On the Redaction History of Maasei Me-talmid Ehad (B. Shabbat 13 a-b)

Harel Dvir

The Talmud recounts the tale of a man who died young. The matter troubled his wife greatly, until Elijah the prophet revealed himself to her and explained that her husband had been punished for laxness in upholding the laws of family purity (B. Shabbat 13 a-b). This paper challenges Naomi Englard-Schaffers contention that the entire story is post-Talmudic based on its use of the phrase yemei libunech, which has no parallel in rabbinical literature. Notably, use of a unique term is surely not the only possible identifying element, particularly in light of differences among various sub-categories of rabbinical language used simultaneously in the Land of Israel and in Babylon during the Mishnaic and Talmudic periods.

Englard-Schaffers treatment of explicit Talmudic elements that appear in the text is also re-examined: the opening phrase tani and statements relating to the story made by two prominent Amoriam. Finally, the author challenges Englard Schaffers contention that the main purpose of the story is related less to halakhic instruction than to the moral message it expresses. Examined from the perspective of halakhic ruling, the author shows that basic halakhic practices kept in Jewish homes over the centuries are directly linked to this talmudic story.