Learn Along With the Yeshiva – Berachot Chapter One

Lesson #4 –Questions and Comments
Rabbi Mordechai Silverstein
The Conservative Yeshiva


View the English text for Berachot 10b-11a

View the Hebrew text for Berachot 10b-11a

Guide Questions and Issues


1.-3. We open with an exciting Mishnah this week – a veritable jousting match between the students of Hillel and the students of Shammai over what physical position one should be in when reciting the Shma. This whole dispute focuses on how each school interprets the words: “and when you lie down and when you rise up”. For Beit Shammai, these words describe physical position while for Beit Hillel, these words speak of time. Beit Hillel, learns about physical position for the Shma from the words “and you walk by the way” which are found in the same verse.

4. This vignette has Rabbi Tarfon, a follower of Beit Shammai, carrying out the ruling of Beit Shammai regarding the recitation of the Shma while on a trip. In the process, he risks his life at the hands of brigands who might have attacked him. The sages respond to him that that would have been justified on account of his having followed Beit Shammai. (Obviously, the sages who responded to him were in firmly in the camp of Beit Hillel.)


1. How would you categorize or describe the difference between has each of these two schools derive their positions from the verses?

2. Whose position seems to read the verses more literally?

3. Whose position seems more life oriented?

4. The meaning of stories is always in the hands of those who tell the story. Which school controls the narrative here?

5. Explain the reaction of Beit Hillel to the action of Rabbi Tarfon.


1. This first step seeks to flesh out the opinion of Beit Shammai since in the Mishnah, Beit Hillel has given its own opinion and responded to the opinion of Beit Shammai. Now the Talmud expects Beit to do the same.

2. In the second step, the Talmud takes up the challenge and attempts to offer an answer for Beit Shammai. On what basis does Beit Shammai reject Beit Hillel?

3. Now that Beit Shammai has dealt with “when you rise up and when you lie down”, it is asked to tackle the second element of Beit Hillel’s position – “when you walk by the way”.

4. For what purpose does, Beit Shammai use this phrase. Can you describe how the given halachot are derived from the words of this verse? [This will be asked in the next step but see what you can do.]

The baraita also teaches that this applies to virgin brides but not to widows. It is not at all obvious how this is learned out from the verse in the Torah since if the issue is one of fulfilling the mitzvah of “pru urvu – be fruitful and multiply” then it would apply equally to both a virgin and a widow. The issue therefore must be one of nervousness of being married for the first time but how that would apply here is a big question.

5. Now that you have tried,the Talmud asks that very question.

6. Rav Papa to the rescue.What is Rav Papa’s answer to this question? [Hint: Just as one can walk on the way, so too, …] Those are the cases where you would be obligated to say Shma.

7. This kushiya asserts that this ruling would also apply where the person was doing another mitzvah, still one should be obligated to read Shma according to step 6’s understanding of the verse.

8. How does the Talmud throw off this kushiya in this teirutz?

9. According to the thinking in step 8, the marrying a widow should also exempt a person from the need to recite Shma on the first night since he would still be involved in the mitzvah mentioned above.

10. In this teirutz, the Talmud has to find a reason why the first night with a virgin bride is different from that with a widow bride to justify why one is obligated to recite Shma after marrying a widow but exempt when marrying a virgin.

We call this method of teirutz –a hiluk(distinction).

11. Once the “hiluk” was established in step 10, it creates a new problem, since “tirda –agitation” is a fairly broad category. In this step, we begin the battle over “tirda”. If “tirda” is the reason for the distinction, then this case should also be exempt, but he is not…

12. And the mourner should also be exempt but he is not, so perhaps “tirda” is not a good explanation of the exemption.

13. What do you know? Another hiluk! Explain the distinction offered here.

Questions to Consider

1. We meet in this section the concept “haosek bamitzvah patur mamitzvah –one who is busy with a mitzvah is exempts from another mitzvah. Give other examples. Is there a need for such a concept?

2. Discuss the conflict between self-concern versus mitzvah responsibility as reflected in this sugya.

Part 2

1. After we discovered that Beit Shammai learned his position from the words “ בשבתך ובלכתך ”, we are now interested in its position on the word “ בדרך ”.

