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26b-27a: Holy Places

Rav Michael Siev
A scan of the classic printed daf can be found at: for 26b, and for 27a.

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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Within the quoted texts, my explanations and additions are also written in red

Last week, we learned the gemara on 26b which introduced the concepts of tashmishei kedusha and tashmishei mitzvah. This week, we will start from the bottom of 26b, where the gemara moves back from the topic of objects used for sacred purposes to that of places that are used for holy endeavors. We begin with the second to last line of 26b: 

And Rav Papi said in the name of Rebbi:

From a "house of gathering" to a "house of sages" - permitted,

from a "house of sages" to a "house of gathering" - forbidden.

And Rav Papa in the name of Rava taught the opposite.

Rav Acha said: Rav Papi's opinion is reasonable,

for R' Yehoshua ben Levi said: a "house of gathering" may be made into a "house of learning."

Hear from it (=this is a good proof).

(*ואמר) רב פפי משמיה *דר':

מבי כנישתא לבי רבנן - שרי,

מבי רבנן לבי כנישתא - אסיר.

ורב פפא משמיה דרבא מתני איפכא.

אמר רב אחא: כוותיה דרב פפי מסתברא,

דאמר רבי יהושע בן לוי: בית הכנסת מותר לעשותו בית המדרש.

ש"מ (=שמע מינה).  

Before we get into the real content of the gemara, let us first deal with a technical, textual issue. Note the two asterisks on the first line of the gemara we just read. In the printed edition of the gemara, the asterisks refer the reader to the inside margin of the page, where the Mesorat haShas amends the text: "אמר" replaces "ואמר," and  "דרבא" replaces "דר." Each of these changes is of (minor) significance to the meaning of the passage. The word אמר, which means "said," as opposed to ואמר, "and he said," indicates that we are beginning a new discussion that is not a part of the previous passage. דרבא means that Rav Papi stated his ruling in the name of Rava rather than Rebbi, (R' Yehuda HaNassi). This second change makes the gemara's discussion more plausible. Rav Papi and Rav Papa present different versions of Rava's opinion on this issue, rather than Rav Papi presenting the view of R' Yehuda HaNassi, a tanna, and Rav Papa countering with the view of Rava, who was an amora and therefore would generally not argue with a tanna unless he had another tannaitic source upon which to rely.

Be that as it may, the difference of opinion in our gemara centers around the relationship between a synagogue (beit k'nesset, literally translated as "house of gathering") and a beit medrash (literally translated as "house of learning" and also referred to in our gemara as "house of sages"). According to Rav Papi's tradition, Rava ruled that a shul can be converted into a beit medrash, but not vice versa. Rav Papa had the opposite tradition. Rav Acha quotes a statement of R' Yehoshua ben Levi which confirms Rav Papi's version.

Why should it be a problem at all to convert one to the other?

Our gemara takes us back to the beginning of the chapter, which we learned three weeks ago. The opening mishna taught us that if one sells a synagogue, the funds may be used for purchasing an aron kodesh, but not vice versa (among other examples in that mishna). The guiding principle in that mishna is ma'alin bakodesh v'lo moridin - we can raise the level of holiness of a particular object (or, in this case, the money received from the sale of the object) but cannot lower it. An aron kodesh has more holiness than a shul, and the proceeds from the sale of the shul can therefore be applied to the aron kodesh. Similarly, we learned last week that an aron kodesh that has broken can be used to construct a new aron kodesh, but cannot be used to make a bima, which possesses a lower level of holiness than an aron kodesh.

The discussion in our gemara is based upon the same issue. One may not simply convert a place of kedusha to a place that has less kedusha, but one could raise the holiness of a particular place by dedicating it to a new use. Thus, the issue at stake is this - what has a higher level of kedusha, a shul or a beit medrash? If it is the shul, it will be permitted to change a beit medrash into a shul, but forbidden to change a shul into a beit medrash. This is the opinion of Rav Papi. If the beit medrash has more holiness, it will be permitted to convert a shul into a beit medrash but forbidden to change a beit medrash into a shul - as Rav Papa maintains.

The gemara now continues with a debate about the meaning of a verse in Sefer Melachim which may well reflect the disagreement between Rav Papi and Rav Papa:

Bar Kapara expounded: What is it that is written, "And he burned the house of God and the house of the king and all the houses of Jerusalem and every great house he burned in fire."

The house of God - this is the beit hamikdash.

The house of the king - this is the king's palace.

And all the houses of Jerusalem - their plain meaning.

And every great house he burned in fire - R' Yochanan and R' Yehoshua ben Levi: One said: a place of raising Torah;

and one said: a place of raising prayer.

The one who said Torah, for it says "God desires for the sake of His righteousness that (the Torah) be made great and glorious."

And the one who says prayer, for it says, "Tell, please. . . the great deeds that Elisha did." And Elisha's deeds (miracles) were  through prayer.

Conclude that R' Yehoshua ben Levi is the one who said, 'a place in which we raise Torah;' for R' Yehoshua ben Levi said: A synagogue may be made into a beit medrash. Hear from it.

דרש בר קפרא: מאי דכתיב (מלכים ב' כ"ה) וישרף את בית ה' ואת בית המלך ואת כל בתי ירושלים ואת כל בית גדול שרף באש.

בית ה' - זה בית המקדש,

בית המלך - אלו פלטרין של מלך,

ואת כל בתי ירושלים - כמשמען,

ואת כל בית גדול שרף באש -
רבי יוחנן ורבי יהושע בן לוי, חד אמר: מקום שמגדלין בו תורה,

וחד אמר: מקום שמגדלין בו תפלה.

