Beitzah 25

Mind your manners.

Don’t chew with your mouth open.

Keep your elbows off the tables.

Don’t begin eating until everyone’s been served.

Every community has its guidelines for proper manners. Today’s daf takes a breather from detailing halakhic requirements to consider some of these softer rules in rabbinic life.

Here is how the rabbis come to the discussion: A mishnah on today’s page considers the dilemma of an animal that seems likely to expire on a festival. If the animal dies naturally, it becomes carrion and cannot be eaten. So there is a strong incentive to slaughter it — but one is not supposed to slaughter animals on a festival except for the express purpose of eating them as part of the celebration. What to do?

According to the mishnah, one is permitted to slaughter the animal in danger of dying on a festival only if there’s enough time left in the holiday for the person to take and eat at least an olive’s bulk of the animal’s meat — making it as if the animal is slaughtered for the purposes of eating on the festival. Furthermore, the animal’s carcass can’t just be strung up on poles and hauled back into town. To distinguish the holiday from a normal weekday for those watching, it must be dismembered and butchered in the field and brought home “limb by limb.”

This awkward manner of slaughter and the rush to cook and consume an olive’s bulk of the meat leads to a related lesson in etiquette:

Rami bar Abba said: The mitzvah of flaying and cutting the animal into pieces is mentioned in the Torah with regard to the burnt offering, and the same is true for butchers. From here the Torah taught proper etiquette, that a person should not eat meat before flaying and cutting the animal into pieces.

The Torah requires us to completely butcher a burnt offering, hinting at proper etiquette for regular slaughter: It’s rude to lop off and eat part of an animal before properly butchering and dismembering it. It’s a little more stringent than the Noahide rule against removing and eating the limb of a living animal, but still, good to know.

From here, the rabbis offer other tips on manners:

A person should not eat garlic or onions from the side of its head, i.e., its roots, but rather from the side of its leaves. And if he did eat in that manner, he gives the appearance of being a glutton.

Similarly, a person should not drink his cup of wine all at once, and if he did drink in this manner, he gives the appearance of being a greedy drinker. The sages taught in this regard: One who drinks his cup all at once is a greedy drinker; if he does so in two swallows, this is proper etiquette; in three swallows, he is of haughty spirit, as he presents himself as overly delicate and refined.

In all of these cases — eating meat before the animal is butchered, chomping down on the head side an onion and gulping a glass of wine in one swallow — the concern seems to be the appearance of greed. Grabbiness then, as now, was rude. And taking too dainty sips of wine, apparently, was irritatingly high and mighty.

The Gemara offers no punishment for those who violate these expectations around gluttony and snottiness. Presumably the negative judgment of one’s peers is an adequate deterrent. But for those who eat an animal’s meat before completing the butchering process, our daf goes on to lay out punishment:

Similarly, young trees. (These kinds of violations) will cut off the feet of butchers and those who have relations with menstruating women

The Torah requires one to wait until a tree is three years old before eating its fruit, and for a woman to stop menstruating before having relations with her. The Gemara places those who gobble meat before an animal is properly butchered in the same category as those who violate halakhah in their eagerness to sink their teeth into fruit of a young tree or return to relations with their wives. 

Most of us won’t have an opportunity to take the rabbis up on their advice about butchering animals for food. But the general pressure to conform to standards of etiquette seems virtually universal. So too, more specifically, the idea that we should not be too grabby.

Read all of Beitzah 25 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on September 25th, 2021. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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