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1. Dialogue between Rebbi Eliezer and the unnamed student 2. Tum'ah
DAF DISCUSSIONS - SHABBOS 52

Barry Shain asked:

Question:The gemara records a dialogue between Rabbi Eliezer and an unnamed student about qualitative differences in rings and needles regarding shabbos and tumah. The structure of the dialogue is very unusual (or at least atypical.) Is there some unspoken subtext to this dialogue? Also, who is this unnamed student?

Thank you for your wonderful help, as always.

Regards,

Barry Shain

The Kollel replies:

It appears that the student understood that a needle without a hole, and a ring without a signet, are incomplete utensils and are therefore Tahor. Rebbi Eliezer, his rebbi, responded that they are definitely Tamei because they are commonly used in that form.

As for the person's identity, see later in the Gemara, Daf 127b, where we find mention of a righteous "Adam Echad" from Galil ha'Elyon who came to work for a Ba'al ha'Bayis. According to the She'iltos, that righteous person was Rebbi Akiva (apparently before he became a Talmid Chacham), who worked for his rebbi, Rebbi Eliezer, who lived in Galil ha'Elyon. Although there is no basis for saying so, it is not inconceivable to suggest that here, too, Rebbi Akiva was discussing Taharos with Rebbi Eliezer, before he became a Talmid Chacham. The Gemara does not mention him by name in order to protect his honor (since his analysis of the Beraisa is so obviously wrong).

Then again, if the Gemara itself kept him anonymous, perhaps it is better for us to leave the questioner as "an anonymous student."

Be well, Mordecai