• Rav Michael Siev


Introduction to the Study of Talmud
by Rav Michael Siev

Megilla 24: 25b-26a

A scan of the classic printed daf can be found at:

http://www.e-daf.com/dafprint.asp?ID=1462 for 25b

http://www.e-daf.com/dafprint.asp?ID=1463 for 26a

Key words and phrases in Hebrew and Aramaic are marked in blue, and their translation/explanation can be seen by placing the cursor over them. 

From time to time, the shiur will include instructions to stop reading and do some task on your own. This will be marked by a

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It is highly recommended that you follow those instructions.

Within the quoted texts, my explanations and additions are also written in red

Last week, we learned the mishna and gemara on 25a-25b which discuss the sections of Tanach that ought not be read or translated in public. We are going to skip the rest of that discussion, and move to the bottom of 25b, which begins the next perek, Benei Ha'ir - the fourth and final perek of Masechet Megilla. This perek moves from a discussion of laws related to Torah reading and other aspects of the prayer service to laws regarding the sanctity of the shul itself.

Let's jump in - we start with the mishna at the very bottom of 25b and top of 26a.  

Townspeople who sold the main square of the town - they (may) purchase a synagogue with its money.

(If they sold) a synagogue - they (may) purchase an ark; 

an ark - they (may) purchase wrappings;

wrappings - they (may) purchase books;

books - they (may) purchase a Torah.

But if they sold a Torah - they may not purchase books;

books - they may not purchase wrappings;

wrappings - they may not purchase an ark;

an ark - they may not purchase a synagogue;

a synagogue - they may not purchase the main square.

And so too with their leftover (money).

בני העיר שמכרו רחובה של עיר - לוקחין בדמיו בית הכנסת.

בית הכנסת - לוקחין תיבה;

תיבה - לוקחין מטפחות;

מטפחות - יקחו ספרים;

ספרים - לוקחין תורה.

אבל אם מכרו תורה - לא יקחו ספרים;

ספרים - לא יקחו מטפחות;

מטפחות - לא יקחו תיבה;

תיבה - לא יקחו בית הכנסת;

בית הכנסת - לא יקחו את הרחוב.

וכן במותריהן.  

The main principle underlying this mishna is that of ma'alin bakodesh v'lo moridin, which means that we may raise the kedusha of a particular object but not lower it. Each of the items listed in the mishna has some level of kedusha (that's not so simple with regard to the town square, but we'll get to that soon). When they are sold, their kedusha is transferred to the proceeds of the sale. Therefore, the money may only be used to purchase something of even greater, or at least equal, kedusha. Our mishna outlines for us the hierarchy of items that have a degree of kedusha, as it pertains to this halacha. Thus, for example, since a synagogue has a greater level of kedusha than a town square, the proceeds from the sale of the town square may be used to purchase a synagogue, but not vice versa. The ark has a greater level of kedusha than the rest of the shul, the wrappings used to cover the Torah are yet holier, scrolls of books of Tanach have a higher level of kedusha than the coverings, and the holiest object is the Torah itself.

The final phrase of the mishna goes one step further and teaches that if one uses the money from the sale of one holy item to purchase an item of even greater kedusha, and there is still money left over - that money too must be used to purchase something of greater or equal kedusha to the item that was sold.

The gemara

The gemara will now discuss the details of these laws. We pick up with the beginning of the gemara, on the 5'th line of 26a.

Residents of the city who sold the town square;

Rabban bar bar Chana said in the name of R' Yochanan: these are the words of R' Menachem bar Yosi the (author of) anonymous (statements),

but the Sages said: The square has no holiness.

What is the reason of R' Menachem bar Yosi ? Because the people pray there on fast days and ma'amadot

But the Sages (hold): that is only occasional.  

בני העיר שמכרו רחובה של עיר;

אמר רבה בר בר חנה אמר רבי יוחנן: זו דברי רבי מנחם בר יוסי סתומתאה,

אבל חכמים אומרים: הרחוב אין בו משום קדושה.

ורבי מנחם בר יוסי מאי טעמיה? - הואיל והעם מתפללין בו בתעניות ובמעמדות.

ורבנן: ההוא אקראי בעלמא.   

When reading the mishna, one very well may have had the reaction that while most of the items mentioned clearly do have kedusha, the town square seems to be a neutral area that does not belong on the list. The gemara tells us that one who has such a reaction is not alone; while R' Menachem bar Yosi considers the town square to have kedusha, the Sages disagree. We understand well the position of the Sages; but why does R' Menachem consider this to be a place of kedusha? The gemara explains that there were two instances in which prayer services were held in the town square, and that gives them the status of mini-synagogues.

The first example of public prayer in the town square was on public fast days. The mishnayot in Masechet Ta'anit explain that in a situation of drought, they would dedicate sets of days as times of fasting, prayer and repentance. Some of these prayer services would take place in the town square.

The second situation R' Menachem points to is the ma'amadot. There is a requirement that one who brings a sacrifice in the beit hamikdash be present while the sacrifice is brought. When it comes to communal sacrifices, sacrifices which are considered to belong to the Jewish people, such as the daily tamid, this same requirement applies. Therefore, the nevi'im established ma'amadot, which can literally be translated as 'standings,' which consisted of national representatives who would be present as the korbanot were offered. Here is how the system worked: the kohanim and levi'im were divided into 24 different groups, called mishmarot, which alternated working in the beit hamikdash for a week at a time. The rest of the nation was divided into 24 corresponding ma'amadot. Those members of the ma'amad who lived in Jerusalem would actually come to the beit hamikdash and supervise, as it were, the offering of the korbanot. The other members of the ma'amad would gather in their respective towns to fast, read the Torah and pray that the korbanot be accepted.

