Thursday, 30 May 2013

Eiruvin 83a, b

Today's daf was like walking through a maze of mathematical equations that I'd never seen before.  The rabbis were attempting to answer some of the questions I posed yesterday regarding measures and amounts.  They defined many terms in relation to each other, which was not particularly useful to my understanding.  

Occasionally the rabbis offered a measurement that held some meaning for me - like the size of an egg bulk without the shell.  But then they would speak about 144 egg bulks versus 173 egg bulks, which became confusing again.  Because I did not push myself to follow their calculations, it was almost impossible to understand the rabbi's reasoning.

It turns out that there are three sets of values that can be applied to any of the units used to measure.  One is the wilderness measure, one the Jerusalem measure, and one the Tzippori measure.  Each of these represented a place and time where power was amalgamated.

In 83b, the rabbis look at balconies and courtyards: at what height and at what distance from the balconies can residents in the balconies claim use an independently standing post on Shabbat when there is no eiruv?  It seems that most agree that the object would have to be over 10 handbreadths high and closer than 4 handbreadths to the balcony.  Otherwise the object would be used only by those who reside by the courtyard.

The modern version of today's daf would involve city planning, zoning, building codes, and a wide range of measurement calculation.  My knowledge of modern city planning is limited, and so this learning is truly a stretch for me.  But it was interesting to imagine the rabbis sitting around a table, doing and redoing their calculations over hundreds of years, checking and rechecking the values and their significance.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Eiruvin 82a,b

We begin with a discussion of whether or not amora'im can disagree with each other (yes) and whether an amora can dispute a tanna (no).  Quickly the rabbis move into a fascinating conversation regarding who is disqualified from giving testimony.  We learn that moneylenders for interest, pigeon-racers for money, traders during the Sabbatical year, and gamblers with no other occupation (that last qualification is in dispute) may not testify.  

The Gemara explains that gamblers are seen as robbers, as they make bets, which means that they accept money that has not been fully handed over.  Rabbi Yehuda believes that a gambler with another occupation is not a robber as he is participating in the development of the world.  So Rabbi Yehuda does not agree that accepting money in that dubious situation demonstrates that a person is not otherwise trustworthy.

As a therapist who has worked in the area of substance abuse, this analysis is very interesting to me.  In the Talmud, the question of gambling is not a moral question based on the idea that someone lacks the will to meet a "thou shalt not gamble" rule.  Instead, gambling is a moral question based on accepting money that has not been sincerely and fully given.  That idea might be helpful for people struggling with addiction problems.  It removes the "you are a bad person" shaming.  Rather, "that person is vulnerable and I cannot take his/her money" is the operational concept.

What an amazing play on the concept of intention and consent!  If we use this concept when thinking of the crime of sexual assault, for example, a man who has assaulted a woman has not received her consent, and thus he has committed the crimes of assault AND of robbery - he has taken something that was not offered.

The rabbis wonder about whether a young child must have his/her own eiruv, or whether s/he is covered by the eiruv of his/her mother or father.  They decide on the age of maturity. Is it at four? or five? or six?  up to six, or including six? is it when s/he can wipe him/herself after defecating?  is it when s/he does not call out when awakening, "Mother, Mother..." for an extended period of time?

This conversation suggests that children are usually with their mothers up to age six in the times of the Talmud.  What did these children use to wipe themselves?  Did mothers run to their children when the children awoke?  Did fathers ever do that work of parenting?  Perhaps Rav Asi, who maintained that a six year-old child should be covered by his/her mother's eiruv, had a needier child at home at the time of the debate.  

We move into Perek 8, and the rabbis continue a discussion of agency: who is responsible for whom when setting the eiruv? An interesting conversation regarding the power of the 'master' of the home ensues.  It is clear that the men carry most of the power in ancient Jewish life, but others are allowed - in fact, required - to act on their own behalf in certain situations.  In modern times in North America, our rules feel obvious - agency is most often based on the ability to comprehend the implications of an action and to consent to that action.  However, perhaps not so obvious, after all - children are under the will of their parents until age 16; children cannot vote; immigrants and visitors have fewer rights/less agency than others in our society.

A new Mishna brings us back to the question of how much food is required to establish an eiruv.  The measurements and currency discussed: a sela, a se'a, a dinar, a pundeyon, a kav, a ma'a -- I have very little concept of what these represent.  So following the conversation is tough - except for understanding that some believe that 1/4 of a loaf is a meal, and others disagree.  Regardless of the size of the loaf, this is helpful.  We learn that people often ate only two meals on weekdays.  Another reason to look forward to Shabbat!

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Eiruvin 81a, b

At long last, a daf that seemed more straightforward to my beginner's mind.  For quite some time I have been struggling with each line, hoping to fit the pieces together.  Don't get me wrong - today was also difficult, as I am missing some of the basic building blocks for a fuller understanding.  But it was a pleasure to be able to read without jumping backward to double-check each sentence for congruity with the next.

We learn that fixing a broken loaf of bread is helpful when contributing to an eiruv.  And how do we fix a broken loaf? With a piece of wood.  So that there is no 'seam'.  Interesting - I cannot quite picture how that would work.  But I'm no baker.

The rabbis are concerned about portions - who gives how much to create the shared eiruv.  They compare this to taking challah, where 1/24 (for a homeowner) or 1/48 (for a baker) is separated from the loaf of bread to be given to the priests.  Some of the rabbis' conversations about terumah and how it differs from this tithing was lost on me.  But the rabbis' concerns about what other community members might think was telling.  If one neighbour was allowed to give a broken loaf, another neighbour could complain about having to give more toward the eiruv.  

Clearly the rabbis are aware of the very real social issues created by these rules forcing people to give, to share, and to cooperate with each other.  More consideration is given to the exchange of money to confer to another person the establishment of an eiruv.  Again, some of this conversation was challenging for me as I was not clear about how conferring responsibility would work in practice.  

Interestingly, the rabbis tell us (and Steinsaltz elaborates) about the transfer of possession in ancient times.  The transfer of money is considered to be the promise of acquisition and not the actual acquisition. Instead, possession transfers when an object is taken and pulled from one person to another (again, this was done as part of the bedeken in my marriage ceremony).  Great pains are taken to ensure that people have little reason to argue about the process of establishing eiruvin.  But when that process is this complicated, there will be different understandings and many conflicts, I'm sure.

On a lighter note - at least, in my mind - the rabbis discuss what kinds of food and how much food should be used to create an eiruv.  They participate in a fun conversation about what type of bread is appropriate.  Not millet bread, as that is inedible of course.  What about lentil bread?  Wasn't that fed to a dog and the dog rejected it? No, that dog-rejected loaf was the bread of Ezekiel, made of many different grains and other foods.  And Rav Pappa reminds us that not only was it rejected by a dog, it was roasted in human excrement.  So there.  And lentil bread is just fine to eat and to use in the eiruv, by the way, say the rabbis.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Eiruvin 80a, b

Daf 80!  Amazing to be thinking about the ideas of Eiruvin for so many days.  And yet some of the basic concepts continue to elude me.

