Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Bava Batra 37: Planting Trees, Dual Ownership of Land and Trees

Continuing to question through the complexities of two people claiming ownership of the same property, the Gemara tells of chazaka when one owns a field with many types of fruits.  Is chazaka established for the entire field if one consumes only one type of fruit/ in one part of the field?  Or would that only lead to the presumed ownership of the part of the field where those specific fruits were grown?  Does it matter if other trees were not producing fruit?  Or if the fruit trees were scattered throughout the field?

Rav Zavid speaks to chazaka when one person claims ownership of the field and another claims ownership of the fruit trees growing on that field.  Must the owner of the field insist that the other person uproot his trees and leave?  Does the tree-owner claim half of the land, as well as the trees?  Does he also own the land around each tree because that land supports the trees?

We learn that Rabbi Akiva has said that one who sells, sells generously.  Does that halacha apply in this case, or only regarding pits or cisterns, which do not "cause harm" to the land?  Clearly we are reviewing the argument of those who had a very different understanding of what "harm" means.  Today, it is hard to imagine that trees could ever be considered to be damaging to land - and if they were, an environmental assessment would recommend which different trees should be planted to avoid this problem.  In the times of the Talmud, the land was considered to be here for our use.  So if trees caused nutrients to be pulled from the land, nutrients which would otherwise allow for produce to be grown, then trees were causing damage.

The Gemara considers whether people sell generously or sparingly.  If a person sells the trees on his land, is he assumed to sell generously?  This would mean that the trees and the surrounding land were included in the sale.  Or would we assume that he would sell sparingly, keeping as much land as possible in his ownership? 

In Neharde'a, the Sages taught that if one consumes from an overcrowded orchard, he does not have chazaka over the entire orchard. But then how would one buy an alfalfa field, which is always overcrowded?  No, we learn, this teaching applies to trees.  Rav Zeira compares this to the sale of a vineyard that is overcrowded; not spaced properly.  Our notes, by Steinsaltz, tell us that three vines should be placed more than four cubits from each other.  If an extra vine is present, the rabbis pretend that it is not there.   Similarly, Steinsaltz's notes tell us that trees were place far enough apart to ensure that they would receive enough nutrients and that they would not wither.  Three trees together would include land among them so that if one tree died, another could be planted close to it.

Monday, 27 February 2017

Bava Batra 36: Chazaka with Gentiles/Jews, Slaves, Infant Slaves, Goat Food, and Different Types of Fields

The Gemara discusses the following ideas:

  • Cases where a Gentile's claim to disputed property is disbelieved, but a Jew who makes the same claim in the Gentile's name is deemed credible
  • Other related cases of disputed chazaka:
    • the Jew was present when the sale happened - credible
    • a sickle and rope were used to cull ties from the date tree that he bought - credible
    • if the Gentile possesses a field from the fence built to block wild donkeys - not credible
    • profiting from orla - not credible
    • profiting from the fodder of the land - credible only in Mechoza where this is done regularly
    • consumption of produce from land that is fissured (has irrigation ditches) - not credible unless the land is of inferior quality
    • members of the household of the Exilarch - not credible
The Gemara then discusses chazaka in other areas.  Slaves are compared to animals as property.  The understanding is that slaves are only subject to chazaka after three years of ownership.  A baby who is a slave is subject to chazaka immediately.  One of the proofs for this is the fact that "a mother does not forget her son", and this could not be an abandoned child.  

The Gemara then looks at goat behaviour to determine chazaka regarding ownership of the peeled barley that they consume.  

The rabbis return to our previous Mishna to discuss further concepts.  They consider what was meant by Rabbi Yishmael's claim of three months of possession in the first year, three months in the third year, and twelve months in the middle to establish chazaka.  Does plowing the land establish chazaka?  Does it make a difference whether the growing time is shorter, for minor produce, or longer, for major produce?  What about planting as a determinant of chazaka?  Does it matter whether we are speaking of a grain field also called a "white field"?   And might it make a difference which types and how many trees were planted in a treed field?  The rabbis consider these for much of amud (b).  

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Bava Batra 35: Judges' Discretion, Penalties for Robbers, Three Years for Claims

We are considering yesterday's daf's example of a dispute over land where two people claim that land is theirs and belonged to their ancestors.  They have no witnesses.  Judgements in these circumstances are made based on all information available.  If information is missing, judges are permitted to use shudda, their discretion.  The rabbis compare this example to other examples of cases where disputes seem to be based on equal types of information from each claimant.  However, we learn from the rabbis that financial considerations change the larger question about ownership.  In our first example, only one person can claim the land - the other gets nothing.  

We then are reminded that someone who robs in a marketplace is not called a robbery  This is because we do not know whom to repay for his 'robbery'.  Rav Ashi claims that he is called a robber.  The reason not to call him a robber is only because the term 'robber' assumes that a person must pay back what he stole.  Since he cannot fully atone in this case, his crime should not be called 'robbery'.  

The Gemara transitions toward a conversation about chazaka, presumptive ownership.  The rabbis consider whether three years of daily use is required to establish chazaka.  What about the case of a basket of fruit taken from a field?  We establish a dispute by claiming that someone has transgressed - through stealing, in this case.  Perhaps the three-year limit applies to how long one has to protest.

There are different halachot for Gentiles and for Jews when it comes to property claims.  When a Jew makes a claim about having purchased property from a Gentile, it is required for him to have a document as proof, just like a Gentile would be required to have that document to win that same claim.  

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Bava Batra 34: Complex Cases Clarify the Halacha re: Disputed Properties

A case is introduce in Bava Batra 33b.  It asks what should be done if one person admits that he snatched something from another person.  He admits this only after a witness testifies about his behaviour.  At that point the 'snatcher' explains that he did this only because it was his own property.  The rabbis reason that they cannot order the thief to pay, because there was only one witness against him.  They cannot let him off completely, because there was one witness to his crime.  They cannot ask him to take an oath, because he admitted to stealing and those who are thieves cannot take oaths. Rabbi Abba remembers that those in his position - liable but unable to take an oath - must pay damages. 

The Gemara wonders whether or not this last comment holds true in all cases. The rabbis question how many witnesses would be required to force a person to pay for their produce when they claimed to profit from that land for two years or for three years.  

