Talmud

Gittin 62

Shalom shalom.

According to the Torah’s law of shemita (sabbatical year), one year in seven the land of Israel gets to rest from being sown and harvested. Jews are required to refrain from planting during the shemita, though they may harvest whatever grows spontaneously.

Of course, the land of Israel has always been shared by non-Jewish inhabitants. Being bound only by the seven Noahide laws, these residents are not required to refrain from planting. But what if they ask for help from a Jewish neighbor — are Jews allowed to assist? We learned yesterday in a mishnah:

One may assist gentiles during the sabbatical year, but one may not assist Jews (who plant during the shemita). And one may extend greetings to gentiles on account of the ways of peace.

We’ll get to greetings in a moment, but let’s focus first on the fact that the mishnah apparently permits Jews to assist non-Jews in planting and harvesting during shemita, though they may not abet Jews who are flouting the Torah’s rule. There seems to be a fine line between planting your own crop and helping someone else do it. So the Gemara on today’s daf expresses some surprise at the mishnah’s ruling:

May one really assist them? But didn’t Rav Dimi bar Shishna say in the name of Rav: “One may not hoe with a gentile during the sabbatical year…?” 

No, it is necessary to state that one may merely say to them: “Be strong,” as in that incident where Rav Yehuda said to gentiles in such a situation: “Be strong,” and Rav Sheshet said to them: “Well done.”

Tilling your non-Jewish neighbor’s soil during the shemita, following the ruling of Rav, is out of bounds. Presumably, this just comes too close to violating the Torah. But verbal support for non-Jews tilling their own soil is acceptable. There seems to be a desire to strike a balance between maintaining friendly relations and adhering to the Torah. It’s a theme continued on today’s page, but it’s about to get more complicated.

The mishnah also asserted that one may extend greetings to a non-Jew. Being able to offer basic greetings seems the minimal standard of civility, so you may read this and think: Why would we think Jews can’t greet gentiles? The mishnah doesn’t say, but the Gemara on today’s daf suggests that the problem is not greetings in general but one very specific form of address:

(According to Rav) one may not double the greeting extended to a gentile. 

Greeting gentiles with a friendly shalom is fine. But, according to Rav, shalom shalom is a problem. (“Shalom” seems to have been a standard greeting for both Jews and non-Jews, and “shalom shalom” the standard response). Rashi suggests that addressing gentiles with the word shalom is complicated because it is one of the names of God, and therefore an inappropriate greeting.

Indeed, next we hear about two rabbis who always performed a little social tapdance to avoid saying “shalom shalom” to their non-Jewish neighbors:

Rav Hisda would greet gentiles first. 

Rav Kahana (would wait for their greeting) and then say to them: Peace to my master.

Rav Hisda was careful to always be the first to extend a greeting, which may actually have had the advantage of making him appear extra friendly (or maybe forward — it’s difficult to be certain). This way, he could always avoid using the “shalom shalom” reply. Rav Kahana who, if he was like me maybe wasn’t as good at recognizing people coming up the street, took a different approach: He would allow gentiles to greet first and then use an alternate polite reply.

But if this avoidance of even the specific greeting “shalom shalom” still seems strange to you, now the Gemara also questions the entire premise. Why would I even think I cannot greet gentiles? The answer:

Rav Yeiva said: This halakhah is necessary only on their holidays, as it is taught in a beraita: A person may not enter the home of a gentile on his holiday and extend greetings to him, as it appears that he is blessing him in honor of his holiday. If he encounters him in the market, he may greet him in an undertone and in a solemn manner.

Of course, says Rav Yeiva, one may greet a gentile on ordinary occasions! It is only during their holidays that we have a concern, because we do not want to appear to be celebrating their (idolatrous) festivals. Nonetheless, the mishnah comes to teach us that one may greet them demurely in public on their festival days, so as not to give the impression one is celebrating those same festivals. If the rabbis were here today, they might discourage us from offering an overly hearty “Merry Christmas!” that makes it sound like we are celebrating too. 

The bottom line seems to be that the rabbis are trying to maintain peaceful relations with their non-Jewish neighbors without compromising Jewish law and values. This gets tricky when it comes to planting during shemita, greeting non-Jews with the word shalom and accidentally appearing to celebrate their holidays. We’ll have a lot more to navigate in this department when we get to Tractate Avodah Zarah. For now, the Gemara moves on to a new chapter.

Read all of Gittin 62 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on July 17th, 2023. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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