Thursday, 30 January 2014

Yoma 84 a, b

At the very end of yesterday's daf we learned about a mad dog.  Picking up from that point, today's daf explains that rabies can be cured by writing words on a hyena's skin, burying one's clothes and then burning them after one year, and drinking water indirectly through a copper tube.  

We turn to healing on Shabbat.  I cannot comprehend the story that is told to help illustrate this point.  Rabbi Yochanan visits a Gentile healer on Thursday and Friday for tzfidna, which is translated likely as scurvy. He asks her what he should do on Shabbat, and she tells him he will not feel ill on Shabbat.  But what if I do? he asks.  Swear that you will not share this secret, and I will tell you how to prepare the remedy for yourself.  Rabbi Yohanan said, "I swear that I will not reveal this secret to the G-d of the Jews".  She tells him the recipe, and he immediately shares it publicly with the Jewish people  

The Gemara wonders how he could break his vow.  But there are a number of possible ways that Rabbi Yochanan tricked the Gentile healer without breaking his promise.  In my mind, this behaviour is absolutely unacceptable.  It is clear that others have shared this opinion, as many connotes wonder at how Rabbi Yochanan could risk the reputation of the Jewish people

Ultimately, the remedy is not remembered.  A number of alternate recipes are shared, each incidentally containing much vitamin C.  This is how it was determined that tzfidna is scurvy.  

A number of illnesses are discussed.  What might have been hepatitis; what may have been diphtheria.  Treatments, including bloodletting, are mentioned as well.  At issue is the treatment of illness on Shabbat. The rabbis agree that an illness must be life-threatening for a person to administer medicine on Shabbat.  They argue about which illnesses are in fact life-threatening.  

A person who is ill should be treated immediately, even if s/his is not necessarily dying.  Why?  Future Shabbatot might be desecrated if we do not help a person to heal over this Shabbat.   In order to encourage stringency, however, the rabbis specifically exclude women and Gentiles from assessing the illnesses or providing treatment.  The Gemara teaches than in urgent circumstances, people should act quickly, without consultation, and attempt to save a life - even if the halachot of Shabbat are pointedly desecrated.  Each example case is argued and reaffirmed (putting out a fire but creating a pathway; saving a child from the sea but catching fish; saving a child from behind a door but creating wood for the fire; saving a child from a pit but building a step).

Finally, we are taught that saving lives does not follow the principle of majority.  For example, we save one person who is trapped under a pile of rocks whether his group was made up of 9 Gentiles and one Jew or vice versa.  The end of today's daf queries what we do with an abandoned baby found in a town that is half Gentile and half Jewish -- does the same principle apply?

It is so difficult to read Talmud from my modern perspective.  I look for thing that I can relate to; things that 'make sense'.  Sometimes I find those things.  And immediately I will be faced with an idea or an interpretation that is almost incomprehensible in its cruelty or logic.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Yoma 83 a, b

Some interesting concepts are introduced to us today.  First, what do we do about a person who is ill but insists on fasting on Yom Kippur?  Well, we consult an expert - in this case, a doctor.  If the doctor agrees that this person can fast, then we allow him to fast.  However, if the doctor says that he should eat, we go with the opinion of the person himself, for we learn in Proverbs (14:10) that "the heart knows the bitterness of its soul."

Even if two or three doctors are consulted, we are walking close to the practice of court witnesses.  Again, the person who is ill has great power to make decisions in these circumstances.  I wonder whether this is true for both men and women.  No distinction is stated.  Generally speaking, women's opinions about their own bodies and needs are not the primary determiners of what happens in their lives.

A new mishna considers a number of concerns:
1) when suffering from bulmos, it is alright to eat on Yom Kippur
2) when bitten by a rabid dog, it may or may not be permitted to use medicine to save one's life on Yom Kippur
3) when suffering with a sore throat that may turn out to be life threatening, it is permissible to use medicine
4) when a person is trapped under a landslide of rocks, it is permitted to move aside the rocks to find that person, whether s/he is Jewish or Gentile; alive or dead. A live person must be moved to save her/his life. If the person is dead, however, we do not desecrate our holy day to move rocks or the person.  This is because we do not break halachot of Shabbat/Yom Tov for the sake of respect for a deceased person.

The rabbis consider illnesses, including confusion or tunba (seemingly senility or dementia), and bulmos.  Bulmos, which has the same root as bulimia (Ancient Greek for 'excessive hunger') is a condition that includes symptoms of excessive hunger and loss of vision.  The eyes recover first as a person heals from bulmos.  The rabbis tell a story of Rabbi Yehuda who is overcome with bulmos while travelling with Rabbi Yosei.  He grabs the bread from a shepherd's hand, devouring it.  This is allowed, as it saves his life. Rabbi Yosei says that Rabbi Yehuda stole that bread.  Upon returning home, Rabbi Yosei became ill with bulmos as well; he was surrounded by townspeople affering him their food.  Rabbi Yehuda quipped, you chastised me for stealing from the shepherd and then you stole from the enitre town!

The Gemara spends some time analyzing when we might break different prohibitions strategically.  For example if we are hungry with bulmos and we must eat, do we eat untithed food or non-kosher food?  Which halachot are Torah given and which are rabbinical in origin? Which are punished with death and which with just a 'slap on the wrist'?

We end today's daf with stories about our rabbis that highlight their wisdom and their extraordinary experiences in travel.  The first finds Rabbi Meir protecting himself from theft through his suspicions that the innkeeper is a bad person based on the meaning of his name.  The second tells us of an innkeeper who fed pork to a Jew because the Jew did not indicate that he was Jewish by completing netilat yadaim before the meal.  This innkeeper would have fed the Jew kosher food had he known.  And, as we know, eating food forbidden by Torah law is punishable by death.  So the innkeeper is responsible for killing the Jew.

Our rabbis are incredibly focused upon finding the hair-width line between what is permitted and what is prohibited.  For people like me who do not believe that that line is all-important (except when I prepare for Pesach, however, which is another story), is it worthwhile to study these texts?  I would argue that it is worthwhile.  To understand the logic and context of our rabbis is both fascinating and enlightening.  And the studying does allow me to feel closer to my history.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Yoma 82 a, b

We begin with a Mishna that could have been written today: How can we not afflict the children on Yom Kippur and yet train them on or two years in advance (of adulthood) so that they will be used to fulfilling the mitzvot?

The Gemara begins by stating that one year of training is for weak children while healthy children begin training two years in advance.  Three opinions:
Rav Huna speaks to girls: at ages 8/9, training for several hours
                                          at ages 10/11, complete the fast by rabbinic law
                                          at age 12, complete the fast by Torah law
Rav Nachman speaks to boys: at ages 9/10 training for several hours
                                                 at ages 11/12 complete the fast by rabbinic law
                                                 at age 13 complete the fast by Torah law
Rabbi Yochanan asserts that there is no fast by rabbinic law.
Instead, at ages 11 and 12, girls prepare to fast by fasting for several hours, completing the fast at age 12 by Torah law.

The rabbis then argue whether healthy children are intended to complete the fast two years in advance of the age of maturity; feeble children are then intended to complete the fast one year in advance.  A difficulty arises with regard to rabbinic law.  If Rabbi Yochanan is right and rabbinic law does not apply, how can we agree with everyone's reasoning for preparing all children two years in advance?  And how do we measure whether or not a child completed their obligation to train - to become familiar with the feeling of afflicting oneself?

Notes teach us that in antiquity, the rabbis argued whether and when children under the age of majority should complete the fast by rabbinic law.  The exact age of the child is vital in these arguments.  In another note referring to current halacha, we learn that while children under age 9 are never allowed to fast, children between 9 and 11 years of age should be encouraged to learn to fast.  By age 12 for girls and 13 for boys, they are obligated to fast.  However, if they are not physically mature, they complete the fast to comply with rabbinic law only.  And so even very physically immature (ie. not CLOSE to being ready for physical adulthood, not to mention emotional adulthood) girls will fast at age 12, and they may or may not know that when they 'afflict their souls' they do so based on rabbinic law rather than Torah law.

Our next Mishna focuses on vulnerable populations.  Pregnant women's cravings should be satiated lest they lead to life-threatening situations.  Sick people are fed according to medical experts.  If no medical expert is available, sick people are allowed to eat until they themselves determine that they do not need more food.

