The Talmud returns to discussing whether the main aspect of Temple music was the vocal singing or the musical instruments.
R. Papa says that the dispute concerning whether the essential element of the Temple music was with an instrument or by voice is related to a dispute over whether the flute players in the Temple were slaves owned by priests or whether they were Levites. This dispute is found in Mishnah Arakhin 2:4. R. Meir says they were slaves because he holds that the main aspect of the Temple music was the singing. Therefore, the flutes could be played by the slaves, those of lower status.
In contrast, R. Hanina b. Antigonus holds that they were Levites. Since the main feature of the Temple music was the musical instrument, the flutes had to be played by Levites, those of higher status.
The problem with R. Papa’s explanation of this mishnah is that it does not take into account R. Yose’s opinion from the mishnah– men from respectable families, but not Levites would play the flute. The problem is that this opinion does not accord with the scheme that R. Papa set up. If the main feature of Temple music was by voice, then why not let slaves play the flute? And if it was through an instrument, then he should demand that Levites play the flute.
Having rejected R. Papa’s explanation, the Talmud says that the tannaim merely differed as to their historical recollections of who actually played the flute. Some say it was Levites, some say it was men of important families, and some say that the flutes were played by slaves. But they all agree that the essential element of the music in the Temple was by voice.
To just say that the sages disagree about how things were done is not a satisfactory explanation of the mishnah, for it does not explain why the tannaim (or the editors of the Mishnah) would bother remembering such details. There must be some reason why this mishnah was remembered.
The answer is that it is connected to the question of what we can assume about a person who played the flute on the platform in the Temple—was he from a good Israelite family, was he a Levite, or might he have been a slave?
According to the one who holds that they were slaves, having sung on the platform is not evidence of being from a good family. Such a person would not even be allowed to marry an Israelite woman.
According to the one who holds that they were Israelites from good families, he would be allowed to marry a woman from a good family, but he would not be allowed to receive tithes because he was not a Levite.
Finally, the one who holds that these men were Levites would hold that any man known to have played the flute on the platform would be allowed to marry into a good Israelite family and he would be allowed to receive tithes. Such a man would be assumed to be a Levite.
This section goes all the way back to the interpretation of the baraita that contained a dispute about the flute overriding Shabbat. R. Joseph had interpreted the baraita to mean that there was a dispute over the flute that accompanied the sacrifices. Here we see a different context for the baraita.
R. Yirmiyah b. Abba now offers a different interpretation altogether about the dispute concerning the flute overriding the Shabbat. That flute was not the flute that accompanied the sacrifices. All agree that his flute overrides Shabbat, for all agree that the instruments are an integral part of the worship service. The dispute was with regard to the special flute played only during the Simchat bet Hashoevah service, the Sukkot ritual described in the Mishnah. R. Yose b. Judah holds that even though this ritual is not essential to Sukkot and it is just extra rejoicing, the flute still overrides the Shabbat. But the other sages hold that since it is only added rejoicing it does not override the Shabbat.
R. Joseph had said earlier that the dispute was about the flute that accompanies the sacrifice. But, according to his opinion, all sages agree that the flute that accompanies the Simchat Bet Hashoevah does not override the laws of Shabbat. This baraita conclusively proves that there is a dispute about the Simchat Bet Hashoevah flute. Thus at least one part of R. Joseph’s statement has been refuted.
There were two parts of R. Joseph’s statement. R. Joseph claimed that there is a dispute about the song that accompanies the sacrifices and second that there is no dispute about the song that accompanies the Simchat Bet Hashoevah. The second part of his statement was refuted. But what about the first part—if the sages don’t disagree about this flute, then both parts of his statement have been rejected.
R. Joseph could reply that the sages actually disagree about the flute that accompanied the sacrifices as well. They disagree about all flutes. The reason that we find the dispute specifically about Simchat Bet Hashoevah is to let you know just how radical R. Yose b. Judah’s opinion is—even the flute of Simchat Bet Hashoevah, which is only “extra rejoicing” overrides the rules of Shabbat. All the more so, everyone would agree that the flute accompanying the sacrifices overrides Shabbat.
