י״ג בתמוז ה׳תשע״ז (July 7, 2017)

Bava Batra 166a-b: The Economics of Sacrifices

Basic economic theory teaches that prices rise and fall based on supply and demand. The Gemara on our daf illustrates how this was known to of the Mishna, who applied that rule to assist people who brought sacrifices in the Temple.

When the Temple stood in Jerusalem, a woman who gave birth was obligated to bring a sacrifice in order to enter the Temple and partake of kodashim – consecrated food. Our Gemara quotes a Mishna in Massekhet Keritot (8a) that teaches that in a case where a woman miscarried a number of times – so that it is unclear whether or not she is obligated to bring the sacrifices – she should bring just one. Given the prohibition against bringing unnecessary sacrifice in the Temple, we want to minimize the number of such sacrifices that are brought.

The Mishna continues, teaching that a woman who had five live births will be obligated to bring five sacrifices; after the first one, however, she will already be permitted to partake of kodashim. The Mishna relates that once the prices of the doves brought for these sacrifices rose in price to a golden dinar and Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel swore that he would act to lower the prices immediately. Recognizing that the rise in prices stemmed from the many women who came to bring multiple sacrifices, he went to the study hall and taught that even someone who had many births was only obligated to bring a single sacrifice, and the prices fell.

This ruling is surprising, given the agreement of both Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai that a separate sacrifice must be brought for each and every birth. Several explanations are offered by the rishonim in response to this question.

  • Some suggest that Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel disagrees and believes that only one sacrifice is necessary, even after a number of births.
  • The Re’ah argues that the requirement to bring a separate sacrifice for each birth is a rabbinic requirement, and recognizing the immediate need, Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel relied on the Biblical law.
  • Rashi in Keritot argues that Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel’s ruling was a hora’at sha’ah – a ruling necessitated by the immediate situation – that abrogated the Torah law.
  • Most rishonim reject this approach, pointing out that that would not have allowed Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel to teach a falsehood as the law.
  • Rabbeinu Tam and others have a variant reading in the Gemara that has Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel requiring the women to bring all of the sacrifices; he merely emphasized that they do not need to do it at that time, but could postpone it to another opportunity.
Previous
Next