In 80a, we learn about conferring possession of an eiruv to another person(s) to validate the eiruv.  The example of a mother and daughter provides us with a disturbing picture: a daughter went to the bathhouse, beyond the Shabbat limit, just before Shabbat.  As it was dark when the daughter finished, the mother set an eiruv to allow her daughter to return.  The rabbis ruled (immediately?!) that the eiruv was invalid because the mother did not confer possession of the eiruv to her daughter.  A cruel example.

The rabbis discuss stringencies and leniencies regarding eiruvin throughout today's daf.  We are supposed to be lenient whenever we can with regard to eiruvin; however, some of the rabbis seem to crave stringent interpretations.  Just like many of us today, the rabbis go against Ecclesiates 2:14, "the fool walks in darkness", meaning that there is no need to follow two competing stringent options.  Some of us look for the hardest road, the 'most pious' or challenging routes, as we believe that these are somehow more desirable to G-d.  

The rabbis teach us about eiruv tavshillin, a concept I've never heard of before.  This is when  food is cooked just before a Festival and put aside for Shabbat.  That cooked food allows cooking to continue over the Festival for Shabbat because of the concept of lavud, or joining.  It seems that the concept of joining applies not only to areas in space, but to sections of time.  This concept is absolutely fascinating to me.

But I digress.  The rabbis continue their discussion of conferring possession by engaging in a discussion about wives creating eiruvin without their husbands' knowledge; even against their husbands' wills.  A fascinating discussion ensues regarding women's agency.  Isn't it amazing that women can be granted the status of "people" when it suits the larger social need?  But that we usually enjoy a lesser status, as that serves the status quo.

Do I digress again, so soon?

Daf 80b moves back to the discussion of aveiras, objects of idolotry.  Trees used for others' religious purposes are not to be used by Jews.  At the same time, we are allowed to use these items for mitzvot, as we learn that we do not derive direct benefits from the observance of mitzvot.  Thus we can use these trees to build doorposts, but not to build crossbeams (as crossbeams are larger than these trees would be once they had been burned - which is required).

The daf ends with a conversation about conferring possession of different types of food used in eiruvin.  The rabbis decide that two meals means two dried fig bulks per person for a small group of people and slightly more for each person in a larger group.  A larger group is determined to be 18 or more people.  We also learn that food that diminishes over Shabbat need not be replaced.  The rabbis describe a common practice: many people sharing in the creation of a loaf of bread which is then used as the eiruv.

Although these are small amounts of food, it is hard to imagine 'wasting' food in this way.  Then again, the sacrifice of so many animals in the time of the Temple must have involved great amounts of waste.  Or perhaps not; I don't know.  Regardless, I wonder how people justified leaving food out.  Was it eaten by the community?  Was it left for animals?  What was done with that which was left after Shabbat?

We are so lucky in this time and place (as I write this, I am in Toronto, in North America, in 2013) to have an abundance of food.  Even most people who are very poor have access to food - rice and other less than nutritious food, mind you, but food.  How did our ancestors understand that they had to create food and then leave it?  What if one person wanted to eat from the eiruv but others didn't -- was there a socially accepted rule around eating this shared food?

I realize that I have a strong image in my head of what I read as I follow the dapim.  I'm sure that my imagination is creating something very different than the realities of these communities.  

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Eiruvin 79a, b

Another challenging daf, but with a few perks: some of the daf was easier to contextualize, and it ends with some fun stories about the rabbis of Pumbadita.

79a begins with an interesting argument regarding the laws of impurity and the laws of Shabbat.  It seems that the rabbis might also become confused with regard to the application these laws.  They are discussing the legal differences between a house filled with hay or dirt where the intention is to remove them from the house, and a ditch filled with hay/dirt where the intention is to permanently fill the ditch.  One of their considerations is the halacha telling us that some things are to be set-aside and not moved over Shabbat.  That halacha does not apply to things that are never intended to be moved - whether or not it is Shabbat.  This particular passage is challenging to follow for a layperson like myself.

The rabbis move from this argument into a discussion regarding ditches.  If a board is placed over the width of a ditch between two courtyards, it is considered an entranceway and the courtyards require only one eiruv.  If a board is placed lengthwise along the ditch, creating a ditch of less than four handbreadths, then the two courtyards are considered connected according to the law of lavud - again, only one eiruv is required.  In these paragraphs, it seems more clear than usual that the rabbis are looking toward creating a closer community and less work for Jews of that time.

The rabbis speak about connecting balconies in a similar way. A new Mishna tells us about haystacks between courtyards that are over 10 handbreadths high and thus act as partitions, requiring two eiruvin. When people remove hay for feeding animals, lowering the height of the eiruv, they can create a single courtyard again.  But the rules around this concern types of work on Shabbat, the needs of animals,  and what is to be set-aside on Shabbat.

79b shares a debate about the height of a partition made of hay inside a house.  This leaves me to wonder whether someone created a pile of hay inside their home to create a partition.  Perhaps between the area for people and that designed for animals?  But a wall of hay inside a home... certainly not concocted by the person responsible for cleaning the floors.

The daf continues with a conversation about how to establish an eiruv for an alleyway shared by many.  The rabbis suggest that a barrel (or another vessel) filled with food or wine is placed in a conspicuous manner, where the owner or his (sic) designate says, "This is for all the residents of the alleyway."  They are clear that only people who are legally able adults (and according to Rav Shimshon of Raevs, those not financially dependent on the 'master') can be the 'master's' designates in this process.

The rabbis have a short conversation about one who might "lock his door (and/or) renounce his rights" in favour of a neighbour regarding establishing an eiruv and carrying.  Obviously these two acts held significant meaning in ancient times.

Finally, we are told about the elders of Pembadita.  They were the ones who told us that the barrel/eiruv should be placed above other barrels to clearly mark the merging of alleyways and that act of acquisition.  So we learn that things given to others are lifted to mark the acquisition, just as in the bedeken part of a Jewish wedding ceremony.  

Secondly, the elders of Pembadita teach us that one who recites kiddush over wine on Shabbat or Festivals must drink "a mouthful of wine" (or a quarter of a log of wine) to fulfill the mitzvah of kiddush.  They move on to speak about when one is allowed to light a fire on Shabbat: for a woman in childbirth, in the winter months when people catch cold, and possibly even other times.  Finally, the elders of Pembadita discuss which trees are designed for asheira, or idolatry.

I love that women in labour are protected, though I read earlier in masechet Shabbat that women in labour are only warmed by a fire lit on Shabbat in certain circumstances.  Nevertheless, the elders of Pembadita did not quibble about this one.  Women in labour are worthy breaking the laws of Shabbat... or, perhaps, at least their babies are worthy of this 'luxury'.

So often, protecting the rights and needs of women protects the rights and needs of an entire community.  Treat a woman in labour well and her baby has a much better chance of survival.  Treat a woman well in relationships and there is a greater likelihood of her happiness and thus the happiness of those around her.  Treat a woman with respect and she is more likely to bring a strong sense of self, strength, purpose and success to her family and her community.  But treat a woman badly... the webs holding together our societies unravel.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Eiruvin 78a, b

I did not blog about Eiruvin 77a&b, as it was Shabbat when I finished my reading of the daf.  The daf concerned itself with courtyards that ended with walls where one courtyard was at a higher plane than another.  It also initiated an examination of ladders that continued into today's daf.

