1) HALACHAH: BURIAL OF A "MES" ON THE SECOND DAY OF YOM TOV
OPINIONS: The Gemara relates that the people of Bashkar sent three questions to Levi (who passed away before the questions reached him). The third question was what to do with the body of a person who died on Yom Tov. Rav Menashya responded that neither a Jew nor a Nochri may be involved with the body on either day of Yom Tov. The Gemara concludes that Rav Menashya was being strict with the people of Bashkar, because they were not Bnei Torah and he feared that they might be overly lenient if he told them the letter of the law. In truth, though, the Halachah is that on the first day of Yom Tov, a Nochri may bury the body, and on the second day of Yom Tov even a Jew may take care of the needs of the Mes.
TOSFOS (139b, DH Yom Tov Sheni) relates that the Jews of the town of Melun (France) buried a Mes on the second day of Yom Tov. When Rabeinu Tam heard about it, he reprimanded them and sent to them the following message: "The people of Bashkar were not Bnei Torah -- are the people of Melun Bnei Torah?!"
Why exactly did Rabeinu Tam object to the conduct of the people of Melun? Were they acting contrary to the Halachah with regard to the burial of a Mes on the second day of Yom Tov?
There are two different explanations concerning what was inappropriate about the conduct of the people of Melun, and for each explanation, there are various opinions why Rabeinu Tam objected.
(a) According to some, Rabeinu Tam objected to having Jews bury the dead on the second day of Yom Tov, for one of the following reasons:
1. TOSFOS here explains that in Beitzah (6a), Ravina concludes that even though it was initially permitted for Jews to bury a Mes on the second day of Yom Tov, nowadays it is prohibited because the Nochrim might see the Jews doing Melachah for the Mes and they will force the Jews to do Melachah for them, too, on Yom Tov. Even though this concern does not exist today in most places (since the Jews are not so oppressed by the Nochrim), the Halachah remains the same.
2. TOSFOS in Beitzah (6a) and other Rishonim write that Ravina's reasoning still applies today. Even though today, most Jews are not oppressed by their Nochri neighbors, we are still concerned that the officials of the king or governing body will see Jews doing Melachah for a Mes on Yom Tov and they will draft the Jews to do Melachah on Yom Tov. This is the reason why Rabeinu Tam objected to the Jews of Melun when they buried a Mes on the second day of Yom Tov.
3. RASHI here says that it is only permitted to bury a Mes if the body has been waiting for at least a day (that is, it died the day before Yom Tov Sheni). The people of Melun buried a Mes that died on that day. Rabeinu Tam ruled like his grandfather, Rashi, that it is not permitted to bury a Mes on Yom Tov if it died on that day. (This is also the ruling of the OR ZARU'A.)
4. Rabeinu Tam was upset that the Jews of Melun buried the Mes themselves and did not commission Nochrim to do it. Since it was possible to have Nochrim do the work for them, they should not have buried the Mes themselves. This is the ruling of the SHE'ILTOS.
5. Rabeinu Tam may have been of the opinion that today we should be stringent not to permit Jews to bury a Mes on the second day of Yom Tov, because we are like the people of Bashkar and are not considered to be Bnei Torah (HAGAHOS MAIMONI, Hilchos Yom Tov 1:70). However, we are permitted to ask Nochrim to bury the Mes for us even though Rebbi Menashya did not permit the people of Bashkar to do so, because the people of Bashkar were even less of Bnei Torah than we.
(b) The RAMBAN (Teshuvos ha'Ramban, cited by ORCHOS CHAIM, Hilchos Yom Tov 25) and TOSFOS RABEINU PERETZ in Beitzah (6a) explain that Rabeinu Tam was not upset that Jews buried the Mes on the second day of Yom Tov. Rather, he objected because a large crowd of the people of Melun were involved in the funeral, and he ruled that only the exact number of people necessary for the burial may participate. The reasoning for this is as follows:
1. A large crowd may not participate in the burial on Yom Tov, because a large crowd would bring attention to the event and make it well-known. If the event becomes public, we are afraid that people will be lax in their observance of Yom Tov Sheni, since we are not considered Bnei Torah (Tosfos to Beitzah 6a).
2. The RAMBAN (Toras ha'Adam, end of Inyan ha'Hotza'ah) explains that the Rabanan permitted only the bare minimum of Melachah necessary to bury a Mes on Yom Tov Sheni. Since it is not necessary for a large crowd to go out with the Mes, it is prohibited. (The Ramban points out that we find this type of enactment with regard to the law of desecrating Shabbos in order to give testimony for Edus ha'Chodesh; see Rosh Hashanah 21b.)
HALACHAH: The SHULCHAN ARUCH (OC 526:27) follows the last opinion (b:2) and maintains that it is permitted only to do for the Mes what is necessary but not more than what is necessary. The REMA (OC 526:4), though, rules that it is not permitted for Jews to bury a Mes if it is possible to have Nochrim do the work (like (a:4) above). (See also Insights to Beitzah 6:2.)
2) COVERING A POT ON SHABBOS
QUESTION: The Gemara says that one is permitted to spread a cloth cover over half of a vessel on Shabbos, but he may not spread a cover over the entire vessel.
According to the Gemara, why is one permitted to cover a pot or container on Shabbos? The Mishnah (126b) clearly states that one may cover vessels on Shabbos.
(a) TOSFOS in Beitzah (33a) explains that the Gemara here refers to a very wide vessel. When its cover is placed on top, it appears as though an Ohel is being made.
(b) The RA'AVAD, as cited by the RASHBA and RITVA, answers that the only reason one is not permitted to spread the cloth cover on the vessel is because it looks like a Meshameres (a strainer), since that is the normal manner in which people strain their liquids during the week. One when covers half of the vessel, he does not appear as though he is making a Meshameres, because people do not strain their liquids in such a manner. Accordingly, covering a pot with a solid cover is permitted, since it does not resemble a strainer at all.