Daf 69b

  • Rav Michael Siev

Introduction to the Study of Talmud
by Rav Michael Siev

Kiddushin 03 - 69b

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Last week, we began our study of the fourth chapter of Kiddushin with the mishna that lists different classes of lineage and their halakhic ramifications. The gemara began by questioning the way the mishna expresses itself. The mishna says that "ten types of lineage ascended from Babylonia" when Ezra led a return of Jews to the Land of Israel in order to build the Second Temple. Why use the word "ascended" instead of a more neutral word like "traveled"?  The gemara explained that the term "ascended" is used in order to hint at an additional point: that Eretz Yisrael is higher than other lands.

The gemara we begin with today continues to examine the language of the mishna. We begin on the seventh line of 69b.

What is the point of [the mishna] stating "ascended from Babylonia?"

Let it state, "ascended to the Land of Israel!"

This supports Rabbi Elazar,

For Rabbi Elazar said: "Ezra did not ascend from Babylonia until he made it like clean (well sifted) flour, and [only then he] ascended."

מאי איריא דתני עלו מבבל?

נתני עלו לארץ ישראל!

מסייע ליה לרבי אלעזר,

דאמר ר' אלעזר: לא עלה עזרא מבבל - עד שעשאה כסולת נקיה ועלה.

Having culled a hidden meaning from the word "ascended," the gemara moves to the phrase "from Babylonia." Why did the mishna state that they "ascended from Babylonia" instead of saying that they "ascended to the Land of Israel?"

Take a moment and consider the gemara's question. Why would it have made more sense to speak in terms of the destination, namely the Land of Israel, than to mention Babylonia, the point of departure?

The question of the gemara should be considered in the context of the gemara's previous discussion. The mishna carefully chose the term "ascended" in order to teach something unique about Eretz Yisrael, as mentioned above; that being the case, it would have made sense to explicitly mention the Land of Israel. In fact, the particular lesson learned is not even specific to Babylonia; it is that the Land of Israel is higher than all other lands, not just Babylonia.

Perhaps we can add the fact that the description of a journey may even allude to its purpose. If one is described as leaving Babylonia, it may seem as though the main purpose is to take leave of the place of origin. If one is described as traveling to Eretz Yisrael, the implication is that one's main purpose is to arrive at the destination. In this case, the exiles were not fleeing Babylonia; in fact, life was comfortable enough for the Jews at that time in Babylonia that most of them chose to remain rather than return to the Land of Israel. The main purpose of the trip was to arrive at Eretz Yisrael; that being the case, the mishna should have said "ascended to the Land of Israel" rather than "ascended from Babylonia." Finally, due to its special status, we might suggest that it would always be appropriate to describe a place or a trip in reference to Eretz Yisrael.

The gemara answers that the phrase "from Babylonia" was also carefully selected in order teach something. The mishna can now be used as a support for the statement, of Rabbi Elazar, who claimed that Ezra made Babylonia like "clean flour" before departing for Eretz Yisrael. Flour becomes "clean" and well sifted by sifting out the impurities. The reference here is to Ezra's cleansing of the Jewish population from the genealogical perspective, which is of course the topic of our mishna. As Rashi (s.v. mesayei'a) explains, Ezra was concerned about the fact that people of dubious lineage, who were not permitted to marry into the Jewish community, were in fact mixing with the general populace; this concern was magnified due to the fact that Ezra himself and other communal leaders were preparing to depart, and would not be able to maintain a close watch in the future to ensure the genealogical purity of the Jewish community. Therefore, before he left, Ezra cleansed the population of those who were not permitted to marry into the community. He identified and publicized those who were not permitted to marry into the broad community, and they joined Ezra on his journey to Eretz Yisrael. In order to emphasize Ezra's cleansing of the Babylonian community, the mishna specifically refers to Ezra's departure from Babylonia.  

