• Rav Michael Siev


Introduction to the Study of Talmud
by Rav Michael Siev

Megilla 29: 28b

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Last week, we began to discuss the laws of appropriate behavior in a synagogue or beit medrash; today we will delve further into that area. We begin from the colon about a third of the way down on 28b:

And we do not adorn in them:

Rava said: Sages and their students are permitted.

For R' Yehoshua ben Levi said: What is the bei rabanan (a name for the study hall)? - the house of the rabbis.

ואין ניאותין בהן:

אמר רבא: חכמים ותלמידיהם מותרין,

דאמר רבי יהושע בן לוי: מאי בי רבנן - ביתא דרבנן.    

This piece of gemara opens with a quote from the b'raita quoted previously (28a-b). [This is a general point: when the gemara introduces a discussion with a short phrase or sentence surrounded by sets of colons, the phrase is a quote from a mishna or b'raita cited earlier.] Rava qualifies the b'raita's ruling that one may not adorn oneself in a sanctified place. Torah scholars and their students are permitted to do so. He brings support for this idea from a statement of another scholar. R' Yehoshua ben Levi noted that the beit medrash ("house of study") was commonly called "bei rabanan," which literally means "house of the Rabbis." Just as one takes care of one's personal needs in one's home, a Torah scholar may attend to his personal needs in the beit medrash.

This dispensation requires some analysis. Generally, talmidei chachamim are held to the very same halachic standards that others must live up to - why here should they have an extra leniency? If anything, one might have assumed the opposite - that the sages and their students, who properly understand the significance of the sanctity of a shul or beit medrash, should set an example to everyone else by adhering to an even more stringent code of conduct than that required by law!

We will present here two basic approaches to this issue:

1) Rashba explains that the term "house of the rabbis" is more than a reflection of the fact that rabbis may do certain things in a study-hall; it defines the very function of the beit medrash. A beit medrash is to be considered a place set aside not just for the act of Torah study, but for Torah-studyers; namely, "sages and their students." Since these people spend almost all of their time engrossed in the study of Torah, the batei medrash where this study takes place are considered their homes in all respects. It is therefore acceptable for them to care for their personal needs, including eating, drinking and "adorning," just as one would in one's house.

Clearly, this definition is applicable only to the beit medrash. The shul, on the other hand, is a place set aside for prayer and prayer only, and Rava's dispensation would not apply. There are those who object to this distinction, based on the fact that the gemara's presentation of Rava's statement makes it sound as though it applies to shuls as well - his statement is introduced with a quote from a b'raita mentioned earlier in the gemara which explicitly discusses shuls. The juxtaposition of this quote and Rava's statement implies that his ruling applies to shuls. (It is true that R' Yehoshua ben Levi's remark refers specifically to batei medrash, but this can be understood as including even batei medrash in Rava's lenient ruling, despite the fact that the sanctity of a beit medrash exceeds that of a shul.Rashba must understand that the gemara picked up on the general theme of decorum in holy places discussed in the b'raita (in the context of a shul), and brought Rava's statement that also deals with this issue; albeit in regard to a beit medrash rather than a shul.

2) Magen Avraham asserts that there is no inherent difference between a shul and a beit medrash, and there is no special dispensation for Torah scholars as opposed to other people. The real key factor is not the person of a Torah scholar, but the activity of Torah study. We do not wish to interrupt Torah study, and we therefore make certain allowances even in holy places. Rather than requiring the diligent student to leave his place of learning in order to grab a bite to eat or a drink or the like, we allow him to do so where he is learning, so that he not interrupt his studies.

This explanation makes it easy to understand why this dispensation should exist, and it has the benefit of including both shuls and batei medrash, as implied by the gemara. However, it may be slightly more difficult to understand two other phrases in the gemara according to this explanation. Firstly, when Rava says that "sages and their students" are permitted to engage in certain activities, he doesn't really mean a specific class of people, but rather anyone who is engaging in Torah study, which is the activity most often performed by "sages and their students." In addition, when Rava mentions R' Yehoshua ben Levi's declaration that a beit medrash is a "house of the rabbis," he doesn't really mean that it is quite like a house; he permits only activities that will allow one to continue learning, not any (or even most) activities one does in one's house.

Back to the gemara

We pick up with the next set of two-dots, 9 lines from the end of the short lines on 28b.

And we do not enter them in the sun because of (=to protect from) the sun and in the rain because of the rain:

Like the case of Ravina and Rav Ada bar Matna

(who) were standing and asking a question of Rava.

A downpour of rain came.

They ascended to the synagogue. 

They said: That we are ascending to the synagogue - it is not because of the rain,

but rather because teachings require clarity like a day of north wind.

ואין נכנסין בהן בחמה מפני החמה ובגשמים מפני הגשמים:

כי הא דרבינא ורב אדא בר מתנה

הוו קיימי ושאלי שאילתא מרבא.

אתא זילחא דמיטרא.

עיילי לבי כנישתא.

אמרי: האי דעיילינן לבי כנישתא - לאו משום מיטרא,

אלא משום דשמעתא בעא צילותא כיומא דאסתנא.

