because they are “not applicable to women” (who are obligated to recite Bircas.) Rav maintains that men are obliged to recite those phrases.

Comment. ArtScroll notes, “Nowadays, it is customary for women to recite the full text . . .” Nowadays, in communities not governed by ArtScroll, it is customary for women to do a great many other things as well! I dare say that some of them are among our best living Torah scholars!

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