28a: The Need to Have the Table in the Sukka
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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 noted in red.
We begin a new mishna this week - on daf 28a. This mishna continues the general theme of the sugyot we have been learning so far this year, which is the mitzva of dwelling in a sukka.
One whose head and most of him (=his body) were in the sukka and his table in the house,
Beit Shammai invalidate and Beit Hillel validate.
Beit Hillel said to Beit Shammai: Was there not such an incident,
that the elders of Beit Shammai and the elders of Beit Hillel went to visit R. Yochanan ben Ha-choranit,
and they found him sitting with his head and most of him in the sukka and his table in the house, and they did not say anything to him?
Beit Shammai said to them: From there a proof?
Even they said to him: if you have acted this way, you have not fulfilled the mitzva of sukka in your days (=your life).
מי שהיה ראשו ורובו בסוכה ושולחנו בתוך הבית,
בית שמאי פוסלין ובית הלל מכשירין.
אמרו להם בית הלל לבית שמאי: לא כך היה מעשה,
שהלכו זקני בית שמאי וזקני בית הלל לבקר את רבי יוחנן בן החורנית,
ומצאוהו שהיה יושב ראשו ורובו בסוכה ושולחנו בתוך הבית, ולא אמרו לו דבר?
אמרו להם בית שמאי: משם ראיה?
אף הם אמרו לו: אם כן היית נוהג, לא קיימת מצות סוכה מימיך.
Let's pause for a moment despite the fact that we are in the middle of the mishna. This part of the mishna is its own topic, unrelated to the rest of the mishna. In fact, in the texts of mishna that are printed alone, without gemara, the selection we have just read is its own mishna and the rest of our mishna is a separate one. It is not uncommon for the mishnayot to be divided differently in the lone mishna than mishnayot that appear in the gemara. The whole division of statements into mishnayot is for the sake of convenience, and at times the discussion of the gemara makes it more convenient to divide the mishnayot a bit differently. In our case, the gemara will not discuss this first part of the mishna at all (it has already done so earlier in the masechet) and it therefore makes perfect sense to put the two mishnayot together.
The mishna quotes a dispute between Beit Hillel (the scholars influenced by the teachings of Hillel) and Beit Shammai (followers of Shammai). The case being disputed is that of a person who is sitting and eating with his head and most of his body in the sukka, but his table is outside the sukka. Beit Hillel rule that this is an acceptable way to fulfill the mitzva, while Beit Shammai argue that it is unacceptable.
Beit Hillel attempt to prove their point by citing an incident that occurred when elders of Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai went together to visit R. Yochanan ben Ha-choranit. He was eating in his sukka while his table was located outside the sukka. The elders of Beit Shammai, upon seeing this, did not express disapproval of the way he was performing the mitzva. This shows that the scholars from Beit Shammai who were arguing with Beit Hillel had no basis for their opinion, as even the earlier leaders of their school had apparently agreed with Beit Hillel.
Beit Shammai respond by challenging the facts of the case. They agree that the elders of Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai found R. Yochanan ben Ha-choranit in the position described above. But according to their version of the story, the elders of Beit Shammai did in fact admonish R. Yochanan and informed him that this was not an acceptable way to fulfill the mitzva of sukka.
In order to properly understand this part of the mishna, we must understand the scope of the machloket between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai. If you take a look at the first word of our mishna in standard printings of the gemara, you will notice the asterisk that immediately precedes the word. That asterisk refers us to a note on the inside margin of the page. The note, in turn, refers us to four other gemarot that quote our mishna. If you look up and down the margin of this page, or any other, you will notice many such notes. Any time a statement of the gemara is mentioned more than once, this collection of notes, called Masoret Ha-shas, refers the reader to the other applicable gemarot. This can be a very important tool, as sometimes, like in our case, the gemara in one place gives much more detail than it does in another.
The main gemara that discusses this case of our mishna is the gemara earlier in the masechet, on daf 3a. The gemara there explains that there are two types of cases in which the disagreement between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai applies. One is a situation in which the sukka simply is not big enough to contain the person and his table. Therefore, he sits in the sukka while his table is outside the sukka. The gemara calls this the "sukka ketana" ("small sukka") case. Another is a case in which the dimensions of the sukka are big enough to contain both the person and his table, but he happens to be sitting with his table outside of the sukka. This is not uncommon even nowadays in situations where part of a sukka is invalid (like if a tree or balcony overhangs part of the sukka) and there are multiple people eating in the sukka. A person may end up sitting at the edge of the kosher part of the sukka, with the table from which he is eating is in the invalid part. The gemara refers to this as the "sukka gedola" ("big sukka") case.
