This week’s daf (60!) continues to discuss nursing. Last week we learned that a woman who has been divorced must continue to nurse her child if the child recognizes her. Today’s section asks how old a child must be for him to recognize his mother and refuse to nurse from another.
Here we have three different opinions as to how old a child usually is such that he recognizes his mother’s breast milk and will not nurse from another.
Shimi b. Abaye rules that it takes the child fifty days to recognize his mother.
But then the Talmud asks whether a child could really recognize his mother within 30 days, as Shmuel says. Is such a precocious child even possible?
Basically the Talmud thinks this is not possible. Therefore Shmuel’s original statement is replaced with an alternative statement. There is no set time at which we can assume a child recognizes his mother—as soon as he recognizes her, his mother is legally obligated to nurse the child.
The woman in this story has been divorced and does not want to nurse her child, but the father evidently wants her to. The child is examined and the child recognizes his mother. The mother tries to hide, but she is not successful. While she will get paid for doing so, she is in the end obligated to nurse her child.
A blind child could recognize his mother based on taste or smell.
Today’s sugya deals with the interesting topic of how long a child is allowed to continue nursing.
According to R. Eliezer, the limit for nursing is 24 months. Beyond that and it is considered forbidden to nurse, as if one is eating a “sheketz” which could be loosely translated as a repulsive thing.
The Talmud raises a long baraita that seems to contradict R. Eliezer who holds that human milk is prohibited. According to this baraita, it would have been logical for human milk to be strictly prohibited because human beings have a far greater potential to be impure through contact than do beasts. Since the milk of beasts that one cannot eat (pig, camel, etc.) is forbidden, thus human milk should also be forbidden. Therefore, the rabbis locate a midrash that explicitly permits human milk.
Human blood is also not prohibited. We might have argued that the blood of all animals is prohibited and therefore human blood should also be prohibited. Again, a midrash is located which states that human blood is not prohibited.
Sheshet even adds that it is totally permitted to drink human milk.
The resolution is that R. Eliezer prohibits the child from nursing directly from the mother after twenty-four months. But if the child receives the milk from a cup, it is not prohibited by the Torah.
When it comes to blood, if it is found on a loaf of bread, he must scrape the blood off before he eats it. But if one’s teeth or gums bleed, he need not spit the blood out.
In a different baraita R. Joshua states that the child can nurse until he is old enough to carry his bundle on his own shoulders. [My daughter in first grade has a huge backpack].
The Talmud says that this is the same age—about four or five.
The halakhah is in agreement with R. Joshua—a child can nurse until he is four or five years old.
This beginning of this section is tangentially related to the previous part. It discusses milking an animal on Shabbat.
Milking an animal is prohibited on Shabbat. However, milking an animal is usually done by hand. A sick person whose pain would be alleviated by having some milk may suck milk directly from the animal on Shabbat for this is an unusual way of obtaining the milk. Generally, when an act forbidden on Shabbat is performed in an unusual way, it becomes prohibited by “rabbinic decree;” it is no longer prohibited “by the Torah.” Since he is in pain, the rabbis did not prohibit him from obtaining the milk in this manner.
Clearing debris from a gutter is forbidden on Shabbat, for it is an act of repairing. However, stepping on the debris in order to clear it is an unusual way of clearing the debris. Furthermore, if he does not clear the debris the roof may become flooded, which may lead to a serious loss of property. Since there is a loss, the rabbis did not prevent him from clearing the gutter in this unusual manner.
Note that this section is here only due to the formal similarities between it and the previous section.
According to the mishnah, once the child stops nursing, he may not resume. “Stopping” means not nursing for three days.
The rabbis did not want a nursing woman to remarry for fear that she would become pregnant from her new husband and that this would cause her milk to dry up. This is the topic of today’s passage.
There are two sets of disputes in this baraita. R. Meir and Bet Shammai hold that she must wait 24 months to remarry, for that is the time that a child is supposed to nurse. R. Judah and Bet Hillel are slightly more lenient and allow her to remarry after eighteen months.
Rabban Shimon b. Gamaliel provides an additional leniency for both positions. All allow a woman to actually marry three months earlier then they stated for it takes three months from conception for the milk to go bad.
We should note that this halakhah was actually a great hardship on women who needed to be remarried for the sake of economic stability. It continued to be observed through the middle ages and was the source of many discussions as to its applicability.