A fabulous instruction in the Gemara: if a woman craves forbidden food*, including consecrated meat or even pork, she is offered a thin reed dipped in the juice of that food.  If that does not meet her craving, she is offered gravy.  And if that is not enough, she is offered fat of the forbidden food. This because her life could be in jeopardy, and nothing comes before saving a life except for idol worship, forbidden sexual relations, and murder.

The resulting joke:
Q: When can a pregnant Jewish woman eat pork fat?
A: On Yom Kippur.  But only when pork gravy isn't satisfying.

The Gemara turns to the question of idol worship.  How can this prohibition supercede saving someone's life?  Rabbi Eliezer is quoted in a baraita: Deuteronomy 6:5 tells us that "you will love the Lord your G-d with all of your heart and with all of your soul"... and then "with all of your might".  which one of these statements is superfluous?  The baraita suggests that "might" refers to possessions, so that if a person actually loves his/her possessions more than his/her life (as one might in old age, where money is the only way to find food and shelter), s/he still must give his/her life before worshipping a false G-d.

We learn about connections between forbidden sexual relations and murder: in halacha regarding a betrothed woman who is raped, the rapist may be killed as he is committing a forbidden sexual act.  Even murder is allowed in order to prevent a forbidden sexual relation.

We learn that someone came to Rava, saying that the master of this person's village said "Kill this other person or I will kill you." Rava siad that he should let himself be killed: "What did you see, that your blood is redder?  Perhaps the other man's blood is redder."  We never know the importance of anyone else's life.  It is not our job to decide who should die.  It is not logical, therefore, to take a life for this reason.

The daf ends with the story of a pregnant woman who craved food on Yom Kippur and others approached Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi asking for help.  He told them to whisper to her that "today is Yom Kippur" - they did this and it helped.  Later, he read a verse that suggested that the fetus was known and sanctified already (Jeremiah 1:5).  The resulting baby was in fact Rabbi Yochanan.  Well, not as a baby (I can picture an infant dressed as Rabbi Yochanan would dress).

Another pregnant woman smelled food adn others came to Rabbi Chanina for help. Similarly, he suggested that they whisper to her that it was Yom Kippur.  Later, he read a verse from Psalms (58:4) suggesting that the baby was already estranged while in the womb.  I truly hope that this woman did not hear that reading.  The baby who emerged was Shabbetai, the hoarder of fruits, charging more for his wares during a famine.

Today's daf offers a number of opportunities for personal agency and intercession.  A pregnant woman and an ill person are able to communicate their own needs.  Granted, for the most part others are evaluating the depth of those needs, but to have a say at all regarding how much we afflict our souls on Yom Kippur is significant.

*the craving is said to come from smelling a forbidden food.  The Ba'al Halachot Gedolot suggests that we are concerned with the health of the fetus, but the Rambam asserts that we are mainly concerned with the health of the mother.
* She is fed bit by bit until she feels that she has had enough.  The look on her fact tells us whether or not this is a strong craving, and a whisper of "it is Yom Kippur" is not enough to calm her.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Yoma 81 a, b

I'll try to summarize some of the major concepts covered in today's daf.

  • On Yom Kippur, we meet the mitzvah of not eating and drinking when we afflict our souls.
  • two items that are similar in ritual purity and in measure can be combined; food and drink can be combined in this context, too:  
  • Combining food and drink does not settle the mind
  • If we consume something like brine, dry ginger, pepper, etc. (not usually consumed), we are exempt
  • If we consume food and drink together in one lapse, we bring only one sin-offering
  • If we consume food and also work on Yom Kippur, we bring two sin-offerings
  • Usually, a punishment is preceded by a warning; afflictions are not preceded by warnings
  • A baraita teaches that labour performed on Yom Kippur is punishable by karet
  • The same baraita discusses whether labour performed on the extension of Yom Kippur is punishable by karet, too
  • The baraita asks whether we can assume a warning before affliction because warning - punishment - labour and  thus warning - punishment - affliction
  • Affliction is also used in Deuteronomy 22:24 "... because he has afflicted his neighbour's wife."  A warning precedes punishment for a rape, thus a warning should precede punishment for the affliction of Yom Kippur, as well*
  • Yom Kippur is called "Shabbat" (Leviticus 23:32)
  • The rabbis debate as to whether we extend Shabbat because it is called for us to afflict our souls beginning in the evening, or whether we are meant to afflict our souls only on the 9th of Av
We end the daf with a story about Giddel Bar Menashe from Birei Dineresh who publicly taught a community that drinking vinegar was permitted on Yom Kippur.  Vinegar was not normally drunk, and thus was permitted.  He learned that the following year, many people mixed vinegar with water and drank on Yom Kippur!  He corrected their actions by reminding them that he had spoken about pure vinegar, drunk sparingly, and only done after the fact but not ab initio.

The rabbis are trying to define what it means, practically speaking, to afflict one's soul.  The are forming their ideas about affliction, punishment, intention, and community influence as they argue with each other.  Outside of the Talmud, I have never learned that eating or drinking is permitted on Yom Kippur for any reason.  Our Sages understand people's behaviour and they understand human nature.  They are creating these guidelines and laws so that they will actually be used.

*It is painful to read the rabbis' use of the warning and punishment for rape as a simple comparison.  Mind you, in this particular example, I'm sure that the rabbis would have used another disturbing example, like murder, with similar flippancy.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Yoma 80 a, b

As they debate how much food might be permitted on Yom Kippur, the rabbis look at differences between date-buks and egg-bulks.  This time, they focus on the egg-bulk.  Why this particular amount of food, the amount of an egg-bulk?  Is it connected to how much food can be held in the throat at one time?  And how big is an egg-bulk, anyhow?  Which kind of egg are we thinking of - that of a chicken, or another bird which might be much larger or much smaller?  Why not an olive bulk, which is used much more commonly?  After discussing these measurements for some time, the Gemara notes that in the past, people had ignored the measurements altogether, leading to a reinstitution of the system.

The Gemara refocuses on the larger question of measurements and punishments.  Rabbi Elazar wonders whether we should write down our measurement-based transgressions in case a court in the future will change the required punishment.  The rabbis speak about intentional and unintentional transgressions; they speak of measurements and punishments as Torah law: they were given to Moses directly at Mount Sinai and are not subject to change (Rabbi Yochanan).  Then again, though Leviticus 27:34 stands as a proof text for Rabbi Yochanan's assertion, other rabbis believe that the measurements and punishments were forgotten, leading the court of Jabez to reestablish these halachot.

A cheekful of wine is liable on Yom Kippur - even just one cheek.  The rabbis disagree as to whether a half-bulk is liable, a full measure is liable, or any food or liquid at all is liable.  According to our notes (Steinsaltz), the punishment for a half-bulk would involve repentance rather than an offering.  This is an interesting question regarding punishment in general: is it enough to repent?  Why might it be reasonable simply to repent some of our transgressions but give offerings to account for others?  And while the Torah and then rabbinical law offers clear (well, as clear as possible) rules regarding punishments, how can we apply that information in our modern lives?

So a cheekful of wine is liable - says Beit Hillel.  But Beit Shammai say that a half-log, more than two cheekfuls, is where wine consumption becomes liable.  And many rabbis have other opinions. The Gemara now focuses on the fact that this is one of the only times where Hillel's opinion is more stringent than Shammai's.  So why is this particular debate not included in Masechet Eduyyot, with other rogue opinions?

And here's where it gets fun.  Hillel and Shammai were not discussing any old cheekful.  They were discussing Og, the giant, whose cheekful was greater than a half-log of wine.  So there!  Which brings us back to the foundational idea: settling the mind.  The mind should be afflicted, as affliction is one of our mitzvot for Yom Kippur.  And so the Gemara shares a discussion about what would afflict Og's mind.  There is a side-step toward ritual impurity (where we learn among other things that consuming ritually impure food or drink creates ritual impurity of the second degree which does not spread to others but does require immersion).  The refocusing on affliction, however, is important.

