Much of rabbinic law has been in place for more than a millenium, but learning daf yomi offers a unique window onto a time before Jewish law was standardized. I find myself especially fascinated by sugyot that offer insight into live action moments of halakhic debate.
Today’s daf continues a discussion about creating an eruv with a single beam or crossbar. Most rabbis held that a courtyard must have at least two houses to qualify for single-beam eruv construction, but Shmuel, a major authority, thought only a single house was necessary. His position was controversial, as this uncomfortable story demonstrates:
Rav Beruna sat and recited this halakhah stated by Shmuel (that an alleyway containing one house and one courtyard can be rendered permitted for carrying by means of a side post or a cross beam).
Rabbi Elazar, a student of a Torah academy, said to him: Did Shmuel really say this?
Rav Beruna said to him: Yes, he did.
He said to him: Show me his lodging.
He showed him.
Rabbi Elazar came before Shmuel and said to him: Did the Master actually say this?
Shmuel said to him: Yes, I did.
Rabbi Elazar is not shy! Shocked by what he learns in Shmuel’s name, he decides to go straight to the source — tracking down the great scholar in his own home. Shmuel affirms his own ruling but when he is then challenged by the chutzpadik student to defend it, he falls silent.
What are we to make of Shmuel’s silence? Is it an indication that he was indeed mistaken, and he accepts the challenge of the student, or that he simply doesn’t care about the challenge? The Gemara offers another story about Shmuel’s controversial ruling to help us understand this silence:
Come and hear: There was a certain alleyway that Ivut bar Ihi lived in, which contained only one house and one courtyard. He erected a side post for it, and Shmuel permitted him to carry in it.
Following Shmuel’s death, Rav Anan came and threw the side post down.
Ivut bar Ihi said with resentment: The alleyway in which I have been living and walking based on a ruling in the name of Master Shmuel, shall Rav Anan bar Rav come now and throw its side post away from me?
Learn from the fact that this side post remained intact throughout Shmuel’s lifetime that he did not accept Rabbi Elazar’s objection.
Now we understand — Shmuel did not accept the nervy student’s challenge to his one beam ruling. Only after Shmuel’s death was another sage, Rav Anan bar Rav, brave enough to enforce a position that overruled Shumel. If we stop reading here, we have a lively story of robust rabbinic disagreement.
Though we have often seen ways the Talmud revels in multiple conflicting opinions, further reading shows the rabbis had some discomfort with this particular disagreement. The Gemara brings another take on the same story of Rav Ivut bar Ihi which suggests Shmuel did in fact retract his controversial ruling:
Rav Ivut bar Ihi did not live alone in the courtyard. In fact there was a synagogue in the alley and the beadle would sleep in the synagogue, though he ate elsewhere.
If the synagogue were to be considered a residence because the beadle slept in it, then the alley in question actually had two residences. According to this version, the real debate between Rav Anan and Shmuel was over what is a home (where you eat or where you sleep? this conversation has dominated the last few pages), and not over whether a single beam or post can create an eruv for an alley with a single dwelling.
The first two passages suggest that communities lived with multiple conflicting rulings, and sometimes tempers ran strong. Sometimes students stormed elders’ homes and demanded answers. On the other hand, this last twist shows the Talmud trying to minimize a difficult debate, collapsing it into another debate that is better known.