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Behaving Stringently According to Beit Shammai

Shabbat (1:9) | Yisrael Bankier | a day ago

Many of the Mishnayot in the first perek of masechet Shabbat record the debates between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel regarding activities performed prior to Shabbat. One debate (1:8) is whether one can give either a hide to a nochri tanner or clothes to a nochri launderer prior to Shabbat, if the work will not be completed prior to Shabbat. Beit Shammai forbid it.

The Tifferet Yisrael explains that Beit Shammai’s position is consistent with their opinion, that one is commanded to ensure that his keilim “rest” on Shabbat. Even though, unlike the previous Mishnayot the keilim are not performing any melacha, since melacha is being performed on them, Beit Shammai forbid it.

In the next Mishnah, Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel states that his father’s household were accustomed to send their clothing to a launderer three day prior to Shabbat. The Bartenura explains they were acting stringently in accordance with the position of Beit Shammai.

Recall when we learnt Berachot (1:3) that R’ Tarfon put himself in danger when lying on the roadside to recite the evening Shema, in order to recite it in the manner required by Beit Shammai. The Mishnah was highly critical of his behaviour. How then, in our Mishnah, could they be stringent like the opinion of Beit Shammai?

The Tosfot Yom Tov initially differentiates between the two cases. In the case in Berachot, R’ Tarfon did an action in accordance with opinion of Beit Shammai. In our case however, Rabban Gamliel simply refrained from sending his laundry in the days close to Shabbat. The issue of being stringent like Beit Shammai is only when one acts as Beit Shammai and not simply refrains.

The Tifferet Yisrael cites his son that explains in a similar manner, that this issue when being stringent like Beit Shammai is only when it is clear that he is doing so. In our case however, their actions may simply be perceived as preparing in advance for Shabbat.

The Tosfot Yom Tov finds this answer insufficient as we find in the Gemara discussed the reward that in individual received for returning to the place where he ate in order to recite birkat hamazon. Returning to the location is required by Beit Shammai and doing so is an overt action aligning with their opinion. The Tosfot Yom Tov cites the Rosh who explains that in that case, even Beit Hillel would agree that it would be better to return where he ate, they simply do not demand it. Consequently, there is no issue with acting stringently. In the case of reciting Shema in the evening, since Beit Hillel has a different understanding of the pesukim, according to their opinion, there is no advantage in lying down.1

The Kehillat Yaakov takes issue with the assumption of the original question. Firstly there is another Mishnah that should have been more difficult than ours. We find in the second perek of Beitzah that there were three (other) halachot where Rabban Gamliel behaved stringently like Beit Shammai despite ruling like Beit Hillel for others. Yet, no question is raised by the Tosfot Yom Tov regarding that Mishnah. Secondly, regarding the incident with R’ Tarfon, if he had always behaved like Beit Shammai, why did the Mishnah object only after that particular incident?

The Kehillat Yaakov therefore suggests that R’ Tarfon had always acted according to Beit Shammai as is he was allowed to do (Eiruvin 6). The Mishnah was not critical of R’ Tarfon acting stringently according to Beit Shammai. The issue was that he put himself in danger to do so. Consequently, since the issue was not relate to him acting stringently like Beit Shammai per se, there is no issue with our Mishnah.


1 See Volume 7, Issue 4, Forgetting to Bench, where we discuss the Mishnah (Berachot 8:7) and the Gemara in more detail.

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