Daf Yomi Shabbos 79: On Appreciating Small Measures

The measure that determines liability for carrying out animal hide is equivalent to that which is used to make an amulet.”

Today’s Daf Yomi continues the discussion of small measures, with a refinement of the treatment of what size animal hide is permissible to be carried in public on Shabbat.

We learned previously that one is allowed to carry an animal hide out in public if it is no greater than the size of an amulet. The Rabbis could not leave it at that and had to further parse the measure. The discussion builds adroitly from a discussion of a raw, untreated animal hide to its finest permutation as a thin scroll that is suitable to be placed within a mezuzah.

The discussion among the Rabbis starts with a reminder that an amulet is the acceptable measure to determine if an animal hide can be carried into the public domain on Shabbat. But Rava is decidedly unhappy with the one-size-fits-all amulet measure. He wants to further distinguish between hides that are treated and tanned and those that are in a raw state. His Rabbinic colleagues gather together and come up with a solution that appeases his anxiety over this lack of specificity. A determination is made that hides can be placed into one of three stages according to how much they have been treated: matzaḥifa, and diftera.

Matza is the untreated raw stage. One can carry such a hide out in public if it is no greater than what is required to wrap around a small weight. Hifa is the state of the hide that is semi-treated with salt and can be measured by an amulet. Diftera is the cured hide, that has been treated with salt and flour and can be measured by the size of a divorce decree.

The discussion progresses to the treatment of parchment, which is the most refined state for a cured animal hide. It is used to write the Shema on a scroll that is placed inside a mezuzah. Parchment is measured by the shortest portion in phylacteries. A comparison is made with the small parchment that is used to write “a mezuza on it” which by inference is the measure that is required to write a portion of the Shema on a scroll.

Placing a mezuzah on one’s doorway in a high rise building in New York City like the one I live in is a quiet way of establishing one’s identity. The majority of apartments on my floor have mezuzahs, which always surprises me, because I really do not know the people who live behind the doors. When I lived in my prior building, the mezuzah that I stuck on my doorway with double-sided tape fell down. It was retrieved by the building’s superintendent, who was from Israel and formerly an officer in the Israeli army (and ran the building like a military unit.) He pointed out quite firmly that the mezuzah lacked a scroll. I thought the mezuzah was a decorative item that is placed on one’s doorway and did not know that I needed to purchase the scroll separately (I thought it came ready to go).

Now that I have made my way through the Berakhot Tractate, I understand the importance of the Shema and why it is inscribed on a scroll and placed inside a mezuzah. I attended Hebrew School for many years and the Shema is the one thing that I remember by heart; it has been imprinted on my consciousness. When it is placed within a mezuzah It reminds us of the sanctity of our dwellings. It has taken on additional importance as I spend most of my days inside my small apartment sheltering in place.

About the Author
Penny Cagan was born in New Jersey and has lived in New York City since 1980. She has published two books of poems called “City Poems “ and “And Today I am Happy." She is employed as a risk manager and continues to write poetry. More information on Penny can be found at
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