The Dispute Between Rabbi Eliezer and the Sages Regarding Eating in the Sukka on the First Night of Sukkot and all Seven Days of the Festival

  • Rav Shmuel Shimoni
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

 

Gemara Sukka
Yeshivat Har Etzion


SHIUR #04: THE DISPUTE BETWEEN RABBI ELIEZER AND THE SAGES REGARDING EATING IN THE SUKKA ON THE FIRST NIGHT OF SUKKOT AND ALL SEVEN DAYS OF THE FESTIVAL

 

Rav Shmuel Shimoni

 

 

            We shall deal today with the one of the most fundamental issues regarding the mitzva of dwelling in a sukka.  In previous shiurim we noted on several occasions that the mitzva is to dwell in the sukka, eating and sleeping being nothing more than two practical expressions of dwelling.  Today, that understanding will have to stand up to careful scrutiny, especially with respect to the first night of Sukkot.  Inasmuch as the issue is so extensive and fundamental for the understanding of the mitzva of dwelling in a sukka, we shall devote one shiur to the position of Rabbi Eliezer and a separate shiur to the position of the Sages.

 

THE POSITION OF RABBI ELIEZER

 

Rabbi Eliezer says: A person is obligated to eat fourteen meals in the sukka, one during the day and one at night.  And the Sages say: There is no defined number, except for the first night of the festival… What is Rabbi Eliezer's reasoning? 'You shall dwell' – similar to [normal] residence.  Just as residence [in the house] – one [meal] during the day and one at night, so too in the sukka – one [meal] during the day and one at night.  And the Sages: Like residence [in the house], just as residence [in the house] - if he wishes, he eats, and if he wishes, he does not eat, so too in the sukka – if he wishes, he eats, and if he wishes, he does not eat.  (Sukka 27a)

 

            The Sages present the position that is familiar to us, that owing to the mitzva of dwelling in a sukka, every regular meal (akhilat keva) must be eaten in the sukka, but there is no definite number of such meals.  It all depends on the number of meals that a person eats; it can be more than fourteen or less than fourteen.  Rabbi Eliezer disagrees, understanding that the obligation of "dwelling similar to [normal] residence" implies an obligation to eat in the sukka one meal every day and another meal every night.  It is possible that he agrees about the "fulfillable" mitzva (mitzva kiyumit) the undefined obligation – but that he adds to it the obligatory mitzva of one meal every day and every night.  But inasmuch as Rabbi Eliezer's position is contrasted with the view that "there is no defined number," it may be possible to suggest that his position involves also a leniency, namely, that the obligation exhausts itself with the eating of one meal during the day and another meal at night, no more and no less.  I raise this second possibility with reservations, but if it is correct, then surely we are dealing with an understanding of the mitzva that is very different from that with which we are familiar: The obligation is not to turn the sukka into a house, but rather to perform the normal domestic rituals in the sukka – one meal during the day and another at night.  [Indeed, Rabbi Eliezer derives his law from the familiar derasha: "Dwelling similar to [normal] residence," but the meaning is totally different than that with which we are familiar.  And furthermore, the Yerushalmi that is cited by Tosafot, s.v. teshvu, derives Rabbi Eliezer's position from a totally different source.] In our introductory shiur, we mentioned this position of Rabbi Eliezer, and we noted that it implies that the main expression of a house is eating, and not sleeping.

 

            A certain softening of Rabbi Eliezer's position is found in the Meiri:

 

Rabbi Eliezer says: A person is obligated to eat fourteen meals in the sukka, one during the day and one at night… You might say [that there are] fifteen meals together with the third Shabbat meal.  It is possible that he counts [only] those meals stemming from ordinary residence, but this stems from Shabbat.  And some explain that that meal substitutes for the meal of that night, for since he is full, he does not eat again.  And often a person eats at that time his nighttime meal while it is still day.

 

According to the second explanation, even according to Rabbi Eliezer the obligation is based on ordinary residence in one's house, and it is not necessarily obligatory to engage in an act of eating every day and every night.

