Sunday, 23 June 2013

Pesachim 3a, b

So many fascinating points in one daf!  Note that today's daf continues yesterday's discussion about the use of the word 'or', usually defined as 'light' likely to mean 'evening' in our first mishna of Pesachim.

In a Torah verse we learn that women who miscarry on the 'or' of the 81st day following another birth should bring a second offering to the Temple.  Women who miscarry after a birth but before the 81st day do not have to bring another offering as that miscarriage is considered to be connected to the previous birth.  

Apparently we will be examining these laws in detail in Kittin and Niddah, but we are offered a bit of a preview in Pesachim.  The concepts of ritual purity and impurity - so different from the concept of cleanliness - is one that I look forward to understanding better.  Although it challenges my feminist kop to look at the unanalyzed application of tamei and tahor, I am intrigued and excited to learn more.

And speaking of what is ritually impure the rabbis offer another example that uses a zav and a zava to illustrate that 'or' may be used as a euphemism.  Women are not permitted to ride camels or donkeys as riding is immodest.  However, there are numerous references to women riding (including Abigail, Rebecca and Moses' wife).  Is 'riding' a euphemism for 'sitting'?  We learn that rabbis discourage the use of euphemisms in the name of clarity and brevity.  However, they simultaneously encourage euphemistic speech to maintain dignity, for example when referring to laws pertaining to a zav or zava.  

We are given the example of instructions regarding when we are to eat certain offerings - on the second or third day - how does the use of the word 'or' help us define the intended times?  And, as an aside, this surprised me.  I did not realize that offerings were actually eaten.  Somehow I believed that they were burned, or eaten by others, or in some other way disposed of.  

Pesachim 3b ends with a number of fabulous stories about the use of speech for good and for bad.  The first story is about two students who told their teacher Rav that they were so tired (or filled up, or overwhelmed: mesankan) that they were like pigs.  Rav did not speak to the student who said that word; it is assumed that a student who would speak in such a manner shows poor character.  It is difficult to even imagine living in such different circumstances from mine.

Another story tells of students who spoke with their rabbi about why one is permitted to harvest olives but not grapes in a state of ritual impurity. One of the students understood that olive juice is not sanctified and will not contract impurity.  However, the juice of grapes could be made into wine and thus should be guarded.

The next tale tells of three priests in the Temple comparing their shares of bread. One says that he received a share the size of a bean, the next the size of an olive bulk.  The third priest sadi that his was the size of a lizard's tail.  That priest's lineage was examined and a shemetz (trace) of disqualification was found.  Others suggest that the priest had a shemetz of arrogance, and that he tainted his own lineage which resulted in his disqualification from the priesthood.

Our next story tells of a gentile who brags that he makes the pilgrimage to Jerusalem along with the Jews and that he eats of the sanctified food even though he is not Jewish. Reb Yehuda Ben Beteira tricks him with words, suggesting that he ask for the fat tail of the lamb on his next voyage, as that is the best meat.  However, when he does this, he arouses suspicion in the Jews as that meat is forbidden; it is burned on the altar.  The Jews figure out this gentile's ruse and they kill him.  Rabbis comment on this unnecessary violence: it is the responsibility of the Jews and not of the gentile; the jews and not the gentile should be consequenced.  Rav Kook suggests that this extraordinary action was taken because G-d's name was desecrated.  What I wonder is why we have to defend the actions of our ancestors.  Perhaps they just made a mistake. 

Finally, we are told that Rabbi Yehoshua rent his clothes and turned them backward sot that the tear would not be seen; he denied that he was crying because of the death of Rav Kehuna.  All of this because one should not be the bearer or bad news.  It is reasonable to use one's speech euphemistically in order to lighten the burden of hearing unwanted information.

So much new information (new!) is overwhelming for me; lots to think about and digest.  So far, Pesachim is a treat!

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