Shiur #08: The Purpose and Status of Aggada in Halakhic Sugyot of the Babylonian Talmud: Inuy in Tractate Yoma (Part II)
In the previous shiur, we studied the sugya dealing with inuy on Yom Kippur (Yoma 73b-76a). We discovered that it has two parts, a halakhic section and an aggadic section.
In the halakhic section, we saw the exegetical analysis of inuy, which determines that the only prohibitions included under the rubric of inuy would be eating and drinking (which are classified as one blanket prohibition of ingestion). The four other prohibitions mentioned in the mishna are not classified as inuyim, but rather as a fulfillment of the command to make Yom Kippur a “sabbath of rest” (shabbat shabbaton), as indicated by another baraita cited in the sugya. The central distinction between the two sources is that only inuy carries the ultimate penalty of excision (karet), being cut off from the Jewish People forever.
As for the aggadic section, we noted that it is essentially a massive compilation of arguments between the Amora’im R. Ammi and R. Assi, intertwined with aggadic derashot of various verses, followed by another aggadic compilation of various derashot concerning the manna that the Israelites ate in the desert. Ostensibly, the link between the two halves of the aggadic unit – disputes between R. Ammi and R. Assi, on the one hand, and the exegetical exploration of the manna, on the other – seems to be technical, an associative progression. The halakhic debate ends with the verse, “And He afflicted you and He starved you” (Devarim 8:3), and the very next words refer to the manna: “And he fed you the manna which you had not known…” The aggadic section begins with a verse from the continuation of that chapter, which also invokes inuy and mentions the manna as well: “Who feeds you manna in the desert… in order to afflict you” (Ibid. 8:16).
I would like to suggest that the connection between the two sections of the sugya, the halakhic and the aggadic, is far stronger than might appear at first glance. Throughout both sections, the central debate revolves around consumption, but at the margins the issue of copulation arises as well.
In the aggadic unit, many of the derashot use sexual relations as an analogy for consuming food and drink. We have already seen that in the halakhic section, three times in a row, the gemara’s editors challenge the approach of the baraita, which maintains that only abstention from eating and drinking may be classified as inuy. The gemara suggests that abstention from marital relations should also be included, and this is because various verses use the term inuy to refer to sexual relations.
When we consider the halakhic unit as the background for the aggadic unit, the two issues that arise in it – that of consumption and that of coition – directly connect to two of the prohibitions in the mishna: eating/ drinking and marital relations. Naturally, such a reading would acknowledge a certain statement made by the aggadic section concerning the inuyim of Yom Kippur, and this requires further analysis.
Connection Between the Halakhic and Aggadic Units
Let us assume that the link between the halakhic and aggadic sections of the sugya goes beyond the merely technical or associative; we must then explain what the relationship is. In the two sections of this sugya, we may observe different conceptualizations of inuy on Yom Kippur.
As we noted previously, the halakhic unit contains Tannaitic derashot that appear in baraitot of halakhic Midrash. These derashot portray a clear dichotomy between eating and drinking, on the one hand, and all the other prohibitions, on the other.
Only abstaining from food and drink is understood as a realization of inuy on Yom Kippur, of God’s directive: “You must afflict your souls.” In contrast, the other prohibitions that the mishna lists are forbidden on the basis of a broader command: “The verse says, ‘[A sabbath of] rest’ – so rest (shvot)!” Let us explore what inuy means according to this taxonomy.
The derasha in the baraita indicates that inuy is concrete discomfort or suffering that is imposed upon the body. Such concrete discomfort or suffering can undoubtedly be created by abstaining from food and drink, even for the span of only one day. The same cannot be said for the other prohibitions of the mishna, i.e. washing, anointing, having sexual relations, and wearing shoes. Abstaining from these activities for twenty-four hours does not create a sense of true deprivation. These are pleasurable activities, if not luxuries, for the body; abstaining from them for the span of a day does not directly cause pain.
This interpretation is consistent with the hypothesis raised in the baraita: “I might think that one should sit in the sun or in the cold in order to experience discomfort.” There is a suggestion that the command of inuy should be understood as actively causing bodily discomfort. Although the baraita rejects this possibility, it does not appear to reject the conceptualization of inuy that stands behind it.
