Daf 29a continued

  • Rav Michael Siev


Introduction to the Study of Talmud
Rav Michael Siev

Kiddushin 03

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. 

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

red pause box
 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.

Last week, we learned that women are exempt from some responsibilities that parents (or more correctly, fathers) have toward their sons. The gemara quoted a beraita that listed what these responsibilities are; circumcision (berit mila), redemption of the firstborn, teaching him Torah, finding him a wife, teaching him a trade and, possibly, teaching him to swim. The gemara commonly concerns itself with explaining the sources for various rulings, and it analyzes this list item by item in order to determine the roots of these halakhot.

We begin from the "two-dots," five lines from the end of the short lines on daf 29a.  

"To circumcise him" - from where do we (learn it)?

For it says (Bereishit 21:4), "And Avraham circumcised his son Yitzchak."

And where his father did not circumcise him, the court is obligated to circumcise him,

as it says (ibid. 17:10) "You shall circumcise for yourselves every male."

And where the court did not circumcise him - he is obligated to circumcise himself,

as it says "and an uncircumcised male who shall not circumcise the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off" (ibid., v. 14).

למולו. מנלן?

דכתיב: (בראשית כא) וימל אברהם את יצחק בנו.

והיכא דלא מהליה אבוה - מיחייבי בי דינא למימהליה,

דכתיב: (בראשית יז) המול לכם כל זכר.

והיכא דלא מהליה בי דינא - מיחייב איהו למימהל נפשיה,

דכתיב: (בראשית יז) וערל זכר אשר לא ימול את בשר ערלתו ונכרתה.  

The gemara first tackles the opening item on the list of obligations that a father has toward his son, and it analyzes the issue using a two-part strategy; first it deduces who is obligated in the mitzva of circumcision and it will later clarify who is exempt. That a father is obligated to circumcise his son is learned from Avraham. The Torah states that "Avraham circumcised his son Yitzchak when he was eight days old as God commanded him" (Bereishit 21:4). The fact that the Torah describes Avraham's circumcision of his son as a fulfillment of the divine command of circumcision indicates that fathers are indeed obligated in this mitzva.

The gemara continues by deducing that fathers are not the only ones obligated to circumcise a newborn baby. If a father does not, for whatever reason, fulfill this responsibility, the beit din (Rabbinical court) is obligated to perform the mitzva. This obligation is learned from one of the pesukim in which God originally commands Avraham in the mitzva of berit mila - "you shall circumcise for yourselves every male" (Bereishit 17:10).

Why should the court be obligated to perform a circumcision on a baby boy? Are its judges more closely connected to the baby than anyone else?!

And how do we learn this obligation from the verse quoted, which was addressed to Avraham and not to any sitting court?

Please take a minute to consider these questions before moving on!

It seems clear that the judges who compose the beit din do not have any closer a connection to the newborn baby than anyone else. It therefore seems likely that the reason for this obligation stems from the station of the court itself. In Jewish law, beit din has two functions:

1) To adjudicate disputes and issue halakhic rulings. This is the most common function of a beit din.

2) To serve as the representatives of the Jewish people as a whole. A prime example of this is with regard to the sanctification of the new moon. The Jewish calendar uses the lunar month, which is approximately 29 and a half days long. Thus, each month is either 29 or 30 days. In former times, this would be determined on a monthly basis. If witnesses would see the new moon on the night of the 30th day and testify to that effect before the central beit din, the beit din would then officially declare that day to be Rosh Chodesh (the beginning of the new month). If no witnesses would come that day, the next day would be Rosh Chodesh by default. What gives the central beit din the authority to declare a new month? Clearly, this is a task assigned to the Jewish people as a whole. The beit din represents the nation, and it is therefore empowered to declare new months. 