The gemara here quotes another line from the b'raita quoted previously in the gemara, that one cannot use a shul as a shelter, and it then tells a story which illustrates this point. In the story, three sages were discussing a matter of halacha, and entered a shul in order to avoid a downpour of rain. They emphasized that they did not enter the shul merely to shield themselves from discomfort, but rather because they were discussing Torah, and such discussions require clarity of mind - like a day of north wind, which brings clear weather. Thus, their entering the synagogue was not to find shelter from the rain, but in order to better engage in the study of Torah, an activity which is certainly permitted in a shul.

Consider this story carefully, and think back to what we have already learned in the gemara this week and last week - is there any way in which this story may be at odds with what we have learned so far? Can you think of any solutions to this problem?

This story is a nice example of not using a shul as a shelter, but it seems that the sages would have been justified in doing so even without their excuse, for we have already learned that "sages and their students" may benefit from holy places. Furthermore, we learned last week that shuls in Babylonia were constructed on the condition that they be permitted even for mundane use!

Let's take these issues one by one.

1) With regard to the issue of "sages and their students," the question should not bother us too much if we recall the interpretations of that ruling that we mentioned earlier - but we do see here an additional impetus for those explanations. Rashba's distinction between a shul and a beit medrash allows him to answer our question easily; the story was that the three sages entered a shul. Had their entering been to find shelter rather than to learn Torah, it would have been forbidden. Had they entered a beit medrash, it would have been unnecessary for them to make excuses. Magen Avraham can also answer our question - in his view, even scholars in a beit medrash may not engage in mundane activities unless it will help them continue their studies unabated.

There are other explanations as well. The one we have not yet mentioned which has the biggest practical impact is that of Rambam, who explains that the extra leniency granted to "sages and their students" applies only in situations of significant need, and getting a bit wet from the rain does not quality as significant need. This view is quoted in Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 151:1). Rama, however, quotes the view that distinguishes between a beit medrash and a shul, and rules that in a beit medrash, a scholar may eat and drink even when there is no unusually pressing need to do so. Practically, many authorities rule that one who is learning may drink or snack in a beit medrash in order to avoid interrupting his learning, and one who spends most his time studying there may attend to his needs even in a more formal fashion.

2) Regarding the issue of shuls in Babylonia being built conditionally, we mentioned last week the opinion of Tosafot that the leniency only applies once the building has fallen out of use, but while it is still used as a shul all prohibitions apply there just as they do anywhere else. If so, our gemara is understandable, as the shul they entered was one that was still in use. Other commentators claim that the condition is all-encompassing even while the shul is in use, and the sages in our gemara were simply more stringent than they needed to be. Yet other commentators take a middle approach and argue that the condition is relevant while the shul is still standing, but it allows only certain, limited activities.

Moving on in the gemara

Rav Acha son of Rava said to Rav Ashi:

If one needs to call someone from the synagogue, what (should he do)?

He said to him: If he is a young rabbinical student, he should say a law;

if he is a tanna, he should say a mishna;

if he is a reader, he should recite a verse;

and if not, he should say to a child, "tell me your verse,"

or he should tarry a little and get up.

א"ל (=אמר ליה) רב אחא בריה דרבא לרב אשי:

אי אצטריך ליה לאיניש למיקרי גברא מבי כנישתא מאי?

א"ל: אי צורבא מרבנן הוא לימא הלכתא

ואי תנא הוא לימא מתני'

ואי קרא הוא לימא פסוקא

ואי לא, לימא ליה לינוקא אימא לי פסוקיך

א"נ (=אי נמי) נישהי פורתא וניקום.

We have already learned that one may not use a shul for any purpose other than for prayer or Torah study (with the possible exception of shuls that have been constructed conditionally). Based on this, Rav Acha poses a question; what should one do if he needs to enter a shul in order to get someone who is inside? He must enter the shul in order to accomplish this goal, but it appears that entering only for this purpose should be forbidden! Rav Ashi responds that in such a case, he may enter the shul if he takes the opportunity to learn a bit of Torah. He may recite a quick halacha, if he is able to do so. If he is unable, but is a "tanna," he may recite a mishna. In those times, mishnayot were remembered orally; a tanna in our context is one who can orally recite mishnayot. If the person is unable to do even that, but he is a "reader," meaning he knows how to read Scripture, he may recite a pasuk. If he is unable even to do that, he may ask a child studying in the shul to share with him the pasuk that the child is learning. If even this is not possible, he may tarry a bit before leaving the shul; even tarrying in a shul is considered a mitzvah, and that mitzvah is enough to allow the person to enter the shul and call the person he needs to call.

The issues we have discussed recently all center around the issue of the sanctity of a shul or beit medrash. The gemara later (29a) notes that due to their holiness, these places are considered mikdash m'at, minor versions of the beit hamikdash itself, which was the ultimate example of holiness concentrated in a particular place. We can hope that if we commit ourselves to fully respecting and being conscious of God's presence in our mini batei mikdash, we will merit to do so in the real beit hamikdash - speedily in our days. 

This concludes our series of shiurim for this academic year - have an enjoyable summer and we look forward to seeing you in the fall!