Strange Brew

Daf 51.

Summary. There are foods that are not repulsive if you spit them out, but even so, why spit them out? “Because it is stated: My mouth shall be filled with your praise” (Psalms 71:8).

And what of one who swallowed before reciting a blessing? Does he go back and recite the blessing? Ravina says, “even if one finishes his meal.” The rabbis seek a proof for this.

The virtues of a beverage (ispargus) are extolled with one caveat: “one who gets drunk from it– it is detrimental for his entire body.” The beneficial effects vary depending upon whether the beverage is made from new or old wine.

R’Yishmael ben Elisha learned from an angel not to take his shirt directly from his butler, not to allow his hands to be washed by someone with dirty hands, and to return the ispargus cup directly to the one who gave it to him. Failure to observe these roles leaves one vulnerable to demons.

R’Yehoshua ben Levi learned three things from the Angel of Death. Other rabbis offer things to do to care for the cup of blessings.

Ulla’s rejection of Rav Nachman’s offer to send the cup of blessing to his wife cites R’Yochanan: “The fruits of the women’s belly are blessed only through the fruits of the husband’s belly.” When Yalta (his wife) heard she would not be sent the cup of blessing she destroyed 400 barrels of wine.

Perek 8. Mishnah. Here are the disputes between Hillel and Shammai: the order of blessings of kiddush, drinking wine before a meal, hand washing before blessing bread, protocol for cleaning following a meal, reciting Bircas ha Mazon and Havdalah over a single cup of wine, the wording of the blessing made over a flame and fragrant spices, and what to do if one neglected to recite Bircat haMazon following a meal. The Mishnah concludes with a rule that one says Amen after the blessing of an Israelite, but not the blessing of a Cuthean unless he has heard the entire blessing.

Gemara. The rabbis compare the Mishnah’s account of disputes between Hillel and Shammai to accounts from other sources. The gemara complains that the text of a Baraisa to the effect that the halakha follows Hillel is unnecessary because it is obvious. A possible answer: “this . . . was taught before the Heavenly Voice declared . . . or else reflects R’Yehoshua, who pays no attention to Heavenly Voices.”

Daf 52.

Why would Shammai hold that the blessing of Havdalah is more important than the blessing over the wine? Shammai holds that “bringing in the day is different than taking out the day.” Can the same cup of wine be used for more than one blessing? Is a cup of wine needed for Birchas haMazonThe danger of contaminating food that makes it unsuitable to eat is explored. Hillel forbids employing a waiter who is an ignoramus; Shammai permits it. Hillel and Shammai dispute the wording of the blessings over fire.

Daf 53.

Over which flames may one recite a Shabbat or Havdalah blessing? Answer: A flame that “rested.” But rested when and how? Or perhaps “rested only from prohibited work”? “What is different about a light that a gentile kindled from a gentile that we do not recite a blessing over it?” The differences between other sources of light are explored.

The focus shifts to fragrances. The rule that one who smells a fragrant odor outside a city may recite a blessing over it if the majority of the inhabitants are Jewish is questioned “because Jewish daughters burn incense to sorcery.” Likewise, “one who was walking in a marketplace of idolatry and willingly intended to smell the fragrance . . . is a sinner.”

A blessing cannot be said over a flame “until benefit is derived from its illumination.”

The gemara considers those who forgot to say Birchas haMazon before leaving the place they ate. One returned and was given a material reward; another who did not return was devoured by lions.

How long it takes to digest a meal is disputed.


Ispargus has certain medicinal qualities but an overdose is harmful. Is this the first recorded instance of “too much of a good thing”? Moreover, the effects are different depending on whether it was made from new or old wine, but how would one know before imbibing it? We have entered the realm of food and drink that has the potential to be repulsive, but the disputes that wrestle with how to handle them and how to determine their fitness have no clear resolution. These uncertainties spill over into sources of light and fragrances as well.

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