According to the Mishnah (38b), in addition to non-Jewish milk and bread (see the discussion on yesterday’s daf, or page), one of the things that was forbidden by the Sages was oil produced by non-Jews. The Mishnah, however, adds that the bet din – the Jewish court – of Rabbi Yehudah ha-Nassi permitted the use of non-Jewish oil.
The Gemara on today’s daf deals with two issues relating to this law –
1. Who established the original Rabbinic prohibition?
2. What gave later Sages the ability to abrogate this ruling?
With regard to the first question, Rav claims that the original prohibition stems from the time of Daniel, for we find in Sefer Daniel (1:8) that he accepted upon himself to refrain from participating in the feasts and parties in Nebuchadnezzar’s palace. This is understood to mean that he refrained from both wine and oil that were served. While Rav views this story as the source of the prohibition, Shmuel argues that it was only a personal decision, but was not meant to apply to others. According to Shmuel, the prohibition against using non-Jewish oil originally was based on a concern that remnants of forbidden liquids had been absorbed by the vessels that held the oil, and that we fear that they will leach into the oil.
Shmuel argues that according to his explanation, we can well understand why Rabbi Yehudah ha-Nassi later permitted this, since at a later time it became accepted to rule that noten ta’am lefgam – something with a negative taste – is not considered significant in contributing a forbidden taste to a mixture. According to Rav, however, we need to find an explanation as to how later Sages could undo a prohibition established by Daniel.
Two related explanations are presented by the Gemara to explain this. The Gemara relates that the Sages first investigated and found that the prohibition against the use of non-Jewish oil was not kept by the majority of the Jewish community, and they relied on the ruling of Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel and Rabbi Elazar bar Tzadok that a Rabbinic ordinance that is beyond the capability of the majority of the people cannot be established as law.