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In "Ethics from Sinai", his brilliant, three-volume treatise on Pirkei Avot, Reb Irving M. Bunim Z”TL writes the following in his commentary to Perek VI, Mishnah 7:

“So the Talmud tells how Shemayah and Avtaylon found Hillel one Sabbath morning atop the skylight of their beis midrash, covered by over five feet of snow. They removed the snow, brought him down to the fire, warmed him and restored his health and spirit. Had his life not been at stake, their actions would thus have been a dreadful violation of the Sabbath.”

The footnote for this passage indicates that the source of it is Yoma 35b.

I am at a loss to see what would be the desecration of Shabbat had this not have been a matter of pikuach nefesh. Obviously if Shemayah and Avtaylon and/or others had made a fire to warm Hillel, it would be a clear Shabbat violation. But the passage does not indicate that. Indeed, it seems to imply that the fire was already burning.

Perhaps Reb Bunim extracted only a portion of this incident from Yoma 35b. But there exists more at that source which reveals the “dreadful violation” that he cites.

I would be very grateful for any insight on this issue. Am I missing something in the words of Reb Bunim? If so, what is the Shabbat violation? Or is there additional language at Yoma 35b that shows the Shabbat desecration?

MANY THANKS for any assistance. (posting from Israel)

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    I always assumed they lit a fire
    – robev
    Jun 6 at 18:29
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    According to the Ben Yehoyada (by author of Ben Ish Chai) there was no biblical violation of Shabbos, just the Rabbinic ordinance against bathing and annointing.
    – N.T.
    Jun 7 at 6:44
  • That is most interesting. Thank you very much for your post and your time.
    – Sidney76
    Jun 7 at 8:45
  • Can it be that one of the violations was removing snow? outorah.org/p/47706
    – Shmuel
    Jun 7 at 12:20

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As N.T. posted earlier:

According to the Ben Yehoyada (by author of Ben Ish Chai) there was no biblical violation of Shabbos, just the Rabbinic ordinance against bathing and annointing.

The violations do appear to be bathing and anointing. In a Mi Yodeya question from three months ago entitled "Questions on a story about Hillel", the following is included:

Hillel the Elder worked every day to earn half a dinar, half of which he would give [as tuition] at the study hall… One time he did not find employment… and the guard did not let him enter. He went up to the roof, and sat at the edge of the skylight to hear the words of the living God from the mouths of [Rabbis] Shemaya and Avtalyon. It was Shabbat eve … Snow fell upon him from the sky… Shemaya and Avtalyon [noticed that less light was entering the study hall], went up, and found him covered with snow three cubits high. They freed him, washed him and smeared oil on him, and sat him opposite the bonfire to warm him. They said: This man is worthy for us to desecrate Shabbat for him. [Yoma 35b]

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