Monday, 30 September 2013

Pesachim 103 a, b

What is the proper order of prayers on Shabbat evening when a Festival is about to begin?  Not only do the rabbis disagree with each others' opinions, they disagree regarding Beit Shammai and Beit Hillels' opinions.  Much of today's daf recounts the rabbis' different opinions.  Steinsaltz shares the accepted halacha in his notes:  We recite blessings over wine, then kiddush, then candles, then havdala, then havdala, and then time.  He tells us that havdala is done in the following order: wine, spices, candle, havdala.  The havdala prayer itself separates what is sanctified from what is secular.  Some of the rabbis' arguments are founded on opinions that one act cannot be completed after another.

An example of this is a conversation about the Grace After Meals, birkat hamazon.  We are to consider this prayer an 'interruption' of the meal, and thus if we continue to eat or drink once the prayer is complete, we should recite the birkat hamazon again.  One of the points of logic is that we cannot drink while chanting that blessing, and thus the prayer offers different insights than those that are short; where drinking can continue immediately.

We learn that Rava's attendant lit a torch from a candle for havdala.  The torch, a combination of many points of light, is preferable to the single flame from a candle wick.  Thus the attendant has helped to establish halacha.

We also learn the origins of the three prayers of havdala: gratefulness for distinguishing between darkness and light, between Israel and the nations, between Shabbat and the other six days, and between what is sacred and what is profane.  Why not simply state the last prayer, Ya'akov Bar Abba reminds us.  He notes that Rav Yehuda said that Rav said that Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi said that we need only say that last prayer, "hamavdil ben kodesh lechol".

In response, Rava tells us that Rabbi Elazar said that Rabbi Oshaya said: One who decreases [these statements of distinction in havdala] should not decrease them to less than three, and one who increases [them] should not increase them to more than seven.  This is where the daf ends, and tomorrow's daf certainly will offer further insight into our current havdala prayer.

It is amazing to read the original ideas behind current, even modern rituals and traditions.  One of the amazing things about Talmud learning is the witnessing of what might have been.  If Rava had not argued his point, perhaps very different rituals would be sanctified.  Meaning is infused into whatever vessel we choose.  Even when I recognize the arbitrary attribution of one ritual over another, I continue to find meaning in practicing what has been practiced (and debated) by my ancestors for thousands of years.  It is a shame that tradition has kept these texts from so many of us.  Learning the text does not decrease my halachic observance, as I was never fully halachically observant.  Instead, and perhaps just as importantly, it enhances my feeling of connection to my people.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Pesachim 102 a, b

After learning from masechtot Berachot and Shabbat, it is strange and yet a relief to learn today about a number of specific blessings said on Shabbat.  Of course, the blessings on Shabbat are in the context of Pesach or another Festival as we learn Pesachim.  Still, the rabbis consider carefully the practice that they are sending forward as they rule on these rituals.

Another very short daf, 102 begins with further examination of Rabbi Yehuda and other rabbi's ideas regarding how to continue a meal after interruption (with regard to specific blessings).  We then are introduced to the order of prayers when the end of Shabbat marks the beginning of a Festival.  The rabbis offer differnt acronyms to help them recall the order of blessings.  For example, Rav suggests the acronym yud, kuf, nun, hey (yud-yayin/wine, kuf-kiddush, nun-ner/candle, hay-havdala).  

While potential orders and their acronyms continue into tomorrow's daf, some interesting concepts and introduced through this discussion.  Which blessings stand on their own, and which can be attached to others?  Rabbis seem to lean toward agreement with regard to Grace after Meals, birkat hamazon, as a stand-alone blessing.  However, kiddush and havdala are connected as wine is a part of both blessings.

Related to these ideas is another concept: doubling up.  Are we allowed to use one glass of wine for both kiddush and havdala?   The rabbis agree that when possible, we should use two different glasses.  Why?  Steinsaltz shares notes with us explaining that each ritual is given it's due, similar to the practice of simchot being celebrated independently.

The importance of seder, order, in ritual is critical to the rabbis.  Understanding exactly wheich blessings are said when is how rituals are established.  Interestingly, the rabbis do not seem to be overly concerned with proof texts for their opinions in this case.  Learning Berachot and Shabbat helped me to understand that the rabbis continually pushed each other to ensure that the rituals that they were creating were the proper interpretations of G-d's intent.

While I hold the rituals sacred - I recognize the power that has been infused into those rituals - I do not believe that the rabbis always understood "the will of G-d" when they created our rituals.  Thus some (if not all) of our rituals may be considered 'flawed' or even not-sacred.  And yet, with this perspective, I continue to practice.  I suppose that I benefit from the Jewish tradition of 'doing before believing'.  Our faith; our internal belief is not nearly as important as our outward actions.  Another of the many reasons that Judaism continues to survive against all odds.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Pesachim 101 a, b

It has been three days since my last entry - I allow myself that break from the computer on the chagim and on Shabbat.  But now it seems as though I have not written in a very long time.  The subjective experience of time is topic for another time (or, perhaps, another blog, depending upon what I learn in the future).

Daf 101 is the second daf in Perek X.  We are now focusing on some of the more familiar halachot of Pesach.  That labourious examination of the Paschal lamb offering is finally set aside.  Instead, dapim 100 and 101 focus on the halachot of kiddush.

Today's daf is concerned with where one should recite the blessing over wine.  If one recites kiddush at synagogue, should it be repeated at home for those who could not attend?  Why should kiddush be recited at all at synagogue?  Is kiddush recited at the place of one's residence or at the place of one's meal?  And if the meal is interrupted, should kiddush be repeated?  What if one eats on a different floor of one's home - does this require a separate kiddush?

Much of the daf contrasts Shmuel's ruling with that of Rabbi Yochanan.  Shmuel tells us that "there is no (valid) kiddush other than the place of one's (Shabbat) meal".  Rav Anan bar Tahalifa, Rav Huna, Rabba agree with Shmuel.  (The Gemara tells us that in fact Rabba agreed with all of Rav's stringent rulings but not with his lenient rulings).  Rabbi Yochanan shares a different opinion.  He believes that the mitzvah to recite a blessing over the wine is fulfilled if the kiddush is said in one place but the meal is eaten in another.  