 

THE LAW OF COMPENSATION (TASHLUMIN) ACCORDING TO RABBI ELIEZER AND THE NATURE OF THE OBLIGATION TO EAT FOURTEEN MEALS IN LIGHT OF THAT LAW

 

Let us now examine Rabbi Eliezer's second law in the Mishna and the Gemara's discussion thereof:

 

And furthermore Rabbi Eliezer said: One who did not eat on the first night of the festival, should make it up on the last night of the festival.  And the Sages say: There is no compensation, and about this it was said: "That which is crooked cannot be made straight; and that which is wanting cannot be numbered" (Kohelet 1:15)… - But surely Rabbi Eliezer said: A person is obligated to eat fourteen meals in the sukka, one during the day and one at night! - Bira said in the name of Rav Ami: Rabbi Eliezer retracted that.

 

What is the Gemara's objection raised against Rabbi Eliezer? The Rishonim disagree on the matter.  The Ritva writes:

 

We raise an objection against this from the first clause which states: Rabbi Eliezer said: A person is obligated to eat fourteen meals in the sukka.  This being the case, why does Rabbi Eliezer limit compensation to one who did not eat [in the sukka] on the first night of the festival, for surely one is obligated all seven days to eat a meal, just as on the first night.  There are even readings which state explicitly: Why mention [only] the first night of the festival? Surely Rabbi Eliezer said: A person is obligated to eat fourteen meals, etc. This proves as we have explained.

 

            According to the Ritva, the objection is simple: Rabbi Eliezer's second law implies that there is only one meal which, if missed, must be made up.  This contradicts Rabbi Eliezer's first law that a person is obligated to eat fourteen meals in the sukka.

 

            Rashi explained the objection in a different manner:

 

But surely Rabbi Eliezer said: A person is obligated to eat fourteen meals in the sukka.  And since he does not sit in the sukka on the last day, and if he sat there for the sake of the mitzva he violates the prohibition of bal tosif (adding to a mitzva) – what compensation for the sukka is there here?

 

            Rashi explains that the objection is that one cannot compensate for the obligation to eat a meal in the sukka with a meal eaten on Shemini Atzeret, which cannot be eaten in the Sukka.  [Rashi implies that were it possible to eat in the sukka on the night of Shemini Atzeret, that meal could serve as compensation for the missed sukka meal, but this involves a violation of the prohibition of bal tosif.]

 

            Of course, Rashi's explanation is difficult, for what difference does it make whether the obligation is to eat fourteen meals or only one meal? The Maharshal in Chokhmat Shelomo (ad loc.) proposes the following explanation: When Rabbi Eliezer maintained that there is an obligation to eat fourteen meals in the sukka, he learned that from "dwelling similar to [normal] residence," and all the meals were part of the fulfillment of the mitzva of sukka, and therefore the objection was raised that there can be no compensation without sitting in the sukka.  However, after he retracted that position and accepted the view that one meal on the first night of Sukkot suffices, we are talking about an obligation of eating on the night of Yom Tov, and nothing more, i.e., that on the Yom Tov of Sukkot there is a special obligation to eat bread on the first night, similar to Pesach.  This obligation is not connected in its essence to the mitzva of Sukka, but because it is Sukkot, there is an obligation to eat the meal in a sukka.  Therefore, when that meal is made up on Shemini Atzeret, it can be done even outside the sukka.  Needless to say this understanding is exceedingly novel as to the nature of the obligation of eating on the first night of Sukkot, that it is not at all connected to the mitzva of sukka.

 

            The Maharsha has reservations about the Maharshal's understanding, but it seems to me that the explanation that he himself proposes is not really so different.  According to the Maharsha, as opposed to the fourteen meals about which there is no room to talk about making up one of them outside the sukka, when we only require a single meal on the first night of the festival, we can learn from the law of compensation for sacrifices, as Rashi notes that it is possible to compensate for the first day's sacrifice on the last day of the festival.  While the Maharsha supports his position with the comparison to sacrifices, in the end he too agrees that if the obligation is restricted to the first night, it is not inseparably attached to the sukka.

