ח׳ בסיון ה׳תשע״ב (May 29, 2012)

Nidda 8a-b: Different Types of Virgins

On yesterday’s daf  the Mishna brought Rabbi Eliezer’s teaching that there are four categories of women who we do not expect to menstruate, allowing them to reckon their period of uncleanness from the time of their discovering menstrual blood. The first of that group was a betulah – a virgin.

In the course of discussing the definition of the term betulah, the Gemara quotes the following baraita:

There are three kinds of virgin, the human virgin, the soil virgin and the sycamore virgin.
The “human virgin” is one that never had any sexual intercourse, the practical issue being her eligibility to marry a (see Vayikra 21:19) or else her claim to a kethubah of two hundred zuz;
The “virgin soil” is one that had never been cultivated, the practical issue being its designation as “a rough valley” (see Devarim 21:4);
The “virgin sycamore” is one that has never been cut,the practical issue being its legal status as regards purchase and sale.

The sycamore, or Ficus sycomorus, is a tall, wide tree that is related to the fig. Although its fruit can be eaten, it was mainly grown for its wood, since it can produce large boards that are relatively light. It was common practice to allow the tree to grow for a number of years – betulat ha-shikmah – until it reached a large enough size, at which point it was trimmed and cut down for use, leaving behind the trunk – sadan ha-shikmah – from which the tree would renew itself. After a number of years, upon reaching full height, the tree would, once again, be trimmed for use.

The Mishna in Bava Batra (68b) teaches about what is included in the standard sale of a field, and distinguishes between betulat ha-shikmah and sadan ha-shikmah – a virgin sycamore tree and one that has been trimmed. According to the Mishna, these trees in their natural state are considered part of the field and are sold with it, but once they have been cultivated in different ways, they are independent and will not be sold with the field unless it is specified in the sale agreement.

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