This leads to a new set of questions regarding the interruption of a meal.   Rabbi Yochanan tells us that when one changes places - or changes one's wine - during a meal, the kiddush need not be repeated.  The Gemara challenges this with a baraita which allows for the continuation of one's meal without a second kiddush only when the wine has changed.  

Looking more carefully at the rulings regarding change of place, the rabbis wonder small items of food that do not require blessings (fruit, water) and about the Grace after Meals, Birkat Hamazon.  Different rabbis hold different views about which blessings require repetition, whether blessings should be recited, and whether meals should be interrupted.  They ask about whether an introductory blessing, a bracha l'chatchila, should be repeated when people "uproot themselves" from a meal.  And of course there are exceptions to consider: what if people interrupt their meal to greet the bride and groom?  What if they are elderly or sick?  

I have to admit that I am not clear on all of the blessings required before and after eating.  I know the birkat hamazon for Shabbat, but I confuse the prayers said over different items of food and drink.  I wonder whether the rabbis were trying to create balance between the need to treat sanctified objects (and ideas; rituals) with respect and the understanding that people will want to eat and not follow endless, challenging rules around consumption.  

If these writings, as I suspect, are concerned with the ongoing preservation of a of social order (at least in part), each of these discussions helps us to understand the desired behaviour of a particular group of people.  For example, we have learned that it was undesirable to interrupt one's meal, to eat in more than one place, to sleep somewhere away from where one was eating, etc. etc.  Reading between the lines is almost as interesting as reading the lines of the Talmud.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Pesachim 97 a, b

The focus today is on a small detail within the process of offering the Paschal lamb.  When there are two offerings - two consecrated animals - what are we to do?  First of all, why would one group/family offer two animals?  First, the Paschal lamb may have been lost.  A substitute offering could be acquired in this case.  But what if the original offering was found before the substitute was slaughtered?  And what if it was found after the sacrifice took place?

The daf recounts the rabbis' attempts to untangle which rabbis said what with regard to these laws.  In general, the rabbis suggest that one lamb is sacrificed and the other has one of two fates.  Either it is left to graze until it develops a blemish and cannot be sacrificed and is then either offered as a peace- or sin-offering, or it is sold and the money is used to purchase a free-will offering.  The free-will offering involves less ceremony than a sin- or peace- offering, as one does not lay his hands on the lamb or offer libations before the sacrifice.  

Alternately, the second (found or otherwise not-yet-sacrificed-) animal is left in isolation to die. We are not allowed to make a mark on a once consecrated animal, and so it must die of natural causes.  The rabbis never allude to the cruelty of this particular action -- and it strikes me that I am picturing the sacrifice of animals as a clean and relatively painless and thus preferable death.  Amazing what I can become accustomed to in this learning.  

Although they do not offer one word to critique their deplorable actions toward these unlucky animals, the rabbis do argue about when that severe decree should be applied.  Steinsaltz tells us in a note that animals designated as sin-offerings were left to die in a number of circumstances: when it is the offspring of a mother consecrated as a sin-offering; when it is a substitution for a sin-offering; when it's parents have died; when its owners have gained atonement for another offering; and when it is more than one year old.  However, other rabbis argue that not all of these examples should result in that death.

The daf continues with a number of debates regarding the time of day.  A Paschal lamb lost before midday, at midday, and in the evening may or may not be considered 'lost' after all.  Much thought goes into this seemingly small detail.

Two ideas continually ran through my head as I read today's daf.  The first is more general regarding the Paschal lamb.  At the time of the Talmud, were the rabbis actually practicing this sacrifice?  My understanding is that this tradition ended when the second Temple was destroyed.  So why debate for so many dapim about the details of a particular practice that does not exist?  Was this an intellectual exercise or a heart-felt examination?

The second is - you guessed it - about the sanctioned cruelty against animals.  Did people not become attached to their animals?  It is one thing to allow an animal to be sacrificed if one believes that G-d will benefit from that practice directly.  But how could anyone justify the slow, painful death of an animal?  I am wondering whether the people of ancient Babylonia thought about animals completely differently than I think of animals, or whether they cared for their animals just as we do today, and thus these exercises were exceedingly difficult.  

These dapim make me consider vegetarianism more than anything I have ever read.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Pesachim 96 a, b

We continue to learn about the Paschal lamb.  Who is allowed to eat of it? Those who are ritually impure? Those who are ritually pure?  How might this compare with other offerings?  What about the Paschal lamb offered in Egypt and those in subsequent generations - how might these practices differ?  Circumcision is a huge question, too.  When is a convert allowed to eat of the Paschal lamb?  And what about substitute Paschal lambs - are these allowed? In which circumstances?  What about lost lambs that are designated for sacrifice and are thus consecrated?

A mishna in 96 (b) demonstrates uncharacteristic human fallibility on the part of Rabbi Yehoshua.  He tells that he heard two rulings about whether or not a substituted Paschal lamb is used as a peace offering after Pesach.  The implication is that he cannot recall the circumstances or application of these rulings.  He could not recall!  Of course other rabbis are happy to jump in and explain this apparent contradiction.

The Gemara tries to make sense of this by suggesting that Rabbi Yehoshua was actually teaching us that there are times when the substitute Paschal lamb is not sacrificed.   Our rabbis debate further about the possible implications of this statement.

Our daf ends with a conversation about she-goats, Paschal lamb substitutes, and peace-offerings.  The rabbis attempt to understand how and when we should maintain the sanctity of a once-holy animal.

This discussion reminded me of thoughts regarding the seder plate.  After our Pesach seder, it seems bizarre to throw the shankbone, the marror, the matzah, etc., into the compost with other scraps from the meal.  How can something so recently understood as sanctified suddenly be leftovers?  Or, on a deeper level, how can something into which we ascribed great meaning suddenly be redefined as 'without value'?  

I am sure that this is something that the rabbis thought about as well, given that they are concerned about how to address the changing meanings of a once-consecrated animal.  It is always exciting for me to read ancient words that touch upon the same questions that I ask today.  And our commonality is not in the resolution of these questions, but in the asking.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Pesachim 95 a, b

Today's daf is much more straightforward and less esoteric than yesterday's, where we looked at the measurements of the world as determined by the journey of the sun.  Daf 95 focuses on differences between Pesach rishon and Pesach sheni.  If a person is unable to bring his/her offering on the first Pesach due to his/her journey or due to ritual impurity, the offering can be delayed until the second Pesach one month later. 