We end the daf with other ideas about eating on Yom Kippur.  We already know that food and drinks are counted separately; their measurements cannot be combined.  But any liquid or item that does not count as food (like salt) that is used to prepare a food is counted as part of the food rather than as a separate liquid.   The rabbis also discuss people who eat excessively, whether they eat past the point of fullness (ie. they are satisfied by their erev Yom Kippur meal but continue to eat) or whether they eat to harm themselves.  I would have guessed that these people are liable for eating more than an egg-bulk on Yom Kippur - but I would have been wrong, according to this beginning conversation.   Just like a priest who transgresses regarding teruma consumption does not pay the extra 1/5 penalty, people who eat excessively are not seen as having eaten at all - they are simply pushing food in without pleasure, and this is not punishable on Yom Kippur.

And so the end of today's daf is all about that concept of affliction.  If a person is harming her/himself with food, s/he has not broken the mitzvot of Yom Kippur.  S/he is afflicting her/himself, which complies with the theme of begging repentance with afflicting one's soul.

I recongnize that tomorrow's daf might turn today's arguments around, but I love this particular line of thought.  Affliction is presented as something beyond what can be measured.  It is also a personal, subjective experience.  We have carved out a little space for leniency - not regarding the keva, but the kavannah of Yom Kippur.  Meaning can be created in that little space.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Yoma 79 a, b

In discussing afflicting ourselves on Yom Kippur, the rabbis identify fasting as a form of affliction.  But might it be permitted to eat a very small amount of food and continue to be afflicted?  How much food might that be?

The rabbis focus on amounts of food that might be permitted on Yom Kippur.  Less than a date-bulk?  Less than an egg-bulk?  Less than an olive-bulk?  The rabbis debate about whether the date-bulk includes its pit or not.  Then they argue about whether a date-bulk might be larger than an egg-bulk.  What they want to avoid is eating enough to "settle the mind", which would lessen our affliction on Yom Kippur.

The laws of Sukkot and the laws of Pesach are used to untangle this debate.  On Sukkot, meals must be eaten in the sukkah.  Would a date-bulk count as a meal, or would it be a 'snack' that could be eaten outside of the sukkah?  The same questions apply to an egg-bulk.  And can fruits be called meals?  On Pesach, leaven is not permitted and leavened bread is not permitted.  But is a minimal amount allowed - and if so, how much?

The notion of measuring something important with an approximate measure - a date-bulk or a cubit - is remarkable.  Even more remarkable when we remember that the punishment for transgressing these halachot can be karet - death, excommunication, and/or death at the hand of heaven.  One would imagine that a very precise measure would be necessary to determine liability.  Perhaps there was more leniency in practice than it would seem.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Yoma 77 a, b

While discussing Daniel, the Gemara continues to tell stories from Daniel and also from Ezekiel.  The stories involve the angel Gabriel.  He notices the behaviour of others and he comments on what is just.  Often he is ignored.  Without a better background in Nevi'im and Ketuvim, I cannot assume that I understand what I have read.

Prooftexts help the rabbis to support their reasons of why refraining from bathing is considered an affliction.  Generally, they turn to texts that suggest 'weariness' as the result of not bathing.  As weariness is an affliction, we should not bathe on Yom Kippur.  They also discuss the importance of wearing shoes without patches.  But it is surprising to me that the rabbis decide that not bathing creates weariness.  Now, I'm certain that the rabbis knew far more about waiting to wash than me - I take a shower every day, something probably unheard of in the time of our Sages.  But wouldn't discomfort or odour (ie. community relationships) be more of a problem than weariness?

After using texts to prove that going barefoot is an affliction, the rabbis wonder about refraining from sex. Their first prooftext suggests that it is an affliction for women to be denied intercourse.  Further, is causes suffering to take on multiple "rival" wives - an affliction.  The rabbis even mention Genesis 41:2, where Shechem saw Dina, lay with her and afflicted her.  The Gemara explains that this affliction was because Shechem was unnatural in his relations with her.  Any woman reading this text would understand that sex is not pleasurable when it is forced.  Sex without consent is an affliction. But women's consent was an alien concept in the times of the Temple, thus 'unnatural acts' account for Dina's discomfort.

The Gemara then qualifies these afflictions.  Mud, blood and excrement can be washed from one's body as this act of bathing is not pleasurable.  Shammai was stringent and would not wash even one hand to prepare food for his children, which caused them to suffer.  After the rules were changed, he washed both hands and prepared food for his children.  Abaye mentions Shammai's fear of the spirit Shivta.  Shivta lives on hands that have not been washed in the mornings.

The rabbis' belief in superstition; in evil demons and other powerful creatures seems absolutely antithetical to our modern understandings of Judaism.  At the same time, their practice -- washing hands before preparing food or eating a meal -- is completely in line with our current beliefs.  Perhaps this is part of the reason that our texts continue to live: they keep us in balance between mystery and logic.

Further, oil can be smeared for medicinal purposes - not for pleasure.
A person can guard his field or greet someone older/wiser even if it requries walking up to one's neck in the water of a river.  As this is not swimming or bathing for pleasure, it is allowed.  Although the rabbis find proof that the water should only reach one's ankles or waist, Abaye steps in to assert that in still water where there is less risk of drowning, the water can be much higher.

The Gemara explains other verses from Ezekiel.  In the future, what kind of boat will carry him across the river? The rabbis look for proof to convince each other that their arguments are valid.  The daf ends with a new conversation regarding the water that flows under the Temple and its status in the future.  More on that tomorrow!

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Yoma 76 a, b

Continuing their discussion of manna, the rabbis wonder why the manna fell daily rather than once each year (which would be consistent with other agricultural practice).  They answer: like a King who gives his son an allowance once a year, that son is not grateful. But when the King offers gifts every day, the son thanks his father every day.  Another possibility is that the people could not carry manna with them for a year while travelling.  

We move into a section of Gemara that discusses whether or not the Flood can be compared with manna.  Both involve something falling from the sky that covers a huge area.  Rabbi Moda'i suggests that there is a mathematical proof connecting the falling rain of the Flood to the falling manna.  It involves a number of complicated assumptions and calculations.  He also introduces a wonderful concept: is the attribute of goodness greater than the attribute of retribution?  A commentary by Rashi suggests that goodness is indeed 500 times greater than retribution.  Why?  In Exodus 20:5-6, G-d explains that His jealousy will lead him to punish people who hate Him for four generations while He will show mercy to those who love him for thousands of generations.  

The rabbis are brought back to their debate about the five afflictions of Yom Kippur.  Five?  Perhaps six?  No, we are told, eating and drinking count as one affliction.  This is followed by a description of different types of drink and arguments about whether or not they count as wine/drink.  Tirosh is discussed at some length.  The rabbis attempt to define this substance, as it is often listed next to wine.  Is it grape juice part-way through the fermentation process?  Is it a fruit substance or a drink?  

The last discussion of amud (b) asks why refraining from smearing oil is one of the five afflictions on Yom Kippur.  Daniel is offered up as an example.  Further, a discussion of "And it came into his innards like water, and like oil into his bones" (Proverbs 109:18).  The rabbis want to understand whether this verse should be used as a proof text or not.  This verse is alternately interpreted in multiple ways.

The interpretation of verses is inconsistent and unreliable at best.  And some of our most meaning-infused traditions originate in these interpretations.  Often I believe that I could create meaningful connections between different verses and other, unrelated ideas or texts.  The beauty of Jewish tradition is also very easy to critique: are our traditions based upon the will of G-d, or upon people inspired by G-d, or upon people inspired by great ideas, or just upon people?

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Yoma 75 a, b

The rabbis share their interpretations of different verses.  Proverbs, Isaiah, Numbers - the rabbis think of very different analyses for very different words.  Some of these regard how to deal with worrying: does the word "yashchena" refer to "quashing" the worry, "forcefully pushing" the worry, or "talking with someone about" the worry to relieve its power?  Other verses question the meaning of eating fish for nothing in Egypt: is this to be taken at face value, or does "fish" refer to illicit sexual relationships?  Does a cup refer to money spent on drink leading to drunken behaviour?  We are treated to a number of fascinating ideas.

Further analysis of forbidden sexual relations in Egypt follow.  The rabbis insist that Jewish woman are chaste, using phrases that describe them as "closed gardens" and "sealed sprigs".  However, they argue about women's sexual behaviour, particularly in Egypt, and particularly with family members.  I wonder why the focus is not on male sexual behaviour at that time, which was also subject to rules of purity and fidelity.

