כ״ה בתשרי ה׳תשע״ח (October 15, 2017)

Sanhedrin 91a-b: The Minor Holidays

The Gemara on today’s daf tells of a Second Temple celebration that took place on the 24th of Nisan, after the people of Afrikiya challenged the Jewish people before Alexander Mokdon, claiming the land of Israel as their own. These people – apparently descendants of the Canaanites who had moved to Africa – argued that the Torah itself testified that the land belonged to the Canaanites (Bamidbar 34:2). In response, agreed that Geviha ben Pesisa would represent them and he argued that if their proof was from the Torah, then they must accept the Torah’s decree that Canaan would forever be a slave to his brothers (Bereshit 9:25), and that whatever a slave possessed truly belongs to his masters. In recognition of this victory, a minor holiday was established, as recorded in Megillat Ta’anit.

Megillat Ta’anit is a little known collection of statements about minor holidays that commemorate events which took place during the Second Temple period. On the minor holidays, fasting and eulogies were forbidden. Most of the events that are commemorated are from the period of the Hasmonean monarchy – a prime example being the story of Ḥanukkah – although there are also events from earlier and later periods included, as well.

This work is set up chronologically, and it includes the date and a brief account of the incident written in Aramaic, followed by a fuller description of the event in Hebrew.

It appears that this work is the oldest example of the Oral Torah being committed to writing; the Sages of the Mishna do not only discuss the rulings that appear in it, but also the language that was used. (Although it is not part of the standard texts of Talmud, the Steinsaltz Koren Talmud Bavli includes it as an addendum to the volume that contains Massekhet Ta’anit).

The halakha is that Megillat Ta’anit no longer applies, except for the holidays of Ḥanukkah and Purim (see Massekhet Rosh HaShana 18b19a).

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