On both dates, the Paschal lamb is offered, roasted and eaten.  It is eaten together with matzah and marror on both dates.  As well, both occasions supersede the laws of Shabbat if the 14 of Nissan or the 14 of Iyyar should fall on that day.   However, the offerings differ in a number of ways.  Hallel is said only on the first Pesach (thought the Gemara comments, how could Jews do mitzvot like roasting the korban or shaking the lulav on Sukkot without saying Hallel?!).  The text alludes to many other differences, some mentioned in notes offered by Steinsaltz from the Jerusalem Talmud.

The rabbis wonder about the recitation of Hallel.  Why would it not be recited on the second Pesach?  They find a poem that suggests connections to the night and to Festivals.  And thus because the second Pesach is not one of the Festivals (we are commanded to observe but we are allowed to work, cook without restriction, etc.), Hallel is not sung.

I can't help but wonder about the melodies used for Hallel thousands of years ago.  I love the melodies used today in my congregations. but it is difficult to imagine that the same melodies were used so long ago.  What melodies were used?  How did they differ from our melodies?  When did the changes happen and how did newer melodies catch on with the larger population?

As far as I know, the modern Jewish community does not mark 14 Iyyar as a day of significance.  When did this shift occur?  We did not have the Temple back in the days that the Talmud was written, and 'the first Pesach' continues to be celebrated - why not the second Pesach?  Certainly it could be based on the mitzvah: we are commanded to recall the exodus from Egypt in very particular ways on that first Pesach.  But so many other minor holidays are celebrated in modern times; how did it evolve that the second Pesach was put aside?

The second Pesach appeals to me as it offers a 'second chance'.  For those who were challenged physically or mentally, for those who were deemed ritually impure, for those who tried but were not able to be present for the first Pesach, the second Pesach allowed another opportunity to be connected to the larger community.  The punishment for not participating in the offering was karet.  Karet seems to be defined as anything from 'death' to 'exclusion from the community'.  Both a form of death, truly.  Clearly the stakes are high.  So why erase that second opportunity to 'offer'?

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Pesachim 94 a, b

So many days without daf yomi posts!  Between Sukkot and Shabbat, I have had it easy with my blogging practice.  But then again, all of that time and more has gone into sukkah building, cooking and hosting.  So... maybe it has not been pure laziness on my part.

Todays blog is an incredible voyage into past understandings of the physical world: its measurements, its relationship to the sky and the stars, and its barriers that affect us all.

We begin with the rabbis' debate about the meaning of "distant journey". They have established that a person who delayed from offering the Paschal lamb only due to the delay of a distant journey should be allowed to offer again at the second Pesach.  But what is a distant journey?  How long does it take to walk from one of the cities surrounding Jerusalem to the Temple inside of Jerusalem?  What is reasonable accommodation?  

In attempting to explain the distance between one place and another, the rabbis enter into a conversation about metaphysics.  How can we understand time and space based on the movement of the sun, the organization of the stars, the placement of the firmament?  They put forward a number of theories each disputing the one before.  If I had the time and patience to do so, I would repeat these theories, which clearly reflect the knowledge base of people living in the Middle East two thousand years ago.  The world is a flat surface with a measurable circumference.  The sun travels in one of many mysterious ways.  Most likely, the rabbis agree, it returns from the west to the east during the night, travelling behind the opaque firmament.  The darkness that results is all that we can witness of this process.

The daf ends with a conversation about those who are impure and their travels to the Temple. Much less intriguing that the preceding conversation.  

When the rabbis argue so assuredly about their understandings of how our world works - and when they were clearly so wrong - how can people continue to understand them as infallible?  As I continue to delve into the world of Talmud, it seems more and more evident that I am learning about the thoughts of human beings - brilliant human beings, but not beings inspired by G-d's immediate presence.  And if that is the case, they must be inspired by something else.  How could they not be influenced by the power structures, the societal issues and the struggles of that time and place?

I continue to marvel as I have the privilege of entering the texts of my ancestors.  Regardless of whether or not their understandings of "the facts" match mine, I am allowed to watch their thoughts.  What an amazing experience!  Today's daf is highly recommended reading, of course.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Pesachim 90 a, b

One of the difficulties with Daf Yomi learning is what to do when I don't understand.  It is late, and I had a long work day followed by a volunteer board meeting, and I am met at the end of the day by Pesachim 90.  I have looked online to find a reasonably short elucidation of the text; a waste of the past precious 30 minutes.  Clearly I have to move along, but this lack of clarity sits heavily on my shoulders.

We are looking at the question of a zonah who pays for her registration with an animal (or other payment) received as payment for her services.  Or, alternately, we are looking at a zonah who pays for her registration with her services.  I am not clear about this distinction -- and perhaps the daf is actually discussing something slightly different that I missed.  

A zonah is a woman who is a prostitute.  Or any woman who has had unsanctioned sex, for any reason, with anyone.  It is a word used without derision; a zonah describes someone of a particular group.  However, it is inherently insulting, as it categorizes and names a woman according to her perceived sexual activity.  So this start of 90 (a) is disturbing, yet I cannot quite decipher its meaning.  A very frustrating read.

The focus of 90 (a) is the sanctity of the offering and the money versus the sanctity of the people doing the offering.  In addition, whether or not the animal/payment was consecrated and when that consecration took place is important when understanding whether or not the offering is valid.  

This discussion is followed by a mishna that tells us what to do with a zav or zava.  Both can eat of the Paschal lamb offering if they have immersed (following seven or eight clear days) by the evening of the sacrifice. The Gemara expands on this concept and asks who else can benefit from the Paschal lamb offering.  One who has had contact with the corpse of a creeping animal is considered.  At the end of the daf, the rabbis note some differences between the practices for a zava and for a woman who is menstruating.  

