Friday, 15 March 2013

Eiruvin 7a, b

I am quick to admit that I understand little about eiruvim.  I am confused about the differences between courtyards and backyards; between what is prohibited because of laws regarding carrying in a specific domain and what is prohibited because of laws regarding carrying from one domain to another.  I sit with the text and wonder what the rabbis speak of when they say "mi'caan", "from here" --  were they drawing pictures to describe the alleyway in question?  with what? Were they pointing in the air so that their colleagues could picture their explanations?  I find myself wishing that I were studying with a learned rabbi who could share with me the missing pieces in the text.

7a offers a number of fascinating ideas. The "Bat Kol", the Divine Voice, is said to have announced that the halacha was in accordance with Beit Hillel; in fact, that the halacha is always in accordance with Beit Hillel.  Rabbi Yehoshua is said to disregard the Divine Voice: halachic decisions are made of an earth-bound court and do not rely on heavenly intervention.

Judiasm has a long tradition of relying on people, not G-d, to solve human problems.  We do not expect G-d or one of G-d's angels to tell us with G-d's heavenly voice which solution is the 'right' solution.  Judiasm asks us to struggle with the reality that we do NOT know what G-d might say, or think, or advise.  Some streams of Jewish practice do call on G-d in prayer many times every day.  But there is no expectation that G-d will answer those prayers with a "Bat Kol", a divine voice.  We are meant to figure out the appropriate answers ourselves.

The Gemara then focuses upon the tradition of following one Master -- if one follows Beit Hillel, s/he should continue to follow that tradition, whether the rulings are stringent or lenient.  I have heard about this in our modern world as well.  If we are in the position of having to choose our own Rabbi, we must choose one Rabbi and follow her/his decisions, whether or not we like all of them.  Jewish tradition does not encourage us to use one Rabbi for certain issues and another Rabbi for others.

I have mixed feeling about that particular tradition.  There is something sound about the idea of choosing one voice to follow.  If we shop for a new Rabbi whenever we disagree with his or her learned opinion, we undermine rabbinical authority, potentially hurt others' feelings, and create inconsistencies within tightly knit communities.  Then again, if we disagree with our Rabbi's words, why not speak with a Rabbi who might have a different insight?  In this day and age, where confidence in religion at all might be at risk, why not allow for the possibility of inconsistency?  At least we will have a community of people who are consciously choosing our own halachic paths, relying on the expertise of many Rabbis  and not just one fallible, limited human being.

Eruvin 7 is filled with ideas ripe for unpacking.  For me, most of those are sidelined commentary.  In fact, much of what I find most intriguing in my Daf Yomi exploration are the off-side comments.  I have to believe that I am not alone in this!  

Shabbat Shalom

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