Second chances (Daf Yomi Eruvin 37)

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“One may rely on the principle of retroactive designation.”

Today’s Daf Yomi continues the discussion from the prior day on contradictions, with a deep dive into the concept of retroactive designation. There is a heated debate among the Rabbis on whether the concept is valid, and if one can go back in time and designate something for a specific purpose. Some Rabbis believe that retroactive designation only applies to matters of Rabbinic rather than Torah law, some apply it to specific circumstances, while some reject the concept outright.

We are presented with a scenario involving the drinking of wine. If one buys wine from people who do not believe in tithing and if he follows the practice of retroactive designation, he can separate the wine at a later date and give the fair share of the first tithe to the priest and put aside money to cover the second tithe. According to Rabbi Meir he can “rely on the principle of retroactive designation and say that when he is finished drinking, the wine that is left becomes retroactively designated as teruma and tithes, such that the wine he drank was permitted for consumption.”

Rabbi Meir appears to be rather lenient in his acceptance of allowing someone to tithe at a later date.  Rabbi Yehuda, Rabbi Yosei, and Rabbi Shimon are more stringent and would not allow our wine connoisseur to drink the wine ahead of allocating the rightful share to others. We are told that the Rabbis reject the principle of retroactive designation. Ulla conjectures that Rabbi Yehuda does accept the concept of retroactive designation and agrees with Rabbi Meir. He points to a concept of pairs to present his view that Rabbi Yehuda has aligned his perspective with Rabbi Meir.

The topic is a very heated one with a litany of Rabbis weighing in on whether one can do a look-back in order to comply with certain ordinances. We are told that Rabbi Yosei prohibits retroactive designation outright. However, the Gemara digs up some contradictory statements made by the Rabbi in the past, which reminds me during this political season of journalists who scan through prior statements by the candidates in order to find contradictions in their platforms.

Rabbi Yosei is found to have ruled on two women who gave a priest a pair of birds as offerings without stipulating which individual bird would be allocated to a specific offering. They left the priest with the agency to do as he pleases with the birds and make his own determination on which offering each one would be used for. We are told that this proves that Rabbi Yosei must accept the principle of retroactive designation, since the priest “retroactively clarified that the bird had been selected for that woman and as that sacrifice.”

Rabba is skeptical and says this is no proof because the women stipulated at the outset that the priest could decide how to best use the birds in the offerings. The voice of the Gemara counters that if this is the case, why does the story exist in the first place? Rav Hisda enters the fray and says that in essence a priest has free agency to use offerings in the way he sees best, and that as a result, even if the women did not stipulate how the birds would be used, there was an understanding that the priest could make the final determination. The Rav says that accordingly, this scenario does not prove the case for a retroactive designation.

We are told that Rav Yosef enters the debate “in his unique style.” He provides the example of someone who proclaims that he is establishing an eruv for the entire year, will use it as he sees fit, and will walk the allowable two thousand cubits from it on Shabbat when he wants to. He says that if he does not want to walk in this way, he will not do so. The Rabbis challenge the Rav and introduce the concept of time of day. We are told that all the Rabbis agree that if he wants to make use of the eruv while it is still day, it is valid. But if he waits until nightfall, there is disagreement on its validity. We are told accordingly, there is also disagreement on the permissibility of retroactive designation. The voice of the Gemara suggests that the disagreement can be explained through the distinction of Torah and Rabbinic law, while Rav Yosef is all in. He says that one either accepts the principle of retroactive designation in all cases, or he rejects it entirely.

I have been fascinated with the concept of retroactive designation since I first read about it in the previous day’s text. It is a path for making amends in one’s life. Sometimes, it is best to not look back and be consumed with regret for decisions one made. To live a life full of regret is a miserable existence, and I know because I am wired to second guess and question relentlessly every decision I have ever made. But sometimes, one is given the opportunity to right a wrong, to face up to a transgression and to offer to make amends. It is never too late to reach out to someone we may have hurt, or to even reach out to those who have hurt us in an attempt to understand why we continue to feel so wounded by their actions. This assumes a certain bravery of spirit to face up to our past transgressions and to do the right thing and move on. Sometimes life truly does give us a second chance.

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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