מאן דאמר תורה, דכתיב (ישעיהו מ"ב) ה' חפץ למען צדקו יגדיל תורה ויאדיר.

ומאן דאמר תפלה דכתיב (מלכים ב' ח') ספרה נא... הגדלות אשר עשה אלישע. ואלישע דעבד - ברחמי הוא דעבד.

תסתיים דרבי יהושע בן לוי הוא דאמר מקום שמגדלין בו תורה, דאמר רבי יהושע בן לוי: בית הכנסת מותר לעשותו בית מדרש. שמע מינה.

As we saw earlier, the machloket about whether a shul can be converted into a beit medrash or vice versa is essentially a machloket about which has a higher level of sanctity. The same disagreement is applied here to understanding a pasuk at the end of Sefer Melachim. In describing the destruction of Jerusalem, the verse states that the Babylonian general burned "every great house." The phrase "great house" is undestood by one amora as a reference to batei medrash and by another as a reference to batei k'neset. The gemara proves that R' Yehoshua ben Levi must have interpreted the phrase as referring to batei medrash, based on his opinion that a shul can be converted into a beit medrash. This proves that he considers the kedusha of a beit medrash to exceed that of a shul, and it is reasonable to assume that "great houses" are therefore batei medrash, which are "greater" than shuls.

In concluding our discussion of this issue, we should note that we pasken that the sanctity of a beit medrash is indeed greater than that of a shul. However, on a practical level, most modern-day shuls are used at least occasionally for learning, in addition to prayer. Halachic authorities debate the extent to which a shul must be used for learning in order for it to attain the level of sanctity of a beit medrash.

(It should be noted as well that our issue may have philosophical implications regarding the relative values of Torah study and prayer - but that is a discussion which is beyond the purview of this shiur.)

Onward in the gemara

We resume with the gemara at the two-dots about a quarter of the way down on 27a.

But if they sold a Torah, they may not purchase "books," etc.

It was asked of them: Is it permissible to sell an old Torah scroll to buy a new one?

Since they do not raise (the kedusha level) - it is forbidden,

or perhaps since there is no other higher level- it is good?

Come and listen: "But if they sold a Torah - they may not purchase books." Books they cannot purchase, but a Torah for a Torah - is good!

The mishna is where it was done; we are asking from the beginning.

אבל מכרו תורה לא יקחו ספרים וכו'.

איבעיא להו: מהו למכור ספר תורה ישן ליקח בו חדש?

כיון דלא מעלי ליה - אסור,

או דלמא כיון דליכא לעלויי עילוייא אחרינא - שפיר דמי?

תא שמע: "אבל מכרו תורה - לא יקחו ספרים;" ספרים הוא דלא, הא תורה בתורה - שפיר דמי!

מתניתין דיעבד, כי קא מיבעיא לן - לכתחלה.  

The gemara here quotes the opening line of the second half of our mishna (from the beginning of the perek), which states that whereas one can use the proceeds of the sale of holy books to buy a Torah, one cannot use the funds from the sale of a Torah to purchase other holy books, because the Torah's holiness is greater. As we mentioned earlier, this is the concept of ma'alin bakodesh v'lo moridin. The gemara now asks if one can sell an old Torah in order to buy a new Torah. In general, one may only sell a holy item for the purposes of something even holier, and the new Torah is not any more holy than the old. On the other hand, there is nothing holier than a Torah; perhaps the requirement to actually raise the level of kedusha does not apply in such circumstances.

The very question of our gemara raises an issue regarding the meaning of ma'alin bakodesh v'lo moridin. The first half of the phrase is ma'alin bakodesh, "we raise up in holiness." This seems to imply that one may not sell a holy object, or change its use, unless one is actually raising the level of kedusha through the purchase of an even holier object, or by using it for holier purposes than it was used for previously. Merely keeping the same level of kedusha - such as, in our case, selling a Torah scroll in order to buy a new Torah scroll - is not good enough. However, the concluding half of the rule, v'lo moridin, "we do not lower," may imply that the only problem is to lower the level of kedusha, but it would not be a problem to remain at the same level. Which understanding of the ruling is correct?

The way the gemara frames its question here seems to assume that the first half of the phrase is more exact - it is only permissible to go up in sanctity. The gemara's question is if it should be forbidden to sell a Torah for a new Torah, as we are not raising the level of sanctity, or if it is permitted because there is no possible way to go higher than the sanctity of a Torah. Apparently, it is generally not enough to simply avoid lowering the level of kedusha; one must always raise the level of kedusha, at least when it is possible to do so. This is in fact the preferred ruling in Shulchan Aruch (153:4, 154:9), though he does quote the opinion of those who claim that it is enough to merely avoid lowering the level of kedusha.

Regarding its question of selling a Torah in order to purchase a new Torah, the gemara attempts to utilize the wording of the mishna to prove that it is permitted. The mishna says only that one may not use the proceeds of the sale of a Torah to purchase other holy books; the implication is that such funds may be used to purchase another Torah. The gemara rejects this proof. It may be permissible to use the funds from the sale of a Torah in order to purchase a new Torah, but that is where the sale has already taken place and the funds are available. Clearly, they should not be used for anything other than purchasing another Torah, which is the holiest use that we can find for them. However, that does not mean that it is permitted to sell the Torah to begin with in order to purchase a new Torah.

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