All of this talk about forbidden sexual relations leads the rabbis to discuss manna, which is mentioned later in one of their prooftexts.  The people left Egypt and missed "the cucumbers and the melons..." etc. (Numbers 11:5).  Is this to be taken at face value?  Or does this refer to crying over the loss of those sexual relationships?  Perhaps the people missed the texture of those foods, for manna was said to taste like any food but had only one texture.  Rabbi Asi explains that manna looked like white, pearl corriander seed while it tasted like honey wafers.  Other rabbis wonder why manna was called gad.

We learn that manna has magical properties.  Each family was given a certain amount of manna (by G-d, presumably).  When a dispute arose, Moses could identify who was speaking truth because where the manna was offered - to one family or the other - would determine to which family the person now belonged.  For example, if a husband and wife accused each other of sinning, Moses would see where the manna was collected the next day.  If it was in the husband's hut, the wife had sinned for the husband was still able to feed her.  If her nourishment was collected and placed in the wife's family's hut, the husband had sinned.  She was deserving of her ketubah payment and would be kept by her family.

The rabbis resolve a number of complex statements regarding manna - how could the manna both fall at the doors of their huts and have to be gathered?  Of course the righteous could find their manna quickly while less righteous people had to search further to gather their food.  Other fun facts about manna follow, including the spices that must have fallen to flavour the manna when it was cooked in pots.  And the fact that manna tasted like many foods just like breastmilk has many flavours based on the food eaten by a mother.

The rabbis suggest that meat was asked for inappropriately and thus it was given inappropriately.  Similarly, bread was requested appropriately (in the morning) and it was provided appropriately.  There is a suggestion that the Jewish people grabbed at food; they ate anything they could until Moses imposed meal-times.

The quail that was given, literally ad nauseam, to the Jewish people, is discussed.  The people did not necessarily die immediately; instead they suffered for a month.  This solves a possible contradiction in the text.  In turn, the rabbis look to reconcile the slaughter of these birds with the text that suggests that there was no need for ritual slaughter.

Perhaps manna is found in layers.  It is referred to alternately as bread, oil and honey.  The Gemara suggests that this is valid: to the young, manna is bread; to the old, manna is oil; to the children, manna is honey.  In this way, each person was given the appropriate nourishment.  Bizarre stories about the preparation of quail in the desert follow.  And we learn of Rava's experience of fasting - or at least not eating quail daily - once hearing that his teacher Rav Chisda had died.

Conversation about eating ensues.  We are told that the flaky substance that fell with the manna was absorbed into our 248 limbs. The rabbis determine that people would use a spade to deal with their human waste outside of the camp.  And thus did manna and this flaky substance lead to waste? No, the Gemara teaches, they would only relieve themselves of food bought by Gentile merchants. Gentile merchants in the desert?  But wait, there's more: perhaps even that nourishment did not lead to waste.  Is it an ideal experience to live without having to relieve oneself?  The rabbis continue to discuss the merits of eating without creating waste.

The bathroom habits of our Sages were discussed early in the Daf Yomi cycle; I believe that Berachot offered some vivid descriptions of our Sages using stones to clean themselves.  Demons were thought to congregate around centres of waste.  Perhaps the notion of eating without waste was particularly attractive to our rabbis, who lived in a very different time.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Yoma 74 a, b

The rabbis are speaking about the prohibition to eat on Yom Kippur.  They have asked if a person might eat less than a date-bulk of food without punishment.  To understand this better, they compare the oath of 'not eating' to an oath taken in court.  Who does not have to testify in court?  A king is exempt, out of respect.  A person who plays with dice - or perhaps someone who gambles - is exempt, as he may be a thief.  One who cannot testify is not able to testify, of course.  But if a person makes an oath of testimony not to eat and then s/he eats, s/he would be liable whether s/he ate one small bite or an entire date-bulk.

And what about the violations of Yom Kippur that are punishable by karet?  Are they automatically prohibited?  We know that prohibited actions are not automatically punishable by karet.  The Gemara teaches that a number of prohibitions, all based on the mitzvah of "afflicting our souls" (Leviticus 16:29) and on prohibited labour.  Of those, only eating, drinking and performing prohibited labour are punishable by karet.  The others: bathing, smearing oneself with oil, wearing shoes, and having sexual intercourse.

Rabbi Yochanan states that it is prohibited to eat a half-measure of food.  Why?  A person could eat two half-measures and not be liable for eating the prohibited amount of food on Yom Kippur.  Reish Lakish disagrees.  According to his logic, G-d commands us to eat and we have defined eating as ingesting at least one olive-bulk of food.  Thus anything less than one olive-bulk of food does not count as eating, even on Yom Kippur.

The rabbis argue about their sources for Reish Lakish's assertion.  The Torah is not supposed to state uncertain halachot, and yet these verses are uncertain.  They compare this to the Torah's use of the animal known as a koy.  It is unclear what this animal is - is it a separate species?  A sub-species?  What might this uncertainty teach us about other verses that are uncertain?   The rabbis may be forced to accept Reish Lakish's arguments.  This makes sense, as Eiruvin 4 referred to the rabbis eating less than a date-bulk of food on Yom Kippur.

What does it mean to afflict our souls?  It would seem to make sense that we sit in the hot sun, for example, and feel uncomfortable.  But the prohibition on work suggests that we are to sit and do nothing.  And just like when we labour we do not distinguish between different tasks, we should not distinguish between different states of 'doing nothing'.   Afflicting our souls means that we take things away; that we experience loss.

The Gemara introduces a baraita that discusses what should be included in the process of afflicting our souls through fasting.  We watch as rabbis decide whether including food that is piggul, notar, untithed produce, unslaughtered animal carcass, teruma, or otherwise sacred changes this prohibition.  In a note, we are reminded that consumption of these foods might be punishable by lashes in addition to karet.  Certainly eating less than an olive-bulk of these forbidden foods on Yom Kippur would be punishable on their own.

In an attempt to understand the meaning of the word affliction, inui, the school of Rabbi Yishmael teaches that affliction refers to hunger based on Deuteronomy 8:3, "And He afflicted you and caused you hunger."  The Gemara notes that Laban warns Jacob not to "afflict my daughters" (Genesis 31:50), referring to sexual interference rather than hunger.  And on the public occasion of Yom Kippur, do we derive our affliction from the public?   This would discount the affliction spoken about by Laban, as that affliction happens to an individual.

Further, the Gemara wonders about our affliction in Egypt (Deuteronomy 26:7) , which referred to abstinence from sexual intercourse as was imposed by Pharaoh on the Jews.   This affliction was derived by G-d and directly enacted by G-d, as opposed to being imposed by people.   And further, teh Gemara notes that the people were afflicted by manna (Deuteronomy 8:3)!  Rabbi Ami steps in to assert that "there is no comparison between one who has bread in his basket and one who does not have bread in his basket.  The people worried that the manna would cease.  In addition, the manna could not be seen, which changed its taste and was an experience of affliction for the people.

The daf ends with bizarre commentary by Rav Yosef,  Rabbi Zeira and Reish Lakish regarding the importance of sight.  Blind people aren't satisfied with their food, asserts Rav Yosef.  We should always eat during the day.  Rabbi Zeira quotes Ecclesiastes 6:9: Better is the seeing of the eyes than the wandering of desire".  To which Reish Lakish says, "The sight of a woman is better that the actual act (of sexual intercourse)".  Sight is clearly a powerful experience for our Sages.  I have no doubt that some of the Sages were blind; I wonder if they agreed with these ideas.

It is helpful to understand why we fast; how our ancestors understood the experience of affliction.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Yoma 73 a, b

A set of fascinating ideas today.

First, the rabbis explore the differences between a High Priest and the priest who is anointed for war.  Both are subject to similar prohibitions and permissions.  The rabbis note that a High Priest might be offended by a lower-level priest who is adorned like a High Priest.

Like the High Priest, the priest anointed for war is subject to laws regarding his hair, symbols of mourning, ritual impurity as a mourner, whom he can marry (a virgin - and his is prohibited from marrying a widow), and possibly that his death will allow the return of an accidental murderer from the city of refuge.

In addition to these, the High Priest is also subject to numerous other prohibitions and obligations, including the rites of the bull for all mitzvot, the bull of Yom Kippur, the daily offering of 1/10th of an ephah, sacrificing offerings even as an acute mourner - though not eating/taking a portion from them, the right to first sacrifice, wearing eight garments, exemption from certain offerings, validating all Yom Kippur rituals, and the right to continue using this privilege once retired as a High Priest.