Daf 78a introduced a number of ideas that are new to me.  One was the effects and uses of 'zizim', or projections, from a wall.  Another was the effects and uses of stakes driven into pillars.  Finally, the rabbis shared thoughts about the angles and possible utility of unusual ladders as they are positioned against these courtyard walls.

Daf 78b discusses particular situations where ladders may be of different widths and heights, thus making the use of potential windows or other entranceways possible.  The rabbis speak about "a lion crouches upon it" - at an entranceway - which to my surprise was not primarily a metaphor but a description of a reasonable, dangerous situation.

Finally, the daf ends with a new Mishna that describes how ditches might be filled in or covered.  Different treatment of ditches (of different sizes) will determine whether an eiruv can be placed at all, whether one eiruv can be established, or whether two eiruvin are required to designate the carrying perimeters for two adjacent courtyards.

I have to admit that today's daf was far too challenging for me to dismantle and understand.  I am certain that I am missing many of the underlying concepts regarding eiruvin.  Today's daf felt like a different language.  I will do my best to research what I did not understand, but I recognize the limitations that time (and my body's need for sleep) presents.

I do wonder about dapim like today's daf.  The considerations seem so specific.  Perhaps the rabbis used these specific situations to help themselves figure out the structure of halacha.  Perhaps they did not know what they were speaking about until they worked their way through the scenarios.  Or perhaps these scenarios were based on real concerns.  Without knowing that overriding understanding in advance, however, it is very difficult to follow the arguments that our rabbis share.  A frustrating day!  But we will see what tomorrow holds...

Friday, 24 May 2013

Eiruvin 76a, b

Today's daf introduces us to Perek 7, moving away from definitions regarding residences and living circumstances and moving into a more detailed discussion of courtyards.

We begin with a new Mishna that tells us about the guidelines regarding windows.  If in a courtyard there is a wall and that wall has a window, do we understand the courtyard as one uninterrupted place (according to the concept of lavud, where solid areas are linked together across gaps)?  Or, instead, is the courtyard actually two courtyards?

We learn about the rabbis efforts to understand the dimensions of the given window - and the implications of different 'gaps' in the wall.  They go to painstaking efforts to understand the exact measurements of the window. They look at where the window is placed on the wall to ensure that it is within the 10 handbreadth guideline. They look at rectangular, square and round windows.  When at one point Rabbi Yochanan asserts a mathematical calculation (measurements of a window) that cannot be accurate, the rabbis spend much effort explaining his rationale, though they know that his assumptions were incorrect.  The also challenge his words about the "Judges of Caesarea".  Toward the end of the daf, we learn about the wall in question.  How can we work with an eiruv placed on top of the wall?  This conversation will continue in daf 77a.

Today's daf was easier for me to understand in its conceptual grounding than other dapim of late.  However, I found my eyes glazing over as I read the rabbis' measurements of square windows, circular windows, and circular windows encompassed by square measurements.  I do not enjoy following mathematical calculations at the best of times, and so doing that in the name of window size was almost unbearable.  However, that was only part of today's daf.  Hopefully tomorrow will continue to offer new insights.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Eiruvin 75a, b

Daf 75a is a long conversation about a metaphor: how "the prohibited foot of a person" might define a courtyard as prohibited or permitted.  Of interest are the different rules that apply to inner and outer courtyards.  The very start of this daf continues yesterday's conversation and focuses on the prohibition of Jews living together with a Gentile.  I would like to understand  the reasoning behind this rule, both based on "reason", as the rabbis would say, and based on other unspoken sociological factors (anti-semitism, 'real' dangers, perceived anti-semitism, tribalism, anti-Gentile/anti-stranger stereotypes, etc.).

Daf 75b examines both the inner and outer courtyards, the number of Jews/Gentiles living in those courtyards, and the renunciation of rights.  Numerous possible combinations of these factors are put together to determine when and where carrying is allowed on Shabbat.  At the end of the daf, the rabbis introduce gatehouses - not the usual gatehouses which are structures used as watchtowers, but gatehouses that are actually houses which serve as passageways between two courtyards.  

I begin to wonder about how many of these circumstances are based on actual questions.  More and more I am assuming that many of the examples used to flush out practical halacha are actually hypothetical, philosophical extensions of arguments.  When debating these issues the rabbis are able to better understand how the law might be applied, and thus they create more precise definitions.

It is said that the use of law is like using a large paint brush to paint a delicate work of art.  The law is broad and blunt, while individual circumstances are specific and unique.  How do we ensure that such a clumsy tool will serve its purpose?  The rabbis' exhaustive debates allow us to have greater confidence in the applicability of halacha in unique situations.  

Looking at these ancient debates from a modern perspective, however, suggests that our Sages were not able to cover all possible applications of the law.  We have to extrapolate from what they have ruled in the past.  The introduction of anti-slavery, relativism and feminist thinking, for example, challenge some of the most fundamental assumptions used to frame the thinking of our rabbis.

The question is often posed as "do we throw the baby out with the bathwater?".  I would suggest that the more challenging question is HOW do we apply ancient halachic concepts to modern thinking.  Of course, rabbis have been hard at work at answering this question for hundreds of years.  But for me this is a relatively new and exciting endeavour.  

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Eiruvin 74a, b

The shortest daf in weeks.  I should be elated.  But somehow the experience is disappointing.  The material covered in today's daf was challenging, frustrating, interesting to read... just shorter.  I almost feel cheated.  Is that a sign that I have been doing this for too long?

The rabbis tell us about a couple of instances where establishing an eiruv is not allowed.  Reasons for this include the placement of Jewish/Gentile homes, the location of those homes compared with the courtyards and alleyways, and the number of homes in a courtyard.  

An interesting example of the latter reason tells the story of a synagogue.  A chazzana, (synagogue attendant) is said to sleep in the synagogue but to eat in his nearby home.  Some rabbis believe that the synagogue is now a residence, as residential status is determined by where one sleeps.  Others believe that the synagogue is not a residence, as residential status is determined by where one eats.  This decision regarding whether or not the synagogue is a residence will determine whether or not an eiruv is allowed. 

We are told that Rabbi Elazar, a student, believes that Shmuel has made an inconsistent decision regarding placing an eiruv.  He insists on asking Shmuel in person.  Rabbi Elazar tells Shmuel of his error; Shmuel is silent.   We are told that after Shmuel's death, and Rav Ivut Bar Ihi rushes to 'correct' one of Shmuel's rulings.  The rabbis discuss both the lack of respect shown to Shmuel and the response of rabbis to their critics.

When a rabbi is silent after being faced with a challenge, that silence can mean many things.  We are told in a side note by Steinsaltz that a Sage's silence toward a colleague represents an inability to find the answer.  Conversely, silence toward a student tends to demonstrate that the question did not deserve a response.