 

Rashi assumes that the make-up meal cannot be eaten in the sukka.  This itself is based on two assumptions:

 

1)         The meal is made up on the night of Shemini Atzeret.

2)         On the night of Shemini Atzeret, one may not have in mind to fulfill the mitzva of sitting in a sukka, because that would involve a violation of the prohibition of bal tosif.

 

Other Rishonim (ad loc.) questioned both of these assumptions:

 

1)         The Ri of Lunel (who understood the Gemara's objection as did the Ritva) proposed a novel explanation regarding the "last night of the festival" on which the meal may be made up according to Rabbi Eliezer:

 

"The last night of the festival" on which Rabbi Eliezer said he can make it up means the seventh day, and not the eighth day, for then he is already exempt from sukka.

 

2)         The Ritva (s.v. ve-ha defarkhinan) and Tosafot Rid (s.v. ve-od) suggest the exceedingly novel understanding, that sitting in the sukka on the night of Shemini Atzeret has religious meaning, and that the meal must be made up in the sukka.  As we noted earlier, this novelty is fundamentally implied also by Rashi, but according to Rashi this is impossible because of bal tosif.  According to the Rid, the prohibition of bal tosif does not constitute an obstacle:

 

And furthermore Rabbi Eliezer said: One who did not eat on the first night of the festival, should make it up on the last night of the festival.  This means: He makes it up and eats in the sukka.  And there is no [violation of] bal tosif, because since he has in mind to make up something that was missing on the seven days of Sukkot, he does not intend to add [anything].  Had he eaten all fourteen meals in the sukka, and then he would also eat in the sukka on the eighth night, he would certainly [violate] bal tosif.  And the teacher [= Rashi] explained that if he makes up what was missing in the sukka there is bal tosif, but this does not seem right to me.

 

            The Tosafot (s.v. ve-ha, chazar) agree with Rashi that the Gemara's objection stems from the fact that the compensation cannot be performed in the sukka, but they disagree about the alternative.  According to the Tosafot, the possibility of compensation on the night of Shemini Atzeret is indeed difficult even according to the Sages who suffice with eating on the first night, but according to the Sages such a possibility does not exist.  The objection is raised against Rabbi Eliezer, who on the one hand requires meals in the sukka, but on the other hand allows for compensation outside the sukka.  The Gemara's answer, according to the Tosafot, is not that Rabbi Eliezer retracted what he said regarding the need for fourteen meals, but only what he said regarding the need to eat them in the sukka.  He can, therefore, put forward the novel position that this obligation can be made up on the night of Shemini Atzeret:

 

Rabbi Eliezer retracted that which he had required a sukka, but he still requires fourteen meals.

 

            The novelty in the Tosafot's position is similar to that of the Maharshal, namely, that there is a special obligation of meals on Sukkot, and in this context, on all seven days of the festival, and that this obligation is not at all connected to the mitzva of sukka.  It is only because we are dealing with the holiday of Sukkot that one is forced to fulfill this obligation in the sukka (as opposed to the suggestion raised at the beginning of this shiur regarding the position of Rabbi Eliezer).  But once the holiday has passed, this obligation can be made up outside the sukka.

 

            In the continuation, the Tosafot argue that according to the Yerushalmi, Rabbi Eliezer did not retract anything:

 

In the Yerushalmi, they answer: Rav Acha said: It is regarded for the mitzva.  That is to say, lekhatchila one must eat in the sukka, but if he did not eat, he can make it up on the eighth day without a sukka.

 

            Here too expression is given to the novel understanding that there is a special obligation of meals on the holiday of Sukkot, that is not connected in its essence to the mitzva of dwelling in a sukka.  We may summarize by saying that this understanding of the position of Rabbi Eliezer, whether with respect to the fourteen meals or with respect to the meal eaten on the first night, is found in Rashi (especially according to the Maharshal), the Tosafot and the Yerushalmi; whereas according to the Ritva, the Rid and the Ri of Lunel, the obligation is connected in its very essence to the mitzva of dwelling in a sukka.