In this baraita, inuy is compared to the prohibition of labor. In the Torah, the verses clearly connect them, prescribing the penalty of excision for one who violates Yom Kippur’s sanctity either by eschewing inuy or by engaging in forbidden labor (Vayikra 23:29-30). In light of this, the midrash goes one step further by using the latter to define the former.
In the first baraita cited in the Babylonian Talmud, the connection to the prohibition of labor defines inuy as a command fulfilled by abstaining from something, not by proactively doing something, such as sitting down in the glare of the noonday sun. Following the same path, in the second baraita the relationship to prohibition of labor confines inuy to formalistic categories that Halakha acknowledges in other contexts, i.e. prohibitions of consumption.
In both cases, the ideological principle that drives the creation of the dichotomy between eating/drinking and the other prohibitions is the distinction between abstaining from those activities that are so integral to one’s bodily functions that abstaining from them even for a day causes actual suffering and abstaining from those activities that are merely enjoyable or comfortable.
However, the aggadic section presents a totally different conceptualization of inuy. This approach is expressed, first and foremost, by the citation of verses and their attendant derashot dealing with the manna, some of which refer to the experience of eating the manna as inuy. Indeed, the first derasha in this section — the first of the disputes between R. Ammi and R. Assi cited previously — cites a verse that defines the diet of manna as inuy: “Who feeds you manna in the desert, which your fathers had not known, in order to afflict you.”
However, there is an undeniable conceptual gap between the inuy described in this derasha and the inuy of abstaining from food and drink. A person who fasts experiences actual pain and suffering, as fasting involves withholding the body’s most basic needs. Inuy such as this was undoubtedly not the experience of the Israelites in the desert when they ate the manna for forty years. Moreover, the manna was not tasteless, as the final dispute between R. Ammi and R. Assi clearly establishes:
The cucumbers and the melons [and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic]” — R. Ammi and R. Assi [argue]. One said: They found in the manna the taste of every kind of food, but not the taste of these five. The other said: Of all kinds of food they felt both taste and substance, but of these the taste only, without the substance.
Manna had a taste; indeed, it had virtually every taste. However, as R. Ammi and R. Assi expound, eating it did not provide the full sensory experience, as the manna did not convey the taste or substance of the five specific foods mentioned in the verse.
Eating normally provides a full sensory experience, not only via the taste buds, but through the other senses as well. The sight of the food stirs the digestive juices long before the food is ingested, and the sense of touch is equally integral as one encounters the texture of each food. However, in the case of the manna, there was something missing, as the derasha states: “but of these the taste only, without the substance.” Thus, eating the manna did not give the Israelites the enjoyment of normal eating, and their gastronomic desires were therefore frustrated.
We may thus define the inuy that the aggadic section describes not as causing bodily suffering, but rather as withholding the satisfaction of bodily desires. Eating the manna fills one up and prevents the suffering of starvation, as it provides the essential nutrients that the body requires, but it does not satisfy the desire to eat earthly food, which alone can provide the full range of sensory enjoyment, including the experience of seeing and feeling what one eats.
Evidently, the aggadic section’s definition of inuy would include sexual abstinence, which also constitutes withholding a bodily desire. At the same time, one may draw a conceptual line between the prominent examples in the aggadic section — eating, drinking, and having sexual relations — and the other three prohibitions in the mishna — washing, anointing, and wearing shoes. These last three would seem to occupy a still lower level of exigence. Washing, anointing, and wearing shoes are bodily pleasures or creature comforts, but they do not satisfy carnal desires. The most basic earthly drives of any human being are for food and sexual relations. Thus, it is understood that when the aggadic unit redefines inuy by employing derashot about the manna focusing on eating, it includes in its different parts – even if only through allusion and euphemism – the realms of intimate relations.
