Talmudic pages

Shabbat 4

Torah law versus rabbinic law.

Things really heat up – literally – on today’s daf.

The situation under discussion is this: A person mistakenly puts bread in the oven to bake on Shabbat. What should they do?

If they leave it there, they would be in violation of the Torah prohibition on baking on Shabbat. But if they remove it, they would be guilty of violating a rabbinic prohibition of peeling dough off an oven surface — a situation known as rediyat hapat (רדיית הפת). Rav Beivai bar Abaye wants to know: Do we allow a person to intentionally violate a rabbinic prohibition to avoid an accidental violation of Torah law?

Rav Aha bar Abaye (who happens to be Rav Beivai’s brother) challenges the premise of the question on the basis of a distinction in Jewish law between violations that are done b’meizid (במזיד, intentionally) and those done b’shogeg (בשוגג, accidentally). Actions only qualify as accidental if the person acts wholly out of ignorance. But in this case, it appears the person made a mistake initially and subsequently realized they had erred. In such a case, the person would not be liable for the mistake at all (even if they left the bread in the oven to bake), so what is Rav Beivaן really asking here?

Rav Sheila offers a fascinating answer: The person asking whether or not to remove the dough is not the person who put it there in the first place. It’s someone else, a pious friend perhaps, who saw the potential transgression and wanted to intervene to save his friend from violating a Torah commandment. But another sage, Rav Sheshet, objects:

And does one tell another person: Sin so that another will benefit? Permitting one to violate a prohibition, even one prohibited by rabbinic law, in order to help another perform a mitzvah (commandment) is inconceivable. The same is true with regard to preventing another from violating a more severe prohibition.

Rav Sheila seems to have thought we should be busy bodies, watching what our friends do and acting to prevent them from sinning — even at personal sacrifice. Rav Sheshet sets him straight: No. Worry about your own piety, not what your friends are doing.

In the end, the rabbis rewrite Rav Beivai’s question. What he’s really asking is about someone who placed the dough in the oven intentionally and later had regrets. Take it out, we tell them, even if it means violating a rabbinic ordinance, in order to save yourself from a more severe infraction. In the end, it is the protection of the Torah that the rabbis are most concerned about.

Read all of Shabbat 4 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on March 10, 2020. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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