 

            It must be admitted, however, that conceptually the approach of Rashi and his camp is difficult.  For according to them, we are essentially dealing with an obligation that is connected not to the laws of sukka, but to the laws of Yom Tov.  Why then should the laws of Yom Tov governing Sukkot be different from the laws of Yom Tov governing the other festivals? According to Rashi we are dealing only with the first night, and we shall deal with the status of the first night of Sukkot and its relationship to other festival days in the next shiur.  According to the Tosafot, however, the matter is even more difficult: There exists an obligation to eat a meal every day and every night of the seven days of the holiday, which does not follow from the laws of dwelling in a sukka, but from the laws of Yom Tov and Chol Ha-moed of Sukkot.  This is difficult conceptually, and especially so since we are dealing with the position of Rabbi Eliezer, who maintains (Pesachim 68b) that there is no obligation to eat on Yom Tov, but rather either the whole day is for God or the whole day is for human pleasure.  The derivation of this law is also difficult, for it is based on the "You shall dwell – similar to [normal] residence" – a law that is clearly connected to sukka (unless we say that after Rabbi Eliezer retracted, his source is that which is cited by the Tosafot in the name of the Yerushalmi).

 

            Let us now examine the position of the Tosafot Rosh, who writes in a manner similar to that of the Tosafot, but with significant differences.  As opposed to the Tosafot, he understands the Gemara's objection as did the Ritva, and not like Rashi.  Regarding Rashi's explanation, he raises the obvious question:

 

If so what is the Gemara's answer that Rabbi Eliezer retracted what he had said that a person is obligated to eat fourteen meals in the sukka? Still, how can he make it up on the last night of the festival in the sukka; surely he violates the prohibition of bal tosif!

 

            According to the Tosafot Rosh, the Gemara's objection relates to the number of meals that must be made up, and not to the fact that compensation can be made without a sukka.  But this is not because he agrees with the Ritva that compensation can indeed be made in the sukka, but for a different reason:

 

That which he eats on the last night of the festival outside the sukka is not difficult.  It is similar to one who forgot to recite the Mincha service on Shabbat who prays two weekday prayers on Motzaei Shabbat, and fulfills thereby with a weekday prayer that which he forgot to recite the Shabbat prayer, because there is no other way.  Here too, one who cannot eat in the sukka fulfills his obligation even outside the sukka.

 

            We have seen that, according to Rashi, Rabbi Eliezer's conclusion is that the obligation to eat a meal is not necessarily connected to the sukka.  According to the Rosh, lekhatchila the obligation is indeed connected to the sukka, but not because of its very essence: there is an obligation to eat a meal, and on Sukkot all meals must be eaten in the sukka.  When, however, a person makes up a meal that he had missed, there is meaning to making up the meal even in a different manner.  Of course, if the entire obligation was dwelling in a sukka, there would be no compensation here.  On the other hand, if the obligation was merely eating a meal, which by chance must be taken in the sukka, there would be no need here for a compromise stemming from the fact that "there is no other way," for lekhatchila the obligation was not connected to the sukka.  Clearly, then, we are dealing here with an obligation of a Sukkot meal, which bedi'eved can be made up even outside the sukka.  [In the model mentioned by the Rosh, making up the Mincha service of Shabbat with an additional prayer recited on Motzaei Shabbat, there is compensation of the basic obligation: the Amida service, but there is no compensation for the additional dimension: mention of Shabbat in the prayer.  It is possible that here too we are dealing with two levels of obligation, only one of which can be made up.]

 

            In the continuation, in the section that parallels the Tosafot that we have already seen, the Rosh rejects Rashi's understanding that in the end Rabbi Eliezer agreed with the Sages about the number of meals that must be eaten in the sukka.  He explains like Tosafot that Rabbi Eliezer remained firm in his position that fourteen meals are necessary.  But he disagrees with the Tosafot on the point about which Rabbi Eliezer retracted.  The Tosafot write: "Rabbi Eliezer retracted that which he had required a sukka." The Rosh, in contrast, writes:

 

Rabbi Eliezer retracted that which he had required compensation in the sukka.

