ד׳ באייר ה׳תשע״ד (May 4, 2014)

Beitza 35a-b: Lowering Fruit Off the Roof

The last chapter of Massekhet Beitza, perek  mashilin, begins on today’s daf. This concluding chapter focuses mainly on two topics:

  1. Actions that are not true creative activities that would be forbidden on Yom Tov, but are, nevertheless, issues that involve a lack of sensitivity to the holiness of the day
  2. Questions regarding tehumim (boundaries) – that is travel outside the city boundaries, which is ordinarily limited to a 2,000 cubit perimeter around the city.

The first Mishna describes a situation that was commonplace in the time of the Talmud, although it is unusual today. In those days, it was customary practice for a person to put fruits on his roof to dry. Such fruits were considered to be muktze – that is to say, they were set aside as fruit that was not to be eaten now, as it was being processed to be saved for future use.

Obviously, if rains came and those fruits were on the roof, they would be ruined. In such a circumstance, the Mishna permits the fruits to be lowered in to the house through a skylight on Yom Tov. In his commentary to the Mishna, the Rambam explains that the loss of money brings the Rabbis to permit what would ordinarily be considered a “weekday activity” but only in this specific way, where the skylight goes directly to the ground floor and throwing the fruit down does not involve excessive labor.

Skylight in an ancient Roman building

Skylight in an ancient Roman building

To understand the situation described in the Mishna, it is important to recognize what a contemporary Roman house looked like. Such houses, which apparently were built in Israel, had an internal courtyard that included a skylight where fires were built below in an oven or fireplace. The roof had flat areas where fruits were commonly laid out to dry. It would have been fairly easy to toss the fruits down into the house by way of that skylight.

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