I cannot imagine that the rabbis believed that this conversation regarding eiruvin was truly critical.  These were extremely learned, wise men.  And yet hundreds of pages of the Oral Torah are dedicated to it.  What am I missing?  Perhaps the concept of eiruvin - of a physical separation between one place and another - was so appealing that the rabbis forced themselves to focus deeply on this issue.  In so many other Torah concepts, the rabbis do not have the opportunity to truly focus on the minutiae: where does the beginning of one category begin and another one end?  Eiruvin certainly offers us the opportunity to stretch our minds and to explore the true nature of boundaries.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Eiruvin 73a, b

Something to chew on today.  An overview of today's daf: the rabbis try to unravel the differences between creating an eiruv for carrying in a shared courtyard and an eiruv for carrying in an alleyway shared by those using that shared courtyard.  

The rabbis focus on family units: 

  • Should sons create their own eiruvin if they sleep in their father's home? if they eat in their father's home? if they sleep and/or eat in the field?  
  • Do multiple wives - five is the number used as an example - each create her own eiruv or is she 'covered' by that of her husband?  
  • What about his slaves?  Must each of them create an eiruv, or are they permitted to carry based on their master's (sic) eiruv?  
  • And what about families sharing a courtyard? And more, what about coworkers or friends sharing a home?  

The rabbis end daf 73 with clarifications regarding merging of courtyards and merging of alleyways.  Are both required? in which circumstances?  Interestingly, the rabbis admit that their considerations include creating a law that will allow the children to remember both sets of laws: those for courtyards and those for alleyways.  As I detailed in yesterday's blog, the rabbis are well aware that their decisions are not simply about logic and G-d's intentions.  Instead, they are creating halacha by balancing practicality for the community (ie. laws that are easy enough for people to follow) and the desire for continuity of Jewish tradition over time.

In 73a, a discussion about women and slaves is augmented with notes shared by Steinsaltz.  If women (wives, to be specific) and slaves are each required to create his/her own eiruv, we can understand that they are agents beyond the absolute control of their husbands/masters.  However, if these wives and slaves are permitted to carry based on their husband/master's eiruv, they can be seen as less powerful agents in determining the directions of their lives.  

I can imagine that a wife or a slave might prefer to have her/his husband/master take control of establishing their eiruvin.  One less onerous task to complete before Shabbat; one less responsibility to shoulder.  At the same time, I can picture a wife/slave relishing the freedom and power inherent in establishing her/his own eiruv, determining whether or not s/he could legally carry over Shabbat.

We continue to struggle with taking on responsibilities that might enhance our lives.  As much as  taking on a mitzvah might be satisfying, it comes with the weight of expectation and accountability.  In modern times, we are taught by social media and other external forces that we need not take on responsibilities; the burden is greater than the potential reward.  

Like most of us, I struggle with whether or not to push myself toward greater public engagement.  Should I work more hours? Should I take on more mitzvot related to Shabbat?  Or will the weight be too heavy to bear?  In the end this internal conversation is not a debate that can be measured with 'pros and cons', where the heftier side of the scale will determine my actions.  

I have come to a place (as of today; who knows where I will be tomorrow) where I allow myself the option of changing my mind.  I will take on responsibilities knowing that I have permission to reevaluate at any time.  This daily learning of Talmud, for example.  I have taken on this learning as a mitzvah, but I have not promised myself that I will complete 7.5 years of learning.  Instead, I meet the challenge that I have set for myself day by day, finding ways to push myself through the challenges so that I can enjoy the larger process.

Although much has changed in how we are influenced over time, our Sages clearly understood so much of human nature.  How we function as human beings has not changed dramatically over 2000 years. Their conversations continue to create a framework upon which I can place my questions and ideas.  Some days the learning can be quite difficult, but tonight I feel very lucky to be engaged in this process.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Eiruvin 72a, b

A new Mishna introduces a twist to the debates over shared courtyards.  If a courtyard is shared by five families who spend Shabbat in one hall together, must there be an eiruv for each and every group, or will one eiruv suffice for all?  The rabbis debate this particular problem, one of the many where Beit Shammai are more stringent and Beit Hillel are more lenient. 

Two points stood out for me today on my first reading of the daf.  The first is about halacha versus minhag.  The second relates to another Mishna which speaks of a number of sons who eat at their father's table but sleep in their own homes.  The question arises: what designates our home; is 'home' where we eat or is 'home' where we sleep?  An interesting and important concept in any age, the rabbis share their thoughts about this notion of 'home'.  Today I will focus more on the first of these two points.

My early experiences of Judaism taught the importance of minhag, or custom.  I learned that we follow the minhag of our family, of our rabbi, of our community.  So in my family, for example, we did not stay in the sanctuary for the Yiskor (memorial) service unless we were  mourners, for that would be the same as wishing our loved ones dead.  Not a halachically based rule, but a strong, sanctioned minhag.  I learned that minhag is strong, but not as strong as halacha.  But minhag is so strong that it might determine whether as a married woman I would cover my hair at all, with a tichel, with a wig, or a with a wig covering a shaved head beneath.

In 72a we learn that minhag is actually considered to be one of the rungs in the ladder of halachic protocol.  Halacha is binding at all times, and thus it is publicized in public lectures, etc.  Although the Sages will generally accept minhag as binding, it is not publicized because the Sages are not clear that it is actually binding law.  Thus the Sages are inclined to allow people to continue practising according to their minhag.

Often in the Talmud the rabbis are faced with a tough decision: do they sanction halacha that will be difficult for the community to follow?  The rabbis were well aware that halacha that is stringent and onerous likely will be 'overruled' in the court of public practice.  Based on that knowledge, our sages' rulings are often 'Hillelian', or more lenient, when possible.  In modern times and as liberal Jews, we often think of halacha as static and G-d-given.  Learning Gemara draws our attention to the truth: halacha is very much a creation of people in specific societies and contexts with specific community needs in mind.  As our communal needs change, the halacha should be designed to change with them.  If not, the community will simply give up on halachic practice as it is seen to be "too difficult".  

I think about some of my teachers, including Rabbi Elyse Goldstein, and how they have allowed for different, creative interpretations of Mishna -- just like our Sages.  Sometimes we worry about whether we are giving up too many of our traditions; are we really maintaining Judaism when we challenge the boundaries of halacha?  If we are truly keeping with tradition, however, we will learn from our Sages who themselves ruled leniently and considered minhag and the needs of the community as they ruled on their interpretations of G-d's intentions.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Eiruvin 71a, b

The rabbis continue their conversation regarding courtyards and alleyways.  They debate about how to determine at what time/who has the right to renounce ownership of his (sic) courtyard in order to facilitate the creation of an eiruv.  A new mishna introduces the notion of partnerships.  It states that an eiruv is not necessary when families are demonstrating a new partnership by sharing wine (this means pouring their wine into a shared barrel/container).  If they share oil with some families and wine with others, however, the rabbis of the mishna argue about whether or not an equal partnership exists and thus whether or not an eiruv is necessary.

