The last daf we finished ended with Rava’s interpretation of the mishnah concerning using mats as skhakh. Rava said that the basic disagreement was over a small mat made without specific intention. The first opinion held that a small mat was usually made for reclining and therefore could not be used as skhakh. R. Eliezer held that a small mat was generally used for covering and therefore could be used as skhakh. Our daf opens with a difficulty that Abaye had on that position.
Abaye raises two difficulties. The first is the order of the way R. Eliezer lists “small or large.” R. Eliezer is in essence saying that a small mat has the same rules as a large one. So, Abaye argues, it should read “large or small” which emphasizes that the small mat has the same rules as the large. [We should note that it is not at all clear which should in reality come first, and Rashi seems to be aware of several different versions of this line in the mishnah and gemara.]
The second difficulty is more substantive. Abaye uses a baraita to prove that R. Eliezer holds that even a large mat can be susceptible to impurity if made without any specific intended use in mind. The first opinion in this baraita holds that a large mat can be used as skhakh. R. Eliezer says that this is so only if it is not susceptible to impurity, meaning if he made it for a covering. But, R. Eliezer would hold, if he made it with no specific intent, then it is susceptible to impurity and cannot be used as skhakh. Thus R. Eliezer and the other sages disagree about a large mat.
R. Papa, who lived a generation after Abaye now offers another reinterpretation of the mishnah. The first tanna and R. Eliezer agree that a small mat is usually made for reclining and cannot be used for skhakh (unless specifically made for covering). The first opinion holds that usually a large mat is made for covering and therefore can be used for skhakh if made without any specific intent. R. Eliezer holds that a large mat is also made for reclining. When he says, “if it was made for reclining” then it can’t be used as skhakh what he really meant to say is that a large mat is normally is made for reclining and can’t be used for skhakh. It could only be used for skhakh if it was made specifically with the intent of using it for a covering, the same rule that applies to a small mat.
Today’s section is a baraita about using various kinds of mats for skhakh.
The first section of the baraita deals with a mat of wicker or straw. As we saw in the discussion of the mishnah, the usability of this type of mat depends on its size. If it was large, it was probably meant for a covering and can be used for skhakh. If small, it was probably meant for reclining and cannot be used for skhakh.
One made of reeds or helat, a type of reed, can be used if it is was plaited. Plaiting seems to have been a cruder, rougher way of making the reeds into a mat. Due to its roughness it would not have been made for reclining and it can be used for skhakh. But if it was woven more tightly, it could be used for reclining and cannot be used for skhakh.
The sages in the last section all hold that all mats made of reeds can be used for skhakh because they are always made for covering, even if they are woven.
Today’s section cites a different mishnah that also has to deal with the purity of mats (I know this is your favorite topic).
Rabbi Dosa and the Sages disagree with regards to the susceptibility of mats to midras impurity. Midras impurity is a type of impurity which is received by a zav (one who has an unnatural genital discharge, not semen or menstruation) sitting or lying down on an object even if he/she doesn’t touch it. Only things that are typically sat on or lied down upon can receive this type of impurity. According to Rabbi Dosa, mats can receive corpse impurity by coming into contact with a dead body, or a part thereof. However, since the mats under discussion are not used for sitting or for lying down, they cannot receive midras impurity. The Sages hold that they can, since they are occasionally used for such a purpose.
The Talmud begins by offering a slight emendation to the sages’ words. These mats are susceptible, according to the sages, even to midras impurity. They are obviously also susceptible to the more conveyable type of impurity, corpse impurity.
The word used in the mishnah for “mats” is unusual. Here it is explained first with a strange word “marzbulei,” but that word is also not so clear. Ultimately it is interpreted as “bags filled with foliage.” Evidently, these were used as mats. Sounds somewhat comfy and very eco-friendly!
R. Shimon ben Lakish, otherwise known as Resh Lakish, says that the hotzlot of this mishnah are real mats, not bags of foliage. This matches what he says in another statement. In this statement R. Hiyya (who was Babylonian and restored proper Torah learning to the land of Israel) explains the mishnah. R. Dosa and the sages agree that reed-mats from Usha (a place in the Galilee) are susceptible because they are made for sitting upon. Reed-mats from Tiberias are not made for sitting upon, so they are not susceptible. They only dispute reed-mats from other places. R. Dosa holds that since they are not usually used for sitting upon, they are not susceptible, like those of Tiberias. The other sages hold that since they sometimes are used for sitting upon they are susceptible. Note that this matches our discussion on previous pages. The issue is how to deal with mats made without any specific purpose in mind.