Based on the wording of our mishna, the gemara concludes that Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai argue with regard to both the sukka ketana and the sukka gedola. The beginning of the mishna states: "One who was sitting, etc." This implies that we are dealing with a sukka gedola. If the sukka was not big enough to encompass the man and his table, the subject of the sentence should have been the sukka itself. The fact that the mishna addresses the manner in which the person was sitting in the sukka implies that the sukka was big enough for him to have been sitting differently, but he sat in this fashion. This is the case of the sukka gedola. However, when the mishna quotes the opinions of Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai, it does not discuss whether the person fulfilled his mitzva or not; it instead uses the terms "invalidate" and "validate." These are terms that are more relevant to an object, such as the sukka itself, than to an action of sitting in the sukka. Since the machloket seems to apply to the status of the sukka itself, it is clear that we are dealing with the sukka ketana, which is not fit for use at all. The gemara therefore concludes that Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai argue about both cases.
There are a great many disagreements between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai that have been recorded in the mishna and gemara, and as a rule we almost always follow the opinion of Beit Hillel. However, in this case the gemara rules in accordance with Beit Shammai's opinion.
The gemara's ruling is stated in the context of a discussion about the sukka ketana. There are some commentaries (e.g., Tosafot) who argue that the gemara only meant to rule like Beit Shammai in the case of sukka ketana; we should therefore follow the opinion of Beit Hillel in the case of sukka gedola. How can we explain such a differentiation between the cases?
If we are to differentiate between the sukka ketana and sukka gedola, we must maintain that the basis of the machloket is different from one case to the other. If you have thought of a possible difference between the cases, keep it in mind as we explore the reasons for the machloket in both cases under discussion.
Regarding a sukka gedola, the gemara (3a) explains that Beit Shammai are concerned that if one's plate is outside the sukka, one may end up moving over, or leaning over, and eating outside the sukka. They claim that it is therefore forbidden to eat in such a position. Beit Hillel argue that we are not so worried about such a possibility.
It is less clear what the basis of Beit Shammai's opinion is in the case of sukka ketana. There are a couple of possibilities:
1) The same concern that we mentioned above applies here too. If one eats with one's plate outside the sukka, one may come to eat outside the sukka.
2) The sukka ketana is inherently invalid. A proper sukka must be big enough for a person to live in normally. If one cannot fit one's table into the sukka, it is not fit to serve as a real home, and it is pasul (invalid).
If we take the first explanation of Beit Shammai's opinion regarding sukka ketana, it turns out that the cases of sukka ketana and sukka gedola are problematic for the same reason. Thus, if the gemara rules in accordance with Beit Shammai regarding sukka ketana, the same should be true of sukka gedola. If, however, we take the second approach regarding sukka ketana, it is clear that the case of sukka ketana has a factor that is not present in the case of sukka gedola, namely that the sukka itself is inherently unfit for use. If this is the case, there is room to say that when the gemara rules in accordance with Beit Shammai regarding sukka ketana, it is only on account of this added factor. The gemara may accept Beit Hillel's argument that we are not concerned that the person will end up eating outside the sukka, yet invalidate the sukka ketana because it is not fit for normal living.
On a practical level, we assume that one may not eat with one's table outside the sukka even in a case of sukka gedola. Nevertheless, in light of the above analysis, many authorities explain that while the sukka ketana is invalid on a Biblical level, the problem of the sukka gedola is of a Rabbinic nature.
Back to the mishna
Let's get back to the mishna we started on 28a. We are about two and a half lines from the end of the mishna in standard printings of the gemara, at the beginning of a line.
Women and slaves and minors are exempt from sukka.
A minor who does not need his mother is obligated in sukka.
There was an incident and the daughter-in-law of Shammai the Elder gave birth, and he removed the plasterwork and placed sekhach over the bed on account of the minor.
נשים ועבדים וקטנים פטורין מן הסוכה.
קטן שאינו צריך לאמו חייב בסוכה.
מעשה וילדה כלתו של שמאי הזקן, ופיחת את המעזיבה וסיכך על גבי המטה בשביל קטן.
This part of our mishna addresses the issue of who is obligated in the mitzva of sukka. We start from the assumption that everyone is obligated, and state the exceptions: Women, slaves, and minors (=under the age of bar mitzva) are exempt.
If you look at the three lines of our mishna, you will note what appears to be a curious phenomenon - each line seems to contradict the line before! First we learn that minors are exempt from sukka. In the very next line the mishna writes that minors that don't need their mothers are actually obligated. And then the mishna tells the story of Shammai the Elder, who undertook a minor construction project to remove the roof and to place sekhach over his daughter-in-law's bed, in order to assure that his newborn grandson would live in a sukka on Sukkot, despite the fact that a newborn is clearly dependent on his mother! The gemara will address these questions and more. But we will have to wait until next week to start the gemara.