ז׳ באב ה׳תשע״ג (July 14, 2013)

Pesaḥim 24a-b: Can One Be Held Liable Several Times For Eating One Forbidden Food?

While discussing hametz and its status on Pesah, the Gemara compares it to other situations where the Torah forbids eating certain foods, and to those sources in the Torah from which we learn those prohibitions. In several cases, when the Gemara finds a passage that seems repetitious, it tries to derive from it other halakhot regarding forbidden food.

Upon observing this methodology, Ravina asks Rav Ashi whether perhaps the Torah repeats the halakha in order to teach us that a person can be held liable several times for eating one forbidden food. To prove that such a thing is possible, he quotes Abaye who taught that someone who eats a putita would receive four sets of malkot (lashes) from the Bet Din, someone who eats a nemala (an ant) receives five sets of lashes, and someone who eats a tzira (a wasp) receives six sets of malkot – each set representing a further prohibition that attaches to that particular non-kosher creature.

Rav Ashi responds that the Gemara is only willing to apply a Biblical passage to the creation of an additional prohibition if it cannot find a more useful purpose for the pasuk.

We are not certain of the identity of the putita, for which Abaye ruled that there are four prohibitions, since it is not very well described in the Gemara. From what we know, it is likely a small water creature, perhaps a water beetle, or, as the Aruk explains, a non-kosher fish, like a small eel. Some point to a similar word in Latin, which is a general term for several types of flat fish – most of them non-kosher – that live on the bottom of rivers.

With regard to the idea that you can be held liable for several forbidden actions by eating one non-kosher creature, it is interesting to note that in his introduction to his Sefer ha-Mitzvot, Maimonides sets out a number of general principles that govern his decision as to whether something should be considered one of the 613 commandments. One of the basic principles that he puts forward is that even if a given law is repeated a number of times in the Torah it does not indicate that the thing is commanded or forbidden more than once. Due to this position, the Rambam is forced to explain the cases in our Gemara as referring to unique creatures whose physical makeup allows them to fall under separate categories – that it is a water insect, a winged insect, a crawling insect, etc. – all at the same time. Most other rishonim, however, follow the opinion of the Geonim, who accept this Gemara at face value and understand that you can, on occasion, be held liable several times for one Biblical prohibition.

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