The meaning of inuy in the aggadic section is further enriched by another derasha that appears with regard to the manna, when the gemara (75b) expounds a verse describing the Israelites’ experience in the desert:
Our Rabbis taught: "Man was eating the bread of the mighty (lechem abirim)” (Tehillim 78:25) — According to the view of R. Akiva, this means the bread that ministering angels eat. When these words were reported to R. Yishmael, he said to them: Go forth and tell Akiva: Akiva, you are mistaken. Do the ministering angels actually eat bread? Was it not said long ago (Devarim 9:9): “I did neither eat bread, nor drink water”? How, then, do I interpret lechem abirim? Read it as bread that was absorbed by the two hundred and forty-eight parts (eivarim).
R. Akiva equates the manna to the bread consumed by the ministering angels. It appears that the point of comparison is that angelic eating does not involve the sensory enjoyment inherent to human eating, as we explained above. However, R. Yishmael disputes the very idea that angels eat in any shape or form. In contrast, R. Akiva understands this “eating the bread of the mighty” along the lines of consuming the manna, which did not fulfill sensory desires but merely provided the necessary sustenance to survive, such that it would be relevant for angels as well.
If we read Rabbi Akiva’s derasha in its broader context in the sugya, we may learn from it about the ideal contained in God’s command concerning inuy on Yom Kippur. The aim of inuy, as understood by aggadic sources, is to spend Yom Kippur on a plane that is similar to that of the angels. Even if angels have some corporeal needs, as R. Akiva indicates, they certainly do not have anything that approximates human desire.
We may thus summarize the meaning of the sugya as follows: The halakhic section and the view it reflects follow the baraitot of halakhic Midrash, which define inuy as causing suffering to the body by withholding its most basic needs – eating and drinking. However, the aggadic section of the sugya challenges this view to a certain extent, viewing the anticipated inuy of Yom Kippur in another way. Inuy, following this approach, is not causing bodily suffering or withholding basic needs, but rather subsuming one’s desires. In this context, consumption and coition are inextricably linked, and they may be severed under no circumstances.
There are two additional noteworthy points to be made concerning this sugya, in keeping with the above analysis.
First of all, let us consider the transition from the halakhic section to the aggadic section, which is quite clever. The halakhic section concludes with a derasha from R. Yishmael expounding a verse concerning the manna, which invokes inuy:
In the name of R. Yishmael, they say: It says here, “You must afflict your souls,” and it says below, “And He afflicted you and He starved you.” Just as the affliction referred to there is starvation, the affliction referred to here is starvation.
However, this derasha only cites the opening of the verse (Devarim 8:3): “And He afflicted you and He starved you.” The very next words are, “And he fed you the manna, which you had not known.” The derasha avoids tying the inuy to the manna itself, and instead equates inuy to starvation. Indeed, even when reading the verse in its entirety, we may understand the manna as a subsequent entry in the list of experiences of the Israelites in the desert, not necessarily as defining “And he starved you.”
In contrast, the aggadic unit opens with a derasha on another verse from the same chapter that also mentions inuy. However, this verse does not speak of starvation; instead, it explicitly associates affliction with eating the manna: “Who feeds you manna in the desert… in order to afflict you.”
This indicates a firm relationship between the conclusion of the halakhic unit and the opening of the aggadic unit. However, a close reading of the transition immediately indicates to the reader the sharp distinction between the two sections in terms of defining inuy.
Moreover, the editorial comments of the gemara serve to further sharpen the relationship between the sections, as they challenge R. Yishmael’s derasha, which concludes the halakhic section and immediately precedes the opening of the aggadic section:
And why do we not derive it from, “And He saw our affliction,” concerning which the master says that this is separation from the way of the world [marital relations]? We derive Heavenly affliction from Heavenly affliction; we do not derive Heavenly affliction from man-made affliction.
The inuy of preventing husband and wife from living together normally is the work of men – namely, Pharaoh and the Egyptians – so it cannot be compared to the inuy mandated on Yom Kippur, which is decreed by Heaven. Immediately after drawing this distinction, the sugya cites the first aggadic derasha that defines eating the manna as inuy, as mentioned above. However, eating the manna is no regular inuy; it is defined quite explicitly in the verses as inuy from Heaven.
Thus, the sugya presents a consistent tone, going from the definition of inuy on Yom Kippur as “Heavenly affliction” at the end of the halakhic section to another inuy that comes from Heaven, which initiates the aggadic section.