2. This Scriptural word is used to exempt “ שלוחי מצוה – people on mitzvah missions”, since even though they are not now doing a mitzvah they on “on the way” to doing a mitzvah.

3. Since Beit Hillel accepts the exemptions found at the end of the last sugya that were learned from “ ובלכתך בדרך ”, we now have to find out how it justifies its position that one can say the Shma in the various positions noted in the Mishnah.

Here, the Talmud has Beit Hillel take an interesting position, namely, that even though “ ובלכתך בדרך ”is used for learning the other things, it still can be used to teach what Beit Hillel originally intended to use it for.

Part 3

1. The opening baraita has two parts: one which clearly outlines the opinion of Beit Hillel regarding the requisite body position for reciting Shma. As one can see, according to Beit Hillel the choice is in the hands of the reciter. This baraita seems to be meant to clarify the position of Beit Hillel in the Mishnah.

In our Mishnah, we had an anecdotal debate the sages and Rabbi Tarfon over the efficacy of carrying out the recitation of the Shma according to Beit Shammai. This baraita brings another such episode, this one involving Rabbi Yishmael and Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah.

The story takes place at night. When it becomes time for Shma, Rabbi Yishmael gets up and Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah lies down. As you probably noticed here, Rabbi Yishmael acts like Beit Hillel and Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah acts likes Beit Shammai. (Refer back to the Mishnah.)

After this the interaction between the two is particularly interesting. Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah’’s parable is not easily understood. I have heard, read and studied a number of interpretations and will offer the one that I think makes the most sense. Professor Shlomo Naeh explains it this way: People say to a man: Your beard is overgrown. He reponds [in anger]: Well if you don’t like it, I will shave it off in a prohibited manner(with a razor). Rabbi Elazar seems to be saying to Rabbi Yishmael: Your behavior is quite an extreme reaction to the fact that I act according to Beit Shammai.

Rabbi Yishmael responds by asserting: 1. that he acts demonstratively according to Beit Hillel; 2. He does not one the students to be misled to think that the halacha is according to Beit Shammai.

2.-3. This response is difficult if one thinks that Beit Hillel’s position is that one says Shma in whatever position one is in. The sense of this answer, is that Its position is that one can say the Shma in whatever position one desires and that he does not want the students to assume that one must act like Beit Shammai, namely, a given position in the evening and a given position in the morning.

Part 4

1. Here we have a Babylonian Amora who brings a baraita. In this baraita, he asserts that one who follows Beit Shammai’’s position has fulfilled his obligation and one who follows Beit Hillel fulfills his obligation.

2. In this meimra, Rav Yosef disagrees, namely, he asserts that if one follows the opinion of Beit Shammai, he is penalized and has not fulfilled his obligation.

Since Rav Yosef seemingly disagrees with an earlier source, the only way to understand this meimra is that the baraita would also agree that to do according to Beit Shammai is not permitted but unlike Rav Yosef, the baraita does not see reason to penalize the one who has done such an act.

3. The Talmud brings a Mishnah to support the position of Rav Yosef. This Mishnah from Sukkah deals with a situation where someone followed a leniency in their observance of the mitzvah of sitting in the sukkah, according to Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai penalized the sages, telling him that he had not observed the mitzvah of sitting in the sukkah. The Talmud wants to assert that in our situation Rav Yosef is similarly penalizing someone for acting according to Beit Shammai.

4. This meimra makes an even more extreme assertion, obviously as hyperbole. The idea here though is that the person who does so is rebelling against established normative authority and must be put in his place. This Amoraic sage obviously reads the Mishnah as apolemic against those which he sees as a danger to the normative standing of communal discipline.

Questions to Consider

1. Identify the major considerations of the debate in this sugya.

2. This sugya, in particular,raises an interesting question for moderns who shun communal disciple in favor of individual autonomy. If there a place for communal disciple or is individual autonomy more important?

3. Is it possible to build a religious community around autonomous individuals?

Go to Next Class – Berachot 11a-11b