Monday, 18 March 2013
We are introduced to the concept of “lavud”, joining. With regard to the topic of alleyways and their entrances, lavud suggests that two solid surfaces are considered to be connected if there is a gap of three (or four, depending on the rabbi) handbredths between them, maximum. We also learn about the principle of “havut”, where an object is thought of as being pressed down from above. The rabbis argue about how these ideas might help them to understand where and how questionable domains can be used for carrying on Shabbat.
When the rabbis come across a halacha that does not make sense to them, they say that “a permanent resident is down on the ground while a stranger is raised up to heaven” (9a). The Koren Talmud tells us in a note that this phrase is used when things are not as they should rightly be. This suggests that strangers should not be raised to heaven; only permanent residents, presumably, merit that honour. I find this particularly disturbing as we are one week from Pesach as I write this note.
We learn over and over again that we, the Jewish people, were once strangers in a strange land. We learn that we should treat “the other” as one who is part of the inner circle. Perhaps the reason that we are taught this lesson over and over again is because in fact we do not live with great compassion for “the other”. Difference can be understood without judgements attached. However, difference also can be used as a concept that allows us to think of another as less worthy. Throughout my short time practicing Daf Yomi I have noticed a number of references to the "other" – whether that is a woman, or a minor, or a zav, or "deaf/mute", or a convert, or a stranger – as being thought of as “less than”.
I like to think of Judaism as a religion that teaches the importance of compassion, respect, and inclusion. In fact, our writings seem to be contradictory when it comes to the notion of inclusion. So much of Judaism is about barriers - the distinctions between different groups, concepts, states of being. In itself, that way of thinking may promote the notion of the 'stranger' as 'other'. And perhaps as Jews we are charged with working that much harder to understand the connections and indeed the sameness between ourselves and others.