We then consider "a certain boat" that two people claim to own independently.  One of them tells the court to seize it until he can find witnesses to attest to his ownership.  Rav Huna says this action is permitted while Rabbi Yehuda says that we have no reason to take action at this point.  They decide to seize the boat.  No witnesses are found, and that person asks the court to release the boat and whomever has a stronger case will win it.  Rabbi Yehuda says that the boat is not released.  Rav Pappa says that it is released.  The Gemara decides that we do not seize disputed property, but if it is seized, we do not release it.

Our daf ends with the introduction of a related case.  When two people argue that each of them has claim to property because it belonged to their ancestors, can we also say, "whomever is stronger prevails"?  Is this the same as the case where two people produce deeds to the same property, and those deeds were written on the same day?  Tomorrow's daf will help us to better understand this question.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Bava Batra 32: Discussion of Property Disputes Through Case Examples

The Gemara uses a case example to discuss halachot regarding testimony.  Based on community knowledge, a man was presumed to be a kohen, a priest, the son of a kohen.  A rumour stated that his mother was either a divorcee or a chalutza, and kohanim of these statuses are not permitted to marry priests.  The man's status as a priest was removed.  One witness claimed that this man was in fact a priest of 'unflawed' lineage.  The man's status as a kohen was restored.  Then his status was removed when two other witnesses claimed that he was the son of a divorcee or a chalutza.  One witness disputed this. All believe that the two single witnesses combine to create a valid argument for his status as a priest of unflawed lineage.

Some of the rabbis questions include:

  • Can one witness reverse the decision of a court?
  • Should we be concerned about reversing decisions and being in contempt of the court?
  • Must single witnesses testify at the same time or can their testimonies be stated on different days?
The Gemara uses another case to clarify their thinking.  One person says that he has a signed contract stating that land belongs to him.  He approaches the person currently working the land, who says that the contract was forged.  The person admits to Rabba that he did forge the bill of sale, but he had lost the original.  

The rabbis ask a number of questions:
  • Why would he lie?  
  • Is this a case of migo?
  • Is the forged bill of sale anything other than a shard?
  • Should we learn from a similar case where a promissory note was forged and then was worthless?
  • Should money always remain where it is?

Another case offers more insights.  A guarantor shows a contract to his debtor and demands payment of 100 dinars.  But I already paid you, says the debtor.  Yes, replies the guarantor, but you borrowed from me a second time.

Some questions:
  • Is it permitted to use one document for more than one transaction?
  • In this case should the money remain where it is, with the debtor?
  • Is this a case where money that was repaid was not useful currency and that is why the debt was still owed?
Today's daf ends with the beginning of a new case.   Rava bar Sharshom was rumoured to benefit from land belonging to orphans.  Abaye asked him how this rumour was started.  Rava says that he was holding the land as collateral for the orphan's deceased father.  He was was profiting from the land for the one-year period where he was holding the land as collateral.  This was done only because he was owed a further debt from the deceased father but had no collateral for that second debt.  Tomorrow's daf will offer more discussions of the issues related to this case.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Bava Batra 31: Changing One's Claim in Court

The rabbis use a particular case to explain a number of competing and complimentary concepts.  In a nutshell, the case states that two people claim that property belongs to them as it belonged to their ancestors.  

If one of the parties uses the argument of chazaka, he wins the claim because of the concept of migo, when a person could have claimed something more advantageous but instead raises a potentially damaging but still relevant argument, he will win his claim. He could have claimed that he bought the land from the claimant and thus has chazaka, but he claimed rights to the land through inheritance.  If witnesses contradict his claim to inheritance, though, the judge cannot rule in his favour.  

The rabbis consider whether or not it is acceptable to modify one's statement slightly - is it alright to argue a slightly different point in court after one's first claim has been made?  Is it alright to state that the inheritance argument was added because the land was purchased from the claimant long ago?  The rabbis are concerned about many possible issues: learning lies and bringing them to court, contradicting oneself in court, claiming something new outside of court, with witnesses, etc. 

The Gemara considers witnesses who partially contradict each other.  When are the witnesses believed? When are they reliable? When are they disqualified?  Is it possible that they will be partially believed?
But what if the Beit Din is insulted along the way?  Rav Nachman responds to this conversation with a clear statement: we do not worry about making the court seem like a laughingstock.  

After learning so many times about the importance of the image of the court, it is wonderful to read that the rabbis were, at least in this case, far more concerned about justice than about their image as righteous and infallible. 

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Bava Batra 30: Six Case Examples: Original Owner vs. Chazaka Claimant

The rabbis offer a number of cases which demonstrate the variation possible within the halacha of chazaka.  

The first case suggests that the name of one his fields is named incorrectly, there are two opinions.  Rav Nachman teaches that the seller must prove that only the name was an error.  Rava teaches that the buyer must prove that the seller bought it from the original seller since the seller still holds the property.

In the second case, a person claims that someone has been illegally squatting in his property while he has been far away for three years.  The squatter says that he has worked and profited from the land for three years, and so he has rights to the land based on chazaka.  In fact, he claims, witnesses will attest that he returned home for 30 days each year.  Rav agrees with the owner's argument, which states that he was so busy in the marketplace for those 30 days that he could not check on his property.  Thus the property remains in his possession.

Next we are told about a field that has been bought from someone who claimed to have bought it from someone else with no proof.  In such a case the original owner can take back the field even after three years of chazaka.

Our fourth case teaches that chazaka is not valid when one purchases a field on the advice of another person who later claims to be the original owner.  If a signed contract exists, the dispute must be settled in court.

Fifth case: When an original owner claims that one purchased his property from a thief, he can take back that land.  This is the case even if the original owner offered one money for the field before going to court.

Finally, our sixth case: A person might return to his land with a four-year old contract claiming that there should be no chazaka.  The one claiming ownership based on chazaka can say that he has worked the land for seven years - his initial claim of chazaka was not based on three years.  The rabbis determine that this person would need to claim seven years chazaka because that would allow him to have worked the land for three years before the returning person received his contract.

In each of these cases, we note that the rabbis attempt to balance the rights of both the person claiming chazaka and the original owner of the property.  How much of this deliberation has been handed down to current legal practice?

Monday, 20 February 2017

Bava Batra 29: Why Three Years for Chazaka?; Proof of Possession

Why have the rabbis understood that chazaka, presumptive ownership, is established after three years?  The Gemara uses a number of examples to illustrate the rabbis' reasoning.  It explains that after one year, an owner might let it go when another person profits from use of his land.  After two years he might do the same.  But after three years had passed, an owner would stand up and claim his land.  

