Talmud pages

Ketubot 34

The holiness of Shabbat.

As the Talmudic debate over kam lei b’draba minei (the idea that if one is liable for more than one punishment, only the more severe punishment applies) continues, we encounter yet another aspect of the debate over intention and action. This time, the debate is not over punishment for an action that constitutes multiple violations, but the permissibility to benefit from a forbidden action:

He who cooks on Shabbat by accident may eat it. But (if he cooks) on purpose, he may not. — These are the words of Rabbi Meir.

Rabbi Yehudah says: (If he cooks) by accident, he may eat after Shabbat. But (if he cooks) on purpose, he may never eat it.

Rabbi Yochanan HaSandlar says: By accident: Others may eat it after Shabbat but not him. On purpose: It may never be eaten — not by him and not by others. 

Cooking food on Shabbat, as we explored in depth in Tractate Shabbat, is forbidden. The three Tannaim (early rabbis) above draw our attention to a distinction between cooking that was done mistakenly — for example, when someone forgot it was Shabbat and fried an egg — and cooking that was done deliberately, knowing it was a violation. 

Rabbi Meir’s ruling follows an intuitive and forgiving logic: If one made an honest mistake and did not mean to break Shabbat, why should the cooked food be prohibited? If one cooked the food on Shabbat purposefully, however, why would the rabbis let him or her benefit from such a sin (a move that would, presumably, provide motivation to do it again)? Therefore, accidentally cooked food is permitted; intentionally cooked food is forbidden.

On the other hand, breezily allowing one to benefit from a mistake might encourage a laxity that the rabbis would rather discourage. We can therefore understand Rabbi Yehudah’s stricter ruling that, in the case of accidentally cooked food, one should at least wait until after Shabbat, when cooking is no longer prohibited, to enjoy. Perhaps the inconvenience of the wait will discourage future laxity. 

You may recall that Rabbi Yehudah is the same Tanna who argues that one may not perform a forbidden action, even unintentionally (davar she’eino mitkavein). His opinion here is consistent, in that one should not be able to benefit directly from an action that violates Shabbat, whether or not the person intended the violation. 

What of Rabbi Yochanan HaSandlar? Rabbi Hiyya goes on to explain his reasoning through Exodus 31:14, which says: “You shall keep the Shabbat, for it is kodesh (holy) to you.”

Rabbi Hiyya explains that just as kodesh (a holy item, often referring to something sanctified for use in the Temple) is forbidden to eat, so too things made on Shabbat (which is called kodesh in the biblical verse) are forbidden to eat. According to Rabbi Yochanan HaSandlar, one may not benefit from a violation of that sanctification — ever. If it was an honest mistake, others may benefit after Shabbat, because there is no reason to penalize those who were not responsible for the violation. However, the person who violated Shabbat, even accidentally, should not benefit from this mistake — even later on. This may be a more stringent approach to preventing any laxity in the observance of Shabbat, but it may also be something more: giving a certain status to anything created during this holy time. 

Although today’s debate obviously revolves around questions of culpability as related to intention, we see now that it also concerns protecting the sanctity of Shabbat itself. Shabbat is holy, and everything involving the day is, by extension, also considered “holy,” or set aside — and therefore prohibited from human consumption.

Read all of Ketubot 34 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on August 9th, 2022. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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