Today’s section begins to deal with the mishnah found at the end of yesterday’s daf which allowed one to build a sukkah on a ship or on a wagon.
The mishnah allowed one to build a sukkah on a ship. The Talmud notes that this opinion accords with R. Akiva. In the continuation of the baraita R. Akiva actually goes ahead and builds a sukkah on a ship. The sukkah is blown away by the wind which is stronger out on the water. R. Gamaliel cynically responds to him with what is one of my favorite lines in the entire Talmud—”Hey Akiva, where’d your sukkah go?” Poor R. Akiva.
Today’s section continues to deal with the dispute between R. Gamaliel and R. Akiva about whether one can build a sukkah on a ship. Abaye limits this dispute to a situation in which the wind is of a certain nature.
Abaye begins his statement by positing that both R. Gamaliel and R. Akiva agree on two points. If the sukkah cannot stand in a normal breeze on land, where the wind is less, than the sukkah is invalid. A sukkah must be strong enough to withstand a normal wind. And if it is super-strong, and can withstand an unusually strong land breeze (we used to get these in Atlantic City where I grew up—hurricane season) then even R. Gamaliel would agree that it is valid.
Note that Abaye seems to be saying that this is true no matter where the sukkah is built—even on land. Thus he has taken a dispute concerning a sukkah built on a ship and shifted it to something even more relevant—how sturdy must the sukkah be when built on land.
The dispute occurs with a sukkah that can withstand a normal land breeze but not an abnormally strong one. R. Gamaliel disqualifies this sukkah because it is not a “permanent abode.” Just as a home should be able to withstand a strong wind so too a sukkah should be able to withstand such a wind.
R. Akiva holds that the sukkah is valid because it should be a temporary structure. A temporary structure need only withstand a normal wind.
Today’s section begins a relatively long and complex discussion about building a sukkah on the back of an animal.
The Talmud begins by citing a baraita which demonstrates that the mishnah, which allows one to make a sukkah on the back of a camel, accords with R. Meir. R. Judah declares that such a sukkah is invalid.
The Torah says that one should dwell in a sukkah for seven days. To R. Judah this means that the sukkah one uses must be able to be used for seven days. Since on Yom Tov or Shabbat one cannot get on a sukkah that was built on an animal (this was stated in the mishnah at the end of Daf 22), this sukkah cannot be used for seven days.
R. Meir validates this sukkah because according to Torah law it is okay to get onto an animal on Shabbat and Yom Tov. Thus according to Torah law this sukkah is valid for all seven days. The rabbis prohibited using it on Yom Tov or Shabbat because it is on the back of an animal, but this does not detract from its general validity.
In this baraita the person doesn’t make a sukkah on an animal. Rather, he uses the animal as a wall for a sukkah. R. Meir, who allowed one to make a sukkah on an animal, does not allow one to use the animal as a wall. R. Judah does allow one to use the animal as a wall.
The baraita precedes by listing other cases in which R. Meir doesn’t allow one to use something that has “the breath of life.” There are four such cases. 1) The wall of a sukkah. 2) A side-post for an alley. This is the post that is requited as part of the eruv system. It allows one to carry from one courtyard to another courtyard within a common alley. 3) Boards around wells. These are four “corner-boards” placed around a well to allow one to draw water from the well on Shabbat. They fictitiously create a private domain even though there are not four real walls around the well. According to the Talmud, this was a leniency for people who were making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
4) The covering of a grave. This covering prevents the impurity from the grave from escaping. The covering itself, however, is impure and defiles one who touches it.
R. Yose the Galilean adds that one can also not use something that is alive to write a get, a divorce document. The Talmud shall deal with this at greater length on the next daf.
In yesterday’s section R. Meir stated that something that has “the breath of life” in it cannot be used for certain halakhic uses (see yesterday’s section) including as a wall for a sukkah. In today’s section we begin to explore R. Meir’s reasoning.
Today’s section contains one of my favorite passages in the entire tractate. So enjoy!
Two amoraim debate why R. Meir doesn’t allow one to use an animal for any of these purposes, including as a wall for a sukkah. Abaye said that we are concerned lest it die. R. Zera says we are concerned that it will run away.
The Talmud, as it often does, tries to find the practical ramifications between different amoraic opinions. In this case, for some reason the Talmud tries to determine when the two amoraim debate if one uses an elephant as a wall for a sukkah. It seems that the Talmud uses this example because it’s the biggest animal they can imagine. I doubt anyone ever really used an elephant as a wall for a sukkah.
In any case, if the elephant is securely tied in place (don’t try this at home) then there is no problem. The elephant won’t be able to run away and if it dies its carcass will still be large enough to serve as a wall.
The two amoraim disagree if the elephant used as the wall of the sukkah is tied up. According to Abaye who says we fear lest it die, we are not concerned in this case, because the elephant’s carcass can still serve as a wall. But for R. Zera who says that we are concerned lest if escape, we should be concerned since it is not tied up.
The problem with the above explanation is that Abaye who says we are concerned lest the animal die should also be concerned lest it escape.
Therefore, if the elephant is not tied up, all amoraim say that R. Meir’s is concerned lest it escape. They differ only if it is a smaller, ordinary animal that is tied up. Abaye says that R. Meir is concerned lest it die and its carcass wouldn’t be large enough to constitute a wall. R. Zera says that since it is tied up, R. Meir is not concerned lest it escape.
However, even this doesn’t make full sense. Why shouldn’t R. Zera be concerned lest it escape? The answer is that death is not a frequent occurrence. It is obviously far more likely for an animal used as a wall to a sukkah to run away than it is for it to escape. Since death at this particular moment is unlikely to occur, R. Zera says that R. Meir would not be concerned.
The Talmud now raises some general problems with using an animal as a wall for a sukkah. What about the space between its legs? The answer is that he fills that space in.
And why aren’t we concerned lest the animal lie down? The answer is that he ties it up from above.
This section concludes with another difficulty. If we said that in order for the animal to be used as a wall it must be tied up to the top of the wall, why should be concerned lest it die? Even if it dies, it seems that the carcass will stay standing up and can serve as a wall.
The answer is that he might have tied the animal up just within three handbreadths of the skhakh. If the animal dies it will sag a bit and be more than three handbreadths from the skhakh. This will invalidate the sukkah but he won’t notice. Therefore, even if it is tied up the one who is concerned lest it die still needs to be concerned.
We should note that these types of answers are admittedly far-fetched. They demonstrate how far the Talmud is willing to go to resolve all potential difficulties. In this case, it does make for some good images—an animal tied up to the roof of the sukkah with palm fronds between its legs! Especially if it’s dead! Those rabbis.