Introduction to the Study of Talmud
by Rav Michael Siev
Sukka 17 - Daf 28b
A scan of the classic printed daf can be found at:
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.
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It is highly recommended that you follow those instructions. I am working on a way to have your computer melt if you don't, but as of yet, the technical details are still beyond me.
Within the quoted texts, my explanations and additions are also noted in red.
The gemara with which we begin our shiur this week is a direct continuation of the sugya we began at the end of our shiur two weeks ago and continued last week. The mishna on 28a taught that women, slaves and children are not obligated in the mitzva of sukka. The mishna then seemingly contradicted itself and said that children (i.e., boys) who have reached the age of chinukh are in fact obligated in sukka. Finally, the mishna related a story in which Shammai the Elder went to great measures to assure that even his infant grandson (who certainly had not reached the age of chinukh!) would sleep in a valid sukka. The gemara will now address these apparent inconsistencies.
The starting point for our discussion is the baraita
that the gemara
quoted at the beginning of its analysis of the mishna.
That baraita explained that when the Torah
says, "all the natives of
The master said: "all" - to include the minors.
But we learned in the mishna: women and slaves and children are exempt from sukka!
No difficulty: here - a minor who has reached chinukh; here - a minor who has not reached chinukh.
A minor who has reached chinukh is (obligated) from the rabbis!
From the rabbis, and the verse is merely a Scriptural support.
אמר מר: כל - לרבות את הקטנים.
והתנן: נשים ועבדים וקטנים פטורין מן הסוכה!
לא קשיא: כאן - בקטן שהגיע לחינוך, כאן - בקטן שלא הגיע לחינוך.
קטן שהגיע לחינוך מדרבנן הוא!
מדרבנן, וקרא אסמכתא בעלמא הוא.
As previously mentioned, the gemara questions the baraita's ruling that minors are obligated in the mitzva of sukka - after all, we learned in the mishna that children are exempt! The gemara answers that there are two types of minors. Very young children are not obligated to perform any mitzvot at all, including sukka. However, children who have already reached the age in which they are ready to be trained to fulfill mitzvot (i.e., they have reached the age of chinukh) are obligated in the mitzva of sukka.
The gemara continues to challenge the baraita: Even a child who has reached the age of chinukh is not Biblically obligated to perform mitzvot; the obligation is of rabbinic origin. How, then, can the baraita learn this obligation from a pasuk in the Torah?
The gemara concedes this point and concludes that the pasuk does not really require children to fulfill the mitzva of sukka. Their obligation is in fact of rabbinic origin. When the baraita claims that the pasuk comes to include minors, it is merely mustering "Scriptural support" for a rabbinic enactment.
What exactly is this concept of a "Scriptural support" (asmakhta)? Is our derasha (that children are obligated in sukka) the true meaning of the verse or not?
Asmakhta'ot appear frequently in the Talmud. Often, like in our gemara, the context is a rabbinic ordinance which the gemara attaches to a pasuk. At times, there is a law that has the status of a de-oraita (Biblical law) but is not explicitly mentioned in the Torah (such as a halakha le-Moshe mi-sinai, a law God taught Moshe orally at Sinai) that is appended to a pasuk. In both instances, the pasuk does not really mean to introduce the obligation under discussion. In light of this fact, the commentators suggest different reasons why the gemara finds it necessary bring Scriptural supports.
Rambam claims that the rabbis attached some of these laws to pesukim simply in order to make it easier to remember them. When one reads the Torah, one recalls the "derashot" that pertain to the pesukim one is reading. In reality, though, the asmakhta is not the true meaning or intent of the pasuk.
Ritva (R. Yom Tov ben Avraham, late 13th - early 14th century Spanish scholar) strongly criticizes this view and asserts that even in cases such as ours, the pasuk really does refer to the halakha that is attributed to it. However, the pasuk does not make the mitzva obligatory. Instead, the Torah informs us that this is something worthwhile, and leaves it to the Sages to decide whether to make it a formal requirement. Thus, the mitzva has the status of a mitzva de-rabanan despite the fact it is the true meaning of the pasuk.
It is important to note that when we speak of an "obligation" with regard to children, there is considerable debate as to the meaning of the term. Some authorities explain that the term means what it means everywhere else. A child is thus rabbinically obligated to perform mitzvot, due to the requirement of chinukh. However, many commentators argue that the child himself is not obligated to perform mitzvot at all. Rather, the mitzva of chinukh obligates his parents to assure that the child keeps mitzvot, in order to train him for the future.
One more note regarding our gemara: The gemara frames its discussion around an apparent contradiction between the mishna, which rules that minors are exempt from sukka, and the baraita, which learns from a pasuk that they are obligated. The discussion could be equally applied to the same apparent contradiction within the mishna itself, as we noted above. Presumably, the gemara chooses to address the baraita rather than the second part of the mishna because of the added difficulty within the baraita due to the fact that it derives the obligation of minors from a pasuk, as opposed to the mishna which just states the rule without providing a source. The gemara thus chooses to tackle the more difficult problem.
Having established that boys of chinukh age are obligated in sukka, the gemara now defines what this means. Our mishna taught that a child who does not need his mother is obligated in sukka. Based on the gemara we just learned, this age seems to be identical to the age at which one is obligated in chinukh. We are up to the colon in the gemara a bit less than halfway down the page on 28b.