Another example includes a document that validates purchase of land.  A person would hold onto that document for the first year, and the second year, but after that it was reasonable to assume that the land belonged to him due to his use of the land for years.  

The Gemara also speaks to using the testimony of neighbours to validate a person's possession of land or property over time.  Examples of shared ownership create particular difficulties.  For example, two neighbours shared ownership of a maidservant where they would have her serve each of them on alternate years.  When a third person claimed his inclusion of this shared ownership, Rava ordered that there is no chazaka present for any of the three of them.  However, if documents detailing their ownership are found, then there is not a need to argue chazaka.

How can one establish chazaka over partially used land?  If a person does not use a part of the disputed land, he can only claim rights to the parts of the land he has used.  If the entire area is rocky, then he must send animals out onto the land or spread produce there to establish his ownership.  

Our Gemara raises one last question: what if a person states that they have not been in town to contest another person's chazaka?  Who should be asked to prove a claim to the property, the possessor?  Or the claimant (the person who says that this property was his and that no permission was given for residence in his absence)?  We will learn more about this in tomorrow's daf.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Bava Batra 28: Is Three Years Required to Establish Chazaka?

Today's daf discusses the presumptive ownership, chazaka, of properties.  The Mishna teaches that the chazaka of any property or fields which must be irrigated by people, is established from working them and possibly profiting from them for three years.  Non-irrigated fields (those dependent on rain, etc.) are not required to be worked every day for those three years.  Rabbi Yishmael says that the first three months and the last three months must be worked daily and the middle eighteen months are enough to establish a chazaka.  Rabbi Akiva says that only one month at the start and end plus twelve months in the middle are enough to establish a chazaka.  Rabbi Yishmael adds that this would hold only for white fields, fields of grain.  For fields of trees, certain work is equivalent to three years of work: gathering produce, harvesting olives and gathering figs.

The Gemara questions how these rules regarding chazaka compare with other rules of chazaka.  For example, in Ulla it was established that an ox must gore three times before it is warned.  Only after the fourth goring is the owner punished.  Does this suggest that land should not be officially possessed by a person using that land until four years of use?  Does it matter when the actual owner makes a claim to the land?  And if that person does not make a claim, should that action be taken by others in the community on his behalf?  In the case of a goring ox, the owner must be present when the claim is made - would that be true in this case, as well?

We then learn about how different crops are active at different times.  Certain flowers or trees might bloom for a number of days in a row, and one would only profit from their harvesting at that time.  Are those days considered to be one event?  Or, like an ox that gores, are they individual, distinct events?  

Our daf ends with an example of why three years and not three harvests establish chazaka.  Rav Yosef speaks of a purchase of a field where Jeremiah (32:44) was quoted to prove that writing a document of sale would prove ownership when a person could not utilize the property for the full three years.  Jeremiah recommended that people should write such documents in their tenth year for the eleventh year of ownership, when the land would be overrun.  It is suggested that this teaches us both to write bills of sale as good practice, and that chazaka may take place with fewer than three years utilized.

One point of particular interest is Rabbi Yishmael's assertions.  I had assumed that Rabbi Yishmael brought forward his points not because he believed that they were true, but because he was arguing any relevant perspective he could find.  The rabbis tell us that Rabbi Yishmael believed the perspective that he raised.  I wonder if this is always the case in the Talmud, or if rabbis sometimes raised points of view simply to hone other arguments.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Bava Batra 27: Roots and Branches Getting in the Way

How do we determine the amount of land 'belongs' to each tree?  Roots extend beneath any boundary that might be indicated at the surface of the land.  Does a tree include hundreds of cubits each?  And are these measurements to be calculated in a square shape or circularly around each tree?  And as these numbers cannot be precise, how binding could they be?

We are reminded that pe'a, leaving the corners of the land for those who are poor, and bikkurim, bringing one's first fruits to the Temple, are mitzvot that should be kept regardless of the amount of land or roots that surround a tree.  The rabbis are also concerned with prosbol, any debt that is left outstanding as the Sabbatical year begins.  

The Gemara points out that some plants, like trees, have deep and far-reaching roots as they require much from the land to nurture them.  Other plants, like wheat, require very little from the land in order to flourish.  The rabbis recognize that our halachot should be different for those who live in Eretz Yisrael and those who live elsewhere.  Only in HaAretz are people required to follow agriculturally based halachot.  Finally, we are reminded that a tree's roots are considered to affect the quality of the land for only 16 cubits beyond the tree itself. While the roots do extend further, at that point they do not damage the land.

We are introduced to a new Mishna.  It teaches about cutting the branches of a neighbour's tree.  We are permitted to cut those branches to allow a plow to move beneath those trees.  Further, we are permitted to cut the branches along the plumb line, the line that defines one's property running perpendicular to the boundary between properties.  There is an argument as to whether it is only when trees are barren or when irrigation is at stake that one is permitted to remove all of their neighbour's branches.  

A final new Mishna tells us about an argument regarding branches that hang over a public area.  Some believe that the branches should be removed so that a camel with a rider can pass beneath them.  Others believe that the branches should be removed so that a camel carrying flax can pass beneath them.  Others believe that all branches should be removed to the plumb line, at the border, due to rules of ritual impurity.

The Gemara discusses this Mishna briefly before we end both today's daf and Perek II.  First, we cannot account for future damages.  Pits could be in the public domain as well, for example.  Second, the rabbis question which is taller, a camel with a rider or camel with bundles or flax.  And couldn't a rider simply bend over when approaching these branches?  Finally, the rabbis consider the suggestion of a risk of ritual impurity.  Of course this is the problem, for branches could form a tent over a corpse beneath it, creating the opportunity for a transferring of ritual impurity to anyone/anything under that 'tent' that is susceptible.  

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Bava Batra 25: Wind and Boundaries

A Mishna teaches us about a number of smelly things that cannot be situated within 50 cubits of a town.  These are animal carcasses, graves, tanneries, .  Tanneries should not be established on the west side of a city because of the wind.  Vegetables cannot be close to water in which flax was steeped.  Leeks must be distanced from onions, and mustard must be distanced from bees.  Rabbi Yosei permits mustard to be planted close to bees.

