כ״ז באדר א׳ ה׳תשע״ד (February 27, 2014)

Sukka 24a-b: Anticipating a Change in the Status Quo

As we learned on yesterday’s daf, Rabbi Meir forbids the use of a live animal as one of the walls of a sukka, while Rabbi Yehuda permits it. Abaye explained Rabbi Meir’s position as reflecting a concern lest the animal die, resulting in a wall that is no longer high enough for the minimum necessary for a kosher sukka.

The Gemara perceives Abaye’s explanation as representing a larger issue. When we face a given situation, do we anticipate that it will remain static or do we need to be concerned that it may change? Take, for example, the case of a married couple, when the husband is a kohen and the wife – who is not from a family of kohanim – eats teruma thanks to her status as the wife of a kohen. If the husband sets out on an overseas journey, can she continue to eat teruma, or does she need to be concerned that he has died on his journey and she no longer has the right to do so?

The Gemara (23b) finds two tanna’itic statements regarding this very question, which seem to contradict one another. Abaye argues that this is exactly the argument between Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yehuda. According to the former, she cannot eat teruma when her husband is traveling; according to the latter, she can assume he is still alive and can continue eating teruma based on their relationship.

Yet the Gemara on our daf points to a Mishna where Rabbi Yehuda does seem to be concerned that the status quo will change. On Yom Kippur, it is essential that the be married. This is derived from the passage (Vayikra 16:6) that teaches how the Kohen Gadol entering the Holy of Holies as part of the Yom Kippur service must seek atonement “for himself and for his household.” The term “his household” is understood by the Gemara to mean his wife. Thus, the Kohen Gadol must be married. According to the Mishna in Massekhet Yoma (2a) Rabbi Yehuda requires the Kohen Gadol to marry a second wife (which is Biblically permitted. Contemporary Jewish tradition that forbids bigamy is a relatively late institution) just in case his first wife dies – which seems to indicate that Rabbi Yehuda agrees that we cannot assume that the status quo will remain intact.

In answer to this question, the Gemara quotes Rav Huna the son of Rabbi Yehoshua who explains that this is a unique case because of the heightened concern that we have for the process of atonement that takes place on Yom Kippur.

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