The idea of mixing oil and wine is developed further.  Because oil and wine will not mix even when put together in a container, can they be thought of as one unit?

Finally, today's daf ends with a conversation regarding stringencies.  When it comes to rules of eruvin, the rabbis hold different opinions about stringencies -- are two rabbis required to validate a more stringent position?  Or is one rabbi's opinion enough?

As much as today's daf was perfectly in line with the challenging dapim of late, I enjoyed a number of the ideas shared.  I again assert that I am missing much of the background required to truly grapple with this material.  Regardless, today I was fascinated by the rabbis' insistence on splitting each hair more and more carefully. In fact, they often split hairs so finely that it is difficult to recognize what is left of the hair at all.  It almost feels like the rabbis are participating in an exercise of the extension of logic as much as they are attempting to clarify halacha.  But perhaps I am thinking this because I am missing so much of the larger halachic context.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Eiruvin 69a, b

After a blogging break for Shavuot, I'm back to sharing my thoughts... and I wish that those thoughts were more enlightened.  I have had more than usual difficulties with the past several dapim.  After struggling for some time, I am understanding slightly more about what I do not know.  

First, I do not know many of the basic concepts that create the need for eiruvin.  I am not clear how the one or two Torah laws (that have been shared up to this point) can justify so much attention to the notion of boundaries on Shabbat.  I am not understanding many of the rules around carrying, including how vessels are different from other objects (and on that note, I don't understand whether a zav/a ever truly existed, but I digress).  I do not understand why courtyards are different from alleyways when they are both open to the public as shared spaces.  And so it is obvious that I do not understand how and why different markers can reinvent those spaces.  

And to today's daf -- I do not understand how the renunciation of one's home in a shared courtyard can lead to such extreme outcomes.  Today the rabbis look at a number of related issues.  One of the more interesting side-points regards apostasy.  The rabbis discuss what makes an apostate (someone who rejects the law).  They are concerned about whether one's transgressions are done in private or in public.  They consider the intention of the transgressor and the specific laws transgressed.   Transgressors, poshim, are those who reject Torah law with intention, whether all of the Torah or just one law.  I am certain that there are numerous, detailed conversations about these definitions in other parts of the Talmud.  Another set of concepts that I do not yet know.

According to what I read today, I would be considered an apostate: I transgress some of the laws of Shabbat.  I do not actively worship idols, but I do check my computer frequently and participate in many of the other activities of modern society that are comparable to idol worship.  Some of my transgressions are even done in public.  

But it is interesting to me that I am careful about my appearance with regard to Shabbat laws.  If my head is covered for Shabbat, and I am likely wearing the uniform of the observant woman - long sleeves, long skirt, higher neckline - I will not enter a store on Shabbat.  I will not press the "walk" button at the corner, or participate in any other prohibited act.  Whether or not I feel compelled to keep those laws as part of my own practice, someone might see my prohibited actions.  But who cares what I do, particularly if I am not believing that G-d will 'care' how I observe?  

I believe, for better or for worse, that my actions reflect on people's understanding of what it means to be Jewish.  When I am identifiable as a Jew, I am extra careful to reflect an orthodox standard of halacha.  I would not want to make life more difficult for an orthodox woman who might otherwise be faced with the question, "But I saw another Jewish woman buying ice cream.  Why can't you?"  Even though my own answer to that question would be simple: "There are many ways to practice Judaism," I feel accountable for the part of the Jewish community that does not feel that they have a choice in how to practice.  And yet I am an apostate.

Perhaps this only makes sense in my head... but I was fascinated by the inclusion of these ideas (even as side notes) in today's daf.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Eiruvin 67a, b

Unfortunately for me, today's daf was a continuation of yesterday's conversation.  Today, the rabbis speak about what to do when a gentile lives with, dies with, visit, or creates a courtyard.  I believe that I am not aware of some of the basic rules regarding the need for an eiruv, and thus the intricacies of dapim like that read today are lost on me.  However, I am continuing to struggle with the text.  As tonight is the beginning of Shavuot, this is the start of an all-night learning opportunity here in Toronto.

One note I enjoyed was at the start of 67a.  Apparently, Rav Chisda and Rav Sheshet have great respect for each other.  When Rav Sheshet would speak, Rav Chisda's lips would tremble.  We are told that Rav Chisda was afraid that Rav Sheshet might ask him a question regarding his knowledge of the mishnayot.  And then we are told that Rav Sheshet's body would shake when hearing Rav Chisda's sharp, brilliant insights.

The rabbi's mutual respect for the intellect of their colleagues is lovely.  These gentle, loving expressions of admiration model for us a beautiful version of masculinity. It is not competitive but there is a physicality in the experience.  Respect is described as physically overwhelming.  It seems to be primarily an expression of embodied emotion.  As a feminist who searches for meaning in these ancient texts, I embrace these examples of supportive, male relationships.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Eiruvin 66a, b

I found today's daf quite confounding.  Every time that I reread a sentence, it seemed to lead back in a circle and I was not able to place the subject in context.  Unfortunately, I was not able to take more time today to find resources that might help me understand.  And so what I glean from daf 66 is that Rabbi Yochanan and Shmuel hold different positions regarding renting a courtyard from a gentile in certain circumstances.  The halacha is with Rabbi Yochanan.  But even the notes explaining that ruling is difficult for me to follow.  

Some of the ideas discussed in today's daf: inner and outer courtyards, renting on Shabbat, shared properties, ruins between homes -- are by in large alien concepts to me.  I wonder about the idea of living in a courtyard - whether inner or outer - and why construction seemed to be based upon these structures.  It was mentioned in an earlier daf that wild animals were held back by fences, and perhaps this was the reason for courtyards.  How would the existence of courtyards physically shape the structure of society?  Who would socialize with whom, depending on the inclusion or exclusion of people from a courtyard?  How would it come to be that gentiles and Jews might share a courtyard?  These questions are far more intriguing to me than the questions regarding proper placement of eiruvin.  

My hope is that tomorrow's daf offers me a larger window; something with holds for me to grasp on to so that I don't simply slide down the glass, unable to grasp much of anything.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Eiruvin 65a, b

What a fun daf!  In 65a, the rabbis tell us about what distracts them from Talmud study (including louse bites, the smell of a certain fish, etc.).  In 65b, we are told about the intricacies of renting from a gentile in a courtyard shared with a Jew when another Jew is living in an attached courtyard (inner and/or outer).

Drunkenness is a large topic of conversation. As a side note, we are reminded that alcohol is known to lead to sin, and so time is spent on the benefits of alcohol - there must be benefits, as it G-d 'intended' to create alcohol and its effects.  The rabbis agree that when one is as drunk as Lot, s/he is considered to have the status of an imbecile, ie. s/he is not culpable for his/her actions.  However, other than that unusual degree of drunkenness, people who are drunk are responsible for all of their actions as if they were sober.  Some rabbis note that alcohol can enhance concentration or kindness or other positive behaviours.  Other rabbis state that inebriation can impede concentration and encourage anger or other unwanted behaviours.  Interestingly, the rabbis are clear that we are not allowed to pray when we are at all drunk.