The rabbis recognize that the winds come from different directions at different times.  and that some winds are more harsh than others.  Perhaps the frequency of the wind from the west actually refers to the frequency of the Divine Presence in the wind. We learn in notes in Steinsaltz that the west is considered to be the "back of the world", and wind generally travels from there toward the east.  Eretz Yisrael was located in the east.  Regardless, the Divine Presence is everywhere, and the rabbis provide proof texts for these slightly different perspectives.

The Gemara records a conversation regarding the movement of the sun across the sky.  The rabbis suggest various theories to explain why the sun is in the sky for less time during the winter months and more time in the summer months.  The sky above the land is thought of as the "firmament".  Some rabbis believe that their is an enclosure surrounding the firmament.  Others believe that there is no enclosure and the sun moves to the outer side of the firmament.  

The Gemara also discusses rain.  Rain is understood as both a positive and a negative element that is associated with the souther wind.  Several proof texts help the rabbis argue about the good and bad that has is associated with the souther and northern winds.  Rabbi Yitzchak says that we should face south to become wise and we should face north to become wealthy.  Reasons for this include the placement of times in the Temple and from where a person is standing in relation to other places.  Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says we should always face north because we will become wealthy after we become wise.  This is based on Proverbs (3:16).  Perhaps a bit of a stretch, but interesting.  Jeremiah (1:14) predicts that evil will break forth from the north. 

Before beginning a new Mishna, we are told that mustard and bees each damage each other which is why they can be planted together. 

We end our daf with a new Mishna.  The Mishna teaches that trees must be 25 cubits from a cistern - 50 cubits for carobs and sycamores which have long roots.  There are different guidelines in place for trees that are below the cisterns and those in line with the cistern. The tree is cut down and its owner is compensated by the cistern's owner if the tree was planted after the cistern was built.  But if the tree already existed when the cistern was built, it is fine to leave the tree standing.  There is a debate as to whether the tree ever needs to be cut down.  

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Bava Batra 24: Majority, Frequency, Proximity; Treeless Cities

The rabbis demonstrate how decisions are made based on majority and frequency. If a baby dove is found and we do not know from which dovecote it came, how do they find the source?  The rabbis compare this question to figuring out the origin of blood found within the vagina, the "corridor".  Because blood in this "corridor" is most frequently there due to menstruation, the rabbis determine that the blood comes from the "source" or the "chamber".  It is less likely that the blood comes from the "upper chamber", which in this case would refer to an internal injury.  

Rava takes from this that Rabbi Zeira is correct in suggesting that when we are juxtaposing options based on majority and proximity, we go with majority as this is Torah law.  The example is used from Masechet Ketubot 15(a): when one finds meat and nine shops are Jewish and one is not kosher, we go with the majority and assume that the meat is kosher. This is debated as well, where a double gate might be required to ensure that meat did not come from outside of the town -- however, a woman does not have a second gate.  The Gemara suggests that we decide in favour of the majority in all cases, not only in cases of Torah law.

The Gemara then considers the case of a barrel found floating with the stream of a river.  If a Jewish town is close by, can we assume that the wine is kosher based on proximity?  But what if another town that is not Jewish is further up the stream?  Might the barrel originate there?  And what if we are speaking about grapes, unidentifiable, found near a vineyard?  Can we assume that those grapes are kosher?  What if they were stolen from elsewhere? What if they were taken from orla (forbidden because fruit in the first three years of a plant's life cannot be used) vines?  And what if we are speaking about found jugs?  Can we identify a Jewish style or size of jug?  

A new Mishna teaches us about planting trees.  Trees must be planted 25 cubits from a city; 50 cubits away if they have many branches, like a carob or sycamore.  Abba Shaul says that any barren tree should be 50 cubits from the city as well.  If the tree was there before the city was built, its owner is compensated when the tree is removed.  If the tree was planted after the city was built there is no remuneration for its owner when it is removed.  If there is a dispute about when the tree was planted, there is no remuneration for its owner.

The Gemara discusses why trees are not allowed within city limits.  The answer is that they block the beauty of the city.  We learn that there were often open areas surrounding cities for one thousand cubits.  Within that area there was little development.  For two thousand cubits beyond those open areas were fields where trees could be planted.  Within residential courtyards it was permitted to plant seeds.  The rabbis speak about allowing seeds or trees to be planted within residential courtyards and the halachot regarding carrying on Shabbat.

Another new Mishna teaches that a threshing floor must be built 50 cubits from the city, as well.  In fact a threshing floor must be established only if there are 50 cubits on every side of the threshing floor.  One must be careful not to damage anyone or anything with the chaff from the threshing floor, including the fields and produce of neighbouring farmers.  First the Gemara looks to define a threshing floor, and the rabbis consider the winnowing shovel as a key tool.  The rabbis then consider how difficult it might be to locate a threshing floor so far from everything.  They also acknowledge the damages done to people, flowers, produce and the soil by the chaff of threshing floors.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Bava Batra 23: Dovecotes and Property Questions

A new Mishna teaches us that one must not build a dovecote unless it is surrounded by fifty cubits of land on every side.  S/he is permitted to maintain a preexisting dovecote on her/his property, however. The rabbis wonder how far a dove flies, and they wonder about a field with a quarter-kav of seed surrounding it.  

The Gemara questions how far a dove can fly - fifty cubits?  Less?  More?  What about doves that belong to Gentiles?  What about dovecots that are operational but ownerless?  The rabbis move into a conversation about land that is inherited and who acquires the privilege to use different spaces.

Another new Mishna is introduced regarding a found baby dove.  If it is beyond fifty cubits from a dovecote, then it belongs to the finder.  That chick belongs to the owner of the dovecote if it is found within fifty cubits of that dovecote.  If it is between two dovecotes, it belongs to the owner of the closer one.  If it is found between the two, then its value is split between the two owners. 

The Gemara notes that we follow the law of the majority and of proximity. Examples of rulings are shared with us.  The rabbis consider the fact that the chick was not able to fly.  It either hopped to its found location or it was dropped by a traveller who was carrying it.  We are told that Rabbi Yirmeya was thrown out of the study hall for asking a question that wasted the rabbis' time: what should be done if the chick is found with one foot beyond fifty cubits and one food within fifty cubits of a dovecote?