Having mentioned Rabbi Elazar's teaching, the gemara proceeds to analyze other teachings and their compatibility with Rabbi Elazar's claim. This is not uncommon in the gemara, which commonly shifts focus from its primary topic to discuss a source that has been brought up in the context of the main discussion.

We are up to the beginning of the first of the wide lines on 69b.

It was taught: Abayei said: "The mishna states, 'they ascended' [on their own],"

and Rava said: "The mishna states, 'he (Ezra) brought them up.'"

And they argue about [the teaching of] Rabbi Elazar, for Rabbi Elazar said,

"Ezra did not ascend from Babylonia until he made it like clean flour, and ascended."

Abayei does not have (does not agree with) Rabbi Elazar, Rava has (agrees with) Rabbi Elazar.

If you want, say (an alternate explanation): the whole world (i.e., Rava and Abayei) has (agrees with) Rabbi Elazar,

and here they argue about this:

one master holds that he (Ezra) separated them and they ascended on their own,

and one master holds that he (Ezra) forced them to ascend.

איתמר, אביי אמר: עלו מאיליהם תנן,

ורבא אמר: העלום תנן.

וקמיפלגי בדרבי אלעזר, דאמר רבי אלעזר:

לא עלה עזרא מבבל עד שעשאה כסולת נקיה ועלה.

אביי לית ליה דרבי אלעזר, רבא אית ליה דרבי אלעזר.

איבעית אימא: דכולי עלמא אית להו דרבי אלעזר,

והכא בהא קא מיפלגי,

מר סבר: אפרושי אפרושינהו ומנפשייהו סליקו,

ומר סבר: בעל כרחייהו אסוקינהו.  

This discussion begins with a disagreement about whether or not Ezra forced those of tainted lineage and therefore unfit (pesulim) for intergration into the community to join him on his journey. Abayei maintains that the pesulim ascended to Eretz Yisrael of their own accord, while Rava argues that Ezra forced them to join him. At first, the gemara claims that the statement of Rabbi Elazar is at the core of this disagreement. Abayei rejects Rabbi Elazar's teaching. Ezra did not intend to purify the Babylonian community; therefore, if pesulim joined those traveling to the Land of Israel, it was clearly a move that they initiated of their own accord. Rava accepts Rabbi Elazar's view. He therefore maintains that part of Ezra's effort to purify the community in Babylonia of defects of lineage was to force those who were of tainted lineage to join him in the Land of Israel.

However, the gemara notes that an alternate understanding of the disagreement between Abayei and Rava is possible, one that would allow both sides to accept Rabbi Elazar's position. According to this approach, Abayei would claim that Ezra simply separated the pesulim from the rest of the community; having been separated, they themselves made the decision to travel to Eretz Yisrael, perhaps in order to seek a community that would be more open to integration. Rava argues that Ezra's purification of the Babylonian community included forcing the pesulim to join him, so that there would not be any possibility of their full integration into the Babylonian Jewish community.

We continue on in the Gemara - we are up to the end of the fifth long line on 69b.

It is well according to the one who says "they ascended" [of their own accord];

that is what Rav Yehuda said in the name of Shemuel:

"All lands are as dough to the Land of Israel, and the Land of Israel is as dough to Babylonia;"

but according to the one who says he [Ezra] forced them to ascend, they knew them!

Granted that they knew them in that generation; in other (later) generations they did not know.

בשלמא למאן דאמר עלו,

היינו דאמר רב יהודה אמר שמואל:

כל ארצות עיסה לארץ ישראל, וארץ ישראל עיסה לבבל;

אלא למ"ד העלום, מידע ידעינהו!

נהי דידעי לההוא דרא, לדרא אחריני לא ידעי.

The gemara here extends its discussion laterally yet again. Previously, the gemara quoted Rabbi Elazar's opinion in order to understand our mishna and then proceeded to discuss his opinion in its own right; as regard to how it relates to the later disagreement between Abayei and Rava. Now, the gemara shifts focus to the disagreement between Abayei and Rava and analyzes the compatibility of each side in light of other teachings. 