The rabbis again share their considerable concerns regarding how and when people register for an offering.  Their detailed considerations are mind-boggling.  It was clearly very important that each person register properly and partake of the offering according to their exacting rules.  It must have been a balagan - I can just imagine these groups of people arguing, fighting, debating, pushing.  Men and women seemed to be able to participate together in this ritual.

If anyone reading this post can help to better explain today's daf, I will be very grateful.  Hopefully tomorrow will be an easier day.  

Monday, 16 September 2013

Pesachim 89 a, b

We continue to learn about registration with a group to partake of the Paschal lamb offering.  To begin, the rabbis extend their debate regarding the five offerings, one of which is blemished.  They consider options including using many priests, surplus Paschal lamb offerings, sin offerings or peace offerings as possible substitutes, and assuming that women were the registrants.   Women do not require the placing of hands on a peace offering as do men (Paschal lambs require no such blessing, and thus this action would disqualify the potential Paschal offering).  

Another mishna introduces a new stipulation.  In this instance a man tells his children that the first of them to enter Jerusalem (his/her head and the majority of his/her body) will acquire his/her portion of the offering.  The Gemara comments that this may be a retroactive registration.  Does this mean that the father registered all of his children and then retroactively withdrew some of his children before the lamb was slaughtered?  A case where the daughters and not the sons arrived in Jerusalem is cited.  The Gemara tells us that the daughters were enthusiastic while the sons were lazy.  There is no further comment, and we do not know whether or not this father was disappointed or proud (or both).

Another mishna tells us that as long as each registrant can eat an olive-bulk of the meat of the offering, many people can register for one Paschal lamb.  Anyone can withdraw, as well, up until its blood is sprinkled.  

Daf (b) begins with a mishna that when one registrant brings in another registrant, that person is to eat from his invitor's portion rather than sharing equally with all members of the group.  This is discussed at some length.  In particular, the rabbis consider a glutton, or one with "fine hands".  What is done when one group member eats quickly, more than his share, gluttonously?  A number of scenarios describe poor, slow-eating Rabbi Huna sharing meals with Rav Pappa and with Ravina.  After Rav Pappa eats four portions of bread to Rabbi Huna's one portion, Rabbi Huna eats with Ravina.  Ravina eats eight portions of bread to Rabbi Huna's one slice.  Rabbi Huna jokes, "better one hundred Pappas than one Ravina!"

The rabbis note that if one is eating with a friend, one might assume that his gluttony is known.  Thus he would certainly eat more than his share unless a statement was made with regard to his portion.  However, the halacha states that a glutton, whether just someone with fine hands or a friend, can be asked to take his portion and leave the company of the group to ensure that each person receives his portion.  

I found it notable that the rabbis speak about communication of intent many times throughout today's daf.  They tell us the importance of stating aloud our intentions.  It is reasonable to set preconditions regarding how the offering will be shared.  It is also reasonable to tell a registrant who is taking more than his share (and not others), "take your portion and leave."

Although this does not appear to be the most polite interaction on first glance, the implications are important.  We learn about how our ancestors were told to speak out regarding what is fair and just; what is difficult to talk about with one's friends.  In learning Talmud we are allowed to witness the recommended social interactions between friends and between strangers who are participating in a community-based religious ritual.    And they were told to be honest, be fair, and be forthright in their speech.  What is uttered aloud seems to represent both a dynamic interaction and a form of contract.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Pesachim 88 a, b

We begin with a fabulous story about Ulla.  He tells that when Babylonia, he was served dates in a basket.  Ulla learned that one could purchase three baskets of dates for one zuz.  Amazing, Ulla said, that Babylonians are not more learned in Torah!  The cost of food is so low that they do not need to work hard to buy their food - they should be studying Torah with their excess time.  That evening, he stomach became terribly upset because of the dates.  "I retract my statement", he declared the next day. Ulla said instead that "a basketful of lethal poison is one zuz in Babylonia" and still, even when ill, the Babylonians continue to learn Torah!

After finding proof texts for other references to prophecies of consolations (related to that of Hosea in yesterday's daf), the rabbis look at the main topic of today's daf: who owns the offering and how others might partake of it.  The rabbis ask a number of fascinating questions.

The first is about the wife of a man who registers her to partake of his Paschal lamb.  As the mishna tells us clearly that a wife can choose whether or not she eats of his offering, the rabbis are quick to defend the woman's right to slaughter her own Paschal lamb.  Women are mentioned specifically in a related baraita, unlike minor children or Canaanite slaves.  Even more interesting from a modern, feminist standpoint, a woman is described as being able to refuse or protest against her husband's will regarding this offering.  Although this is a significant and very unusual account regarding women's rights, it is not clear that this very minor occurrence balanced out against the overriding experience of women as property.

Slaves, however, have much less agency.  The rabbis continue to debate when and how a slave might have the right to eat of his/her own Paschal lamb.  They also examine how to deal with errors, both when the owner of the offering is unclear or forgetful about his request (a lamb or a kid) and when the slave errs in procuring or preparing the offering.  Interestingly, one of the major concerns is the possibility that one will eat of an offering when the registration is faulty. 

Another story is told, this time of Rabban Gamliel.  Apparently King Agrippa I (we are told in Steinsaltz's note that Agrippa I was reliant on the Sages and halachot throughout his rule) and his wife the queen would call on Gamliel to rule on halachic questions.  Rabban Gamliel in turn would rule according to halacha, but the rule might be stringent in order to best serve the needs of the royal family.  Things that ordinary people could not do were acceptable for the king and queen.  

The rabbis use this story to demonstrate the deep respect of royalty for the words of the rabbis.  Again, a self-serving moment in the Talmud.  

Finally, Abaye comments on a situation where the people are not sure about whether or not they have made a proper offering (where both a master and a slave have forgotten whether their offering had a stipulation), they are obliged to use opportunity of the second Pesach.  It is noted that Abaye's ruling may have been based on a baraita.  That baraita describes a situation where five people bring five offerings and one of the offerings has a wart.  No one knows which person brought that offering.  We learn about the various reasons that we cannot fix this situation quickly.  For example, we can't allow all five to bring another offering, which would solve the problem without wasting the offerings, because each was already registered for a separate offering and one cannot sacrifice twice.  This question is not yet resolved at the end of the daf.

