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Posted By on July 13, 2017

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The Longest Mesechta? We Shall Return To You (Bava Basra 176b)

Mazel Tov to all those Daf Yomi participants who are finishing Mesechta Bava Basra.

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The last daf of Tractate Bava Basra is numbered 176, making Bava Basra the longest tractate in the Babylonian Talmud. Those exploring connections between various units of the Oral and Written Torah note that the longest portion of the Chumash, Parshas Naso, contains 176 verses while the chapter with the most verses in Tanach, Chapter 119 of Tehillim, also contains 176 verses.

The Gaons Observation

If not for the comparatively long commentary by the Rashbam, Rashis grandson, Bava Basra would not be the longest tractate. As the Vilna Gaon observes, Berachos is actually the longest tractate, although, when published, it only comprises 64 dapim (since it has little commentary as its subject matter is less complicated than that of other mesechtos).

One Tractate Three Gates

In truth, though, Bava Basra only part of a much longer mesechta. Rav Yosef says (Bava Kamma 102a) that Bava Kamma, Bava Metzia, and Bava Basra are really one tractate divided into three parts. Bava means gate. Thus, Bava Kamma is the first gate, Bava Metzia is the middle gate, and Bava Basra is the last gate. Indeed, ancient manuscripts show all three tractates as one tractate divided into 30 chapters. Interestingly, Rabbi Levi ben Chaviv criticized Mahari Beirav calling Bava Kamma Tractate Kamma as the entire Bava Kamma is only the first gate of a longer tractate (Responsa Ralbach 147).

Halachic Implications

This topic has halachic implications. The Gemara (Bava Kamma 102a) explains that if the Mishnah mentions a difference of opinions regarding a certain halacha and then later mentions just one of the opinions stam, i.e., without mentioning that it is the opinion of only one tanna, we must assume that Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi, the redactor of the Mishnah, ruled according to that opinion. This rule is valid, however, only if all the opinions appear in the same tractate and the Gemara therefore attributes importance to the question of whether Bava Kamma, Bava Metzia, and Bava Basra should be regarded as one tractate or not.

Ignorance And Derision

During the Mendel Beilis blood libel trial of 1913, the Talmud itself was used to support allegations against the Jews. The prosecutors, however, were so ignorant that one of them held up a tractate Bava Basra and called it the last grandmother, hinting at its sinister significance (baba in Russian means grandmother). The Jews present at the trial had to stifle their laughs.

Sanhedrin And Makkos One Tractate?

Some maintain that Sanhedrin and Makkos also comprise one tractate, containing 14 chapters, and a few old manuscripts do indeed combine these two tractates. The Rambam mentions, but rejects, this opinion in the introduction to his commentary on the Mishnah. On the other hand, the Ramban (Devarim 21:13, etc.) and the Rashba (Kiddushin 22a) cite a passage from Talmud Yerushalmis Tractate Sanhedrin when the passage actually appears in Makkos.

The Ralbag (Parshas Mishpatim, Shoresh 16) also calls chapter 2 of Makkos chapter 13 of Sanhedrin, and the commentary Meleches Shlomo on the Mishnah mentions that most of the sefarim he has seen designate the conclusion of Makkos the end of chapter 14 of Sanhedrin.

According to the opinion that Makkos and Sanhedrin are one mesechta, Seder Nizikin is possibly organized according the number of chapters each mesechta has. Bava Kamma, Bava Metzia, and Bava Basra together have 30 chapters; Sanhedrin with Makkos together have 14 chapters; Shevuos has eight chapters; Eduyos has eight chapters; Avodah Zarah has five chapters; Avos has five chapters (chapter 6 is actually a beraisa); and Horayos has three chapters (see Margalios HaYam at the beginning of Sanhedrin and the last page concerning Tractate Avodah Zarah).

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