Second, we have seen previously the editorial comments of the gemara about defining inuy according to the baraitot, which try to include in the definition of inuy abstinence from sexual relations as well. If we take a broad, global view of the sugya, considering its split into two sections, we may observe the editorial comments of the gemara as the conceptions of the aggadic section bleeding into the halakhic section.
With a degree of caution, we may suggest (although we cannot determine with certainty) that the editors who integrated the aggadic unit into the sugya as it stands today are the ones who injected this aggadic conception of inuy into the halakhic section. This is accomplished by raising these anonymous challenges, which strengthen the relationship between the two sections of the sugya.
However, we cannot help but notice the fate of the questions posed by the editors of the gemara in the halakhic section – they are summarily rejected!
Now let us return to one of the questions that we presented at the beginning of the shiur – the status of aggadic passages integrated in halakhic sugyot. We must ask how the sages who crafted this sugya saw the relationship between its parts. Even if we cannot answer this question with certainty, it appears that we may make an educated guess. The questions of the editorial comments of the gemara indeed raise already in the halakhic section of the sugya the view of the aggadic section and turn the reader’s attention to it; however, the same editors also reject the question repeatedly. In other words, even according to these editors, the halakhic plane remains unaltered; the absolute dichotomy between eating/drinking and the other prohibitions is intact. In their view, the penalty of excision would be incurred only by someone who either eats or drinks on Yom Kippur, not someone who is sexually active. The anonymous challenges in the halakhic section merely allow the worldview of the aggadic section to spill over into the pool of halakhic thought; however, its essential nature is undiminished.
We may see the contribution of the aggadic section to the sugya in another area. When the aggadic section is read in the context of the halakhic section and understood as presenting an alternative view of the definition of inuy, it appears that it does not interfere in the normative domain of the obligation, but rather proposes a different standard or expectation than that which is offered in the halakhic section. This standard is in the domain of religious enthusiasm, not the normative halakhic realm. The aggadic domain does not dare to challenge halakhic definitions; it therefore should not lead one to the conclusion that anyone who has sexual relations on Yom Kippur would incur the penalty of excision. However, it does suggest another spiritual direction for those who undertake inuy on Yom Kippur – a different focus and a different ideal, perhaps a loftier one.
According to the aggadic section, inuy is not to be understood as causing oneself bodily pain and suffering, but rather as abstaining, disengaging, and cleansing oneself from bodily desires and lusts for one day out of the year. This focus is best illustrated by the midrash, which compares the manna to the food of the angels.
Indeed, the challenge presented by the aggadic section of inuy on Yom Kippur is to temporarily become like or experience the existence of the angels, devoid of every bodily need or desire.
As for the essential question of the relationship between the aggadic section and the halakhic section in the Talmud, we may attempt to reach a conclusion, at least in terms of the sugya we are discussing. In this sugya, the aggadic component does not influence the halakhic debate in the normative domain of practical ruling. In the case, this is reflected in the punishment that is inflicted on transgressors: the sugya does not attempt to claim, in its aggadic part, that karet would be inflicted on those who have sexual relations on Yom Kippur, in contrast to the halakhic part that designates karet only for those who eat or drink. What the aggadic component proposes as an alternative is only in the sphere of spirituality and experiential religion, within the soul of the adherent who observes this mitzva. This view is a challenge or a recommendation, but it does not attempt to be a normative binding obligation.
Although we must recognize that these findings are limited to this specific sugya, the opening passage of Tractate Yoma’s eighth chapter. Nevertheless, they may indicate a direction in the intent of the editors of various sugyot throughout the Babylonian Talmud that interweave halakhic and aggadic material.
Translated by Yoseif Bloch
 R. Yishmael’s proof is that Moshe reported that when he was with God after ascending Mount Sinai, he neither ate nor drank for forty days; all the more so those who reside with God on a permanent basis, the ministering angels, would not need food or drink.
 In fact, even R. Yishmael, who argues with R. Akiva, may be enlisted to support our approach. R. Yishmael maintains that eating the manna required no excretion, as the manna contained nothing extraneous, but only nutrients necessary to sustain life. Thus, the manna had no supplementary material included merely to shape and to intensify the sensory experience of eating.