Today's daf introduces some new conversations regarding power and agency.  The rights of wives and slaves are discussed, all within the context of the rites Paschal lamb.  I can't help but question why now and not at other points in this discourse.  Perhaps that will become more clear to me as I continue to learn.  

Pesachim 87 a, b

As tonight we ended Yom Kippur to begin 5774 in earnest, I will not be sharing detailed thoughts about daf 87.  But I could not leave it without any comment.

The commentary begins with a mishna that describes a woman who is newly married.  In that first year of marriage, she is permitted to eat the Paschal lamb with her father's group, even if her husband also registered her in his family's group.  Some of the reasoning for this is comfort - she will still be calling her husband 'Master', apparently, rather than 'Husband', in that first year.  Also, she is assumed to visit her father's home often in that first year.  If she eagerly runs to his home ta participate in the offering rite, then she is permitted to leave.  After that first year of marriage, she may decide where she wants to be for this ritual.  However, she has to tell her husband and her father in advance of the slaughter so that she is registered with the proper group.

After some related commentary comparing women to part of the holy alter, to a wall with two towers (breasts), and to the community of Eilam.  The rabbis go so far as to say that virgins "bind and seal their openings for their husbands" in interpreting Psalms 144:12, "...whose daughters are corner pillars..."

Hosea is used to demonstrate G-d's love for his people.  The story is told that Hosea is told by G-d to marry a prostitute, Gomer, whose name is used by the rabbis to belittle and degrade her.  After they have three children, G-d tells Hosea to leave Gomer.  Of course, he cannot.  And G-d cannot leave his children Israel, either.

I can reframe and pretend that the text is not telling me about a lack of respect of women.  However, on days like today, it is impossible to ignore the vast gulf between men women's realities.  And womens' realities are tremendously more vulnerable, more frightening, and less powerful.  

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Pesachim 85 a, b

We continue to learn about breaking bones and eating marrow.  It is determined that marrow matters - when a bone from the Paschal lamb has at least an olive bulk of meat or marrow, it must not be broken. The rabbis describe peeling away meat with some detail... it is enough to make me consider vegetarianism.  Ritual impurity renders the priests' hands impure, and piggul and leftover meat of consecrated animals is impure.  There is discussion about priests using their power to disqualify offerings of those whom they dislike.  The Gemara suggests that the decision regarding the ritual impurity of piggul/leftover meat may discourage such behaviour.  As well, the Gemara tells us that lazy priests - those who do not burn leftovers immediately - may have encouraged this ruling.

I love when we learn about the imperfect behaviours of those who are supposed to be above reproach.  Clearly the priests were not expected to be 'better' than anyone else; it was understood that they used their religious/social power to their own advantage.  Some of the halachot are created simply to address these injustices.  

As the rabbis continue to understand how the priests deal with ritually impure offerings, they arrive at a question around concealment.  If part of an animal is ritually impure, how do we stop that impurity from affecting the ritual status of the rest of the animal?  A principle: ritual impurity in a concealed place does not render other objects impure.  One of their examples is a dead fetus in its mother's womb.  Good to know that she is not considered ritually impure.  Talk about adding insult to injury!

We turn to look at meat that has been taken from the boundary of its group, and a Paschal lamb that has left the boundary of its group.   In both cases, the lamb is not to be eaten.  Daf (b) begins with some specific descriptions of how the meat becomes disqualified, especially through the placement of that meat with another group.  I wonder about these boundaries - how were they guarded? how would they be measured? how much of a problem was this boundary issue, and why was it important?  Are well looking at social rules masked as religious obligation?

A mishna creates a clearer picture of the scene at the Temple.  It seems that the Jews would congregated in courtyards with wall and doors separating groups.   The thickness of these structures is included when we determine barriers between groups.  

The Gemara begins with Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi saying "Even a barrier of iron does not separate between the Jewish people and their Father in Heaven".  Prayers are stronger than any physical barriers.  This seems to contradict the halachot regarding minyanim, for all ten people are required to be in the same place (ie. inside or outside of a doorway).  Priests, however, are still considered to be with the Jewish people if they are behind an iron wall when offering the priestly benediction.

More energy is focused on which walls and doorways are sanctified.   We learn a fascinating comment about why certain gateways are not sanctified.  Apparently lepers would sit outside of the gateways to Jerusalem using their structures as respite from the sun and as protection from the rain.  As well, they used the Gate of Nicanor to receive their sprinkling of blood on heads, thumbs and big toes once they were healed from leprosy.  

Can one heal from leprosy?

The notion of inside and outside is fundamental to Jewish ritual and philosophy.  I have written before about the distinctions that we delineate and then accentuate in Jewish thought.  We are provided with new examples today - walls, doors, gates, roofs, etc.  Why is it so critical to distinguish one from another; this from that?  Judaism begins with the notion of 'chosenness' and then continues to push that notion of separate and distinct.  Kashrut, modesty, ritual purity, Shabbat -- all of these cornerstones of Jewish practice depend upon the celebration of lines in the sand.  

But it is all sand.  Tiny specs of rock that appear to line up but can be moved and reshaped with the wind.  Even if our lines are completely arbitrary, we fight to defend them.  And even if our lines are determined by G-d, we must admit that they will shift over time.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Pesachim 84 a, b

When we register as part of a group for the offering, it seems that we can register to consume a specific part of the Paschal lamb.  We know that the bones of a Paschal lamb cannot be broken, but is there leniency when it comes to particular bones?  What about tough sinew?  Which parts of the Paschal lamb can be eaten?  How do the rules regarding consumption of an adult ox help us understand how to eat a kid?  And so that we understand what we are in for, what are the punishments if we break the bones of a ritually pure Paschal lamb; a ritually impure Paschal lamb? 

In daf (b) we are witness to a discussion about a Paschal lamb that has broken a bone. It seems that this is a different consideration than previous discussions, where we are defining how to divide and then consume an animal that is 'whole': we are not to break a bone.  But what if the bone has been broken?  Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish (among others) argue about how much meat must be on the bone to render the offering void (because the meat cannot be eaten and thus the mitzvah is not fulfilled).  