It is in this capacity that beit din becomes obligated in the circumcision of a baby whose father is unable or unwilling to do so. The Jewish people as a whole has an obligation to take care of this child and to supervise his entering into the covenant with God that the circumcision represents. The Beit din, as the public face of the people, becomes the address for this communal obligation. In fact, some are so convinced that it is the community as a whole that is obligated under such circumstances that they interpret the gemara's reference to beit din as a shorthand way of saying "the community," to the point of asserting that the actual beit din has no greater a responsibility to arrange the berit mila than anyone else. (For more on this topic, see Rambam, Hilkhot Mila 3:1.)

Based on this explanation, we can understand how the obligation of beit din is learned from God's command to Avraham. In his time, Avraham was clearly the leader and representative of whatever "Jewish" community existed. God's command that he supervise the circumcision of all males in his household, and that this command shall apply for all generations (Bereshit 17:10,12) indicates that it is the community as a whole that bears this responsibility.

The gemara concludes by stating that if a baby boy never receives a circumcision, he is responsible to circumcise himself when he comes of age. This is proven from the pasuk that states that any man that does not circumcise himself is liable to the punishment of karet (generally translated as spiritual excision, meaning that one is cut off - either from the rest of the Jewish people, or from his life (he dies early) or from the World to Come). It bears noting that the punishment of karet applies to one who violates any one of a number of prohibitions, but generally does not apply to one who neglects to fulfill a positive commandment. There are two exceptions to this rule: circumcision and partaking of the korban pesach (the sacrifice offered on the 14th of Nissan that is eaten at night at the Pesach "seder"). Both are mitzvot that represent a person's inclusion in the Jewish people. Circumcision, or berit mila, is a manifestation of the berit, or covenant, between God and the Jewish people. And korban pesach celebrates the creation of the Jewish people as a nation, through God's munificence, as He saved us from persecution while exacting justice on our oppressors.

Having established who is obligated to circumcise a child and the sources for these obligations, the gemara now turns its attention to those who are exempt. We are at the end of the first long line on 29a.

From where do we know that she (the mother) is not obligated?

As it says "As God commanded him" - him, and not her.

We have found immediately, for generations from where do we (learn it)?

The house of R' Yishma'el taught: every place it says "command" - it (tells us that the command must be performed with) zeal, immediately and for generations;

with zeal - as it says (Devarim 3:28), "and command Yehoshua and strengthen him and give him resolve."

Immediately and for generations - as it says (Bamidbar 15:23) "from the day God commanded and on for your generations."

איהי מנלן דלא מיחייבא?

דכתיב: (בראשית כא) כאשר צוה אותו אלהים, אותו - ולא אותה.

אשכחן מיד, לדורות מנלן?

תנא דבי ר' ישמעאל: כל מקום שנאמר צו - אינו אלא זירוז מיד ולדורות;

זירוז - דכתיב: (דברים ג) וצו את יהושע וחזקהו ואמצהו,

מיד ולדורות - דכתיב: (במדבר טו) מן היום אשר צוה ה' והלאה לדורותיכם.

The gemara questions how we know that a mother is exempt from the parental responsibility of circumcising a son. The gemara has already demonstrated that Avraham was obligated to circumcise Yitzchak, but perhaps that should be understood as a general obligation that applies to both parents equally and not as a narrow one that applies only to the father! In answer to this question, the gemara cites the latter part of the same pasuk it quoted above to prove a father is obligated: "Avraham circumcised his son Yitzchak when he was eight days old as God commanded him" (Bereshit 21:4). Based on the fact that the Torah states that God had commanded "him," namely Avraham, to circumcise Yitzchak, the gemara infers that it was only he, and not Sarah, who had been commanded. Thus, it is the father, and not the mother, who is responsible to perform this mitzva.

