כ׳ בשבט ה׳תשע״ג (January 31, 2013)

Shabbat 120a-b: Saving Things From a Burning House on Shabbat

Although an earlier Mishna taught that an individual is permitted to save only three meals worth of food from his burning house, the Mishna on today’s daf teaches that there are cases where more can be saved. According to the Mishna:

One may rescue a basket full of loaves and the like from a fire on Shabbat, even if there is food for one hundred meals in it. And one may rescue a round cake of dried figs, even though it is very large, and one may rescue a barrel full of wine. And one may even say to others: Come and rescue for yourselves. And if the people who rescue with him were clever, they make a calculation with him after Shabbat in order to receive payment for the items that they rescued.

After some discussion, the Gemara concludes that this case is different because there is only a single vessel that is being rescued from the fire; under such circumstances there are no limitations on the amount that can be contained in the vessel.

Regarding the invitation to others to come and rescue other things from the burning house, the Jerusalem Talmud explains that since one is permitted to invite guests and feed them and clothe them on Shabbat, one may also invite others to come and rescue food and clothes for themselves as they are potential guests. Some commentaries teach that the others may rescue items in any manner that they choose. Since it is not their property, there is no concern lest they extinguish the fire in their agitation (Rabbi Yeshaya of Terani as cited in the Ran).

The Jerusalem Talmud suggests that the novel element in this statement is that if the rescuers return the objects to their owner on Shabbat and did not take ownership of them, they may receive direct payment after Shabbat and not merely take ownership of the ownerless property. This is the Rambam’s interpretation in his Commentary to the Mishna, as well.