The Talmud resolves that there are two levels of the law concerning hair interposing in the mikveh. There is a level of interposition that according to Toraitic law disqualifies the immersion. Upon this level the rabbis decreed that other types of interposition disqualify the immersion.
From the Torah two criteria need to be fulfilled for the immersion to be blocked: 1) a majority of his hair must be blocked. 2) He (or she) must “mind” the thing that interposes. What this means is that the thing that is in his hair is something a person would generally not want this to be in his hair. For instance, gum. Other foreign substances (tar, blood etc.) would also not be wanted in one’s hair. Similarly one wouldn’t want one’s hair knotted up.
If only one of these conditions is fulfilled, then the rabbis decreed that it interposes.
If neither of the conditions is fulfilled—it doesn’t block the majority of his hair and he doesn’t mind its presence—then there is no interposition.
The Talmud now asks why we don’t go even a step further. Why not decree that even if he doesn’t mind its presence and it is not on a majority of his hair that it does interpose? In other words, why not just say that anything that interposes blocks the immersion?
The answer is that since only a case where it blocks a majority of the hair and he minds its presence interposes from Torah law, we don’t need to issue a decree lest someone transgress another decree. This is a common principle in rabbinic decrees. They are one degree stricter than Torah law—they do not need to be two degrees stricter.
Today’s section deals with the laws of partitions.
The idea that for a partition to be valid it cannot be less than ten handbreadths is a “halakhah to Moses from Sinai” for R. Judah (see the end of daf heh). But R. Meir holds that we learn those laws from the Torah. So then we must ask: what aspect of the laws of partitions are “halakhah?”
The Talmud provides three legal fictions that we shall encounter throughout the tractate. The first is “extension.” This means that we can fictionally imagine a straight edge as going up into the air such that it creates a partition. It also could mean that the edge of a wall that doesn’t reach the ground can be looked at as if it reaches the ground.
The law of “lavud” means that a space less than three handbreadths does not count. For instance if there is a gap of less than three handbreadths in the skhakh then the skhakh is valid.
Today’s section returns to the original mishnah and the topic of how many walls are necessary to build a proper sukkah.
The rabbis (the majority opinion) hold that the sukkah must have three walls. Two walls must be at least of the minimum size (which we learned on daf gimmel—enough to hold his head, most of his body and table) and the third can be even a handbreadth.
Rabbi Shimon says the sukkah requires three proper walls. The fourth wall may be as small as a handbreadth.
The Talmud now tries to figure out the source of this debate—what is the underlying reasoning behind their dispute?
This debate is connected to a debate about whether to understand the Torah as it is pronounced or how it is spelled. This is an issue because the Torah does not have vocalization in it. In other words, there are no vowels.
There 3 cases in which the phrase “the Festival of Sukkot” is mentioned. Two of them are written like this: חג הסכת and one is written like this חג הסכות. The first way is with the vav which makes the world plural and the second without it. But all three cases are pronounced the same—in the plural. [Note that the way we write the Torah is not exactly like this].
The rabbis give authority to the way the Torah is written. Therefor there are a total of four “sukkot” in the Torah for the cases in which it is written without a vav count as only one. One mention of sukkot is necessary just to teach you that you need to build a sukkah. That leaves three extraneous “sukkot” for three walls. Tradition teaches that the third wall need not be real. That leaves us with two real walls and one that need only be a handbreadth.
R. Shimon holds that the way we pronounce the Torah is authoritative. So there are a total of six “sukkot” in the Torah. One mention is needed to teach the law itself. That leaves four “sukkot”—four walls. Tradition says that one wall can be as small as a handbreadth, which leaves us with 3 full walls and one fictional one.
The Talmud now continues with some other ways of explaining the dispute between the sages and R. Shimon as to whether the sukkah requires 3 or 4 walls.
It is possible that both the sages and R. Shimon agree that the way we pronounce the Torah is authoritative. This leaves us with 6 sukkot—3 mentions and each is worth 2 because they are all plural. All agree that one mention is needed to teach the law itself. That leaves 4. The sages hold that one more mention is needed to teach that the sukkah needs skhakh. That leaves 3. R. Shimon holds that the skhakh does not need its own mention.
The next possibility is that all agree that the way we write the Torah is authoritative. This leaves 4 mentions. One is required to introduce the law of sukkah itself. This leaves 3 mentions. Rabbi Shimon holds that the tradition comes to say that there needs to be another wall that is at least a handbreadth long. The tradition adds. The other sages say that the tradition reduces the size of the third wall to a handbreadth.
It is also possible that all agree that the way the text is written is authoritative (4 mentions) and that the tradition comes to reduce and not to add. But they disagree whether one can expound midrashically upon the first reference. The rabbis hold that one cannot. This leaves us with three references—two full walls and one handbreadth wall. Rabbi Shimon says that you can use even the first mention of sukkah as a midrash. So that leaves four mentions—3 full walls and one handbreadth wall.
R. Matanah offers a completely different understanding of why R. Shimon requires 4 walls. According to the verse in Isaiah, the sukkah is to be for shelter from the elements. Only a four walled sukkah can truly offer shelter. Therefore, the sukkah must have four walls.
Today’s section discusses the one handbreadth wall that both the sages and R. Shimon allow to complete the mandated 3 or 4 walls of the sukkah.
Rav says that the one handbreadth wall should be placed directly opposite one of the “departing walls.” Basically this means that if one wall runs east-west and the other south-north, he should attach it to either one of the walls. The handbreadth wall would be directly opposite the other wall.
Two other sages ask why he should not place it in another way. The Hebrew and English are a bit hard to understand here and there are various interpretations. One interpretation is that he should place this wall diagonally so that it curves in a bit, creating the impression that the Sukkah is actually enclosed. Another possibility is that it is placed opposite both existing walls. The full walls are on one side and the handbreadth wall is opposite them, creating the illusion that there are actually four walls.
Rav didn’t answer their question.