The Talmud now uses the mishnah itself to refute R. Joseph. The mishnah clearly rules that the flute of the Simchat Bet Hashoevah is not played on Shabbat. From the mishnah, we can deduce that flute that accompanies the sacrifices does override the Shabbat. The mishnah emphasizes—this is the flute that doesn’t override Shabbat. Now this mishnah is clearly the rabbis’ opinion, for we know that R. Yose b. Judah allows the flute to be played on Simchat Bet Hashoevah. Thus we can see that the rabbis do allow the flute to accompany the other sacrifices, thereby contradicting the opinion of R. Joseph.
This section returns to the earlier subject of whether the essential element of the Temple music was with an instrument or by voice. The one who holds this position offers proof from a verse in II Chronicles that the song was done with trumpets.
This verse serves as proof for the opposite position, that the essential element of the Temple music was by voice, for in this verse voice is emphasized.
This is the response to the one who says that instruments were essential, by the person who holds the position that the voice was essential. He interprets this specific verse to mean that the song began by voice, and the instruments were just to make the voices sound better.
The position that holds that instruments were essential interprets the verse used by the opposite position as if it compares singers with trumpeters. Even the singers held instruments.
We should note that this ending is very typical of the Babylonian Talmud. Each position has a midrashic proof of its correctness and a refutation of the other’s proof.
Today’s section is a long mishnah. My commentary is taken from Mishnah Yomit.
The first four mishnayot of the final chapter of Sukkah are about a Sukkot ritual called “Simchat Bet Hashoevah”, which is usually translated as the “Celebration of the Water-Drawing.” The water-drawing refers to the drawing of the water from the Shiloah in order to perform the water-libation, described above in chapter four. At the end of the all-night Simchat Bet Hashoevah ceremony, early in the morning, they would leave the Temple, go down to the Shiloah and draw the water.
It seems that the function of the ceremony was twofold. First of all it highlighted the importance of the water-libation, which as we saw before, was controversial. Secondly, it allowed non-priests a chance to participate in the Sukkot ritual in the Temple. This seems to be one of the major differences between the Pharisees and Sadducees—the former encouraged the participation of non-priests in Temple ritual as much as was possible, whereas the Sadducees seemed to have abhorred it.
The Simchat Bet Hashoevah was supposed to have been the most joyous, celebratory occasion in the Jewish calendar. Indeed, to this day in our tefillot we call Sukkot “the time of our rejoicing (z’man simchatenu)”.
Section one: As we learned in yesterday’s mishnah, they did not celebrate the Simchat Bet Hashoevah on either Shabbat or on the festival. They would not begin until after the first festival day was completed. The celebration would start with the people going into the “Women’s Court.” This was a section in the Temple into which both men and women could enter, but it was as far as women could go in the Temple. Hence it was called the “Women’s Court.” The mishnah says that they would make their a “great enactment” but does not explain what this was. The Talmud explains that they separated the men and women, putting the men below and the women up into the balcony so that they wouldn’t mix. The fear was that in the midst of such a raucous occasion the mixture of men and women together could lead to transgression. Hence they separated between the sexes. However, on normal occasions men and women seem to have been together in the Women’s Court.
Section two: The first thing they would do was light an enormous menorah. On each candlestick there were four golden bowls—according to tomorrow’s mishnah, there was enough light to light up all of Jerusalem! Children would climb ladders to light the menorah and they would use 120 logs of oil, which is the equivalent of fifteen liters of oil. This works out to about half a liter of oil for each bowl.
Section one: The wicks that they used to light the candles were not made from any old ordinary material. They used the worn-out pants and belts the priests, which they wore in their Temple service. This teaches us that once something has been used for one mitzvah it is fitting that it should be used in another mitzvah as well.
Section two: The light from the menorah was so great that according to the mishnah it lit up all of Jerusalem.