Having stated essentially the same law three times, the Talmud now asks why Abaye needs to be so repetitive.
When it comes to the “you ate forbidden fat” statement, we can say that his silence means he agrees, for if he did not eat forbidden fat, and then brought a sacrifice after being told he did, he would be sacrificing a non-sacred, hullin, animal in the Temple. This is another sin and we don’t think he wants to sin. Therefore, he must agree that he ate forbidden fat.
But when someone says his “pure food has been defiled” he might not care so much because he can eat this food when he is defiled. Thus, his silence might not mean anything. Therefore, Abaye teaches us that even in this case, the witness is believed.
If we had learned about the case of defiled food, we might have thought that in the case of the ox with which bestiality was committed the silence is not acquiescence, the owner might have been quiet because he does not really care if the ox cannot be sacrificed. Therefore, Abaye (and the baraita) had to teach this case as well.
This week’s daf continues the discussion of whether one witness is believed if the person whom the testimony effects is silent.
The consequence of this one witness being believed is that she would be prohibited to him as an adulteress. She could not, however, be punished without two witnesses. As we saw above, punishments cannot be meted out with less than two witnesses. However, there might be consequences to one witness (I can just hear my parents say—“This is not a punishment, it’s a consequence).<bר>According to Abaye the witness is believed and the woman is now prohibited to her husband. Rava holds that since this is a sexual matter, we require two witnesses.
Abaye cites Mar Shmuel’s ruling from this story to prove that one witness is believed in order to prohibit a wife to her husband. To Abaye “if you believe him” means that if the blind person believes that the messenger is trustworthy, then he must divorce her.
[Very interesting to read of a blind person organizing his mishnayot. There were blind sages, which might have even been advantageous for them. The Torah that they learned was all oral].
Rava says that “if you believe him” does not just mean that the messenger is trustworthy. It means that he must be as trustworthy as two people. Thus this is not proof that one person is believed in sexual matters.
We now discuss the second part of the baraita from above—how do we know that if a priest is discovered to have a blemish, all of his previous service at the altar is rendered unfit?
This is a rare case in which the amoraim make a midrash on the way a letter is written. The letter vav in the world “shalom” is broken in half (look in a tikkun and you will see). This allows us to read it as if the word says “shalem” and not “shalom.” The verse can now be read as if it says that the descendants of Aaron are given the covenant only if they are “whole” meaning not blemished. If they are blemished, all of their earlier sacrifices are rendered invalid.
This section contains Abaye’s proof that one witness is believed in sexual matters.
The story that Abaye cites is a famous aggadah about the origins of the antagonism between the Pharisees and a Jewish king, here King Yannai. There is even a parallel to the story in Josephus (Antiquities 13.288-300) although many of the details are different. This, along with other passages, serves scholars as proof that although the rabbis did not read Josephus’s works (which were all written in Greek) there are stories that were transmitted orally and adopted by both Josephus and the rabbis. Many scholars have discussed this passage, and there is even an entire book on Josephus and the Rabbis (in Hebrew).
Alexander Yannai (or Yannaeus) was the second Hasmonean king and ruled from 103-76 B.C.E. The story begins with him returning to Jerusalem to celebrate a military victory, and acting with proper fashion in front of the sages.
The evil man, Elazar, wants to bring a conflict between Yannai and the Pharisees, who are imagined by this story to be the leaders of the Jewish people. He wants Yannai to do something with the “tzitz” the frontlet that the high priests would wear.
Elazar’s instigation has its proper effect. The sages do not think that Yannai should be high priest. There seem to be two reasons for this. First of all, one should not be priest and king. This is too much power in the hands of one individual. Second of all, if Yannai’s mother was taken captive, then she is not fit to marry a priest, nor are her children priests. While this charge could not be substantiated, the sages still depart in anger.
Elazar now urges Yannai to crush the sages/Pharisees. Yannai is hesitant. Without the sages, what would happen to the Torah? Elazar cynically responds that we do not need the sages. The Torah is there, anyone who wants can come and learn it.
A much later amora interpolates into the story that Yannai’s response is heretical for it assumes that the Torah is limited to the Written Torah. The Oral Torah requires the sages, and if Yannai destroys them, it will be lost.
The story’s end seems to be, at least partially, an explanation as to why we know of so few sages from an early period. After all, if the Oral Torah was given on Sinai, then we should have rabbis from a much earlier period. One explanation, the one given in our story, is that there was a break in the transmission of Oral Torah, and that all of the sages were massacred. Shimon b. Shetach restored the Torah to where it was, and thus our Torah is legitimate. But still, there was a break.
Abaye now explains how this story is proof that one witness is believed. This seems to be puzzling—after all, according to the story there was no evidence that Yannai’s mother was taken captive.
Evidently all agree, there were two witnesses that said Yannai’s mother was not taken captive. So how many witnesses said that she was taken captive? If there were two, then why were the latter believed to say she was not taken captive, maybe the former should have been believed. This would at least be enough to cast a doubt on his lineage.
Therefore, there must have been one witness who said she was taken captive. The one witness was not believed because two contradicted him. But if two did not contradict him, then the one would have been believed.
Thus one witness is believed in sexual matters (this is a sexual matter, because the issue is the possibility that she was raped).
Rava says that this is not simply a case of contradicting witnesses. The second witnesses refute the very possibility of the first witnesses knowing that Yannai’s mother was taken captive. For instance they say that the first witnesses were elsewhere when they say they saw the event. This is called “hazamah” which is a special category in which the second witnesses are believed. Thus we do not need to say that there was only one witness.
R. Yitzchak says that when the Jews saw that Yannai’s mother was going to be taken captive, they sent a female slave to take her place (reminds me of the movie Dave). Thus Yannai’s mother was not really taken captive and therefore Yannai can remain the high priest.
In today’s sugya Rava provides tannaitic support for his position that when it comes to sexual matters, two witnesses are always necessary.
Rava will quote a long baraita that will eventually prove his point. The baraita refers to a reservoir (a small one it seems) that had been used as a mikveh but then turned out not to have enough water in it. Can we assume that when people or things which had been immersed in it were immersed, the mikveh was already lacking? R. Tarfon rules leniently—that which was immersed in it is assumed to be pure. R. Akiva rules stringently—everything is impure.