On the Outside Looking In

Daf 65 (Shabbas 2a-2b)

Summary. Mishnah. Here are the rules for transferring an object between a public and private domain. The one on the outside is referred to as a poor man. If only one (either the one on the outside or the one on the inside) is an active participant in transferring the object, the other is exempt from the penalty of having to make an offering in the Temple. If neither actively participates (that is, the one who lifts an object does not cross into the other domain and neither does the one in whose hands the object is placed), both are exempt.

Gemara. The four possible outcomes of the two rules that are described in the mishnah are compared to the rules regarding positive and negative oaths, purity, and skin conditions. The comparison suggests that the mishnah’s more detailed consideration in the case of the Shabbas rule is more detailed because more is at stake in enforcing the sanctity of the Sabbath. The gemara seeks to establish which cases are primary (Biblical) and which are secondary (rabbinic).

Daf 66 (Shabbas 3a-3b)

Summary. The gemara notes that some rules delineating acts prohibited on the Sabbath are exempt from penalty although prohibited, and notes that the same acts committed by another (i.e., without the intention of achieving the prohibited result) are not only exempt but also permitted.

Rebbi is asked if one is liable who sat while another loaded his arms with food and drink and then stood and walked out. He rules him liable because “one’s body is not similar to his hands” (i.e., this case cannot be compared to one who is standing holding an object who extends his arm beyond his domain). R’Chiya objects, “Have I not told you that when Rebbi is involved in one tractate do not ask him questions concerning another tractate!” Even so, R’Chiya accepts Rebbi’s interpretation in this case.

The gemara considers the case in which one extended his hand before nightfall and retracted it after the Sabbath began. The rabbis acknowledge the danger of creating an ordinance in such a situation that could conceivably result in a Biblical transgression if it was followed in every instance. They also debate whether to prohibit inadvertent acts so that those who commit them deliberately are not tempted to lie about their intentions.


An issue never considered in the previous tractate is the distinction between Biblical and rabbinic ordinances when a transgression of the ordinance would have theoretical consequences: Biblical transgressions can only be ameliorated by a Temple offering while rabbinic transgressions are exempt from the obligation to make such an offering. One reason to raise a rabbinic “fence” around the Torah that is not immediately apparent is that the place where one must make the offering no longer existed at the time the gemara wrestled with these questions.

If we take the rabbis at face value, the lack of a remedy for Biblical transgressions was a profound existential crisis. In this context, the primary goal of creating rabbinic supplements to the Biblical prohibitions was to create conditions that would severely reduce the likelihood of anyone inadvertently transgressing a Biblical ordinance. Thus R’Chiya’s alarm that someone might depend on Rebbi’s ruling when Chiya is acutely aware of Rebbi’s willingness to answer questions unrelated to the studies that are freshest in his mind, and thus the shared concern of the rabbis that any leniency create a temptation for the transgressor to slip through a rabbinic loophole on the path to a Biblical transgression.

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