When learning about this, Ravvi Ami and Rabbi Asi turned their faces away from their teacher.  We learn from this that turning one's face away is a respectful sign of disagreement.  Honour was given to all governmental leaders, even through secular and otherwise non-Jewish governments.  It makes sense to me that the rabbis would wish to honour other codes of hierarchical rule.  As they were establishing their own relevance and authority, similar displays of respect to other examples of hierarchical rule would only lend credence to their own supremacy.

I had never before learned of the ritual of Urim Vetummim.  Apparently, certain leaders (kings, commanders of war, leaders of the Jewish people) could ask the High Priest to answer one or two questions using Urim Vetummim.  This ritual involved both individuals facing each other in the Temple by the Ark.  Following the question being asked, the High Priest would look to the breastplate for letters to stand out, light up, or otherwise come together to answer the question(s).  Rabbis wondered whether small pieces of paper were used behind the breast plate.  They also go to great difficultly proving that all letters of the Hebrew aleph-bet were represented on the breast plate.  And they agreed that a rabbi who did not have the 'Divine Spirit'; who could not see the answers, was fit to be removed from the High Priesthood.

Unless there was some kind of magic being used that I am unaware of, that means that any rabbi who was honest and reported that he did not see an answer in the breastplate was denied a very special status.  Makes me think of the ritual facing the sota.  Also makes me think of the Monty Python sketch where a woman is accused of being a witch through logic that includes comparing her to a duck and thinking of things that burn.  Basically, the logic is faulty.  And due to that erroneous thought, someone's life is lost or dramatically altered.

We move into Perek VII part way through amud (b).  A new Mishna teaches some familiar rules.  On Yom Kippur, we are prohibited from eating, drinking, wearing shoes, and conjugal relations.  The king and new brides are allowed to wash their faces.  And a woman after childbirth is allowed to wear shoes*.  The Mishna qualifies its own statements: one who eats a large date bulk of food - all together or in pieces over the course of the day - or who drinks a cheekful of liquid - in whole or in part, combined - is liable.  Food and liquid are measured separately in this regard.

The Gemara teaches us that the rabbis argued about what of this Mishna is based on Torah law and what is based on rabbinic law.  Does it matter what a person eats?  Can the food be treiefot?  At what point did we make an oath that we would not eat such food - on Mount Sinai?  or simply before Yom Kippur?  Perhaps we are not supposed to eat at all; forget the date bulk and forget the half-measures.

These are fascinating questions.  Did I actively agree to keep G-d's commandments at Mt. Sinai?  If the Sages have reworked and reinterpreted Torah law to make halachic practice more stringent, did I agree to keep those laws at Mt. Sinai?  Given that the rabbis chose interesting leniencies (a woman who has just given birth can wear shoes, but she cannot eat or drink, for example), why would I have promised to keep those laws?

* We learn in a note by Steinsaltz that people wore shoes in the cities by the time that the Mishnaot were written.  Those shoes were leather sandals, usually, and they were more comfortable than walking barefoot.  When people gave up their leather shoes for Yom Kippur, they walked in bare feet.  Very different from us, who give up our leather shoes for canvas sneakers on Yom Kippur.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Yoma 72 a, b

Note: I did not write about Yoma 71 (on Shabbat).  I'm returning to relay a few interesting comments regarding women and my response.  

First,  Rabbi Berekhya tells us that in one instance, ishim, men, actually refers to a similar word, isha, woman.  He tells us that Torah scholars are similar to women: they stay inside most of the time, they are physically weaker than regular men, and they are engaged in different activities than regular men.  As well, the same verse would suggest that Torah scholars are like fire on the Altar.  Finally, Rabbi Berekhya also teaches that if a person sees that Torah scholarship is lacking in his sons, he should marry the daughter of a Torah scholar.  "Through its root will grow old in the earth, and its trunk will die in the ground, from the scent of water it will blossom and put forth branches like a plant". (Job 14 8:9). The first wife's children are like old rotten roots, but through the right second wife, Torah will make his children flourish like blossoming branches.  Is he suggesting than men take on second or third wives?  Or should they divorce their wives and marry again?  I wonder about Rabbi Berekhya's relationships with women; he has much to say that would affect their lives.

And back to daf 71, which primarily focuses upon the High Priest's clothing in greater detail.  We learn about the ephod, worn over the outer tunic, and the breastplate.  The rabbis argue, of course, over interpretation.  This time they attempt to understand what desecration of these garments is punishable and what is simply discouraged.  

The rabbis want to know the meaning of a serad garment, as is described in Exodus 35:19.  Perhaps this is something plaited?  Or perhaps serad is related to sarid, a remnant, suggesting that not even a remnant of the Jewish people would survive without this sacred clothing. Another option offered by Rabbi Shmuel bar Hachmani as taught by the school of Rabbi Shimon: serad garments might be woven in their completed form on the loom, rather than sewing the remnants, masridin.  The Gemara critiques this possibility, as considerable sewing completes the garment.  

We move on to other points of our last Mishna.  Regading the three arks, we learn that perhaps wood of the acadia tree was used as it would "stand" forever (Exodus 26:15).   The rabbis wonder how these three arks would fit together.  They consider measurements and distances.   Rabbi Yochanan introduces the three crowns - of the altar, the Ark and the table.  Symbolizing "power and authority", one of these crowns was taken by Aaron and another by David, both deservingly.  The last crown - well, perhaps it waits for the third King.

Rabbi Yochanan raises a number of contradictions.  One interesting point is that the 'crown' of Exodus 25:11 should be pronounced 'zar', strange, but is vocalized as 'zeir', crown.  He suggests that one deserving of a crown is one who performs mitzvot.  However, if one is not deserving of the crown, "the Torah will be a stranger, 'zara', to him and he will forget his studies".   Regarding the wooden Ark, Rabbi Yochanan suggests that the people of the town were to support this work.  Similarly, the Jewish people should support the Torah scholars in their towns, allowing them to study.

A good portion of amud (b) reminds us that Torah scholars should be devoted to G-d - the love of G-d and the fear of G-d - in their thoughts and not only in their actions. To learn without feeling is "loathsome and foul; man who drinks iniquity like water" (Job 15:16).  Rava is quoted as saying that "for those who are skillful, studying Torah is a portion of life; for one who is not skillful, the Torah is a portion of death".   We are told that learning Torah refines us as human beings.  Does this mean that we should learn Torah even without 'belief', as we will become bettered through the process of learning?  Reish Lakish is clear: "For one who is deserving, the Torah refines him for life.  One who is not deserving is refined for death."  

What does this mean for someone like me?  I am a woman studying Talmud from a critical perspective. I question my belief in anything and everything.  I do not use my learning to deepen my practice, though I do maintain a practice that would be thought of as heretical to these ancient rabbis. Am I poisoning my future, both here in this lifetime and in the world-to-come?  Or will the study of Talmud refine me?  Sometimes I feel badly for doing something that would be disapproved of by so many.  Then again, Judaism is my inheritance, too, and I should have equal say into how to make meaning of these traditions.

Rabbi Chanina tells us that when we study Torah in purity, it stays with us for life.  But purity here does not refer to belief, fear or love.  It refers to sexual conduct: one should marry and then become a Torah scholar so that he is not preoccupied with sin.  I suppose that it is permitted to think of one's wife in a 'preoccupied' manner.  Or perhaps the rabbis believe that one would not become preoccupied with the notion of sex with his wife?  I could say more about this but I'll choose to just let it go.

At the end of the daf, we return to the sanctified fabrics made for the Temple.  The rabbis wonder why we are told that an embroiderer and then a designer created the covers for the Tabernacle. what was woven and what was sewn as needlework?  Finally, the rabbis bring us back to the Mishna where we learn that Aaron passes on his garments to his sons.  Is this meant as sons, literally, or as the next highest ranking priest?  Our next daf will begin with a contradiction.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Yoma 70 a, b

Today's daf covers the Gemara on two issues opened in our last Mishna.  These are about Torah scrolls and about the eight blessings.  It moves on to a new Mishna and Gemara regarding the order of the Yom Kippur rituals.  Overall a long and interesting daf.