In 65b, the rabbis begin with a wonderful addage: we know about one's character through three things: his cup (ie. his behaviour when he drinks), his pocket (his behaviour when wealthy or alternately his financial dealings), and his anger.

As a therapist who focused on substance abuse-related issues for many years, I find this idea fascinating.  All of these factors continue to be critical for us in modern times; however, we do not necessarily measure each others' character through behaviour when drunk, when spending/saving money, and/or when angry.  Is character a measure of morality?  Or is it something different; a measure of personality, values, traits?  I would love to delve further into the rabbis' understandings of substance use, anger, and financial management - how we manage power and control over ourselves and others via these factors.

The remainder of 65b focuses on the courtyard issues as described above.  An interesting focus is on the possibility that the gentile might kill his neighbour, the Jew.  The fact that this was an undisputed possibility suggests a degree of hostility between Jews and their neighbours where the gentile is the one more likely to harm his neighbour.  I wonder about the reality of hostilities across religious lines in living circumstances in antiquity.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Eiruvin 64a, b

I did not comment on daf 63 because of Shabbat... however, I'll mention here that it was a delightful daf to learn.  It included arguments about how to show respect to one's teacher, and the consequences (immediate death; death by Heaven) if one is disrespectful. In particular, rabbis show great disrespect if they make rulings within their teacher's general area.  In fact, the rabbis suggest that this may have been one of the reasons that Aaron's two sons (who brought a strange fire) were killed: these students 'ruled' in the presence of Moshe Rabbeinu.  That in itself was a crime deserving of death.

But I digress.  Today's daf concerns drunkenness.  The drunkenness of rabbis, to be specific.  First we learn that the rabbis are delighted to get around an earlier ruling regarding a gentile who refuses to allow his home to be rented, thus preventing Jews from creating an eiruv in their shared courtyard.  The rabbis suggest that it may be halachically sound for the gentile's wife or labourer to rent his home without his knowledge.  Alternatively, they justify befriending the gentile and then placing an eiruv in his home, so that the Jewish neighbour is essentially a labourer.  Very sneaky, and not the type of relationship I would want to encourage between Jews and Gentiles.

Upon learning of this ruling, Rav Nachman states his pleasure:  how excellent is this ruling!  But Rav Nachman did not say such a thing regarding other rulings of Rav Yehuda.  In fact, one must be consistent with ones' official statements regarding rabbinical rulings.  The should only disagree with rulings based on reasoning.  Rav Nachman retracts his approval.

In using the example of drinking and prayer to explain this concept (one cannot pray when too drunk to speak in front of the king; consequences listed), the rabbis then change directions.  How much may a rabbi drink and still be allowed to make a ruling?  If a rabbi has drunk the agreed upon amount, what must he do before being allowed to rule?  What if he drank more than the prescribed amount?

Daf 64 offers us a few wonderful stories to illustrate the laws regarding rabbis and drink.  We learn of Rabban Gamliel and Rabbi Elai, walking past bread and then past a gentile.  We learn that we are to pick up food if we find it.  Also, we are to give food to gentiles after Passover even if the food was to be destroyed.  We learn about Rabban Gamliel's psychic abilities, as he knew the gentile's name without having been introduced. 

When arriving in town, Rabban Gamilel is asked to absolve a vow.  He checks with Rabbi Elai who confirms that, indeed, they drank at least a quarter-log (approximately 2oz) of wine.  Thus he is intoxicated and they must ride/walk 3 mil further before absolving the vow.  Beyond these lessons, we also learn about sitting when ruling a vow that is complex (where one does not completely regret making it).  We also learn that people should not make vows, as we are likely to break them or ask them to be absolved. 

Daf 64 ends with the suggestion that women practice witchcraft and may put spells on bread.  The rabbis discuss whether these spells are only on whole loaves of bread or whether they are also put on pieces of bread.  Jewish women are specifically mentioned as users of witchcraft.  

Would that not be a form of idolatry, one of the most heinous sins in Jewish law?  How can the rabbis calmly suggest that Jewish women practice witchcraft, putting spells on food?  It would seem that the modern world understands very differently the fundamental concepts of religion, religious practice, idolatry, and what hold spiritual power.  I am assuming that we will continue with this line of questioning with tomorrow's daf.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Eiruvin 62a, b

As if hearing my questions yesterday, the rabbis discuss some of the ins and outs of sharing a courtyard with a Gentile.  Unfortunately, my understanding of the underlying Talmudic principles is so weak that I did not fully understand their answers.  For what it is worth, my understanding is that after some discussion, the rabbis agree that Jews are prohibited from carrying in a courtyard shared by a Gentile IF there are at least two Jews there.  Two Jews sharing a courtyard already prohibit each other from carrying vessels between their private residences and their shared courtyard on Shabbat.  I am not clear about why this is so; in addition, I am not clear on why a Gentile's residence would have any influence over the halachic practices of Jews, particularly when the Jews are already prohibited from carrying.

A number of disturbing notes made me wonder about the relations between Jews and Gentiles in antiquity. The Gemara states that Gentiles are assumed to be suspected of bloodshed, that their homes are like the pens of animals (in that carrying is allowed between private residences and courtyards), that Gentiles are liable (and we're talking about the death penalty here) if they steal even less than a penny, and that Gentiles are likely to be frightened by the possibility of witchcraft.  All of these notes are similar in that they stereotype Gentiles, the "other", as somewhat less intelligent than Jews.  

I wonder when and how these negative commentaries began.  Did Jews separate ourselves, interpret a social structure and legal system for ourselves, perpetuate negative stereotypes regarding all others, and then wonder about the roots of anti-semitism?  Don't get me wrong; I certainly understand the foundations of anti-semitism in our current societies and the ways that that poisonous thinking is related to other oppressions.  But when I read in the Talmud about treating "the other" as a lesser being -- rather than as a different being -- I worry about the fundamentals of Jewish thought in a new way.

At the end of todays daf, the rabbis discuss some of the rules regarding rabbinics.  For example, some rabbis are always "right".  Rabbi Eliezer ben Ya'akov, for example, whose rulings were "measured and clean".  We learn that a rabbi was never to make a ruling in his teacher's home/place/neighbourhood while that rabbi was still alive.  And that rule holds even if the teacher tells his student that this is allowed.  An example is Rabbi Chisda, who never gave a ruling in his teacher Rav Huna's town regarding cooking an egg in dairly sauce called kutah (milk serum, salt, moldy bread, spices) while Rav Huna was alive. 

The hierarchies, boundaries and hair-splitting of the Talmud is both fascinating to me and headache-inducing.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Eiruvin 61a, b

The rabbis speak about walking from a small city through a large city and vice versa.  They discuss caves, ravines with and without barriers, and differences between desolate and inhabited spaces.

One of the rabbis more interesting discussions is about two ancient towns (in modern Syria), Chamdan and Geder.  Geder is at the top of a hill and Chamdan is at the bottom.  Less interesting to me is the focus on the barrier between the two cities.  Instead, the we learn that the people of Geder are mostly Gentiles and that they often attack or assaut Jews of neighbouring Chamdan.  The rabbis consider that Shabbat might offer opportunity to drink to excess which could lead to heightened violence.

