Keritot, Chapter Three, Mishnah Ten



In today’s mishnah, the last one of this fascinating chapter, Rabbi Akiva asks Rabbi Eliezer a question concerning Shabbat.

As background we should remind ourselves of a couple of general rules concerning Shabbat. There are 39 different categories of prohibited labor on Shabbat. If one performs labor from different categories, for instance he cooks and he plants, he is liable for a hatat (if done unwittingly) for each labor. However, if one performs two different acts that stem from the same category, for instance he cooks and bakes, he is liable for only one hatat. Our mishnah deals with a person who does many acts that all belong to the same category (cooking for instance) but he does them on different Shabbats. Is he liable for each transgression?


Mishnah Ten

1)      Rabbi Akiba said: I asked Rabbi Eliezer: if one performed many acts of forbidden work of the same category on different Shabbats but in one spell of unawareness, what is the law? Is he liable only to one [offering] for all of them, or to a separate one for each of them?

2)      He replied to me: he is liable to a separate one for each of them. And this can be derived by through a kal vehomer. If with regard to relations with a menstruant, for which there are neither many categories nor many ways of sinning, one is still liable for each act, how much more must one be liable to separate offerings in the case of Shabbat, for which there are many categories [of work] and many ways of sinning!   

3)      I said to him: No, you may hold this view in the case of the menstruant, since in that case there are two warnings: the man is warned with regard to the menstruant woman, and the menstruant woman is warned with a man; but can you hold the same in the case of the Shabbat where there is only one warning?

4)      He said to me: One who has relations with [menstruant] minors can prove the point, where there is but one warning, and yet one is liable for each act.

5)      I responded to him: No, you may hold this view in the case of minors because although no prohibition now applies, it will apply later; but can you hold the same view with regard to Shabbat where neither now nor later [is there more than one warning]?

6)      He said to me: Let the law concerning intercourse with an animal prove my point.   

7)      I replied to him: the law concerning intercourse with an animal is indeed comparable to [that concerning] Shabbat. 



Section one: Rabbi Akiva asks concerning a person who does many acts of forbidden labor, all from the same category, on many different Shabbats, all within one period of unawareness. For instance, he does not know that it is forbidden to cook on Shabbat, so he cooks, bakes, broils, boils, etc. on many different Shabbats. Does the fact that these acts were performed on different Shabbats make him liable for one hatat for each Shabbat, or do we consider this one sin of cooking, and he is liable for only one hatat?

Section two: Rabbi Eliezer responds with the same kal vehomer argument that Rabbi Joshua used in the previous mishnah. If one is liable for one hatat for every menstruant he has relations with, even though this prohibition does not have categories and many ways of sinning as does Shabbat, all the more so one is liable for one hatat for every transgression of Shabbat.

Section three: Rabbi Akiva rebuts Rabbi Eliezer’s comparison. Relations with different menstruants are considered different transgressions because the women are also sinning, as we explained in yesterday’s mishnah. Since the women are warned against sinning just as much as the men, we must consider these different acts. In contrast when it comes to Shabbat, there is only one warning, because there is only one party.

Section four: Rabbi Eliezer defends his answer by slightly adjusting the question. Instead of basing his kal vehomer on relations with five menstruating women, whom he admits are liable for transgressing the prohibition, he bases the kal vehomer on a man who has relations with five menstruating minors. Because they are minors they are not liable, and nevertheless, he is liable for five separate transgressions. Therefore, the same is true with regard to Shabbat.

Section five: Rabbi Akiva rejects this by noting that although minors are not now liable, they will be in the future. In other words, this is a transgression that still counts as having two parties, unlike Shabbat, where there is only the transgressor.

Section six: Rabbi Eliezer finds another case of sexual transgression, where there is a sin but only one person sins—the case of intercourse with an animal. Just as one is guilty for five hatats if he has intercourse with five different animals, so too he is guilty if he performs one forbidden labor on five different Shabbats.

Section seven: Finally, Rabbi Akiva admits that the analogy is appropriate, yet he still rejects Rabbi Eliezer’s answer. He says that his question is about the case of intercourse with animals just as it is about Shabbat. In both cases you have one sin done on multiple occasions and he wants to know if the act should be divided into different acts for which he is liable for each individual sin, or if this is considered just one sin, for which he is liable only one hatat.

Final notes on Rabbi Akiva:  In my opinion this debate should be looked upon as a debate between two different approaches to law: realistic versus nominal. To Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Joshua and Rabban Gamaliel, if one does several different acts, each of which is a transgression, one is liable for each act. This is a “realistic” approach—it examines what a person has actually done. In contrast, Rabbi Akiva adopts a more “nominal” approach. The person has committed one transgression, even though he did so on separate occasions. He ate forbidden foods, he had forbidden sex or he broke the prohibition of cooking, for instance, on Shabbat. Nominally, or legally, speaking, these are all one transgression, and therefore he should be liable for only one hatat. In general, I think that there is a trend in rabbinic Judaism to go from a more “realistic” approach, which probably typified an approach to halakhah commonly found among the priests, to a more “nominal” one. The leader of this movement seems to have been Rabbi Akiva.