It is particularly interesting to notice when the rabbis find questions to be valid and when they are obviously ridiculous.  I am not certain why this particular question was so disturbing to the rabbis. Many of their conversations are theoretical.  Was this more about Rabbi Yirmeya and his style of presentation?  Or about a personal upset with this particular rabbi?  Or a true complaint?  Or something else?

Bava Batra 22: Salespeople in Towns; Space Between Neighbours

The briefest of brief blogs today:

Our daf has two sections.  The first is concerned with people who enter and then leave a town - this refers to salespeople.  Are they permitted to enter the town at all?  For how long?  How might they cause havoc when they enter towns?  There seems to be an underlying fear of the danger these men might pose to Jewish women in each town.
The second part of our daf is mostly made up of Gemara in response to a new Mishna.  The new Mishna teaches that one may not build a new wall too close to the old wall of their neighbour's home.  One must leave four cubits between the old wall and the new wall. Similarly, one must be careful about the placement of windows. Windows must be four cubits away from walls, whether above or below.  The rabbis take this to mean that the wall must be built either four cubits higher or lower than the window to ensure that one cannot stare into the windows from the wall.  The Gemara is concerned with different building patterns, with ladders and with gutters.  

We end with another new Mishna.  It teaches that we must place a ladder at least four cubits away from a neighbour's dovecoat, and at least four cubits from their gutters.  The former is to discourage the mongoose from climbing into the dovecoat.  The latter is to ensure that people can lean ladders between to walls to clean or repair their gutters

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Bava Batra 21: Teachers of Children, Competition in Business

What can be objected to in a courtyard?  Although a father is commanded to teach his own child, children of sixteen and seventeen were brought together to learn.  The rabbis realized that it was not effective to teach a child who was old enough to leave if he did not wish to learn.  Yehoshua ben Gamla suggested that children be taught in groups from age six, seven if they had any cognitive challenges.  He is credited by the rabbis for preserving Torah education.

We learn about classroom size.  Teachers were to lead groups of twenty-five students.  The rabbis disagree about whether a teacher should be provided in a community of fewer students. Once the group reached forty in number, an assistant could be added for support, paid for by the community.  Children cannot be brought from one town to another so that they can attend a particular classroom, and every town should have a teacher.  However, a child can be moved from one school to another within the same town even if that journey crosses a river - though a narrow bridge across a river is too dangerous to be used in the journey.

About the teacher himself: if a new, more learned teacher became available, he should be hired and the first teacher may refine his skills while unemployed.  The rabbis argue and decide that a teacher who is precise about fewer subjects is preferable to one who is knowledgeable but imprecise about many things.

It is noted that teachers were not permitted to strike their students with ordinary tools used for corporal punishment like a whip or a stick.  Instead they were only permitted to use a cloth strap across the knuckles.  Strikes were not meant to hurt the student but to draw their attention to redirection.  

A baraita challenges this, recalling that people in shared courtyards need not house doctors, bloodletters, weavers, and teachers of children.  Two arguments are suggested: the first is that this refers to teachers of Gentiles.  The second is that this refers not to teachers, but to soferim, scribes.  Because writing is not a mitzvah while teaching children is commanded, teaching children in a shared courtyard is permitted.  

The rabbis share a story about an error in Joab's childhood education which leads to horrible consequences later in his life.  We learn that teachers of children, butchers, tree planters, bloodletters and town scribes are held to the highest standards regarding accuracy in their professions.  

Competition is encouraged by the rabbis but discouraged by Rabbi Yehuda.  Rabbi Yehuda believes that storekeepers are not permitted to give seeds and nuts to children to encourage their patronage.  The rabbis discuss one who sets up a mill to grind grain immediately next to another person doing the same, and one who traps fish beside another fisherman.  Another baraita contradicts these statements as it teaches that one can establish a shop next to another shop and a bathhouse next to another bathhouse because each can do business in his own space.  

A different baraita teaches that it is possible for neighbours who share an alleyway to forbid tailors, tanners, teachers of children, or any sort of craftsperson from setting up business in that alleyway.  The rabbis argue about competing rights: the right to earn a livelihood, the right to practice one's trade without direct competition, and others.  Ezra the Scribe is mentioned in this context.  He encouraged towns to hire two teachers who would provoke each other to work at their highest capacities.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Bava Batra 20: What is Useless?; Noise Pollution

A brief look at today's daf.

The rabbis wonder about transferring ritual impurity through a window.  If there is even a very small part of a corpse within a room, the corpse can transmit ritual impurity through a window of a certain size.  If items that are of no use are placed along the window pane, the dimensions of the window are effectively diminished.  

But what has no use?  The rabbis walk us through a long list of such items, noting that each might still be functional in some way.  One of the more notable items was a baby born at eight months gestation, which is assumed will not survive.  As if placing an ailing infant on a windowsill wasn't enough, the rabbis note that the baby's mother might use the baby to nurse. This would not be to serve the baby's needs, but to assist the nursing mother who might become ill if she does not nurse.  This is how the baby might be useful.  I am guessing that these particular arguments were very much based on theory and not on the practice at the time.  

We are introduced to two new Mishnayot, as well.  The first teaches us about an earlier Mishna's advice to create measured barriers between an oven and the rest of a home.  If damages ensue, the oven's owner is no longer liable.  Further, we had been advised not to allow certain types of businesses to be built on top of each other.  We learn that this is because of the damages that could be caused by odours, particularly to wine in a different part of the same building.

The second Mishna teaches us that it is not permitted to build a store in one's shared courtyard, for other people might complain about the noise.  However, it is permitted to create utensils in one's home that one plans to sell in the marketplace, even if the noise of fashioning those utensils is disturbing to one's neighbours.  The Gemara will discuss this conundrum in tomorrow's daf.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Bava Batra 18: Who is Responsible to Move Away from the Boundary

A number of substances cannot be placed close to another person's pit.  The Gemara reasons that these things are damaging to the wall of a pit: 

  • residue of items where oil has been extracted
  • manure
  • salt
  • lime
  • rocks
Perhaps these examples prove that dampness is damaging to the wall of a pit.  The fact that millstones are not permitted to be close to the wall of a pit may prove that vibrations are damaging to the walls of pits.   And if the oven can't be too close to a wall, perhaps we are learning that heat is damaging to the wall of a pit.  

The Gemara considers other directives: we cannot open a bakery or a dye shop beneath someone else's wine storeroom.   We cannot open a cattle barn there either.  But the rabbis argue that these conditions may be dependent upon whether or not a pit was already constructed in this place.  