A minor who does not need his mother, etc.:
What is a minor who does not need his mother?
The house of R. Yannai said: anyone who defecates and his mother does not wipe him.
R. Shimon ben Lakish says: anyone who wakes from his sleep and does not call, "Mother!"
"Mother" older (children) also call!
Rather, anyone who wakes and does not call, "Mother, mother!"
קטן שאינו צריך לאמו כו':
היכי דמי קטן שאינו צריך לאמו?
אמרי דבי רבי ינאי: כל שנפנה ואין אמו מקנחתו.
רבי (שמעון) [מסורת הש"ס: שמעון בן לקיש] אומר: כל שנעור משנתו ואינו קורא אמא.
[אמא] גדולים נמי קרו!
אלא (אימא), כל שנעור ואינו קורא אמא אמא.
The gemara begins with a quote from the mishna, which rules that a child that does not need his mother is obligated in sukka. What is the definition of a child who does not need his mother? R. Yannai explained that a child who does not need help in the bathroom is considered independent of his mother for our purposes. R. Shimon ben Lakish argues that a child who wakes up and does not call for his mother is considered independent. The gemara questions this ruling. After all, even older children often call for their mothers. Does R. Shimon ben Lakish mean to obligate only children who never call for their mothers at all? The gemara explains that Resh Lakish (the common Talmudic nickname for R. Shimon ben Lakish) really referred to one who does not call, "Mother, mother!" Such a child is obligated, though he may still call for his mother.
What is the difference between calling "mother!" and calling "mother, mother!"? Rashi (s.v. ela kol) explains:
Rather anyone who wakes and does not call, "mother, mother!" - he is not tied to her, to call and repeat until she comes to him, but he calls and is silent - he does not need his mother.
When the gemara mentions a child who calls, "mother, mother!" it means that he continuously calls her until she comes. A child who only calls once is considered by Resh Lakish a child who does not need his mother.
In the standard printings of the gemara, you will note that there are a few abnormalities in the text of the gemara we just learned. The first is with regard to the identity of the second sage quoted in our gemara. The printed text reads "Rabbi (Shimon*) etc." The asterisk refers us to the margin of the page, which notes that the correct reading should be "Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish." (I have included that note in red on the Hebrew side of the table above. The note is from the Mesorat Ha-shas, which we have mentioned before; it is a compilation of notes that refer the reader to parallel gemarot, or that occasionally make textual emendations.) This reading is more likely. R. Shimon was a tanna. The first opinion quoted in the gemara is that of R. Yannai, who was an amora. We generally do not have disagreements between tanna'im and amora'im. R. Shimon ben Lakish was an amora, and therefore fits better into the context of this gemara.
The other two items of note with regard to the text of the gemara are that there is a word in brackets and, a line later, a word in parentheses. The general rule of thumb for those learning gemara is to read words that are in brackets while leaving out words that are in parentheses.
Why is the age of chinukh with regard to sukka the age at which a child no longer needs his mother? (Relate this to what we already know about the mitzva of sukka!)
Tosafot on our sugya
Alternatively, one can explain that the age here is based on a technicality. Since women are not obligated in sukka, the child's mother has every right to dwell in her house rather than in the sukka. A child who is totally dependent on his mother cannot be expected to leave her in order to fulfill the mitzva of sukka, despite the fact that he is physically able to eat in the sukka, which is a fulfillment of the mitzva.
On a practical note, poskim generally assume that the age at which a child "no longer needs his mother" is about 5 or 6. Once a boy reaches that age he should be taught to fulfill the mitzva of sukka, and one can certainly not tell him to eat (an akhilat keva) outside of the sukka. As noted, though, the exact point at which a child reaches this stage is not based upon an objective age but rather the child's level of maturity and independence.
Let's go on to the final stage of our gemara (at the colon a little more than halfway down the page on 28b):
There was an incident and (Shammai's) daughter-in-law gave birth, etc.:
An incident to contradict?!
It is missing, and this is (what it should) teach:
And Shammai was stringent, and there was also an incident
and the daughter-in-law of Shammai the Elder gave birth, and he broke through the plaster and put sekhakh over the bed for the sake of the child.
מעשה וילדה כלתו כו'.
חסורי מחסרא והכי קתני:
ושמאי מחמיר, ומעשה נמי
וילדה כלתו של שמאי הזקן ופחת את המעזיבה וסיכך על המטה בשביל הקטן.
Our mishna rules that children who have not yet reached the age of chinukh are certainly not obligated in the mitzva of sukka. Immediately afterwards, the gemara tells the story of Shammai the Elder, who broke through the ceiling in order to place sekakh above his daughter-in-law's bed and thus insure that his newborn grandson would be in a kosher sukka. The obvious question is that this ruling seems to contradict the previously stated rule of the mishna. The gemara answers that there is indeed a link missing from the mishna. The complete intent of the mishna is to point out that Shammai was stringent and therefore obligated even young children in the mitzva of sukka. (Some commentators explain that even Shammai did not obligate newborns in sukka. In their view, Shammai's daughter-in-law must have had another son who was older but still dependent on his mother. Shammai considered him to be obligated in sukka, and since his daughter-in-law was bedridden and this older son stayed with her, he made the necessary adjustments to the structure of the house.)
We continue next week with a new mishna - have a wonderful rest of the week!