The rabbis respond to R. Judah that his stringency (the sukkah must be built of the four species) will actually lead to a leniency, for if he doesn’t find enough of the four species to build a sukkah, he won’t be able to dwell in the sukkah.
Here the rabbis note that in Nehemiah the Jews don’t use just the four species as identified in Leviticus to build their sukkot, they seem to use other species as well. Indeed, five are mentioned, and the etrog seems to be absent. In other words, since the species mentioned here are not exactly the same as those in Leviticus, the rabbis assume that these are different and that the Jews referred to here also took the four species in Leviticus and used them for what we call a lulav. Again, this is not how biblical scholars read the verse. The rabbis read this verse in this manner so it doesn’t contradict their reading of Leviticus.
Paradoxically, while the verse might have originally been the source of R. Judah’s ruling that the sukkah must be built of the four species, here it becomes a difficulty against him. The Jews here use more than just the four species from Leviticus to build their sukkah.
This section accomplishes two things. First of all, R. Judah offers his interpretation of the verse. The species mentioned in the book of Nehemiah that are not part of the four in Leviticus were used for the walls, and R. Judah agrees that the walls need not be made of the four species. Only the skhakh, according to R. Judah, must be made of the four species.
Now we return to Rava’s statement above that sinews and roots are considered date-palms. R. Judah allows one to use planks to make the skhakh. Since he holds that one must use one of the four species to make the skhakh, it must be that these planks were made of the base of the date-palm. Thus we can see that planks, and probably sinews as well, are halakhically considered part of the date-palm.
The first half of this section is a continuation of yesterday’s section, where R. Judah said that the skhakh had to be made of the four species. The second half continues with a discussion of the material used to bind the lulav.
The Talmud now cites a baraita in which it seems quite clear that R. Judah does not demand that the skhakh be made of one of the four species. The particular details of the baraita are not our concern here. What is our concern is that it contradicts that which we taught above.
Conveniently, the Talmud is able to use a biblical verse in order to interpret “cedar” as “myrtle.” Thus, R. Judah doesn’t allow one to use cedar planks, just myrtle planks. Now, how one can make a plank out of myrtle, a plank that is four handbreadths wide, that’s another story.
R. Meir in the mishnah allowed one to use a cord made of any type of material to bind the lulav. Here he cites a story where the nobility of Jerusalem used gold strands to bind their lulav.
However, as usually happens, the proof from the story is rejected. The other sages say that the nobility used gold on top of binding material made of the same material as the lulav. Thus it was bound with its own species, and the gold was merely decorative.
According to Rabbah, when one holds the lulav, his hand must touch the lulav itself. If something else is there, it interposes. Here, the binding put around the hoshanna (the Aramaic word for the lulav) would interpose and prevent him from performing the mitzvah. Therefore, according to Rabbah, he should leave space for his hand so that his hand isn’t blocked.
Rava says that since the binding is only there to make the lulav look good, it doesn’t interpose. Rava, as we can see here, holds that the lulav need not be bound.
Today’s section deals with the issue of holding the hoshanna (Aramaic for lulav) with some sort of holder.
This statement of Rabbah’s is related to his statement at the end of yesterday’s section, that when binding the lulav, one should leave room at the end so that the binding doesn’t block him from holding it. Here too he notes that if one shouldn’t hold the lulav with a scarf because that is not a “whole taking.”
As was the case in yesterday’s section, Rava disagrees. Holding something by means of something else still counts as “holding.” One’s skin need not touch the thing that he is holding.
Rava uses Mishnah Parah 12:1 to prove that holding something by something else still counts as holding. When dipping the hyssop into the purification waters (those that have the ashes of the red heifer) in order to sprinkle them on the impure person, he may lengthen the hyssop with thread or a reed. This is allowed even though the Torah says that he must take the hyssop and then dip it. From here we can see that “taking” does not preclude holding the object by something else.
That mishnah is rejected as general proof because the reed or thread is actually attached to the hyssop. Thus it is not sufficient proof that one can hold the lulav in a scarf.