No Belt Tightening Here

Daf 72 (Shabbas 9a-9b)

Summary. The gemara continues to ponder the status of a threshold. Perhaps it is part of the private domain when the door is open and part of the public domain when the door is closed? Perhaps its status depends on whether it is roofed and the direction that the roof inclines?

Mishnah. Activities forbidden proximate to minchah: going to the barber, entering a bathhouse or tannery, eating a meal, and judging a legal dispute. However, once begun, these activities should not be interrupted for prayer, with the exception of Shema.

Gemara. As there are two minchah times, the gemara must first determine if the mishnah applies to one or both. It must also anticipate the range of time the proscribed activities might take up and what constitutes beginning the activity. For example, Rav and R’Chanina disagree on what constitutes beginning a meal: Rav says, “When one washes his hands.” R’Chanina says, “When one unfastens his belt.” The different responses are attributed to the customs of their respective communities.

Daf 73 (Shabbas 10a-10b)

Summary. Rav Sheishess objects to the ruling that a meal begins when one unfastens his belt: “Is it an inconvenience to fasten one’s belt?” There are several examples of how the Sages dressed for prayer to respond to the question of how one should prepare to stand before God. (None, apparently, tightened their belts.)

The gemara returns to the question of what constitutes beginning an activity; in this case, judging a legal dispute. They consider whether judging is equivalent to Torah study and when a judge may end his day. Concluding that the judge ends at the proper meal time, the gemara takes inventory of when different nationalities and occupations are accustomed to break for their meal.

May a person say his prayers in a bathhouse? Answer: Certainly not in a room with naked people! But if the room is empty? “The lavatory is prohibited for prayer even if there is no excrement in it.”

The gemara apparently digresses to teach that “one who conveys a gift should inform the recipient.” What sort of gift might not be apparent to the recipient unless he is informed? Answer: Shabbas.

Daf 74 (Shabbas 11a-11b)

Summary. Rav says, “Any city whose roofs are higher than its synagogue will ultimately be destroyed.” Rav Ashi is proud of preventing anyone from building houses in Masa Mechasya higher than a synagogue, but the gemara notes that Masa Mechasya was destroyed.

Rav says it is better to work for an Ishmaelite than a Torah scholar. Rashi explains, “It is impossible to consistently treat a Torah scholar with all the respect that is halachically due him.”

Rav Yehoshua fasts to nullify the effect of a disturbing dream. Rav Yosef says, “Such a fast may be observed even on the Sabbath.”

Mishnah. Here are the laws designed to prevent inadvertent transgressions of Shabbas.

Gemara. There is a dispute between Rava and Abaye on the purpose of rabbinic laws: Are safeguards in the mishnah there to prevent inadvertent violations of rabbinic as well as Biblical laws? For example, the mishnah says, “a tailor may not go out with his needle pinned to his garment.” It would seem that this mode of carrying is only forbidden by rabbinic decree. Perhaps the critical distinction is not the mode of carrying but that the needle is a tool of his occupation? R’Yehudah says, “A craftsman who carries his accouterments in the manner of his craft is liable under Biblical law. But any other person who carries such items in this manner is not liable.”


The belt-loosening exercise that precedes the meal in Babylonia is unknown in Israel, where they wear their clothes less restrictively between meals. Is it a form of vanity that prompts the Babylonians to suck in their guts? See, for example, the employees at the health club in The Case of the Left-Handed Liar (Perry Mason, originally aired 11/25/61). These descendants of the Babylonians are working way too hard at appearing to be “fit.” (And their meals of raw vegetables and celery juice are hardly worth taking time away from prayer to eat!)  But, all kidding aside, as strange as the customs of the Babylonians may seem to a visitor from Israel, they do effect a different benchmark for the beginning of the meal, and thus for the limit of what one might do as the time of minchah approaches. Thus, both time (the approach of minchah) and space (the community one is visiting) are important considerations.

However, with respect to time, awareness is not contingent on locality. Shabbas happens when it happens and may not be postponed until one can loosen one’s belt. (Perhaps those from Israel wear their belts loose so there is one less obstacle to beginning their Shabbas observance promptly. Here, for the first time in this tractate, Shabbas observance is given consideration as a “gift” rather than as a series of problems to be solved. Shabbas is here described as a gift that would be missed if the recipient is not alerted to expect it.

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