The problem is that we don't really have a source that indicates that any part of the ma'amad ceremony was conducted in the town square, as our gemara seems to assume. In fact, the gemara in Ta'anit seems to say that the Torah reading and praying was done in shul! Rashi here suggests that they may have had a special shul set aside in the town square for this ceremony. Others theorize that the shuls could not hold the large crowd that would gather from outlying areas, and the overflow crowd would gather in the town square. Many commentators, however, claim that in fact the word ma'amadot should not be part of the text of our gemara.

The bottom line is that R' Menachem bar Yosi holds that since prayer services were at times held in the town square, even that area possesses some kedusha and must be treated accordingly. The sages disagree and hold that since services are held there only on an inconsistent basis, the place does not have any kedusha at all.

The gemara continues

We are up to the two-dots, six lines below the end of the mishna on 26a.

(If they sold a) synagogue they (may) purchase an ark:

Said R' Shmuel bar Nachmeni said (=in the name of) R' Yonatan:  

They didn't teach (this rule) except for with regard to a rural synagogue,

but a synagogue of a city, since from the world they come to it - they cannot sell it, because it (belongs) to the public.  

בית הכנסת לוקחין תיבה:

אמר רבי שמואל בר נחמני אמר רבי יונתן:

לא שנו אלא בית הכנסת של כפרים,

אבל בית הכנסת של כרכין, כיון דמעלמא אתו ליה - לא מצו מזבני ליה, דהוה ליה דרבים.  

The gemara here revisits an issue that was taken for granted by the mishna. Our mishna discussed what one can do with the proceeds from the sale of a shul. That assumes that one is actually selling a shul. Our gemara teaches that this can only be done in limited circumstances. Shuls in rural areas may be sold, but shuls in cities may not be sold; since people from all over come to the city, and use its shuls, the shuls are considered to be the property of the larger community, and the townspeople do not have the liberty of selling it.

Why should it make a difference that people aside from the town's residents come to use the shul? Shy should it not remain under the jurisdiction of the townsfolk? Think about this one - consider why it is that a shul has kedusha to begin with.

 The commentaries suggest three possible reasons for this halacha:

1) Practically speaking, if a wider range of people regularly make use of this shul, they probably also contributed to its construction. Therefore, they too have a monetary stake in the shul.

2) Even if it was just the city's residents who contributed to the construction of the shul, it was built with a wider population in mind, and the wider populace therefore has a stake in the shul.

3) Since more people daven in this shul, it has a higher level of kedusha and may not be sold. (Notice that this implies that the sanctity of a synagogue is relative to the number of people who use it. The more Jews use a shul, the greater its kedusha.)

Clearly, there will be practical differences depending on which answer we take. Based on the first explanation, in a situation in which we know that the shul was built from the funds of the city's residents and not from contributions from outsiders, the gemara's rule should not apply. Based on the second approach too, it's a question of the facts - if the community had in mind that this is a shul that is just for them, they do have jurisdiction, even if others use the shul. According to the third approach, the kedusha applies automatically, regardless of who contributed and what they had in mind. However, it is possible that the townspeople would be able to sell the shul to a different group for use as a shul, as this would not detract from its kedusha.

It is possible to suggest that the issue depends on why it is that a shul has kedusha to begin with. If the construction of the building or its designation for the purpose of serving as a shul is a prime factor, it follows that the way in which it was built - who contributed, what was their intent - plays a central role. If the designation is less significant and it is primarily the actual use of the shul that gives the shul its kedusha, then it makes sense to say that we do not care who built it or why, but we do care who actually uses the shul.  

Back to the gemara

We are up to the 16th line of 26a:

Said Rav Ashi: this synagogue of Mata Mechasya,

even though from the world they come to it,

since they come on my account -

if I want, I can sell it.  

אמר רב אשי: האי בי כנישתא דמתא מחסיא,

אף על גב דמעלמא אתו לה,

כיון דאדעתא דידי קאתו -

אי בעינא מזבנינא לה.  

The gemara here qualifies its previous ruling that a synagogue in a city may not be sold by the residents of the city. Rav Ashi claims that since he was the main figure in his place, and people came there only in order to seek him out, he has jurisdiction regarding the shul.

Clearly, we will have to understand this qualification in light of the different possible explanations of the rule itself:

1) If the rule states that whoever contributes monetarily to the construction of the shul has a stake in it, Rav Ashi's qualification must be that all contributors to the shul do so for his sake and with the understanding that he is in charge, thereby forfeiting their own influence in the determining the future of the synagogue. Alternatively, many commentators explain that contributors never forfeit their influence, but Rav Ashi's case was unique - we can assume that everyone who contributed would agree to abide by his decisions, due to his towering wisdom and stature. This would not be a general rule, though; absent a figure like Rav Ashi, the community would only be able to appoint someone to be in charge of decision-making if no outsiders contributed monetarily to the shul's construction.

2) If we take the second approach, that the determining factor is the intention of the builders, it is easy to explain Rav Ashi's statement. If the builders had in mind that he should be in charge - he is in charge. If this is the case, Rav Ashi is not unique in regard to this law, and the community could appoint anyone to be in charge of decision-making for the shul

3) If we take the third approach, that since more people use the shul it has greater kedusha, we will have a harder time understanding Rav Ashi's position. Perhaps one can suggest that since the people come only for Rav Ashi, he is the reason for the elevated kedusha, and therefore he has special decision-making capabilities.