Shabbat 51

Mutual affection.

Yesterday, we talked about insulating hot food over Shabbat. In today’s daf, the rabbis turn to the question of whether one can insulate cold food. Rav Huna initially reports that the great Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, head of the Sanhedrin (and thus the rabbi with the greatest authority at the time) taught that it was prohibited to insulate cold food on Shabbat.

But wait, the Gemara asks, didn’t we also learn that the same Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi taught the opposite: that it was permitted to insulate cold food on Shabbat?

How can this be? Did he change his mind? Did he simultaneously hold that it was both permitted and prohibited? The Gemara resolves the dilemma:

This is not difficult. This statement [that it was prohibited] was made before he heard the ruling of Rabbi Yishmael, son of Rabbi Yosei; that statement [that it was permitted] was made after he heard it. 

As in that incident where Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi sat and said: It is prohibited to insulate cold food on Shabbat to keep it cold, Rabbi Yishmael, son of Rabbi Yosei, said before him: Father permitted insulating cold food on Shabbat. Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi said: I retract my previous statement, as the elder, Rabbi Yosei, has already issued a ruling on this topic, and I defer to his ruling.

When Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi heard that Rabbi Yishmael’s father, the great Rabbi Yosei ben Halafta, had permitted insulating cold food, he retracted his ruling and deferred to Rabbi Yosei. Though Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi had the authority and standing to stick to his position, he changed his position out of deference and respect for Rabbi Yosei, who was one generation above him.

Rav Pappa then teaches:

Rav Pappa said: Come and see how much they loved each other. Had Rabbi Yosei still been alive, he would have been subordinate to and sitting before Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi as his student, as Rabbi Yishmael, son of Rabbi Yosei, who took his father’s place and was as great a Torah scholar as his father, was subordinate to and sitting before Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi as his student. And nevertheless Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi says: The elder has already issued a ruling on this topic, and he deferred to Rabbi Yosei’s ruling.

While on the surface we are debating whether or not one can insulate cold food on Shabbat, really this is a story about love and respect. Rabbi Yosei, had he been alive, would have deferred to the authority of the younger Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi and Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, even with all of his authority, chooses to defer to the authority of Rabbi Yosei. We’ve certainly seen examples in the Gemara of rabbis treating one another with disrespect (consider how Rabban Gamliel was seen wielding his authority in tractate Berakhot!), but in this story we find that mutual affection and devotion was also an integral part of rabbinic culture. We’ve got another story of kindness (practiced in a very different way) for you tomorrow. Until then!

Read all of Shabbat 51 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on April 26, 2020. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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