According to Rabbi Meir there is an additional restriction when it comes to selling holy items. The community cannot sell an item belonging to the community to an individual. So if the synagogue owns scrolls and they wish to sell them to buy a Torah, they may not sell the scrolls to an individual. This means that according to Rabbi Meir there seems to be holiness in the community. The item is more holy because it is owned by a community, an entity which has greater holiness than an individual. Alternatively, an item is holier if it is used by more people. The other sages respond that it is problematic to quantify holiness based on the number of people within an entity. If a community is holier than an individual, than a large community is holier than a small community. Since this doesn’t make sense, the sages reject Rabbi Meir’s halakhah altogether.
The mishnah concludes with the rabbis' words; no response from R. Meir is offered. The Talmud says that R. Meir could have responded that when something holy is sold from a large to a small community, it still remains holy. Any community is holy, no matter how small. However, if it is sold from a community to an individual, then it loses its holiness. Holiness is vested in the community, regardless of its size. But not in an individual.
The rabbis stick to their guns, citing the verse from Proverbs that would imply that the more people there are to praise "the king," i.e. God, the better. If one could not sell to an individual then even a sale to a smaller community would be prohibited. But since we know we do not prohibit sales to smaller communities, sales to individuals are allowed as well.
Today’s section begins with a mishnah concerning selling a synagogue.
Section one: Rabbi Meir holds that the community can sell the synagogue but only on condition that the synagogue can be bought back any time they wish. It sounds like Rabbi Meir intends to say that while the community may sell the synagogue because they need to buy holier items, what the community should really do is save up so that they can buy the synagogue back. Also, if they saw that the synagogue was being put to improper use, they could demand to purchase it back immediately.
Section two: The rabbis are more lenient when it comes to selling the synagogue and do not require the seller to be able to buy it back whenever he should so please. The one restriction is that the sellers may not sell it knowing that it will be used for a something smelly (a tannery, a urinal) or for something where people will be naked (a bathhouse or a ritual bath).
Section three: Rabbi Judah points out that if the synagogue’s owners cannot by right repurchase the synagogue, then the new owners can trick the system by first buying it to be a courtyard and then doing with it whatever they like, including turning it into a urinal. It is unclear whether Rabbi Judah says that this is permitted and there’s nothing that can be done about it, or what he is really doing is criticizing the sages’ position by pointing out that they can’t really enforce their halakhah. As we shall see in the next mishnah, Rabbi Judah believes that a synagogue retains its sanctity even after it is destroyed. It therefore seems less likely that Rabbi Judah would condone the synagogue becoming something like a urinal.
The problem with R. Meir’s position in the mishnah is that by making the sale conditional on its return, the people living in it are in a sense benefiting from interest. When the people sold the synagogue they received money and they gave the building to the buyers. The buyers lived in it for a while and then returned it to the sellers and got their money back. Because the sale was only temporary, it was in essence a loan and by living in it, the buyers/lenders are enjoying interest. So how can this be allowed?
The answer is that R. Meir holds that if the loan was only contingent, then interest is allowed, a position ascribed to R. Judah. In the situation described by the baraita Reuven loans money to Shimon. Shimon in returns gives him the field as security on the loan, a type of conditional sale. If Shimon defaults, the field will go to Reuven in return for Shimon’s debt. According to the first opinion, Shimon may derive benefit from the produce of the field, but Reuven may not because that would be interest. Should Shimon repay his debut, Reuven will get his money back and meanwhile have received benefit from the field. But R. Judah says that even Reuven may take the produce.
Based on R. Judah, R. Meir allows the purchasers of the synagogue to live in the building because it is not certain that it will be returned to the sellers. The sellers have a right to repurchase it, but there is no certainty that they will do so.
This is the continuation of the baraita from above. R. Judah proves from an actual case in which a man sold a field, meaning he used it to secure a loan, and the purchaser, that is to say, the lender, ate the produce. This seems like interest, but because the sale was contingent, it is permitted.
The other rabbis revise what actually happened. It was not the purchaser of the field, i.e. the lender who ate the produce. It was the seller, i.e. the borrower, who at it.
The Talmud now explains the dispute in the baraita. R. Judah holds that since the use of the produce will be considered interest only if the borrower repays the loan and takes back his field, it is permitted. In other words, since the produce is interest only if one possibility occurs (repayment of loan), it is not interest and the lender/buyer may eat the produce. The other position holds that even though the borrower may repay the loan, since he might not, the lender cannot take the produce.