We learn that the High Priest memorizes the Torah portion that he recites.  We also learn that the scroll is not to be furled in front of a congregation.  Why not?  Out of respect for the congregants who are waiting to hear the Torah read.  This is where we learn that a different Torah is used whenever there are two Torah portions to read that are far from each other.  A second scroll must be already furled to the proper spot.  And when Shabbat coincides with both Chanukah and Rosh Chodesh, we will need to use three Torah scrolls.   Finally, we know that the scroll must be put aside if an error is found.  When we use more than one scroll, we want to ensure that the community does not believe that there is an error in the first scroll.  Thus one person cannot read from two scrolls - we need a second person in these circumstances.

We are told that there are eight blessings, but a simple count suggests that there could be nine or ten or seven blessings depending on whether we believe that the blessings are combined, or not counted, etc.  The rabbis argue over which prayers are connected with each other and which prayers are redundant or not special for Yom Kippur and thus they do not count.  The rabbis use proof texts to demonstrate the indisputable truth of their opinions. 

A new Mishnah specifically lays out the order of the service.  According to this Mishna, Yom Kippur seems like one long day of disrobing, immersing, drying, dressing in gold or linen robes, doing a ritual, and then repeating the process.   At the end of this incredibly long day, this Mishna tells us that he is surrounded by people as he walks home.  At home, the High Priest prepares a feast.   It is tough to imagine the High Priest preparing a feast at that point.  Others must have been home preparing while he was leading prayers.  But the Talmud tells us that he was the one who makes the feast - an interesting description.

How much of what we are reading is a set of assumptions?  Like that assumption that we just read: everyone must know that "he makes a feast" refers to all that is "his" - his wife, mother, etc. Tomorrow's daf should tell us whether or not the rabbis pick up on this particular question.  In other circumstances, the rabbis try to point out those assumptions.  We'll soon find out...

Based on today's daf, it seems clear that the Jewish people are given a number of contradictory instructions about how to perform the rituals specific to Yom Kippur.  It is interesting to watch the rabbis attempt to figure this out.  In the end, they were figuring out a theoretical practice, as the Temple was already destroyed and thus these rituals involving offerings were simply imaginings based on found texts.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Yoma 69 a, b

The rabbis cover a lot of ground today.  Some highlights:

  • a discussion of whether the priestly vestments, in particular the belt, can be used outside of religious ceremony to benefit the priest.  Some questions include whether the belt is soft or hard, whether it might touch one's skin, whether and how it might be different from the belts of the other priests, whether a priest can leave the Temple in his priestly vestments, and of course, whether it is composed of diverse kinds (ie. wool and cotton or wool and linen).  
  • Megilat Ta'anit, the book of dates, notes that Tevet 25 (the day of Mount Gezirim) is a day of celebration and thus no fasting or eulogizing can be done on that day (in times of the second Temple)
  • On that date, King Alexander of Macedonia intended to destroy the Jewish people under the advisement of the Sameritans/Kutim (a non-rabbinic group of Jews who follow Torah instructions carefully).  
  • King Alexander was then convinced by Shimon HaTzaddik - wearing his priestly clothing - to instead allow the Jews to stab the Kutim in their ankles, drag them through the thorns tied to the tails of their horses, and plough their idol-site with leeks (a sign of ravaging).  All of this to teach us that the priestly clothing can be worn in non-sacred contexts
  • flexibility around whether a student can be honoured by his teacher
  • was the High Priest sitting during part of the service?
  • The rabbis discuss a fascinating tangential idea following a commentary on the High Priest's reading from a Torah scroll
  • Why did Nechamia state that G-d is "Great"? or in many places that G-d is "mighty" or "awesome"?  In fact, some rabbis refused to use these adjectives to describe G-d.  Is not this the same G-d who watched and allowed the Temple to be destroyed?  Did he not allow groups of Gentiles to murder righteous Jews?
  • Complicated answers will follow; the simple answer is that G-d demonstrates G-d's greatness, might and awesomeness when He restrains Himself from destroying those Gentiles who kill His chosen people.  Proof that G-d loves us is that we still exist even after these efforts to wipe us out (written 2000 years ago)
  • We are told Zachariah's bizarre tale of a fiery lion cub representing the evil inclination. I know that I am not learned enough to understand the many-layered meanings of this tale
  • We end with a discussion about reading the Torah.  Should it be translated?  If so, in what way?  We are allowed to skip passages in the Prophets because of the ongoing themes of "rebuke and consolation", and so we can skip within the 12 books which are functionally one book
  • we are not allowed to skip passages in the Torah because of the detail regarding mitzvot that might be missed.  But we are allowed to skip passages in the Torah as long as we stay within one topic and we always move forward, in the intended 'order'
What stands out for me in today's daf is the fascination with cruelty and the questions about G-d's current 'absence'  that could have been written today.  Why do we need the gruesome details of the Kutim's treatement?  Was it necessary to torture these people and then keep the memory of torture alive?  What purposes are served by this recounting?  

At the same time, we continue to wonder how G-d could just watch his people without intervening.  Whether we are being slaughtered in the Holocaust or whether we are behaving badly ourselves, how can G-d be called great or mighty or awesome when G-d does not intervene?  Our rabbis discuss these issues noting that some leaders refused to glorify G-d with these words.   We will continue to ask these questions.  We will continue to search for G-d's intervention and grasp at understandings when G-d does not end the violence.  

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Yoma 68 a, b

The rabbis question dissection: is the bull offered in dissected pieces, is it skinned, is it offered inside of the Temple or outside of the camps?  Similarly, they question ritual impurity: at what point in the process of offering do the priest's garments become ritually impure? In answering the rabbis' questions, we learn a number of facts about the organization of Jerusalem two thousand years ago.  There were three camps in Jerusalem, modelled after the three camps in the desert.  First, the innermost part of the Mishkan or Temple housed the Divine Presence.  The second camp beside the Mishkan or Temple was where the Levites lived, and the Israelites resided in the surrounding area.

The rabbis wonder where the bull should be burned.  Can we determine this location based upon where the ashes are placed; where the animal is slaughtered?  This information helps us to understand one of the rabbis' first questions: when do garments become ritually impure?  Each ritual act carries its own sanctity and its own consequences if performed improperly.  Thus the person who kindles the fire and the person who carries the wood retain their ritual purity.  Only the person who lights the fire has to contend with ritually impure garments.  The ashes themselves are said to be placed on a slant outside.

The sacrifice of animals on Yom Kippur is not only bloody and precise, is an incredibly complex process.  It is difficult to imagine the number of people running around to orchestrate the rituals of the High Priest - setting up Altars, moving wood, collecting ashes, etc.  We learn in a new Mishna that people would signal that the goat had reached the wilderness of Azazel by waving scarves up upon their numerous platforms set up in advance.    Or, as Rabbi Yehuda suggests, someone would accompany the goat from Jerusalem toward Beit Chiddudo, which was a three mil journey.  When he reached the one mil mark, he would return - and then wait the time it took to walk one more mil. At that time, the goat would be in the wilderness just beyond Beit Chiddudo.  But Rabbi Yishmael's suggestion is a favourite: when the goat reaches the wilderness and the mitzvah is completed, the red ribbon in the Sanctuary will turn white.  Certainly easier than walking!

We are introduced to one more Mishna in today's daf.  It teaches us a number of novel components of the Yom Kippur service.  First, we are told that the High Priest can read Torah in the white priestly robes or in his own white robes. Second, we are told that a Torah scroll is passed from the hands of one macher to another: the synagogue attendant (cantor) to the head of the synagogue to the Deputy High Pirest to the High Priest.  Third, the High Priest reads from Leviticus 16:1 and from Leviticus 23:16.  After reading Numbers 29:7, he reads on by heart.  Fourth, we are told a number of blessings that the High Priest recites following the Torah reading.  Finally, we learn that one cannot witness the slaughter of the bull and goat AND the hear the High Priest chant Torah.  Why?  Because both were performed at the same time.

The Gemara tells us that the Torah reading must not have been part of the service, for the High Priest was allowed to wear his own clothing.   The rabbis are confused: the High Priest is also allowed to wear his priestly garments if he chooses while reading Torah.  Can a priest wear official clothing for his own purposes and not only for the performance of sacred rites?  And the larger question: are priests allowed to derive benefit from their priestly clothing?

