Talmud pages

Shabbat 96

Two sins for the price of one.

On a previous page, the Talmud presents the 39 primary categories (avot) of labor that are prohibited on Shabbat. One that has been of particular interest throughout the tractate is carrying between domains. On today’s daf, we dive into the subcategory (toladah) of throwing, which falls under the larger category of carrying.

What connects throwing to carrying? The rabbinic logic is as follows: Just as carrying — lifting an object, bringing it into another domain and setting it down — is prohibited on Shabbat, so too are other actions that achieve the same purpose. Throwing an object into a public space also effectively transfers the object between domains, though it is not the same as carrying because the object is not under one’s direct control the entire time.

Recall that the avot, the “parent” forbidden labors, are tasks which were significant labors in the tabernacle, or those that are explicitly forbidden on Shabbat in the Torah. Other actions that are violations, like throwing, are “filed” under these categories as toladot (“offspring” forbidden labors). But though they appear lower in the taxonomy, toladot are not less significant violations. Rather, the avot/toladot distinction is merely a way of organizing the prohibitions.

You might ask (as the Gemara does), if one is equally liable for both actions, carrying out and throwing, what do we even gain by distinguishing one as an av and one as a toladah?

If one performs two different primary categories together, or alternatively, if one performs two subcategories (of two different primary categories) together, one is liable to bring two sin-offerings. And, if one performs a primary category of labor together with its own subcategory, one is liable to bring only one sin-offering.

It turns out, the difference is in counting up one’s liability in the event of multiple simultaneous violations. Violate Shabbat in two different categories at the same time? Two atoning sacrifices are required. But one who carries and throws at the same time, because these are part of the same category, is required to bring only one atoning sacrifice.

There are many more examples of toladot. Picking apples is not listed explicitly among the 39 avot, but harvesting fruit from the trees is considered parallel to harvesting wheat from the ground in which it grows — one of the 39 categories. So apple-picking is a toladah.

Avot and toladot are not just a taxonomy that was useful to the talmudic rabbis in determining sacrificial liability (which feels pretty far removed from our everyday Shabbat experience); they continue to be utilized in contemporary conversations about Shabbat observance that respond to the modern world. Consider Rabbi Danny Nevins’ teshuvah (rabbinic legal responsum), The Use of Electrical and Electronic Devices on Shabbat, which explores the parameters that help us determine the permissibility of a wide range of appliances and devices. Nevins forbids magnetic stripe cards, like those used for ATMs and subways, because in addition to matters related to the conducting of commerce, the digital recording of card usage is a toladah of (purposeful) writing. However, he concludes that hotel room key cards, which also contain a magnetic stripe but merely “show” the proper entry code to unlock a door. If programmed prior to Shabbat, these do not involve purposeful writing or commerce, and are permitted.

In addition to exemplifying how the talmudic categories of forbidden labor are applied by some Jews today, Nevins’ teshuvah provides an organized and in-depth review of the concepts introduced in the Talmud. I recommend checking it out.

Read all of Shabbat 96 on Sefaria.

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

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