 

            In other words, he still requires fourteen meals in the sukka, but he no longer maintains that their entire essence is dwelling in the sukka, and therefore they can be made up outside the sukka, in accordance with what he said earlier.  This idea also finds expression later in the Tosafot Rosh.  As may be remembered, the Tosafot record their understanding of Rabbi Eliezer's retraction according to the Bavli, and as an alternative they bring the explanation of the Yerushalmi, according to which Rabbi Eliezer did not retract anything.  The Rosh, in contrast, understands that we are dealing with one and the same resolution:

 

Therefore it seems that we should explain that Rabbi Eliezer retracted that which he had required compensation in the sukka.  But nevertheless he requires fourteen meals.  And this is what is stated in the Yerushalmi.  Rav Yitzchak said: It is likened regarding the mitzva.  That is to say, lekhatchila one must eat in the sukka, but if he did not eat, he can make it up on the eighth day without a sukka.

 

            In other words, it is possible that even according to the Yerushalmi, Rabbi Eliezer retracted, and so there is no disagreement between the two Talmuds.  The conclusion regarding the position of Rabbi Eliezer is that likhatchila, there is an obligation to eat a meal in the sukka, but bedi'eved, that meal can be made up even outside the sukka.

 

WITH WHAT FOODS CAN THE MEAL BE MADE UP ACCORDING TO RABBI ELIEZER?

 

            The Gemara says that according to Rabbi Eliezer the meal can be made up with "minei targima." According to Rashi, this refers among other things to fruit.  The Tosafot raised an objection from the Gemara in Yoma, which states:

 

Fruit does not require a sukka….  Shall we say that this is supported by: "Therefore if he made up [the meal] with minei targima, he has fulfilled his obligation." And if you think that fruit requires a sukka, let it say "fruit"! What is minei targima – fruit.  And if you wish you can say: In a place where fruit is not commonly found.  (Yoma 79b)

 

            According to the simple understanding, the Gemara's assumption is that the compensation that is effective according to Rabbi Eliezer requires foodstuffs that must be eaten in a sukka, and therefore we can understand minei targima as fruit only if fruit requires a sukka.  Therefore, the Tosafot in our passage raise an objection against Rashi:

 

Be-minei targima – Rashi explains: "For example, fruit…." It is impossible to say this, for surely Rava concludes in chapter eight of Yoma that fruit does not require a sukka, and he learned it from here: And if you think that fruit require a sukka, let him compensate with fruit.  And it rejects this, saying: In a place where fruit is not commonly found.  And if you wish, you can say, minei targima is also kinds of fruit.  Nevertheless, the implication is that if fruit does not require a sukka, compensation is not effective with fruit.  (Tosafot, s.v. be-minei)

 

            The Tosafot Yeshanim in Yoma, however, suggested a different understanding of the talmudic passage:

 

Minei targima is also fruit, and even though fruit does not require a sukka, nevertheless one can make up the fourteen meals of a sukka with minei targima.

 

            This explanation seems very forced in the context of the talmudic passage, but the position is clear: It is possible to make up the missed meal with foodstuffs that do not require a sukka.  It seems that Rashi here also understood the matter in this manner, and it is possible that this position is not limited to a meal eaten as compensation, but that it applies even to completing the fourteen meals during Sukkot itself, as Rabbi Eliezer said to King Agrippas's administrator, that it is possible to complete the number of meals with appetizers (parpera'ot).

 

            According to what we said earlier, there is a difficulty according to the Tosafot, for they understand that according to Rabbi Eliezer's conclusion there is no essential connection between the obligation to eat fourteen meals and the mitzva of sukka.  It is therefore difficult to understand why the obligation to eat the food in a sukka should constitute the standard that determines what foods may be eaten to fulfill one's obligation regarding those meals.  It is possible that according to the Tosafot, the obligation to eat the food in a sukka is merely an indication that we are dealing with a serious meal.  This matter requires further clarification.

