Today’s section continues to discuss what counts as “bundles” such that they could not be used as skhakh.
Meremar (a late Babylonian amora) says that the bundles of twigs sold in the marketplace in Sura, an important Jewish center in Babylonia, can be used for skhakh because the bundle is meant just for counting. The bundles are not made for storing them in this manner or for transporting them. Thus we learn that if someone bundles something together just to count it, the bundle could be used as skkakh.
R. Abba cites another case of a bundle that can be used as skhakh, as long as the top knot is untied.
R. Papa modifies R. Abba’s statement slightly. If the bottom knot is still fully tied, then the bundle cannot be used. But if the top knot was fully undone and the bottom knot was merely loosened, they may be used even though they are still tied together.
R. Huna son of R. Joshua says he doesn’t even need to loosen the bottom knot of the willow bundle. Since such a bundle would fall apart if carried, it doesn’t count as a bundle.
Shmuel says that any of the five species that can be used as marror on Pesah (see Mishnah Pesahim 2:6) also have the following three halakhic characteristics.
1) They convey impurity. This means that they can act as a “tent.” If a dead body or part thereof is found underneath one part of the vegetable and a vessel underneath the other part, the herb acts as a tent to convey the impurity from the dead body to the vessel.
2) They do not block impurity. If a dead body is underneath the herb, the herb does not block impurity from defiling a vessel found above the herb.
3) If used as skhakh they invalidate the sukkah as if it was an open gap of air space, and not as if they were invalid skhakh. The Talmud will now explain why.
Clearly the reason this law is here is to teach the third principle—what the rule is if these herbs are used as skhakh.
Why do these herbs count as open air space and not merely invalid skhakh? The reason is that they will dry up, crumble and disappear. Thus even before they crumble away, we look at the space they occupy as if nothing is there. If there are three handbreadths of open space, the sukkah is invalid. If they had been treated as invalid skhakh, there would have to be four handbreadths to invalidate the sukkah.
The Talmud now cites another statement by R. Abba. This statement is probably brought here because the statement which follows it is related to the laws of skhakh. When one harvests grapes to press them, the stems do not become susceptible to impurity because one doesn’t need to use the stems to make wine, nor does he need to use them to hold the grapes. Things are susceptible to impurity only if one intends to use them as food or as handles to hold on to the food part of the plant.
Similarly, when one harvests grain to use the stalks as skhakh the stalks themselves are not susceptible to impurity. This is because the person doesn’t want to use the kernels of the grain, since they can’t be used for skhakh anyway. Since the stalks aren’t necessary as “handles” for the kernels, they are not susceptible to impurity.
The Talmud now explains why one amora made his statement with regard to grapes harvested for wine while the other amora made his statement with regard to ears of grain harvested to use for skhakh.
The one who made the statement with regard to the grain, R. Menashye, would agree with R. Abba’s statement regarding the grapes because clearly one doesn’t want the stalks of the grapes to be harvested with the grapes. These grapes would suck up the wine and cause a loss. Since they are undesirable, they are not susceptible to impurity.
However, R. Abba, who made his statement with regard to the grapes, might hold that someone actually wants to keep the grain attached to the stalks to that the grain doesn’t get lost until it is time to use it. Since he might like the grain still attached to the stalks, the stalks are considered handles to the food and they are susceptible to impurity.
To remind ourselves, R. Menashye said that one who harvests grain to use as skhakh does not render the stalks susceptible to uncleanness, because he doesn’t want the grain to stay with the stalks. The stalks don’t count as “handles.” The Talmud now suggests that this issue is actually a tannaitic dispute found in a baraita. According to the first opinion in the baraita one can use branches that have food products on them for skhakh as long as the inedible part is greater than the edible part. The “others” say that the inedible part, the straw, must be greater than both the edible part and the stalks, the handles by which the food can be hold. The “handles” are also susceptible to impurity.
According to this second opinion, when one harvests these handles with the food part and wants to use it all for skhakh he would render the handles susceptible to impurity. According to the first opinion, he does not. Therefore, using the branch with the food is just a matter of making sure that the inedible part is greater than the edible part.
Today’s section is a direct continuation of yesterday’s section concerning one who cuts down grain to use it for skhakh. Do the stalks, the parts of the grain that holds the kernels to the rest of the plant become susceptible to impurity? Yesterday, we saw a baraita which had a tannaitic dispute on this issue. The Talmud said that R. Abba, who said that they are not susceptible to impurity, agreed with one side of this tannaitic dispute.
R. Abba had said that one who harvests grapes for wine does not render the stalks susceptible to impurity, but that one who harvests grain for skhakh does render them susceptible. R. Abba must admit that he follows one side in the tannaitic dispute found at the end of yesterday’s section, namely the opinion of “others” who said that produce used as skhakh does have the rule of handles—meaning the handles used to hold the produce have the status of produce. Harvesting grapes does not render the handles susceptible because he actively does not want them there.
The question is can we interpret R. Menashye, who said that the handles are not susceptible to impurity when harvested for skhakh, such that he can agree with both sides of the tannaitic dispute.
R. Menashye could answer that both tannaim, the first opinion and the “others,” agree that when one harvests produce to use for skhakh he does not render the handles susceptible to impurity. The baraita, where the “others” seem to hold that he does render the handles susceptible, refers to a case where a person originally harvested the grain for food and then changed his mind and wanted to use them for skhakh. Once he harvested them for food he rendered the “handles” susceptible to impurity. The “others” hold that they remain susceptible even afterwards when he decides to use them for skhakh.
The Talmud now asks why the rabbis (the first opinion in the baraita) would hold that if he harvested them originally for food the handles are not susceptible to impurity, even after he changed his mind to use them for skhakh. As we shall see in the mishnah that follows once something is susceptible to impurity, simply changing one’s mind about it cannot stop it being susceptible to impurity.