The rabbis put great effort into understanding exactly how we can fulfill the commandment to burn and consume the Paschal lamb.  So much energy has been spent on these seemingly minute details; we likely will not have opportunity to participate in such rituals again.  Why study this material in such depth?  Why not spend inordinate amounts of time on directly helping others, or on less structured personal growth exercises, or on relationship-building?  

Part of my interest in this learning is the historical, sociological, ritualistic and spiritual similarities between this ancient culture and my own.  The fact that rabbis have spent such time on the study of Talmud is interesting in itself, even without examining what they are studying.  It is a firmly held belief in Jewish thought that study of Torah is necessary.  It is not only that social justice is achieved through what we learn in the Torah about how to be just.  It is that Torah should be studied for its own sake - because it is in itself a fulfilling exercise.  

That is my experience of Talmud.  It enriches my life to learn every day, even though it distracts me from other priorities and interests.  And I suppose I want to feel connected to others who felt the same way.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Pesachim 83 a, b

We are told that we should not break the bones of the Paschal lamb.  And after the offering is finished, and after the lamb has been eaten by each member registered in a given group, the bones, and the sinews, and the leftovers must be burned, preferably on the 16th of Nissan (but not on Shabbat due to rules regarding positive and negative mitzvot on Festivals).  

If we cannot break the bones, we cannot eat all of the meat.  The marrow will be left untouched.  If the marrow is not permitted and thus touching it imparts ritual impurity, the bone itself might be considered impure as well, imparting ritual impurity to one's hands when touched.  The rabbis debate about these ideas and their application.

Sinews, other than those in the neck of an animal, are considered to be meat.  But sinews have been singled out in the mishna as something that should be burned.  Why?  Of course we do not eat the sciatic nerve, as Joseph wrestled with an angel and his right hip was 'touched' or damaged in that struggle.  The rabbis suggest that there are actually two sinews that are affected by the prohibition to eat the sciatic nerve; an inner and an outer sinew.  Perhaps one of those could be eaten.  Or perhaps we are stringent because we might not know the right from the left sinew after they have been removed from the lamb, thus eating the prohibited sinew.  The rabbis suggest many reasons that would account for this possible difficulty.

Did people eat the sinews? How valuable was meat?  What did people eat on a regular basis?  Did they eat as much as we do?  Perhaps the food that we learn about was special, for religious rituals only, and not at all like the daily diets of our ancestors.

And again, this notion of ritual impurity sits with me.  It sometimes feels like "cooties"; somewhat arbitrary but very powerful.  Which isn't a problem until someone has cooties and can't get rid of them and thus suffers as an outsider for months or years.  I understand that there are rituals that nullify the impurity, but even those rituals seem to lack substance, particularly when the ritual impurity is actually gonorrhea.  

Then again, I see the beauty of 'changing states'.  After a miscarriage, for example, or at another time when we want to have a physical representation of our spiritual shifting.  The process of immersion is powerful without doubt.  But does it justify the maintenance of categories of inclusion and exclusion? I am hopeful that my continued learning with help as I grapple with these concepts.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Pesachim 82 a, b

What if the Paschal lamb becomes ritually impure and must be burned using wood?  The rabbis discuss the options of burning the lamb in one's own courtyard or in the Temple courtyard.  They consider whether one may only use one's own wood, whether unused wood from the Temple is permitted, and whether wood of a lesser quality can be used for this purpose.  

On a number of occasions, the rabbis argue about whether embarrassment should be part of this process.  Only a miser would use the Temple wood, so we should embarrass him.  A poor person would need the Temple wood, and we should not embarrass him.  A Kohen who is separated from the sacrificial ritual due to ritual impurity should not be made to feel embarrassed.  

The rabbis struggle with the same essential issues that we debate today.  Should we use the positive aspects of "shame" to encourage a certain type of behaviour?  Should we avoid using "shame" to any advantage?  The rabbis seem to believe that shame can be utilized if someone has erred (been miserly) but not if someone has been affected by an externally based status (ritual impurity, poverty).  

Daf (a) ends with a mishna that tells us that if a Paschal lamb has become ritually impure, if it has been removed from the home where it was to be eaten, or if its owners contracted ritual impurity, the lamb must be burned immediately - on the 16th of Nissan.  The Gemara looks to understand why the lamb would be burned and not dealt with in other ways.  Perhaps we are concerned about the blood, which must be burned if it is in the Temple.  Perhaps we are worried about the sanctity of the lamb.  The rabbis attempt to understand when the impurity was discovered, whose impurity was found, and how immediately the disqualification and then the burning were determined.

So many halachot pertaining to one particular sacrifice that had not been performed for generations.  I assume that our Sages were concerned about the continuity of Jewish thought and Jewish rituals given the huge changes taking place.  We think that we are special in coping with Jewish continuity in this age of technology, but we are part of a long tradition of worriers - we vacillate between changing everything in order to engage the Jewish people and desperately grasping onto what we think is ancient, unchanged traditional ritual.  Makes me think of Dan Mendelsohn Aviv's book, End of the Jews: Radical Breaks, Remakes and What Comes Next.  An interesting, informative read about this very topic.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Pesachim 81 a,

We begin with a lovely conversation regarding women's menstrual discharge.  If the discharge starts and then stops and then starts again over a two-three day span, the rabbis want to know when her status as 'ritually impure' begins and ends and begins again.  They put some degree of energy into this calculation, as her ritual purity determines whether or not her offering of the Paschal lamb is acceptable -- and whether or not she is obliged to perform that ritual at the second Pesach.

Steinsaltz shares a note that is helpful regarding men who are zavim.  If he sees "white, pus-like discharge on his penis" on one occasion only, he is considered impure for the day and must immerse himself like a man who discharges semen.**  If that discharge is prolonged, or if he witnesses discharge again that same day or the following day, he is considered a zav and must immerse after being ritually impure for seven days. If he witnesses discharge for a third day, he also must bring an offering to become ritually pure again.

In both of these cases, the rabbis are concerned about their state of ritual purity retroactively.  Both of these individuals are limited in what they can reasonably do when ritually impure.  They must be careful of where they sit and what they touch.  If they believe that they are now ritually pure but in fact learn that the discharge continued, they are understood as being retroactively impure.  

