Beitzah 21

Hey look, a raven!

On today’s daf, the conversation about the permissibility of particular labors on a festival continues with a question from Rav Avya the Elder to Rav Huna. The question is a bit technical, but it’s the response that calls out for an explanation.

Rav Avya asks:

If an animal is owned in partnership, half of it belonging to a Gentile and half of it to a Jew, what is the halakhah with regard to slaughtering it on a festival? 

You might think that, on a festival, a Jew would be forbidden to slaughter an animal if ownership was split between the Jew and a non-Jewish partner. Since half of the animal belongs to a non-Jew, and the non-Jew is not celebrating the festival, that half of the animal is muktzeh (set aside). And, since animals come in units of one, you could argue that the entire animal should be considered muktzeh. But:

Rav Huna said to him: It is permitted. 

The Gemara has already established that animals can be slaughtered on a festival if they are going to be eaten on the holiday. Ritual slaughtering always yields some parts of the animal that will not be consumed because they are not kosher. In his response, Rav Huna presumes those parts of the animal that a Jew can’t eat therefore belong to the no-Jewish owner. 

Based upon Rav Huna’s response, Rav Avya asks about a similar case:

And what is the difference between this case and that of vow offerings and gift offerings? 

Similar to the case of jointly owned animals, these sacrifices each yield some meat that will be sacrificed upon the altar (i.e. “owned” by God) and some that will be eaten (i.e. “owned” by the owner and the priest). So, Rav Avya asks, why is it not also permitted to offer these “jointly owned” sacrifices on a festival? 

What a great (or maybe, typical) talmudic question, you might be thinking, can’t wait to hear the answer. 

Rav Huna: Look, a raven flies in the sky.

Huh? 

The commentators offer a wide range of explanations. Some say that Rav sought to distract Rav Avya — “Hey look, a raven!” — as a way to change the subject and avoid the question. Others suggest that Rav Huna was offering a critique: “The case you raised is not at all relevant here — you might as well have pointed out that a raven was passing by; that would have been just as relevant.” Either way, it seems to be dismissive.

Rav Huna’s son is taken aback by his father’s treatment of Rav Avya, a respected elder, and demands an explanation. Rav Huna responds:

What should I have done for him? Today I am in a state best described by the verse: Let me lean against the stout trunks, let me couch among the apple trees. (Song of Songs 2:5) — and he asked me about something that requires reasoning.

Rav Huna is having a bad day. He is tired and would rather kick back in his shady orchard than puzzle through a complex question — the sort rabbis ordinarily find energizing. But some days, even the rabbis aren’t so interested in talmudic argumentation.

Ideally, Rav Huna would have said this more kindly: “Great question! Can I ponder it a bit and get back to you tomorrow?” Instead, he was impatient and condescending. Once again, the Talmud catches a rabbi in a human, less-than-perfect moment and records it for posterity.

Read all of Beitzah 21 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on September 21st, 2021. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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