The quote under consideration is what Rav Yehuda taught in the name of Shemuel, that all lands are considered like "dough" compared to the Land of Israel, while the Land of Israel is as "dough" compared to Babylonia. The gemara earlier used the imagery of fine, sifted flour to describe the Babylonian Jewish community after Ezra sifted out those of tainted lineage. Conversely, the gemara here uses dough to describe a community that has not been purified in this way; just as dough is a mixture of various different ingredients, so the community is a mixture of those with pure and tainted lineage. Shemuel thus asserts that the community in Eretz Yisrael had many fewer problems of lineage than other places; however, the Babylonian community was even more pure in regard to lineage than the community in Eretz Yisrael.

The gemara now analyzes this statement in light of the previously quoted disagreement (machloket) between Abayei and Rava: If we accept Abayei's claim that the pesulim Ezra separated from the community ascended to Eretz Yisrael of their own accord, we can understand that the influx of pesulim negatively impacted upon the genealogical purity of the Israeli community. However, if Ezra forced the pesulim to join him in his journey to Eretz Yisrael, as Rava maintains, it is hard to understand Shemuel's statement; the pesulim were clearly recognized by Ezra and the leaders of the community, so why should they have been able to mix with the general population, thus diluting their genealogical purity?

The gemara responds that even Rava can accept Shemuel's statement: it is true that Ezra and other communal leaders recognized the pesulim and would not let them marry illegally into the broad community. However, this level of genealogical supervision was not maintained in future generations. Therefore, in later generations, the Israeli community did not have the same level of geneolical purity as the Babylonian community.

We continue in the gemara; we are now on the eighth wide line of 69b.

It is well according to the one who says "they ascended;"

that is is what is stated: "And I gathered them to the river that flows to Achava

and we camped there for three days,

and I examined the people and the kohanim, and I did not find there sons of Levi."

But according to the one who says he [Ezra] forced them to ascend, they were attentive!

Granted that they were attentive to those who were unfit; they were not careful about those who were fit.

בשלמא למאן דאמר עלו;

היינו דכתיב: ואקבצם אל הנהר הבא על אחוה

ונחנה שם ימים שלשה

ואבינה בעם ובכהנים ומבני לוי לא מצאתי שם.

אלא למאן דאמר העלום, הא מיזהר זהירי!

נהי דאיזהור בפסולים, בכשירים לא איזדהור.

The gemara again analyzes the dispute between Abayei and Rava in light of an external source. The pasuk in Ezra (8:15) describes how, in the course of the journey to Eretz Yisrael, Ezra examined the people and found that there were no Levites who would be able to perform the special Levitical duties in the beit ha-mikdash (Temple) that Ezra intended to rebuild. Ezra was thus forced to send messengers to recruit Levites to join the travelers. On the basis of this verse, the gemara questions the position of Rava: if Ezra forced the pesulim to accompany him, he apparently was paying close attention to the lineage of those joining him on the journey; why, then, should it have been a surprise to Ezra that there were no acceptable Levites amongst the people? The gemara answers that Ezra had paid careful attention to the pesulim, those of tainted lineage; it was they that he forced to travel so that they not remain in Babylonia. However, he had not previously examined carefully the lineage of those who had untainted lineage.

To sum up, the gemara questioned the wording of the mishna and deduced that it agrees with the teaching of Rabbi Elazar. The gemara then discussed Rabbi Elazar's statement in light of a dispute between Abayei and Rava about whether the pesulim joined Ezra of their own accord or were forced into it. The gemara then moved on to essentially challenge Rava's view that they were forced to join, based on a teaching of Shemuel and a pasuk in the Book of Ezra; both challenges were answered. Along the way, we have been exposed to Shemuel's view that the Babylonian Jewish community was genealogically more pure than the Israeli community, a claim that will be addressed further as we study this chapter. We have also seen good examples of how the gemara sometimes extends its discussion laterally to discuss head-on statements that have been quoted in the course of a different discussion.