The rabbis are clear that women who are zavot must have a continuous flow of blood for three days rather than days of spotting.  They are specific about when a woman must check for blood to determine that the flow has been continuous from one day to the next. 

In daf (b) the rabbis discuss, among other items, the power of the frontplate worn by the High Priest.  Apparently this frontplate, worn on the forehead of the High Priest, had the power to annul certain sins of the Kohanim.  In particular, the frontplate can excuse sins that were not known at the time and were discovered later, like contact with an impurity of the deep, tumat hat-hom.  Tumat hat-hom is the state of ritual impurity that derives from contact with a source of impurity that is not known of by anyone.***  For much of daf (b) the rabbis debate about who might know about impurities; how these sources of impurity affect different groups of people.

A mishna at the end of today's daf introduces the idea of a Paschal lamb that is partially impure.  Those with such an offering are told to burn it with their own wood at home.  It tells us that only miserly people would choose to use the wood from the Temple to burn such an offering.  The Gemara begins with a discussion of why we would be told to burn the offering at home.  To embarrass people?  Perhaps, the rabbis argue, in this case, we would want to embarrass people to discourage similar offerings in the future.

On the issue of the zav and zavah -- many women must have been considered zavot much of the time.  How derogatory was this designation?  How much did it affect their daily functioning?  Was it experienced as a 'break', as introduced by Anita Diamond in the Red Tent, or were people shunned when ritually impure?  Or both?

And were people actually cured of gonorrhea? Or were they zavim for the remainder of their lives?  I picture zavim as men in sacks, wandering without homes or food, without family or even a place to sit. Could this be the case, or is this my imagination as informed by what I have learned about laws regarding zavim thus far?  I assume that I will be learning much more about this state of being in years to come when I study that masechet.

** Does this imply that any discharge of semen results in a change in status and requires immersion?  Even the discharge of semen through sanctioned intercourse?

***Steinsaltz explains in a note that the buried corpse of someone who was murdered cannot impart tumat hat-home because the murderer knows where the corpse lies.  

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Pesachim 80 a, b

The past few days (Sept 4-7, 2013) have been Rosh Hashana and then Shabbat.  I have been reading but not blogging.  It feels strange to jump in with my ideas on Pesachim 80 without having touched on the past few dapim.  However, to keep myself functioning, I am going to stick with this one daf.

In a continued effort to understand rituals surrounding the sacrifice of the Paschal lamb, the rabbis today look at the issue of community.  Do tribes each form their own community, or are do all of the tribes combine to form one large community?  If half of the the community is impure and half is pure, who is allowed to participate in the first Pesach? the second Pesach?  What if one half plus one person is impure?  What if the people are impure because of contact with a corpse versus people who are impure for other reasons?  What if we are speaking of zavim? and do the rules differ for zavim and zavot?

One of the many confusing arguments in today's daf seems to imply that a woman is a zavah if she finds menstrual blood on a day (or many days, watching carefully) outside of her regular cycle.  I had thought that a zav was a person with gonorrhea.  Is that only true for men? Are women zavot only if we have irregular menstrual flow, or in addition to when we have gonorrhea?  Needless to say, these distinctions are both perplexing and disturbing, given the stigma that seems to be attached to that particular state of ritual impurity.

Another interesting question jumped out at me.  The rabbis discuss what should be done when a small minority of people - perhaps even only one person - is ritually pure among one-half of a community that is pure.  They suggest that the person who is ritually pure remove him/herself from the community so that the larger group can be allowed to sacrifice the Paschal lamb (as this is allowed for those who are impure under certain circumstances).

I was shocked that the rabbis would even entertain this idea for theoretical purposes.  The suggestion is that the rights of a "deserving" minority can be trumped for the sake of the larger community.  To be more specific, the larger community - even when in a state of ritual impurity - should have the benefit of sacrificing the Paschal lamb.  Is this idea responding to the needs of those who are ritually impure before those who are ritually pure?  Are the rabbis speaking to the large group of people who are less able to engage with mitzvot; who dafka need opportunities to do those mitzvot more than those who are   able to engage with mitzvot more easily?

I would love to believe that our Sages had thoughtful reasons for debating these seemingly trifling details about offering of the Paschal lamb.  Today's daf suggested such as possibility.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Pesachim 76 a, b

So here is where the cooking rules come from!  Today's daf introduces some of the discussions that led to halachot regarding mixing of kosher and non-kosher foods and beverages. Of course we already know that we are told not to mix dairy and meat -- or, to be specific, a lamb and its mother's milk. But how did that Torah law evolve into the vast array of halachot regarding kashrut?  

We are told that rabbis initially disagree about what to do when a permitted food falls into a prohibited food, and when a forbidden food falls into a permitted food.  Of course, there is not a simple answer.  The rabbis believe that the temperature, aroma, placement, etc. of the foods will determine whether or not the permitted food has absorbed something prohibited.  They debate about the impact of many factors including hot vs. cold foods, amounts of food, which food is physically above the other, the entire food item vs. the outer layer, the significance of aroma, and the porousness of different foods.

All of this to understand what should be done if gravy from a Paschal lamb falls and heats to the point that it might heat the lamb itself, leading to cooking instead of roasting the offering.  

I love the lasting effect that these halachot have had on our ritual practice.  For example, we are not supposed to cook dairy and meat together in the same oven because the aroma of one can be absorbed by the other.  However, there are circumstances where this is permitted.  Today, what do we do?  Although there may be permission from the rabbis to cook both together, most Jews who attempt to keep the laws of Kashrut will not put both dairy and meat in the same over.  Why not?  We don't know.  We just don't do it.

Being able to read the arguments between our Sages allows me to understand the origins and the intentions of these halachot.  I so wish that I had been introduced to this level of depth when I was taught about the laws.  The boring, binding, "because it says so" presentations would have been replaced by, "even our rabbis disagreed about this.  This is what each of them said, and this is why the halacha was based on Shmuel's argument."

The end of today's daf is a mishna and the beginning of the Gemara.  The mishna tells us that five items can be brought to the Temple in a state of ritual impurity BUT cannot be eaten in that state: the omer, the two loaves of Shavuot, the shrewbread each week, the communal peace-offerings of Shavuot, and the goats sacrificed on Rosh Chodesh.  However, the Paschal lamb is eaten in a state of ritual impurity when it has been brought in a state of ritual impurity.