An example is used regarding sleep.  Priests are allowed to eat while wearing their priestly clothing, but they are not allowed to sleep in that clothing.  Not because sleep is not a ritual function, but because the priests might pass wind while sleeping, which would be disrespectful.  Similarly, priests are allowed to walk while wearing this clothing even though the walking is not part of a ritual service.

Daf 68 moves us from the gore of slaughtering animals through ritual impurity and on to the clothing of the priests.  Tucked into that narrative is the Torah reading and blessings of the High Priest, which seems to be very important.  I wonder about that balance: ritual instruction verses spiritual connectedness.  I am guessing that our Sages believed that all of these questions were the same.  They were hoping to interpret and apply the word of G-d.  That means that reading the Torah is no more important than moving the ashes - all were the will of G-d.

Our modern culture creates a chasm between these two concepts.  We easily describe ourselves as 'spiritual' without adhering to any formal religious practice.  And if that lends meaning to life, then I have no critique.  But can there be true spirituality without a concept of what G-d might mean?  Do we need to care about what G-d might have hoped we would interpret?

My concept of G-d is not that of a sentient being who hopes or wants or writes down anything.  However, I do value the millions of hours devoted to understanding other possibilities.  Learning the conversations of our Sages helps me to balance that need for a feeling of connection to G-d with the need to intellectually wrestle with the G-d of my ancestors (rather than throwing it all away).

Monday, 13 January 2014

Yoma 67 a, b

Today we focus on a mishna that teaches about the goat offered to Azazel and about the sacrifice of the goat and bull together.  In both cases, we are faced with a gruesome depiction of the slaughter of animals in the name of our own atonement.

The goat sacrificed to Azazel is taken from Jerusalem to the cliff by the person sacrificing it and his escort.  The rabbis agree that it is likely they stop at booths along the way - perhaps 5 and perhaps 10 booths - where they are offered water and food.  I thought that they would be fasting at this time, and so I might be missing something. However, we learn in a note that they were offered food and drink because a person who has no access to food and drink is preoccupied with when and how they will find sustenance.

Only the person sacrificing the goat knows whether or not the ribbon on its head turns white until after the end of Yom Kippur.  This ribbon is different from the one tied to the goats' horns; it is tied to the goat's head and another ribbon is tied to a rock nearby.  The supernatural nature of this particular sign is puzzling.  What if the ribbon stayed red?  Did the priests lie about this and bleach the ribbon, or use a different ribbon to show the people?  I imagine that there would be quite the frenzy if the people believed that their sins were not atoned.

As well the Gemara questions some of the individual words in this Mishna.  What are the meanings of gezeira? Why is this sacrifice is to Azazel; what is the meaning of this word?  We learn about the possible connection between Azazel and the Azeal, one of the Jews who brought the flood upon us by having sexual relations with the sons of men..  Both the goat and the sperm of these men were 'lost'.  Now there's a metaphor!

The High Priest follows the sacrifice of Azazel with the immediate sacrifice of the goat and bull.  The mishna and our rabbis suggest that these two animals are cut apart and that their flesh is actually braided together so that when it is brought outside to the \Altar, they are burned together.

The rabbis' of what to question is fascinating.  Why not question the entire practice?  Instead, they choose one or two words and find connections.  Almost all that I can think about when I read learn these texts is the suffering of animals.  How could the rabbis justify dropping a goat to its death over a cliff where its body will get ripped apart?  How can they justify the bloody, gruesome nature of sacrifice?   Did no-one get sick to their stomachs when witnessing this scene?

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Yoma 66 a, b

Our first learning is about the bull or goat that might be left to die or left to graze.  The rabbis further clarify why we would choose to leave one of these Yom Kippur offerings to die rather than to graze if they were consecrated but not offered.

Of interest is the method of killing animals. Shechitah involves a very specific form of killing with a sharp knife; it would seem that a main priority is minimizing the suffering of the animal.  However, earlier in Yoma we learn that there might have been a requirement for the High Priest to cut only 3/4 of the two organs to be cut and then another priest would complete the slaughter.  In my mind, even considering such a 'pause' is barbaric.  Not what I would consider 'minimizing the suffering' of an animal.

We have been learning more about the practice of leaving an animal to die. This involves locking an animal in a small area without access to food or water so that it perishes on its own.  Such cruelty is hard to fathom.  The rabbis do speak of the need for this type of killing: it ensures that a consecrated animal is not misused in any way: if we actively slaughter a consecrated goat outside of a religious rite, for example, we are going against the halacha regarding the slaughter of that animal.  And of course we cannot sell it or leave it to graze to keep with other halachot.  But to leave an animal to die -- I wonder if the Jewish people avoided this practice at all costs.

A new Mishna speak of the sins of the people being placed on a goat's Head by the High Priest. The Gemara wonders: why is the Mishna phrased in a way that speaks only of the sins of the Jewish people and not those of the High Priest?  But perhaps it is assumed that a priest is in charge, as atonement is granted through the rituals performed by priests.  And if the scapegoat is designated before Shabbat, and it becomes ill, can the priest carry it?  The scapegoat is a living being, after all, which are allowed to be carried on Shabbat.  The rabbis then debate whether the laws of Shabbat regarding eiruvin and carrying apply on Yom Kippur.

What happens when the scapegoat is pushed from the cliff but does not die?  The rabbis argue whether the goat should be killed or whether it should be left to die.  Here is another example of a less than exemplary model of minimizing the suffering of animals.

In asking questions about the scapegoat, we move into a fascinating section of Talmud regarding interactions with Rabbi Eliezer.  In a note, we learn that Rabbi Eliezer was a Sage from before the destruction of the second Temple.  He was said to be a descendant of Moses with a wealthy family who came to learn Torah only after his teenage years.  When it came to halachic rulings, Rabbi Eliezer did not answer questions directly unless he had learned the answer from one of his teachers.  He was innovative and forthcoming in other matters.

He is asked about a number of things and his responses seem to be diversions.  However, Rabbi Eliezer is interpreted as in fact answering questions through metaphor and creative referencing.  One of the interactions is with a "wise woman" who wants to know why all people shared equally in the sin of the golden calf and yet they were punished with different ailments.  To this, Rabbi Eliezer tells us that women should be spinning and not asking such questions.  The wise woman's questions are answered, however, by both Rav and Levi.

One of our notes explains that perhaps this wise woman should not have asked such a question to a Sage; a lesser authority could have answered.  But this is not in line with our usual understanding of Jewish thought: aren't all children supposed to ask questions, whether wise or not knowing how to ask?  Or perhaps this was only meant to apply to male children on Pesach.

I find it particularly interesting that the Talmud notes that this is a "wise woman".  She was not simply a woman, and she was not described in any other way: young or old, beautiful or plain.  Her question was important enough to be answered and to have those answers recorded in our oral Torah.  So why Rabbi Eliezer's disdain?

Perhaps there have been arguments about the role of women in Judaism from the times of the Temple - or even earlier.  Perhaps there were some rabbis, like Rabbi Eliezer, who wanted women to maintain only roles of service in the home.  And other rabbis, like Rav and Levi, might have been interested in hearing women's voices and having their questions inform the narrative of our tradition.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Yoma 65 a, b

The rabbis agree that when an animal designated as a sin offering is lost, it is replaced.  If the original is found at a later time, it is left to die.  However, if the original has been designated as a sin-offering, it carries special status as 'consecrated'.  What do we do with something that is consecrated if it cannot fulfil its designated service as another animal or item stood in?

Today's daf looks at the rabbis' considerations around this circumstance with particular attention given to the pair of goats consecrated on Yom Kippur - one to Azazel and the other as sacrifice.  How might one of those goats become lost?  Should one goat or both goats be replaced? Should there be a new lottery for this new pair of goats?  When should that lottery happen?  What if one of the first pair of goats has already been sent off to Azazel when the other is lost?

The rabbis consider another part of our last mishna. When is a goat left to die?  What if the blood of the sprinkled inappropriately?  Once the mitzvah of the lottery and the mitzvah of the scapegoat have been performed, if there was a  problem with the timing of pouring the blood out at the Altar, why should another goat be left to die?  Amud (a) helps us to understand the rabbis' questions by comparing these questions to another situation.  If shekels were collected for the Temple and given to a messenger to deliver - and then they were stolen, those 'lost' shekels would remain consecrated.  However, if these shekels were found after the larger collection was closed, would they be dedicated to the Temple toward this year's or next year's collections?

