Two different expressions are used in the Mishna to indicate that a given activity is not forbidden on Shabbat. The Gemara on today’s daf explains that with regard to the laws of Shabbat, the word mutar means that an action is permitted, while the word patur means that an action is forbidden by the Sages, but it will not incur punishment, since there is no biblical prohibition involved.
What if there is a conflict between a Rabbinic ordinance and a biblical prohibition? The Gemara presents the following quandary:
Rav Beivai bar Abayye raised the dilemma: One who unwittingly stuck bread in the oven on Shabbat, as bread was baked by sticking the dough to the sides of a heated oven, did they permit him to override a rabbinic prohibition and remove it from the oven before it bakes, i.e., before he incurs liability to bring a sin-offering for baking bread on Shabbat, or did they not permit him to do so? Removing the bread is also prohibited on Shabbat. However, its prohibition is only by rabbinic law.
The fundamental dilemma is: May one violate a rabbinical prohibition in order to avoid violating a Torah prohibition or not?
This dilemma presented by Rav Beivai bar Abayye was considered to be one that remained unresolved. The Gemara attempts to reach a conclusion about this question based on a similar teaching that apparently prohibited someone whose hand was stretched from a private domain into a karmelit (an area that was considered “public” only on a rabbinic level) from pulling his hand back into the private domain. Ultimately this position is rejected by the Gemara, which concludes that the rabbinic ordinance can be violated by an individual in order to save himself from a biblical prohibition.
The ovens in those days were made of earthenware. The oven was ignited from below. Through a special opening, dough would be stuck to the sides of the oven for baking. Removing the bread from the oven was performed in a unique manner which, while not considered an actual prohibited labor, was viewed as a unique skill that was prohibited by the Sages.