The gemara questions if this can serve as a source for all future generations. Perhaps Avraham was obligated to circumcise Yitzchak because it was he who had received the divine command to institute circumcision to begin with, but in future generations even women would be obligated to circumcise their children! The gemara answers by quoting the "house of R' Yishma'el," who assert that the term "tzav" ("command") always implies that one should be zealous in performing the commandment, and that the command applies both immediately and for future generations. This is proven by quoting two pesukim. In Devarim (3:28) is says: "And command (tzav) Yehoshua and strengthen him and give him resolve. . ." This shows that the term tzav requires that one have special resolve to fulfill what is being commanded. An additional pasuk states ". . . from the day God commanded (tzav) and onward for your generations" (Bamidbar 15:23). This serves as precedent for the fact that any time a pasuk says "tzav" (or a derivation thereof) it means that the command applies forever. Thus, the exclusive command to Avraham to circumcise his sons teaches that even in future generations it is only the father who is included in this obligation.

Tosafot on our gemara (s.v. oto ve-lo otah) question the necessity of the discussion that we have just analyzed, based on one of the later rulings of our mishna. Why do we need to give a source to prove that women are exempt from the mitzva of circumcising their sons? Since berit mila can only be performed during the day, it is by definition a mitzvat asei she-hazeman gerama (time-bound positive mitzva), and our mishna taught that women are exempt from that entire category of mitzvot! They answer that, indeed, our gemara's discussion is relevant only according to the opinion in the gemara (Yevamot 72a) that a berit mila can sometimes be performed at night.

As noted in our introductory shiur, "Tosafot" refers not to one specific scholar but to a whole school of scholars who lived in France and Germany over the course of the Middle Ages. As such, there are numerous versions of Tosafot commentary, authored by different scholars who belonged to that school. One such version is the Tosafot Rid, authored by Rav Yeshaya di Trani (13th century). In his commentary, he asks the same question that the authors of the Tosafot printed in our gemara ask, but gives a different answer; while it is true that the circumcision itself must be performed by day, the preparations for the circumcision, including engaging a mohel to perform the circumcision and arranging the celebratory meal, can be done at night as well. Thus, berit mila is not considered a time-bound mitzva, and women would ordinarily be obligated - if not for the source quoted in our gemara.

It is important to consider all of the ramifications of a particular statement or ruling when learning gemara, and to note why it is that different scholars - in the gemara or its commentaries - suggest different answers to the same question. In our case, Tosafot considered berit mila to be a time-bound mitzva, while Tosafot Rid did not. The question we must ask ourselves is, what stands behind this disagreement regarding the status of berit mila?  

Clearly, the ability to perform certain acts that are ancillary to a mitzva would not determine the status of the mitzva itself. Thus, it is clear that Tosafot Rid views the preparation for berit mila as part and parcel of the very mitzva itself. Why do Tosafot disagree? It is hard to imagine that Tosafot would argue that one may only hire a mohel during the day; thus, if they viewed berit mila as a time-bound mitzva, it must be that they considered the preparatory arrangements to be ancillary to the mitzva and not a part of the actual fulfillment of the mitzva.

This difference of opinion points to a fundamental disagreement regarding a father's obligation in berit mila: Tosafot apparently hold that this command refers to the actual circumcision, the removal of the foreskin, which must be done during the day. Tosafot Rid assumes that the mitzva is more general; a father is obligated to see to it that his son is circumcised. This includes all arrangements that must be made in order for the berit mila to take place but does not refer specifically to the actual circumcision.  

There may be halakhic ramifications of this disagreement. If the father is obligated to actually remove the foreskin, it may be preferable for him to perform the circumcision himself rather than hiring a mohel. It is the act of cutting, after all, that is the father's mitzva, and hiring a mohel amounts to finding someone else to perform a mitzva that the father himself is obligated to perform. Additionally, if a mohel is hired, it would be necessary for the father to appoint the mohel as his agent in carrying out his (the father's) obligation. On the other hand, if the father's mitzva is simply to arrange for a circumcision to take place, hiring a mohel is itself a fulfillment of the father's obligation. It would not be considered preferable for the father to actually perform the circumcision, nor would it be necessary for him to appoint the mohel as his agent.

This concludes the gemara's analysis of the first item on our list of a father's obligations toward his son. We will continue with the next mitzva next week.