And my questions begin.  Did towns inhabited by Gentiles also observe the laws of Shabbat?  Would they drink on Shabbat evening more than on other evenings?  Were there any Jews in a Gentile town?  How might they fare?  What other precautions were undertaken to address anti-semitic attacks?  Was there really such a thing as anti-semitism when Judaism was one of many cultish religions of the region? Were the Jews of antiquity proselytizing to their neighbours?*  If people of these two towns were hostile toward each other, why did they wish to visit with each other over Shabbat?  And how did these two towns come to exist with their different inhabitants?  How did Jews learn -- and practice -- the halachot suggested in the Talmud when they lived in small, remote towns?

In daf 61a, the rabbis mention that it is frightening to stand at the edge of a ravine without a protective barrier four cubits high.  I would not have imagined that standing by a ravine would be particularly intimidating to our ancestors. As well, we learn that cities without protective barriers are vulnerable to wild animals.  Were all villages protected by walls because of this threat?

I find it fascinating to learn about the more salient fears of the rabbis and their communities.  To understand our fears is to understand how we define safety, security and comfort.  We will do almost anything to keep ourselves 'safe' -- we will create stigma, laws, and entire societal structures.  Perhaps today's daf offers insight beyond what is intended.

*In modern times, Jews do not proselytize (well, except for some who only proselytize to other Jews).  

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Eiruvin 60a, b

Today's daf begins with rules regarding ladders and balconies:

  • what counts as an entrance? 
  • when is there a partition?  
  • how might that affect the establishment of an eiruv? 

moves to rules regarding small and large cities:

  • when do we exclude parts of a city from the eiruv?

and ends with discussion about the meaning of a new Mishna:

  • where is one positioned when the eiruv is set by another person?
  • how far can one be from one's residence when establishing an eiruv?
  • when and how far can we walk through large/small cities to establish an eiruv?

Through all of that discussion I found myself struggling to focus my attention.  When I do not fully grasp the concepts at hand, for example, the exclusion of part of a city when creating an eiruv, I find it difficult to follow the larger argument.  And so much of what I read in Talmud is learned through sheer determination (and no small degree of frustration).

Two points did stand out for me today.

First, in daf 60a, Abaye calls out Rav Yosef.  He asks whether Rabbi Yitzchak's ruling  - which was overruled - was based on logic or tradition.  Rav Yosef suggests that it does not matter, for we do not use Rabbi Yitzchak's ruling as halacha.  Abaye chides his colleague: "When learning Talmud, is it the same as learning a song?" We learn from this expression that we do not simply memorize the words of Talmud; we must strive to understand the reasoning behind the words.

This statement speaks to much of what draws me to Talmudic study: there is a constant, unending search for analysis that far surpasses the search for halacha.  Why did the rabbi suggest this interpretation?  Does it make sense in all circumstances? Why and why not?  What else do we know about that rabbi that can help us understand his ruling?  This deep level of questioning appeals to me immensely.

Second, in daf 60b, Rabbi Idi tells us that previous words (regarding measuring only to the middle of a city) are "nothing more than words of prophecy".  Rava then counters with further prooftexts for the statement at hand.  We learn in Steinsaltz's side note that Tosafot discuss the meaning of this expression at greater length.  Any statement decreed without reasoning attached to it can be thought of as prophecy.  The Sages are well aware that they are not Prophets.  As Sages, they must support all interpretations with text-based proofs.

In today's world of false prophets; talking heads on "news" programs and self-help gurus, I recognize that these "experts" often regurgitate the ideas of others in a new, shiny package without any credit given to others.  Sometimes I think that I should make a more decent living by fashioning myself as an "expert" in my professional field: write a book, go on the lecture circuit, lead training seminars.  But I believe that my knowledge is based upon the knowledge of others.  I might repackage that information, but none of my knowledge is truly 'mine' -- other than the knowledge based solely on my personal emotional experience.   

I simply love the humility of the rabbis -- or at least, the humility encouraged through the tradition of rabbinical discourse. These men certainly faced the challenges that accompany tremendous ego strength.  They were sought out as experts and judges and advisors.  But they were people, and they were encouraged to see themselves as fallible.  The rabbis, even with the power that they wielded (and sometimes mismanaged),  cited sources and ascribed credit to others.  We have much to learn from that process. 

Monday, 6 May 2013

Eiruvin 59a, b

We begin with the Gemara that follows the Mishna in our previous daf: 
1) The measurements of an expert surveyor are followed and if two measurements do not accord, the extended measurement is accepted;
2) Shabbat limits are so lenient that the memory of a gentile slave or maidservant regarding the placement of an eiruv in the past is relied upon.

In daf 59a, the rabbis discuss this Mishna. They decide that stringencies relate to Torah law but because Shabbat limits are rabbinic law, they are lenient.

Perhaps I am wrong in my assumptions, but I take this to mean that the rabbis wanted to make life easier for people enjoying Shabbat. 

Following this discussion is a new Mishna regarding courtyards; halacha regarding public and private domains.  Steinsaltz notes that this is a jump backward in topic.  Tosafot Chadashim suggest that we are on the topic of "memory": this new Mishna relates a city that was once public and becomes private, or vice versa.  Memory of previous halachot are significant in both of these two adjacent Mishnaot.

This second Mishna tells us that we can create an eiruv that combines the courtyards within an entire city in certain circumstances.  The Gemara that follows focuses on how one might create eiruvin in different circumstances -- for example, when one can establish an eiruv for half of a city, or when a ladder might be considered an 'entrance' to a public domain between two courtyards.

The conversation is alternately light and quite dense.  Koren's version of the Talmud provides pictures to illustrate some of the concepts discussed by our Sages.  I find those pictures helpful; however, often I wish there were a picture to help me understand the intricacies of the rabbis' conversations.  Diagrams, pictures, maps, anything at all to help me visualize these very challenging concepts.

I wonder about yeshiva bochers who were not particularly academically gifted.  How did they survive Talmud study in their early years?  Later, of course, they could choose other career paths - probably based upon familial traditions. But early on, children were expected to sit and learn.  What if the teachers were not that good?  In fact, what if the teachers were anything less than exceptional?  It is hard to imagine how someone might find the strength to focus on these difficult passages, even in chevrutah, for long periods of time.  

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Eiruvin 58a, b

Today's daf focuses on how we should actually survey and measure the Shabbat boundaries.  In 58a, we are told about which ropes are to be used and why.  We also learn the reasons for the length of rope to be used.  A reference to masechet Sota refers to the type of rope used for that ritual.  That very short aside created some anxiety on my part knowing that I will be delving into that ritual in future learning (there are very disturbing, strangely-like-witchcraft rituals to come).  In 58b, we learn the specific ways that surveyors are to measure distance when they come upon hills, mountains, canyons, walls, or fences.  The notes offered in the Koren translation were extremely helpful to me in today's daf; I do not believe that I would have been able to decipher the Gemara without Steinsaltz's direction.

