Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Pesachim 6a, b

Alright, the honeymoon is over.  

I found 6a quite confusing - really, it's over my head. I'll do my best to share some of the basics.

Rava answers a dilemma about the royal tax, arnona, and the obligation to give the firstborn animals to the priests.  First of all, I'm pretty sure that Israelis pay that tax, arnona, today.  Am I right?  I remember learning that we should always factor in the cost of arnona when looking to rent an apartment in Israel.  

My assumption is that the dilemma regards conflicting obligations: do we give to the state (tax) or do we give to our religious obligation (priests)?  The text tells us that the animal might be owned together by a jew and a Gentile - if a Jew alone owned the animal, would he not have to pay the royal tax?  I am certain that I'm missing too much information to truly understand the complexity of this discussion.

The dilemma continues with a comparison: what if challa belongs to a Gentile and a jew together and it is brought to a Jew's residence (regarding the laws of Pesach)?  Some really interesting ideas: creating a room where the dough cannot be seen, building 10-handbreadth barriers around the dough so that it will not be a temptation... 

We learn, as an aside, that the rabbis argue about whether or not Jews are even allowed to rent to Gentiles at all.  The argument against this living arrangement is that Gentiles might bring idols into a Jewish residence.  Steinsaltz tells us that in Israel, Jews can only rent storage spaces  or stable to Gentiles for this reason.  However, in the diaspora, we are allowed to rent to Gentiles IF Jews do not live there as well.  And this leniency is due to the fact that most Gentiles do not worship idols in modern times.

There are so many ways that this interpretation offends my sensibilities that I'm not sure I even want to begin...  However, I will state for the record that we Jews have much to learn about living with 'the stranger in our midst'.  I can't argue about what was done 2000 years ago, as the context was so vastly different.  But today, the idea that we cannot rent residences to Gentiles if we live there as well is potentially damaging, hurtful and unnecessary.  But I digress.

The rabbis discuss how we should deal with leaven if we find it after the search.  They also discuss what to do if we travel over Pesach.  These issues are extremely pertinent today; I am sure that 'kosher travel' over Pesach is an extremely lucrative business today.  

The rabbis discuss whether a 30 day period (or a two week period, or something else) is dedicated to the study of halacha before the onset of Pesach based on Moses' teaching the children of Israel about the laws of Pesach in the desert.  The rabbis begin a discussion of the calendar, which is a conundrum to me, beginning with two different first months and a Pesach that occurs only one month after the first Pesach.  

Rav Menashia bar Tachlifa raises a fascinating point in the name of Rav: time is not clear and chronological in the Torah, and thus we cannot use reports about Moses' time as indicators of 'real' time.  The response is interesting, too: when we are looking at separate matters, it is true that time is not consecutive in the Torah.  But when learning about one narrative (my word), time is indeed consecutive.  The proof is discussed at some length.  One of the basic ways of understanding Torah is through hermeneutic principles.  One is that we derive meaning through patterns, for example a generalization followed by a detail - this tells us that that the generalization refers only to what is spoken of in the detail.  If consecutive time is always in flux, then our hermeneutic principals make no sense.  

Today's daf ends with another great anecdote.  We are told that a person will guard their field for their figs until the figs are finished; at that point they will guard the grapes until they are done, followed by the cucumbers, etc. etc.  When an owner is particular about a posesssion, he can guard that possession.  If it is stolen, the crime is that of robbery.  But once a possession holds no importance to the owner, people are free to take that possession without being charged with the crime of robbery.  Thus the figs left on the tree are up for grabs, but the grapes cannot be taken until they have lost their value to the owner. 

In this way we learn that possession is about value.  When a person values a pit, even though that pit is in the public domain, he is responsible for that pit.  Even though he has no official ownership of the pit, he is obligated to care for it.  This concept is used to explain how we nullify leaven - our rituals help us diminish the importance of leaven to discourage our interest, and thus our responsibility.

One way of building community is ensuring that individuals feels responsible for the 'common'.  Our neighbourhood dog park, for example, is important to me.  I visit it and use it frequently.  If something goes wrong in that park, it should be my responsibility to make it right.  According to this teaching, even though I do not own the park, its value to me should determine whether or not it is my responsibility.  

These Talmudic lessons reach so much further than simple words on a page...

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