The rabbis turn back to arguing about tree roots and how they might grow through rock and into another's field.  A plow must be able to dig three handbreadths from the boundary of a neighbour's property.  

We are faced with the example of two neighbours who say that the others' property impinges on their own: mustard plants and bees.  Each destroys the other's property.  The rabbis wonder who should have to bend to accommodate the others' concerns.  In the case of mustard plants and bees, the rabbis argue that the plant might not be irreparably harmed by bees, for bees can't find the seeds, and the leaves will grow back.  

Are these different halachot? Or do they all fall under the same category?  The rabbis argue this question.  Can we generalize that the one who causes the damage is the one who is responsible to distance his property/himself from the boundary of someone else?  This seems to be the case in simple circumstances.  When it comes to a case like the bees and the mustard plants where each may damage the other, the owner of the bees must move.  We are not told why this is the case, given that the bees might not even damage the mustard.  Perhaps it is because the bees are easier to move than the rooted plants.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Bava Batra 17: Commonalities of our Pat/Matriarchs; Digging Pits Close to Neighbours

A brief blog today about daf 17, which ends Perek I and begins Perek II.

The rabbis complete their conversation about Job and his character by examining some of the special characteristics of our patriarchs and matriarchs.  They list - and provide proof texts for - who were not affected by the yetzer hara (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob), who were not affected by the Angel of Death (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron and Miriam), who were not swayed by worm or maggot (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Miriam, and Benjamin), who died due to the counsel of the primordial snake (Benjamin, Amram f.Moses, Yishai f.David, and Chilab ben David).   There are arguments about Miriam and whether or not she died with a kiss from G-d, like her brother Moses, and Abigail's status.

A new Mishna teaches us that one cannot build a pit - or cave, a ditch, a water channel, a laundering pond - within three handbreadths (and a barrier for the water) from another's pit or property.  One must distance  by three handbreadths any substance which might cause damage from another's property, as well.  This includes things like manure, residue from olives, salt, lime and rocks.  Similarly seeds, plows, and urine must be kept the same distance away from others' properties.  Finally, mills must be distanced from others and the base of ovens must be kept a measured distance from the upper rim of ovens.  These must be kept far from walls, as well.

The Gemara begins by determining what is meant by the wall of a pit.  Must the pit be three handbreadths distant, or must there be a wall of the pit that is three handbreadths wide?  The rabbis consider what should be done about trees and their roots, which can damage others' pits.  What if the tree was planted earlier?  What if the tree was planted later?  How far must a tree be planted from a pit?  How much must a person inconvenience oneself in order to protect another person's property?  What if pits were dug at the same time by two neighbours?  What if a field was not designated for digging pits? And what if one is digging into rock that is soft and crumbles away in one's hands?  

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Bava Batra 16: Job's Story, Job's Qualities, Abraham and Esau

Today's daf covers a lot of agadaic ground.  The Gemara begins by continuing the story of Job beginning with Job losing everything that he has been given.  Job continues to praise G-d though even G-d tells Satan that Satan moved G-d against Job to destroy him without cause.  G-d allowed Satan to cause Job further suffering - anything short of killing him.  Rabbi Yitzchak suggests that Satan's suffering was worse than that of Job, for Satan found it so painful to restrict his cruelty.

Reish Lakish suggests that Satan is the same thing as yetzer hara, the evil inclination, and malach hamazet, the Angel of Death.  Each is an aspect of the same essence.  Proofs are offered for each of these assertions.  Rabbi Levi suggests that Satan and Peninnah (who tormented Hannah when she was childless) acted with cruelty for the sake of heaven.  How could this be?  Satan encouraged G-d to remember the love of Abraham; Penninah provoked Hannah to pray.

The rabbis argue over whether or not Job alluded to heretical thoughts including those about Satan.  A number of proofs are shared to convince each other about Job's intentions.  Some of his words lead the rabbis to believe that he stole land from orphans so that he could improve it and return it.  Similarly, he would spread rumours that widows were his relatives so that men would choose to marry them.  As an aside, we learn that Abraham did not even look at his own wife - Genesis (12:11) teaches that Abraham  said, "Now I know you are a beautiful woman" - he hadn't realized it before because he hadn't looked at her.  Is this a sign of righteousness?

Did G-d somehow mistake the name Iyov, Job, for oyes, enemy?  The rabbis offer a number of reasons that we could suspect this sort of error.  G-d's answer is that he created hairs and raindrops to be individual to ensure that people and fields would function properly.  Even thunderclaps are never repeated.  If one drop is not confused with another, how could one person be confused with another?

More of Job is quoted.  The rabbis discuss meanings behind when wild goats of the rock give birth; when the hinds do calve (Job 39:1).   We learn about some bizarre ways that ensure that animals will give birth.  One of these is a snake biting the opening of a too-narrow womb.

Could it be that we are not responsible for what we say when we are in distress?  Job's friends joined him to mourn, and the rabbis interpret this creatively.  Another interpretation follows a story about Job's children.  Reish lavish says that daughters caused problems for Job.  Rabbi Yochanan says that though Jobs' daughters were not doubled, they were doubled in beauty  Their names - Jemima, Keziah and Keren-happuch - all refer to their beauty.  The rabbis of Babylonia laughed that 'keziah' referred to something beautiful, for it is the name of an animal's horn.

Rabbi Shimon was disappointed that he had a daughter and not a son.  His father  Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi told him that propagation comes to the world through daughters.  Bar Kappara says that Yehuda HaNasi was wrong.  The world needs both men and women.  But one who has a male child is fortunate; woe to him who has a female child.  The world needs spice dealers, with sweet smells, and tanners, who smell terrible.  Better to be a spice seller than a tanner.  The rabbis question whether or not Abraham had a daughter named Bakkol.  The rabbis then suggest the magical skills of Abraham, including astrology that drew kings, a precious stone that could heal people on sight of it.  Or perhaps, we learn, Bakkol means that Ishmael repented.

The rabbis speak about Esau's rebellion after Abraham's lifetime had ended.  When exactly were our patriarchs alive?  Did their lives cross over each other?  And this leads to a discussion of lentil soup, served by Esau on the day that Abraham died. Lentils and eggs are foods served to those in mourning - without beginning or end, but not perfectly round.  All of us face death.

