Chagigah 21

Stack of vessels.

In March 2020, we began studying Seder Moed, the section of the Talmud whose primary focus is holiday observances. Now, almost two years later, we’ve reached its final chapter. If you are expecting an engaging cliffhanger or a powerful denouement, (spoiler alert!) you may be disappointed with the technical subject matter under discussion on today’s daf.

The Gemara is discussing the laws of purifying vessels for use with terumah and kodesh foods. Terumah is produce that is donated by Israelites for exclusive consumption by priests. Kodesh refers to sacrificial foods, the parts of offerings made at the Temple that people are allowed to eat. Both food types can only be eaten in a state of purity. 

The mishnah on yesterday’s daf told us that there are some cases in which we are stricter with kodesh vessels than with terumah vessels, one of which is the purification of vessels from which they are eaten. The vessels used for terumah may be immersed in purifying water in a stack, but for kodesh vessels there’s an extra stringency: The vessels must be immersed individually. Why? On today’s daf, the Gemara presents two opinions: 

Rabbi Ila said: Because the weight of the inner vessel causes an interposition between the water and the vessels.

Rava says:

It is a rabbinic decree to ensure that one does not immerse small vessels, such as needles and hooks, inside a vessel whose mouth is less than the width of the tube of a wineskin.

Rabbi Ila is concerned that if stacked, one vessel may press down on another, creating an area between the two vessels that doesn’t touch the purifying water. Rava is concerned that if small vessels are placed inside another vessel with a small mouth, the water inside will not come into contact with the water of the ritual bath and the small vessels will not be purified. While their reasoning is different, both rabbis support the ruling of the mishnah that when purifying vessels for use with kodesh, they have to be immersed individually and not in stacks.

It’s reasonable to wonder if the concerns Rava and Rabbi Ila raise might also be applied to immersion of vessels for use with terumah. Wouldn’t stacked vessels be problematic in this case too? On this matter, the Gemara is silent for now (it will address this question on tomorrow’s daf), accepting for the moment the mishnah’s assertion that this stringency applies in one case and not the other.

The laws of ritual purity are largely moot today. But Talmud study is not only about deriving laws applicable to our lives today. The ways the rabbis derived their rulings, the methods they use to weigh evidence and compare similar cases, and the ways they balance competing concerns provide us a model of respectful debate and critical thinking that is deeply relevant today — even if the particular laws they establish might not be. 

Read all of Chagigah 21 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on March 2nd, 2022. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

Discover More

Kiddushin 73

How to avoid being pelted with etrogs.

Kiddushin 78

Holiness in contradiction.

Kiddushin 21

Methods of interpretation.