Certainly we will continue to look at the possible meanings behind this mishna. 

A short note about aroma and OCD: I have long believed that Judaism is the perfect religion for someone struggling with OCD who wants a healthy outlet for those behaviours.  The question of the significance of aroma is a great example.  Does the substance of one thing enter another thing if the aroma enters that same thing?  Or is aroma somehow detached from the essence of its source?  How far apart, then, should we keep two items that might be influenced by the other's scent?  It is enough to make a person want to run in circles!  But without worrying about the practical implications, this is a fascinating question. 

Monday, 2 September 2013

Pesachim 75 a, b

In an effort to understand the commandment to roast the Paschal lamb in fire, we are witness to a horrifying discussion about executions.  First, we learn that a perforated grill is permitted to roast the lamb.  Rabban Gamliel chooses this method of roasting to save the pomegranate trees in Eretz Yisroel from needless destruction.  A wonderfully environmentally conscious decision.  In fact, he is said to have ordered his slave, Tavi, to roast the Paschal lamb on a perforated grill.  I believe that this is the first time that I have noticed a slave being mentioned by name.  I wonder about its significance.

The rabbis try to understand what it means to roast in fire.  Does fire include other objects that have been heated and thus share enough characteristics with fire to be called, "fire"?  They give examples of death sentences that are commanded to be performed by fire, and how that notion is interpreted in those situations.  

In their examination, they speak of a young woman who is a betrothed Kohen who "commits adultery".  She is given the death penalty in this circumstance.  That death is to be commuted by fire, and a pure leaden bar is melted; the molten lead is poured down her throat.  If this is not bad enough, the rabbis continue to discuss the legalities of similar executions, including being burned  by the fire of sticks and wood, being burned by plaster, and being burned by boiling water heated by fire.  Rav Nachman argues that because of Leviticus 19:18, "one must love one's fellow as oneself", we are obliged to find the quickest, easiest death.  A note by Steinsaltz tells us that while another person lives, we cannot fulfil this commandment.  We will put our lives and our needs first.  However, in this case, where a person awaits death, we have the opportunity to do right and hasten their death, as we would want for ourselves.

The rabbis then look at coals and how coals might differ from fire.  They ask about the heat that might be associated with skin diseases like leprosy and how these are diagnosed.  They put their minds to safer subjects.  

These rabbis were judges; they offered rulings when, for example, young women were accused of adultery.  Would they watch these horrific deaths?  Did they understand the implications of these seemingly throw-away descriptions?  

When a young woman slept with another man -- and let's say, for argument's sake, that she was not raped, or coerced, or seduced.  She was a willing participant.  A willing fifteen year-old participant.  To be killed painfully, publicly, harshly, for such an decision - it is unthinkable today.  We rise up when we learn of similar things happening today in communities around the world.  But in our own history?  How can we reconcile with this reality?

The daf ends with a new mishna that  focuses on rules regarding cooking - if the offering touches a 'wall' in the fire, for example, it may have been cooked in that way and not by fire thus it is disqualified.  This mishna also speaks about drops of gravy falling onto consecrated items.  Notes regarding ritual impurities and how they may be handled ensue.

Pesachim 74 a, b

Two days without a blog!  My learning of both daf 72 and daf 73 took place over Shabbat and so I did not blog.  Daf 73 ended Perek VI, and we move today to Perek VII: rules regarding the cooking preparation of the Paschal lamb offering.

We begin with a mishna that explains some of the basic rules: the Paschal lamb must be roasted using a spit made of pomegranate wood.  The rabbis question whether the lamb is to be roasted with its entrails, etc. near its head and separate from the body of the animal, or whether those parts should be placed inside the animal as it roasts.

The Gemara poses questions: why pomegranate wood and not palm, fig, oak, or sycamore?  Why a wooden spit and not a spit of metal; why not a grill? The answers: we should ensure that no water  emits from the utensil used to roast the lamb.  The meat must be roasted - it must be cooked directly by the fire and not through heated water, or a heated metal spit, or a spit/grill that does not allow the meat to be entirely touched by the fire.

The rabbis debate about the placement of the offering's legs.  After that discussion, they debate about the removal of blood from meat for the remainder of the daf.  Generally speaking, Torah law requires that blood must be removed from an animal during the slaughter.  However, we take this requirement further and encourage salting and rinsing of meat to allow any excess blood to be absorbed by the salt and then rinsed away.  In addition, today's daf teaches that the heart of the animal should be cut so that the blood inside has place to escape.

Finally, the rabbis extend this discussion to include breading on animals: does breading (with flour, etc.) prohibit the meat?  Perhaps blood will not escape from the animal and fall to the fire; instead, the blood could be absorbed into the flour of the breading.  And when meat is soaked in vinegar to remove blood, can the vinegar be reused?  The rabbis take these questions on in today's daf.

I could not help but be reminded of the strangeness of animal sacrifice as a religious ritual.  The notion of this sort of offering is completely foreign to me - and to most of us in today's era.   We have not had a Temple for a long, long time.  Why the immense effort to maintain that particular practice?

Of course, our Sages wanted to ensure that should the Temple be rebuilt, we would have clear, accurate directions on how to perform these rituals. But now... why do we continue to study this work, to repeat prayers that describe the offerings?  Most of us would agree that animal sacrifice is repugnant; an ancient practice with no meaning valuable enough to justify its return.

And another thing - what is it with Judaism and blood??  Today we are looking at laws regarding the removal of blood from sacrificial animals.  In the past, we have looked at blood as a source of ritual impurity, as the requirement when performing a brit milah, as the all-important marker of niddah for women.  Is it simply about blood as a life source; something symbolic of life in all living creatures?  Or is it more closely connected with the imminence of death that surrounds us at all times - more so in ancient times?

And of course I understand that many people would tell me that blood is to be avoided because the Torah tells us so.  For better or for worse, the more that I learn Talmud, the more that I recognize that these rules and ideas are reflections of the society that existed at the time that these words were recorded.  Perhaps the rituals were inspired by G-d and perhaps they came from people's best judgements. Either way, I hope to understand better our relationship with blood as I continue to learn.