Pesahim 50a-b - Following local custom

August 09, 2013



The fourth perek (chapter) of Massekhet Pesahim begins on our daf (page). It opens with a continuation of the discussion about preparations for the Passover holiday, specifically whether or not one can engage in mundane activities on erev Pesah. Must one dedicate the day before the holiday to the many necessary pre-Pesah preparations, like destroying hametz, baking matzot, arranging the Passover sacrifice, etc.? The Sages did not rule that erev Pesah need be a day of complete cessation of everyday matters; they left it to the discretion of each community - minhag ha-makom - to establish to what extent members of the community should refrain from work.
In fact, the majority of this chapter focuses not so much on Pesah matters as it does on the general approach that the halakha takes towards minhag, towards community custom and practice. What is the significance of minhag in Jewish law?  What are the sources that obligate Jews to follow the local minhag? Can an established minhag change, if there is a change in circumstance? Which minhag should a traveler follow - the minhag of the place that he left, or the accepted practices of his new community? These are the issues dealt with in the fourth chapter, appropriately titled Makom She-Nahagu - "The place where they kept the custom."
Mishna: In a place where the people were accustomed to perform labor on Passover eve until midday, one may do so on that day. In a place where the people were accustomed not to perform labor, one may not do so. The performance of labor on the eve of Passover is not prohibited by Torah law, but is dependent on local custom. If one travels from a place where people perform labor on Passover eve to a place where people do not perform labor, or from a place where people do not perform labor on Passover eve to a place where people perform labor, the Sages impose upon him the stringencies of both the place from which he left and the stringencies of the place to which he went. In both cases, he may not perform labor.
The rishonim ask why a person would be obligated to accept the stringencies of both communities. Would it not make more sense to say that a person who travels to a new community and intends to remain there would have to accept the local minhagim, but if he planned to stay only a short time and return to his hometown he should follow the traditions of his home?
Rabbenu Yehonatan argues that this, in fact, is the intention of the Mishnah in saying that he must keep the stringencies of the place that he is from - if he intends to return, and the stringencies of the place to which he arrived - if he intends to remain there.

The Ramban understands the Mishnah to be discussing a case where the man plans to return home, and the ruling that he must accept the customs of the new place is a temporary measure to avoid disagreements.

According to the Rashba, we are discussing a case where the individual is visiting Israel from Babylon, and he is obligated to accept the minhagim of Israel because halakha perceived the Babylonian community as being subservient to the Jewish community in Israel.

This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger. To learn more about the Steinsaltz Daf Yomi initiative, click here.
To dedicate future editions of Steinsaltz Daf Yomi, perhaps in honor of a special occasion or
in memory of a loved one, click here.