Rava reinterprets the dispute in the baraita. Rava says that if this was simply a case of using the field as security for the loan, the lender is not allowed to take the produce. However, in this case the lender promised to return the produce if the borrower repays his debt. In other words, he took interest but promised to return it later, if it turned out to be a loan and not a sale. R. Judah would say that in such a case it is permitted to take the interest, because if the produce of the field turns out to be interest, he will return it anyway.
The other opinion holds that since when he takes the produce it is interest, it is forbidden to do so.
In the mishnah the sages said that a synagogue can be sold for it to be used as anything except for a bathhouse, a tannery, a ritual bath, or a urinal. R. Judah says that the synagogue can be sold for it to be used as a courtyard but then the person buying it could turn it into whatever he wants.
Judah says that a person can urinate within four cubits of a place of prayer. [They did not have indoor plumbing inside the synagogue back then].
Joseph says that we could have learned this ourselves from the mishnah. First of all, R. Judah said that a person who purchases a synagogue can do what he wants in there once he has bought it. He could even turn it into a urinal. Obviously one can pray within four cubits of a urinal.
Second, even the rabbis said only that he could not turn the synagogue itself into a urinal. But this does not mean that he could not urinate within four cubits of the synagogue. So if this is so obvious, why did R. Judah even need to say it.
A tanna says that a person who has just urinated should move away four cubits before praying. R. Nahman confirms this with a baraita.
However, the tanna also said that one who has just prayed must move four cubits away before praying. If that were the rule, then all of Nehardea would be holy because there are not four cubits in which a person has not prayed. [R. Nahman was from Nehardea, a city in Babylonia].
Due to the above difficulty, R. Nahman emends the baraita recited by the tanna. Instead of having to actually walk four cubits away before praying or urinating, now he only needs to wait the amount of time it would take to walk four cubits. I can’t imagine this would take more than two seconds. Completely knocks the wind out of the original halakhah.
The Talmud still tries to explain the baraita. One who has urinated should wait a few seconds before praying because he is still dripping for a few seconds. Obviously, he should not pray while still dripping. [Sorry for the yuckiness of this sugya].
However, why should he have to wait after praying before he urinates? R. Ashi answers that it takes a few seconds to sort of cool down after praying. Even though he is done praying, the words are still on his mouth and lips for a few seconds. Therefore he should wait before urinating.
The Talmud now begins a series of stories in which students ask their rabbis how they lived so long. It’s truly a fascinating discussion, one that we still ask today. What can help us live longer, and most importantly better lives?
Zakai lived a long life by virtue of three things. 1) He didn’t urinate within four cubits of a place where prayers had been said. To us, this might sound like a trivial matter, but in a world without indoor plumbing, or fixed places of urination and prayer, this was probably a big deal. By extension, I would take this to mean that he had a high level of respect for places sanctified by prayer.
2) He had respect for his friends, and never called them by their nicknames.
3) He always recited Kiddush. He had respect for the holiness of Shabbat and festivals.
This is an addendum to the story of how R. Zakai lived so long. His grandmother sold her head covering so her grandson could have wine for Kiddush. Wow! I can just imagine how happy my own grandmother would have been to sell her possessions so her grandchildren could observe Judaism. She was truly an amazing woman. Back to R. Zakai, when his grandmother died, she left him 300 barrels of wine. Enough for plenty of Kiddush! And when he died, he left his sons 3000 barrels of wine. Clearly, this seems to be a reward given to him by Heaven. The story begins with the family so poor that the grandmother has to sell her head covering to buy wine for Kiddush. It ends with them rich enough to have 3000 barrels of wine.
This story emphasizes how seriously the rabbis took the mitzvah of Kiddush. They even used pieces of their clothing as pledges to buy wine so that they could make Kiddush. R. Huna was rewarded by being rich enough so that his daughters and his daughters-in-law could all wear silk clothing. And the blessing of Rav came true literally—he was eventually smothered in silk.
However, the story does not have the happiest of endings. Rav is a bit angry at R. Huna for not blessing him in return.
Three things also helped R. Elazar b. Shammua live a long life. These are similar to those stated by R. Zakai above. 1) He had respect for the sanctity of a synagogue and never simply cut through there to get somewhere else. 2) He had respect for people and never stepped on their heads. This refers to students sitting in rows at the Yeshiva. He would not trample them when going up front. 3) He always said a blessing when reciting the priestly blessing. Note that as with above he mentions have three things: 1) respect for the synagogue; 2) respect for people, 3) respect for blessings.