It is so stunningly clear to me that I am a beginner in the study of Talmud.  Today that reminder came early in the daf.  The rabbis debated about the origins of the measurements used.  Of course, I should have known!  The rabbis did not pull "10 handbreadths in height over five cubits length", for example, out of the air.  This was not a measurement chosen because it is experienced as an easy slope to climb, and thus people would not avoid that hill when walking within their eiruv.  Instead, this is based on Torah direction!  Every word describing the construction of the Tabernacle is a clue directing us as to how we are to create proper eiruvin.  Every measurement, every word is there for a purpose (beyond that original reason of building the Tabernacle).  To those who have learned Talmud for years, this must go without saying.  For me, I suddenly gasp when I read those notes that remind me of the depth and breadth of the rabbis knowledge and creative interpretation regarding the construction of halacha.

Throughout today's daf I was wondering about the expertise required to determine these measurements.  I wondered whether a career existed in antiquity devoted solely to the measurement of Shabbat boundaries.  The practice would require specialized knowledge of these precise and complicated laws.  I was wondering about whether there might exist one surveyor who would train his sons; this one family would be responsible for creating the Shabbat boundaries surrounding various villages and towns.  It would not be a skill required many times for each town - though, with any new houses or population growth, it would make sense that new boundaries might be in order. How often might this measurement be repeated?  At the end of today's daf, we learn that in fact eiruvin must be completed by professional surveyors.  So I was not alone in my thinking.  But who were these surveyors?

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Eiruvin 57a, b

The rabbis continue their discussion of yesterday's daf regarding measurements of cities, their boundaries, and eruvin.  They speak of Levirite cities and the boundaries suggested for those cities in the Torah as reference. Yesterday's daf, 56, began with instructions on how to calculate in which direction eiruvin should be drawn: which part of the eiruv should be facing north and how we can figure out which way is north according to the stars.

So much of the past two dapim are difficult for me to calculate and follow in detail.  I am confident that I have the capacity to follow the rabbis' understandings and examples; however, when it comes to mathematical computation and logic, I read differently.  It is as if I relax; I feel willing to trust that the rabbis' formula are correctly derived and calculated.  My mind does not stay focused.

I wonder whether or not I am alone in this experience of Talmud study.  Part of what maintains my interest in this study of daf yomi is the intellectual exercise: I must focus my mind on a limited piece of work every day, finding a way to maintain attention and interest.  But when I simply cannot push myself to understand complex calculations, I can only imagine that many others before me have experienced the same difficulties.

In the past, I have used the experience of today (and yesterday's) study to be proof that I should not be tackling this material; it must be over my head or beyond my grasp.  And I certainly hope to turn to other resources to aid my study.  But at this point, without the time to find and use those teachers' explanations, I am still motivated to return to the study tomorrow.  I recognize that I will never understand some of the rabbis' words.  However, I can continue to struggle to better my knowledge. 

Eruvin 55

A note to anyone who is reading this blog: I have decided to change theEnglish spelling of the word "eruvin" and "eruv" to "eiruvin" and "eiruv".  I have seen both spellings repeatedly since beginning this masechet.   I initially chose to use the former spellings because they were more familiar to me. Lately I have been wondering if I might be missing out on opportunities to converse about the ideas raised in this masechet  because of my choice to use the spellings "eruvin" and "eruv".  Thus I will be using the words "eiruvin" and "eiruv" from today forward - I may even change the spelling of past posts.  Thanks!

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Eiruvin 55a, b

We are told how to measure the edge of a city.  If the city is round, we create a square around the edge of the circle and then measure 2000 cubits distance to create a larger square area around the city.  If the city is strangely shaped, we use the outlying structures - including a cave, church, grave, etc. as long as it has a roof and a residence in it - to create a square around the city.  Again, the 2000 cubits are measured around that square.  

The Gemara goes into some detail regarding a city in the shape of a bow.  It tells us that we imagine a line that runs from one end of the city to the other.  To create a Shabbat limit in such a city, one will be allowed to walk from the centre of that line toward the city.  Even if the distance is longer than 2000 cubits, one should be able to use those boundaries.  The rabbis debate about whether or not we should take into consideration the length from one end of the town to another.  They create interesting measurements to further elucidate their points. As well, they speak of a 'karpef', an area of seventy cubits that can be added to the area of any city, and its relationship with the 2000 cubit measurement.

The rabbis have an interesting conversation about people who live in huts.  they argue about  whether or not a group of huts or tents should be called a city, thus requiring Shabbat limits.  Rabbis argue about the Israelites in the desert living in huts.  Surely they were in cities requiring Shabbat limits, and certainly Moses creating that eruv!  Rabbis assert that those who live in huts are reprehensible - they do not have access to water and one should not marry their daughters.  One of the reasons put forward for this stringency is that these women are adulteresses when their husbands are gone, and thus we do not know who are the fathers of their babies.  This is important, of course, because of questions of lineage which were so important to the maintenance of the social structure of the time.  

The harshness lashed upon those who live in huts - shepherds, very poor people - goes against much of what the rabbis teach in other circumstances.  Are we not supposed to be generous with strangers, for we were once strangers in a strange land?  Culturally created (as opposed to Torah-created) oppression becomes easier to sift out when running fingers through the sand every day.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Eiruvin 54a, b

Like yesterday's daf, today's daf is filled with stories and creative interpretations.  Beginning with Berurya's advice to young scholars (be loud!) and ending (well, almost ending) with a story about Rabbi Perida's incredible patience as a teacher, the entire daf is an imaginative treat.

Although I am tempted to restate the individual stories here, instead I will touch upon a major theme that I noticed throughout daf 54.  The rabbis are eager to describe best practices in Torah study.  For example, one should not eat or drink much during study; one should always speak one's studies aloud to aid memory; one should repeat lessons at least four times (as did Moses, Aaron, Aaron's sons and the elders); one should be humble about one's learning.  Given the opportunity to share their interpretive wisdom, the rabbis are happy to demonstrate how phrases from Torah and Prophets are actually teaching us these (and more) best practices.

Again, though I admire tremendously the brilliance of our rabbis, I experience this exercise as self-serving.  Had the rabbis chosen to focus on a different theme, for example, on giving tzedaka, they could have just as easily proven that the sources were prooftexts for why and how we should give.  There is nothing offensive or upsetting to me about the rabbis interpretations regarding how to best do Torah study; I appreciate them and I even agree with their importance.  But the proofs just don't work for me.

On a related note, Rav Yosef and Rava had an argument (described in detail in another masechet).  In today's daf, the story of Rava's attempt to win Rav Yosef's favour is recounted.  The message emphasized is the importance of humility in Torah study.  Considering that these esteemed rabbis spent hours together listening to each others' ideas, how important it must have been to stress etiquette and compassion amongst these "students".  At times they must have driven each other around the bend.  All of us can learn from this lesson.  When a relationship is damaged due to self-aggrandizing, we must question ourselves and do whatever is in our power to 'step down' and apologize for our behaviour.  If it works for the rabbis...