Esau committed five transgressions on the day Abraham died.  The rabbis provide proof texts for each: sexual intercourse with a betrothed woman (because he came in "from the field" - pretty weak link, I think), he killed a person, he denied the principle of G-d's existence, he denied resurrection of the dead, and the despised the birthright.

Monday, 6 February 2017

Bava Batra 15: Who Wrote What? Did Job Exist? The Story of Job

The rabbis are continuing their discussion about how to ensure that a Torah scroll is not divided.  Yesterday's daf ended with what was in the Aron Kodesh, the Arc, and whether that might have included the Neviim, the Prophets, and the Ktuvim, the Writings.  The rabbis offer proofs regarding who wrote each book:

  • Jeremiah wrote his own book, the book of Kings, and Lamentations
  • Hezekiah and colleagues wrote Isaiah, Proverbs, Song of Songs, and Ecclesiastes
  • Members of the Great Assembly wrote Ezekiel, the Twelve Prophets, Daniel and the Scroll of Esther
  • Ezra wrote his own book and the genealogy of the book of Chronicles until his own era
Did Joshua write his own book and also the last eight verses of the Torah?  The rabbis speak of the confusion about who wrote the Torah after Moshe Rabbeinu died.  It is understood that G-d recited the Torah to Moshe who wrote it all down, but how could he write of his own death and beyond?  The rabbis concur that Joshua wrote these last eight verses.  In accordance with this view, the rabbis ruled that only one reader can chant these verses during services; one cannot divide this text.  

But then it is written that Joshua died, and then that Eleazar, son of Aaron, died.  In each of these cases, the rabbis suggest that the next person in line to lead the Jewish people after Moses's death.  The rabbis return the the question of Moshe Rabbeinu's writing of the Torah.  Was Moshe the same person as Heman who is mentioned in Kings I and in Psalms?  And did Moshe and Job live at the same time - within the same generation?  The rabbis use proof texts from Exodus (33:16) and Job (19:23) to connect these two heroes. 

In their conversation, Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmani claimed that Job never existed and was never created.  Instead, his story was a parable.  Even if a man named Job existed at that time, he was not the Job of our book.   However, Rabbi Yochanan and Rabbi Elazar agree that Job did exist.  He was exiled from Egypt to Eretz Yisrael at the time of the second Temple and he lived in Tiberius.  A baraita challenges this assertion saying that Job lived from when Israel entered Egypt until they left.  Or, some argue, that he lived that length of time but not at that particular time.

The Gemara notes that a baraita taught that seven prophets prophesied to all of the world: Balaam and his father Beor, Job, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, Zophar the Naamathite, Elihu ben Barachel the Buzite.  This indicates that Job was not a Jew.  The rabbis suggest a number of other arguments that would strengthen this argument.  

The rabbis look to many texts to help them understand when Job lived and whether or not he was Jewish.  One possibility is that he married Dina, daughter of Jacob!  Similar words in Job (2:10) and Genesis (34:7) are noted as proof.  As an aside, the rabbis also note that the Queen of Sheeba, Malkat Sheeba, was a reference to the kingdom of Sheeba rather than an actual person, the queen.

A story from the beginning of the book of Job is shared.  A group of G-d's children and Satan approached G-d.  Satan asserted that he never met a person as righteous as Abraham though he had combed the entire land.  G-d suggested that Job was just like Abraham, using language used to describe Abraham.  Satan notes that G-d has blessed the work of Job's hands - the rabbis interpret this as if those who take even a peruta from Job were blessed.  As well, his livestock increased.  The rabbis interpret this to mean that Job's goats would overcome the wolves who came to attack.  

Satan then challenged G-d to remove his goodwill from Job; to remove his hand and note whether or not Job is an upright citizen in poor circumstances.  G-d agreed as long as Satan did not actually curse Job while Job was not protected by G-d.  We are then told that Job received a message while his children were eating and drinking wine in the eldest's home.  He was told that the oxen were ploughing and the assess were eating beside them.  The rabbis take this to mean that he learned a taste of the World-to-Come.  We are about to learn about what befell Job immediately after that good news.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Bava Batra 14: What's in the Aron Kodesh?

The Gemara continues to discuss how the words of Torah were recorded on the Torah scroll so that the Torah was preserved without the possibility of dividing it.  Today the rabbis confirm that Torah scrolls were usually attached at both ends to poles, rather than to a pole only at the beginning of the scroll.  This would make it unlikely that people would cut the scroll to preserve only a part of the writing.

The rabbis wonder about the ideal size of a Torah scroll.  Should it be the same length and width?  They question the size of the Arc of the Covenant, the Aron Kodesh, in which Moshe Rabbeinu stored the tablets.  The rabbis suggest a number of different dimensions; most prominently, Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yehuda suggest sizing and placement within the Arc. Although we learn that there is "nothing in the Arc except for the two tablets," the rabbis argue that "nothing...except" is a case of a restriction followed by a restriction.  This would suggest that nothing was in the Arc at all.  Except that some rabbis suggest that a restriction followed by a restriction is the hermeneutical principle of amplification.  This would mean that the Arc includes an additional Torah scroll.  

The remainder of our daf is a collection of rabbinical imaginings of what might have been included in the Arc.  Two tablets plus the destroyed tablets plus a Torah scroll?  Including the Writings and the Prophets or not?  How might the Prophets have been collected and stored - in groups of twos? or fours?  One of their concerns was about any one item getting lost.  Amazing, when all of these items were lost.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Bava Batra 13: Dividing What is Indivisible; "Either You Set a Price or I Will Set a Price"

After completing their conversation about inherited property located along water that is shared by siblings, the Gemara moves to discuss other halachot of division.  Rabbi Yehuda suggests that items that are difficult to divide, like a hall, should be subject to the statement, "either you set a price or I will set a price." In these cases one inheritor is able to buy out the other.  Rabbi Nachman disagrees with the notion that one person should be able to buy out the other.

What should be done if the inheritance to a firstborn son and another son is a slave and a non-kosher animal?  Rabbi Nachman answers that the slave and the animal should work one day for the second-born son and two days for the firstborn son.  

