Although today we call a wax candle a ner, during the times of the Mishna the word ner referred to a clay lamp that held oil and had a spout in which a wick was placed and could be lit. While making a quality clay ner might involve significant work and effort, a simple ner could be made by taking a ball of clay, hollowing out the inside, where the oil was to be poured, and making an indentation in one of the sides that could be used for the wick.
The Mishna on our daf teaches that if someone needs a ner for Yom Tov, he cannot be “pohet the ner,” since that would involve creating a utensil on Yom Tov, which is a forbidden activity. What exactly is involved in being pohet the ner is the subject of disagreement among the rishonim.
- Rashi explains simply that it means to create an indentation in the side of the clay ball, which would allow a wick to be placed in the oil.
- According to Tosafot, when the potter prepared the ner, he would open a hole for the wick and fill the hole with straw or other materials to keep it open. Removing the straw is considered completing the lamp, which is forbidden.
- The Rambam explains that the lamps were made in pairs, and after they were fired in an oven, they needed to be separated in order to be considered completed. Separating the lamps on Yom Tov is forbidden.
- According to the Ran, each lamp had a matching cover that was made to fit perfectly. Opening the cover of the lamp was considered the completion of the lamp.
As an example of a utensil that cannot be made on Yom Tov, the Gemara presents the case of the ilpasin haraniyyot, or stew pots. These pots are described by the Talmud Yerushalmi as being made originally as one piece of clay. The potter would then cut off the top in order to make a cover, which was returned to the top of the pot in a loose manner. By doing so, when the pot – together with its cover – was placed in the oven to harden, both pieces would expand at the same rate. Thus, when removed, the cover would fit the pot perfectly. Upon purchasing the pot, the buyer would remove the cover with a small knock.