 

THE SOURCE OF THE LAW OF COMPENSATION REGARDING SUKKA

 

            Let us conclude with a conceptual issue that touches upon the law of compensation according to Rabbi Eliezer (as suggested by Rav Ya'akov Nagan in Daf Kesher 452; see there).  Rashi explains that the source is the law regarding sacrifices: "It has compensation, just as there is compensation for the sacrifices of the first day, even on the last festival day." Rashi relates here to the first Mishna in Chagiga:

 

One who did not offer a chagiga sacrifice on the first day of the festival – may do so throughout the festival, and on the last day of the festival.  If the festival passed, and he did not offer a chagiga sacrifice, he is not responsible for it.  About this it is stated: "That which is crooked cannot be made straight; and that which is wanting cannot be numbered" (Kohelet 1:15).  (Chagiga 9a)

 

            This is the way the Ritva explains the dispute between Rabbi Eliezer and the Sages:

 

And the Sages maintain that we learn from the festival of Pesach in its entirety.  Deduce from it, and again from it: Just as there one is obligated, and there is no compensation, here too one is obligated, and there is no compensation.  And Rabbi Eliezer maintains: Deduce from it that he is obligated to eat, and stand it in its place.  For there it is compared to the paschal offering, so that it has no compensation like the paschal offering.  But here it is similar to the chagiga offering, for which there is compensation throughout the festival and on the last night of the festival.

 

            We see then that the obligation of eating in the sukka according to Rabbi Eliezer is likened to the chagiga sacrifice, including the law of compensation.  The connection between the mitzva of sukka and the world of the Temple also finds expression in the Gemara on p. 43a, which learns the very obligation of dwelling in the sukka at night from the laws of milu'im:

 

"You shall dwell in booths seven days" (Vayikra 23:42) – days and even nights… It is written here: "you shall dwell." And it is written regarding the milu'im: "you shall dwell." Just as there days and even nights, so too here days and even nights.

 

            According to the Yerushalmi, this derivation is also the source for the fourteen meals that must be eaten in the sukka according to Rabbi Eliezer:

 

What is the reason of Rabbi Eliezer? It is stated here: "You shall dwell." And it is stated below: "And you shall abide at the door of the Tent of Meeting day and night for seven days" (Vayikra 8:35).  Just as regarding the abiding mentioned below – nights are like days, so too the dwelling mentioned here – the nights are like days.

 

            The Tosafot, however, argue that the comparison between dwelling in a sukka and the world of the Temple and milu'im is not sweeping:

 

He doesn't learn everything from milu'im.  For there one could not sleep in the courtyard, for we have learned that there is no sitting in the Temple courtyard other than for the kings of the house of David.  Here, however, one is forbidden to sleep outside the sukka.  (Tosafot, 43b, s.v. teshvu)

 

            This difference allows us to understand the purpose of the sukka.  In the Tent of Meeting there was a revelation of the Shekhina; authorized people were permitted to enter and even to eat there, but it never became their place of residence.  In contrast, on the festival of Sukkot, the Shekhina comes to us, to our place of residence, and we live in its shadow.  Thus, we understand why our dwelling in the sukka must be similar to residence in our homes.

 

 

            In next week's shiur we will continue with this issue and focus on the position that has been accepted as normative law – the position of the Sages.  [It is recommended that one review our introductory shiur, which covers some of the topics discussed by the Rishonim.] See also the following sources:

 

1)         Berakhot 49b: "Ta'a ve-lo hizkir shel Rosh Chodesh bi-tefila… Amar lei: In."

 

2)         Tosafot, Sukka 27a, s.v. iy; Rashba in Berkahot:

 

All other Yom Tov meals, even on the first day of the festival, he is not made to begin again [= in the grace after meals], for if he wishes, he does not eat bread, as it is also stated in tractate Sukka… From this we also learn that on Shabbat he perforce eats bread, because it says "delight" [= "oneg"], and there is no delight without eating bread.

 

3)         Ribav (R. Yehuda bar Berakhya), 12b in Alfasi: "Ein le-davar kitzva… meshanim bo lehakel."

 

4)         Ran 12b in Alfasi, s.v.  matni; Ritva, "ha de-amrinan af sukka iy ba'i akhil… u-ma she-katavnu nakhon ve-ikar le-khol mode al ha-emet"; Tosafot, Berakhot 49b, s.v.  iy.

 

(Translated by David Strauss)