כ״ג במרחשון ה׳תשע״ז (November 24, 2016)

Bava Metzia 59a-b: The Oven of a Snake

One of the most famous stories in the Talmud appears on today’s daf.

The Gemara presents a fairly straightforward argument between . A question was raised about the status of an oven that was cut into segments width-wise and sand was placed between each segment. Should this oven be seen as having lost its status as an existing oven when taken apart and rebuilt, or is it considered an oven throughout, since it was made to be taken apart in this way? Rabbi Eliezer felt that it lost its status as an oven and therefore, was not susceptible to ritual impurity; the Hakhamim (Sages) ruled that it retained its status throughout, as it is functionally a complete oven, and therefore is susceptible to ritual impurity.

Rather than argue the case on its merits, the Gemara records that Rabbi Eliezer called on the carob tree to support him, the stream to support him, and the walls of the study hall to support him. In response to his call, the carob tree uprooted itself and moved 400 amot, the stream flowed backwards and the walls began to collapse – until Rabbi Yehoshua stopped them. The Sages refused to be influenced by any of these miraculous occurrences. Finally Rabbi Eliezer asked the heavens to support his position, and a bat kol – a heavenly voice – was heard to say “Why are you arguing with Rabbi Eliezer, whose rulings are always correct?” In response the Sages said lo ba-shamyim he – since the Torah was given to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai, decisions are no longer made based on heavenly decisions, but on the decisions of the Rabbis who interpret it.

While some rishonim take this story literally and explain that miracles were performed on behalf of the Talmudic sages, just as they were for the early prophets, Rabbeinu Hananel suggests another approach. He argues that this story was a dream – a vision at night – that seemed so real and significant that it was recorded for the message that it contains.

The oven referenced on this page is referred to as tanur shel akhnai – an “oven of a snake” – which was a reference to how the Rabbis surrounded Rabbi Eliezer with answers, like a snake coils and does not allow escape.

tanur

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