From where do we know . . . ?

Daf 147-153 (Shabbat 84a-90b)


The central question, rarely asked, emerges on folio 85– “How do we know that that which the rabbis determined is something to be relied upon?”

Several rabbinic ordinances are examined whose sources are not clear (the question is posed for each in turn, “from where do we know . . . ?”) An apparent connection to Moses’ instructions to the people on how to prepare for the revelation at Sinai leads to an extended attempt to determine on which day of the week the revelation took place. The rabbis are determined to determine that the revelation took place on the Sabbath, but the proofs may depend on the radical assumption that exceptions were made in constructing that year’s calendar that went far beyond a conventional “leap” year. It is also revealed that Moses himself used “his own understanding” in presenting God’s commands to the people.

Can we rely on what the rabbis (or, indeed, Moses!) determined regarding which day was the day of the revelation? Clearly, the stakes are high. When the worship of the Golden Calf is mentioned in passing, it is unlikely that it is a coincidence. The anxiety that drove the people to construct and worship the Calf was itself prompted by a miscalculation of a day, leading the people to expect Moses to descend a day sooner than he did.

Calendars are tricky business. How many of us know on which day of the week we were born? Today is Tuesday, January 1. There was a Tuesday, January 1, in 2008, but you cannot re-use your 2008 calendar this year because in 2009 there were 29 days in February. If revelation fell on Shabbes, surely we would remember . . . or would we? Was there ever a Shabbes before revelation? After all, the rules for keeping Shabbes were only given to the people on that day. Was that the first Shabbes or did the people need to wait another week? From where do we know . . . ?


Daf 147 (Shabbat 84a-84b)

Comparing ships to wagons and chests, consideration is given to when wagons and chests are susceptible to contamination. Since containers are susceptible, the question is whether these are containers— i.e., transportable by carrying, unlike a large ship (“a boat of the Jordan”) that is “like the sea itself.” This leads to consideration of whether smaller objects constructed from the same materials are susceptible.

Mishnah. A rule limiting the planting of different species of seeds in a small plot.

Gemara. The gemara seeks to understand the implications of the rule stipulated in the mishnah.

Daf 148 (Shabbat 85a-85b)

“How do we know that that which the Rabbis determined is something to be relied upon?”

Daf 149 (Shabbat 86a-86b)

Mishnah. “From where do we know . . . ?” The question is posed of four rulings: (1) a woman emitting semen three days following relations is declared “impure”; (2) it is permitted to bathe an infant three days after his circumcision even if the third day is also Shabbes; (3) one ties a red woolen strip to the neck of a goat designated for Azazel; (4) on Yom Kippur, applying oil to one’s body is an equivalent transgression to drinking water.

Gemara. The gemara seeks to determine the author of the mishnah, the sources they put forward, and how they derived the rules from these sources. The first is connected to Moses’ command that the people practice abstinence for three days prior to the revelation at Sinai. From this, it is also derived that the revelation itself took place on the Sabbath.

Daf 150 (Shabbat 87a-87b)

Rava suggests on which day of the week specific events leading up to the revelation occurred, beginning with Monday, the first day of the month, when Moses said nothing (exhausted from the journey). In his version, the men separated from their wives on Thursday, but this is disputed. R’Yose suggests that the separation occurred on Wednesday. The two answers each assume that God issued the command on Wednesday, but one version asserts that Moses advanced the order “based on his own understanding.” Other acts that Moses did on his own understanding are cited and explained.

The gemara then seeks to determine where and when the laws for observing the Sabbath were given to the people. This revives the dispute as to whether the month began on Monday; some arguing that it was Sunday. As the argument intensifies, still others argue it was a Shabbes. Several proofs are offered to refute the latter two arguments.

Daf 151 (Shabbat 88a-88b)

Did they make “eight deficient months” the year of the revelation? The gemara considers this and other unlikely explanations to fix the day of revelation as Shabbes.

Rav Avdimi bar Chama bar Chasa says that on the day of revelation God held a mountain over the people and said, “If you accept the Torah, fine. But if not, your burial will be there!” (Maharal: “. . . had Israel not accepted the Torah, the universe would have reverted to the vacuum that existed before Creation.” Rav Acha bar Yaakov questions the validity of Israel’s commitment given that it was coerced.

The worship of the Golden Calf prompts Ulla to say, “How shameless is the bride who is unfaithful while still in the bridal chamber.”

Daf 152 (Shabbas 89a-89b)

The gemara presents several teachings by R’Yehoshua ben Levy on the relationship between Moses and God. Various other aggadic stories about the Patriarchs are presented.

Mishnah. More rules of carrying on Shabbes.

Gemara. The gemara protests that some of the rules appear to be redundant.

Daf 153 (Shabbas 90a-90b)

Mishnah. The materials that one is prohibited to take out on Shabbes in any amount. It’s a mixed bag: pepper, other spices, metals, detritus from the Alter, and “accessories of an idol.”

Gemara. The gemara determines that many of these materials are prohibited on Shabbes because they are useful in any amount. It seeks to determine if metals share this distinction.

Mishnah. The minimum quantity of various seeds that one may take out on Shabbes.

Gemara. The gemara examines rules surrounding the taking out of locusts, making a distinction between live and dead locusts, and between kosher and non-kosher locusts. It is suggested that “one is prohibited from eating live insects even if they are kosher.”

Perek 10. Mishnah. Circumstances when it is not permissible to carry even the minimum specified in previous mishnayot— seed if the purposes is planting; samples if the purpose is showing them to prospective customers.

Gemara. The gemara questions the wording of the mishnah.

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