Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Zevachim 61: Imperfect Altars

As I write a blog about today's daf, the power is out in Toronto.  Candles are lit.  It makes me think about generations and generations of others studying by candlelight.  

Amud (a) is unusually short.  It teaches us that Rabbi Yishmael believed that the meat of a firstborn offering - an offering of less sanctity - could not be eaten if the altar was damaged or missing.  This opinion was based on the halacha regarding the blood of the firstborn.  The Sages disagree.  They say that the first and second baraitot being discussed both referred to offerings of the most sacred order.  When the second baraita stated that the food could be consumed in two locations, it was referring to the times when the Israelites arrived at new camps, before the Levites had erected the Tabernacle.  

Rashi explained that either we are taught that offerings could be made before the altar was erected, which is incorrect, or that the rabbis made a mistake in their ordering of this action.

In amud (b) the Gemara goes on to describe different altars and how they came to be.  The altar in Shiloh was said to be made from stones, not copper.  We learn that the altar in the second Temple was extended from 28 cubits to 32 cubits on the south and west sides.  This made it look like a Greek 'gamma'.  How could they justify changing something as important as the size of the altar as instructed in the Torah?  Perhaps, we learn, the extension was built to ensure that the earth beneath the altar was covered.  The rabbis might have wished to ensure that all offerings and libations would be placed as intended.

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