Yoma 82

Pregnancy and pork.

On today’s daf, we continue to explore some of the exceptions to the rules about Yom Kippur prohibitions, specifically the prohibition on eating. The mishnah on today’s page tells us that if a pregnant woman smells food — and presumably is overcome by a craving for it — one may feed it to her until she feels better. The Talmud takes this leniency even further, extending it from the prohibition on eating food on Yom Kippur to the prohibition on eating certain forbidden foods year-round.

The sages taught: If a pregnant woman smelled consecrated meat (meat designated for a Temple offering that is forbidden for normal consumption) or pork, one should insert a reed in the gravy on her behalf and place it on her mouth. If her mind is settled, good; if not, one feeds her the gravy itself. If her mind is settled, good; if not, one feeds her the fat itself.

The sages go on to explain that one may help a pregnant woman eat the forbidden meat — and indeed, must do so — because apparently the rabbis believe her craving may be a sign that her body needs the nutrients. And saving a life takes precedence over nearly all the commandments. (There are three exceptions to this rule — idol worship, sexual immorality, and murder — which we’ll deal with at greater length in Tractate Sanhedrin, coming up for Daf Yomi readers in about three years’ time.)

The Talmud goes into striking detail about the steps that should be taken to ensure that the pregnant woman’s needs are being met while also preventing her, if possible, from breaking Jewish law. As Ayelet Libson points out in her book on subjectivity in talmudic law, the Talmud’s vision of how to deal with the dilemma of the pregnant woman’s cravings differs from the mishnah not only in its greater leniency about pork, but in its acknowledgment that only the pregnant woman knows how she is feeling and what she needs. It is up to her, and only her, to decide at what point her mind is settled. If she says it is not, the Talmud tells us that we must take her at her word, even to the point of enabling her to commit a major transgression. 

As more information comes to light about women’s experiences of their own bodies not being taken seriously in medical settings today, perhaps this carefully constructed procedure can serve as a helpful counterexample.

Read all of Yoma 82 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on July 2nd, 2021. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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