And what about a slave who is half-slave and half-freeman?  The rabbis are specifically speaking about a male slave; a maidservant is subject to different halachot since she is not obligated to procreate and if she is found to be sexually active, she is emancipated with a promissory note that she will pay back her cost, and she will marry.  This man who is enslaved, however, cannot marry since he is forbidden to marry both maidservants and freewomen.  He is obligated to fill the world (Isaiah 43:18).  His owners are forced by the court to free him with a promissory note that he will pay back his cost.  Thus this is a case of "I will set a price" but not "you will set a price."

What if one poor brother and one rich brother inherit their father's bathhouse or olive press?  These might have been used as businesses.  However, if they were for personal use, each brother can suggest that the rich brother buy the poor brother's share, but the poor brother cannot offer to buy the rich brother's share.  The rabbis debate about these statements.

The Gemara begins its shift toward a discussion of sacred texts.  Can these be divided?  Under what circumstances?  A scroll might be separated from it's second half if it only contains the first half of the Torah to begin with.  Before more directly exploring texts, the rabbis briefly mention the case of two maidservants, one who bakes and cooks and one who knits and weaves.  They cannot be separated because both of them are required by both of the two brothers who would be inheriting them.  

Delving more deeply in the questions surrounding divisions of sacred texts, the rabbis wonder whether the Torah, Prophets and Writings could be written together on one scroll, or whether they should be separated.  Permitted scrolls such as these are shared as case examples.

We then learn that four empty lines should be left between books of the Torah.  Three empty lines should be left between each of the books of the Prophets, as they are all connected.  It is permitted to end one book of the Prophets at the bottom of a column and begin the new book in the next column without those three lines.  We are taught that it is permitted to write all of these sacred texts in one scroll as long as there is sufficient parchment to wrap around the pole at the start of the writing and again enough parchment to wrap around the entire circumference of the scroll at the end of the writing.  

The notes by Steinsaltz are helpful here.  We learn a number of halachot regarding our sacred texts, including ending each book of the Torah in the middle of a column and beginning the next book after only four empty lines, always within the same column.  This is done to ensure that we do not divide the five books of the Torah within a scroll.  They are meant to be kept together. 

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Bava Batra 11: Dividing Shared Property

Before teaching a new Mishna, we learn about two people who gave generously of their own money to the poor.  Beyamin haTzadik gave to a woman for years to sustain her and her many sons after the charity fund was empty.  King Munbaz gave away the artifacts of his ancestors from his treasury to the poor in his community.  Both are spoken of very positively

A new Mishna teaches about which shared items can be divided and in what ways they can be divided.  The rule is that items or properties must be able to maintain their name and their usefulness if divided.  Sacred items are not divided for that would insult their sanctity.  Courtyards must allow for at least four cubits for each owner; room for growing nine half-kav of seed.  Gardens must leave space either for a half-kav or a quarter-kav of seed.  Also mentioned are drawing rooms, dovecots, cloaks, bathhouses, olive presses, and irrigated fields.

One of the critical concerns discussed in the Mishna is space for animals to feed.  There must be enough place, four cubits around, for animals to approach and feed from pits in courtyards.  The Gemara also considers different structures, like porticos that adjoin homes, gatehouses, and balconies, and the rules that might apply to their divisions.  Again, the rabbis consider how animals like chickens might access these areas with ease.

Properties that open onto alleyways might be more difficult to divide due to the possible objection of more neighbours.  Neighbours can object to one building a structure in the alleyway that might obstruct their use of that alleyway.  The rabbis note that dung in a courtyard is divided according to how many entrances there are in the courtyard.  Government forced billeting of soldiers, however, is decided according to the number of people in each home.  Building within the inner courtyard

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Bava Batra 10: Tzedaka and the World-to-Come

Tzedaka is our focus again.  Today's daf introduces us to stories and arguments that further clarify the opinions of the rabbis regarding tzedaka.

  • Tumas Rumus challenges Rabbi Akiva about G-d's goodness: why are some people poor?  Why doesn't G-d feed the poor?
  • We benefit from giving tzedaka in many ways
  • We are judged based on our giving and this affects our lot in the World-to-Come
  • On Rosh Hashana the sum of our losses are decided - these might be only what we have given as tzedaka or we may lose more money in other ways
  • One who turns his/her eyes away from a poor person is as bad as one who worships idols
  • Our acts of tzedaka and chesed brings us peace and facilitates the relationship between us and G-d
  • Tzedaka brings on the redemption
  • Rabbi Yehuda teaches:
    • iron can smash a mountain
    • fire can melt iron
    • water can put out fire
    • clouds can absorb water
    • wind can move clouds
    • the human body can withstand wind
    • fear can break the body
    • wine can soften fear
    • sleep can dull the effects of wine
    • death is more powerful than sleep
    • tzedaka can save us from death
  • Even giving only one peruta to a poor person makes us worthy of the World-to-Come
  • tzedaka  saves us from the judgement of Gehena
  • It is best to give tzedaka when one does not know the giver or the receiver - this prevents an unnatural death
  • It is also beneficial to give or receive tzedaka when one knows only the receiver or the giver
  • We should only give to the charity box if that box is guarded by someone trustworthy, like Rabbi Chanina ben Tradyon
  • Yosef had a dream: the World-to-Come is the opposite of this world: those who have stature in this world are lowly in that world and those who are disrespected in this world are lauded in that world.  Rabbi Yehuda believes that this dream is true
  • The rabbis affirm that Talmud scholars who are respected here are also respected in the World-to-Come, however
  • A person who comes to the World-to-Come with a Torah in hand is lucky
  • Anyone who dies as a martyr to save the Jewish community has a special place in the World-to-Come
  • Is all charity done by non-Jews sinful because it is not performed simply for the sake of G-d?
  • The rabbis argue that even a Jew who declares that s/he is giving tzedaka so that s/he will benefit (my son will live; I will merit the World-to-Come, etc.) is a righteous person
  • Haughty people will fall into Gehena
  • Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai teaches that tzedaka atones for all of the nations of the world
It is noteworthy that much of today's daf focuses on the utmost importance of one's sincere, kind deeds.  The rabbis are very aware of the power of status: those who have power and think highly of themselves may not be so powerful after all.  However, they exclude themselves from these considerations.  Certainly some of the Sages/rabbis must have been less than perfect, and certainly the other rabbis knew about less-than-pious behaviour.  Why then would they simply defend each other?  Was it to maintain the hierarchical societal structure that was working so well for them?  Was it to maintain their own positions and the stature of rabbinical Judaism?