Beitzah 3

Two meanings of the word "Amora."

Yesterday, we began this tractate with a mishnah about eggs. Specifically: Can you eat an egg that was laid on a festival? Today we encounter a sugya that considers a similar debate: If Shabbat and a festival fall on consecutive days, and a chicken lays an egg on the first of those days (and may therefore not be eaten on that day), can it at least be eaten on the second day? In other words, if the chicken laid an egg on Shabbat, can it be eaten on the festival that follows? Or, if the chicken laid an egg on a festival day, can it be eaten on Shabbat which immediately follows? Rav says the egg is permitted on the second day, but Rabbi Yehuda says it is forbidden.

The discussion introduces us to the idea of “two sanctities” — that Shabbat and festival days that are consecutive are nonetheless considered separate sacred days, not one long block of sacred time. This is why when Shabbat is followed by a festival we say Havdalah to mark the end of Shabbat, but change the wording from “bein kodesh l’chol” (naming a distinction between sacred and mundane time) to “bein kodesh l’kodesh” (distinguishing between one sacred time and another).

As it often does, the Gemara relates stories about this particular legal debate. The second of these takes a surprising turn:

Rav Pappa’s host, and some say it was a certain man who came before Rav Pappa, had eggs that were laid on a Shabbat before a festival. He came before him (Rav Pappa) and said to him: What is the halakhah with regard to whether it is permitted to eat these eggs tomorrow (on the festival)?

Rav Pappa said to him: Go away and come back tomorrow. He said this because Rav would not place an amora before him from one festival day until the end of the second festival day, due to drunkenness.

When the man came back the following day, Rav Pappa said to him: Had I issued a ruling for you then, I would have forgotten the correct response…

Rather than answer the question, Rav Pappa sends the questioner away because he has no amora, no “speaker.” The amoraim were, essentially, human microphones for the sages. When a sage lectured, an amora would repeat their words loudly, translated into the vernacular, and often with explanation.

Like the alcoholic uncle everyone keeps from the microphone at a wedding, it seems that Rav would habitually remove Rav Pappa’s amora, his “microphone,” on festivals because he was inclined to get drunk and misremember halakhic minutiae. 

You may of course recognize the word “amora” from a different context. The earliest generations of named sages in the Talmud are the Tannaim. They lived between the first and early third centuries. There are about eight more generations of named sages in the Talmud that come after them who refer to themselves as Amoraim (the plural of Amora), which implies that they are essentially spokespeople or amplifiers for the Tannaim, though they were certainly distinguished sages in their own rights. 

Rav Pappa, an Amora himself (in the generational sense of the term) seems not to mind that Rav took away his amora (in the human microphone sense of the term). Rather, he apparently viewed it amiably, as an act of kindness that prevented him from accidentally giving wrong instruction. He seemingly has no difficulty admitting to his inebriated state, nor the fallibility of his memory. The vulnerability is endearing — and it’s also a good reminder, amidst this page’s rigorous examination of the permissibility of eating eggs laid at halakhically complex moments — that festivals are not just about rules. They’re fundamentally about joy. L’chaim!

Read all of Beitzah 3 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on September 3rd, 2021. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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