On yesterday’s daf (=page) we learned of the difference of opinion between Rabbi Yishma’el and Rabbi Akiva about how we determine the status of a firstborn animal that is the offspring of an animal purchased from a non-Jew. The Gemara on today’s daf presents a baraita that offers more details about the disagreement.
According to the baraita, after Rabbi Yishma’el’s position – that we determine the status of the first animal born after purchasing the mother based on the age of the mother – was shared with Rabbi Yehoshua, he responded by saying “Go and say to Rabbi Yishma’el, you have made a mistake.” Rabbi Yehoshua rules that since certain types of miscarriages are considered to be the “firstborn,” it is possible that an animal can have a miscarriage and still give birth the same year, but the newborn animal would not be considered a firstborn. The baraita then continues and presents Rabbi Akiva’s position that the laws of firstborn are based on certainty, as we learned on yesterday’s daf.
The Rabbi Yishma’el of this discussion is the tanna Rabbi Yishma’el ben Elisha who was taken prisoner by the Romans in his youth, and was redeemed by Rabbi Yehoshua ben Hanania, who paid a large ransom to secure his release (see Gittin 58). Upon his return to Israel, Rabbi Yishma’el studied under the tutelage of Rabbi Yehoshua, becoming one of the leading speakers in the academy in Yavneh. We find many of his teachings throughout the Mishnah and Gemara; his 13 hermeneutic rules for elucidating the Torah serve as the building blocks of the study of Biblical law. At the time that the discussion recorded in our Gemara took place, Rabbi Yehoshua was one of the elders of the community of Sages, and his reaction to Rabbi Yishma’el was one of parental guidance as well as that of a teacher to his student.