The rabbis argue over this analogy.  If a bull or goat for Yom Kippur sacrifice is lost, replaced, and then found, should the original animal be left to die or should it graze until it develops a blemish and then be sold as a gift-offering (a sin-offering would not be left to die and thus the animal must be a gift- or a guilt-offering)?  Why not keep this found, consecrated animal until the next year and sacrifice it then, like the shekel example?  Some rabbis argue that communal offerings, like this animal would be, are only brought by donations of this current year.  That works for the goat, but the bull is an individual offering.  What about a found bull?

The rabbis wonder about repeating the lotteries, designating the found bull as a sin-offering whose owners had died, whose year has passed.  They look at whether that year was measured as 365 days or 12 months, which would suggest different statuses on the animal.

A note by Steinsaltz helps us to understand this text.  First, the rabbis do not want to kill a consecrated animal, which would be [akin to] destroying consecrated property.  Second, they do not wish to cause needless suffering to an animal, as Rava saw this as a Torah prohibition.  Each of the rabbis argue that the penalty is severe.  It is not clear to me whether they believe that the animal should die because that would somehow be the more 'humane' solution to this problem.

The notion of leaving an animal to graze, leaving it to die, and sacrificing it are fascinating and disturbing ways of thinking about animals as intermediaries between ourselves and G-d.  If animals are standing in for guilt, sin, gifts, etc., our relationship with G-d as a Jewish people is dependent upon those animals.  In addition, the notion of perfection versus 'blemished' and the idea of sending an animal to Azazel are also waiting to be unpacked.  I believe that tomorrow's daf continues with this stream of thought and I hope to write more about these ideas soon.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Yoma 63 a, b

Everything has a time and a place.  Never more so than on Yom Kippur in the times of the Temple.  Amud (a) helps us to comprehend some of the rules around different sacrifices.  When is it alright to make an offering before its time? and when would that action result in a terrible consequence?  When must the Temple doors be open or closed?  Can assume that the doors will soon open and thus our current action is valid?  The rabbis look at guilt-offerings, sin-offerings, the offerings of different groups of people (zavim and zavot, lepers, etc.), and whether the sacrifice is inside or outside of the Temple.  The conditions binding each offering define what will invalidate that offering.

We are reintroduced to the principle of "since" or  ho'il.  Ho'il suggests that an action is valid because it is assumed that another separate but required condition will be completed retroactively.  Thus a current halacha can be decided based upon a future action.  Some rabbis acknowledge this principle but others are more stringent.

Amud (b) focuses more specifically on which animals are included or excluded from being offered based on a number of phrases.  "To the Lord", might refer only to animals that are consecrated to G-d, and thus might exclude the scapegoat. The rabbis carry this conversation toward other issues affecting the scapegoat.  Can it be replaced by another goat without a lottery if it develops a blemish?  What happens to a person who sacrifices the scapegoat that is blemished? or the scapegoat that is under 8 days old?

Why would the rabbis want to ensure that these rules were respected?  Small differences - sometimes only in intention - can lead to punishments including karet.  How would it serve the rabbis and the larger Jewish community to create such stringencies?

I wonder if part of their thinking might have included crown control.  To demand these thoughtful, careful rituals would suggest a 'slowing down' of the process.  Or perhaps this was about power, control, and the establishment of rabbinical authority.


Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Yoma 62 a, b

Perek V ends with the rabbis discussing the scapegoat and the goat offered on Yom Kippur.  This moves us fluidly into Perek VI which begins with a Mishna: First, these two goats must be identical in appearance, height and value; they must be purchased together.  However, if they are not identical and if they are purchased on different days, they are still valid.  Hmmm.

Next we learn that in the circumstance where one goat dies before both are assigned their tasks (via lottery), another goat can stand in its place.  Further, if it died after the lots were drawn, a new pair of goats can be substituted without consequence.  Taking this a step further, should either goat die, its counterpart steps into its role: the goat to be sacrificed is now the scapegoat or vice versa. There is also the question of what to do when one of the substituted pair of goats dies.  Is its counterpart left to graze and then sold with the money going toward a gift offering?  Or is it left to die?  Finally, Rabbi Yehuda is stringent: if the blood of the sacrificed goat is spilled, the scapegoat is left to die.  If the scapegoat dies, its counterpart's blood should be purposefully spilled and a new pair of goats should be purchased.

The Gemara wonders how we know that the two goats should be identical - and why the rites are valid if they are in fact quite different from each other.  The rabbis introduce other similar examples, including the lepers' offerings of two birds/goats and the dual offerings on Shabbat.  Word repetition provides our rabbis with fodder for metaphor and other creative interpretation.  For example, Leviticus 14:5-6 state "bird, bird" over again in order to amplify.  That extraneous word might symbolize the need for two birds - two birds that are not necessarily identical.

The High Priest might err and slaughter the goats before drawing lots to determine which goat goes to Azazel and which goat is sacrificed to G-d.  He might err in other ways, too - perhaps slaughtering the goats in the wrong place or at another inappropriate time.  We learn that his punishment might be focused only on one of the goats, for example, if he sacrificed it out of 'order'.  If the other was not intended for sacrifice, its slaughter would result in no consequence.

The remainder of the Gemara speaks more of timing errors.  It also touches upon the importance of the Sanctuary doors being open when a sacrificing a peace-offering.  This is because "...he shall slaughter it at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting" (Leviticus 3:2).  We must remember that the rabbis are understanding their creation of these rites as direct interpretations of what was performed at the mishkan in the desert.

I must take a moment to note the focus on parallels in today's daf.  Today the focus the rabbis primarily focus on 'pairs'.  They do not discuss the larger picture, however.  Why do we choose two goats, one leave, carrying our sins to its ultimate death in the desert (Azazel) and the other to be sacrificed to G-d? For the goats, its death either way.  What might this mean for people?

We can carry our sins with us and leave the community.  We can avoid carrying our sins and give ourselves to G-d.  Neither of those options seems satisfying to me.  Shouldn't there be a goat who carries our sins, takes responsibility for those sins, and then finds a way to live?

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Yoma 61 a, b

What do we do when we make mistakes?  The High Priest has to get these rituals right.  The day before Yom Kippur, he exerts himself physically and readies himself psychologically the following day.  The night before Yom Kippur, he is kept awake. All night.  And then, the most holy day of the year - the High Priest must perform one rite after another without mistakes.  He has to remember to perform dozens of rituals properly and in order.  But what about when he makes a mistake?

Daf 61 allows us to watch the rabbis deal with the real possibility of error.  When the High Priest offers/sprinkles/pours the blood of the bull and the goat, he is actively atoning for the sins of the Jewish people.  This is not a metaphor.  Atonement only happens when these rituals are completed properly.  Thus errors are considered to be potentially fatal for huge numbers of people.  From a more modern perspective, errors without the subsequent wrath of G-d might cause the community to question the efficacy of these rituals.

The rabbis are able to create contingency plans for a host of potential errors.  They look to related protocols (ex. when lepers are returned to the community) and they create new rules to manage errors.  Most of the discussions revolve around whether or not rites should be/can be repeated following an error. Some rabbis believe that in different cases, it is inappropriate to repeat a ritual and thus sacrifice twice, for example, when we are told specifically to sacrifice once.  Others argue that since the first ritual was improper, it was not in fact the required ritual act at all.

And to another point - why does blood represent atonement?  What is it about that particular substance?  Why sacrifice an animal for its blood; why not stick with incense and meal offerings which are also "G-d given"?   Perhaps animals were more costly and more valuable and thus their sacrifice was more meaningful?  But why blood?  What differentiates human blood from animal blood?  Perhaps animal blood is as close as we can get to human blood, and giving of our own blood would be a true sacrifice?  

It is incredibly difficult to understand the context of these ritual sacrifices.  I cannot find personal meaning in these rites as they are so removed from my experience.  Even the notion of atonement through sacrifice... a scapegoat is the opposite of my preferred process for atonement.  I want to own up  to what I have done wrong, to take responsibility for my actions and try not to repeat them.  How would an animal's sacrifice help me to take personal responsibility?

Our ancestors abdicated their personal responsibility to a High Priest who was exhausted, possibly elderly, and overwhelmed.  But they each offered an animal, and so there was some personal involvement.  In addition, they came together as a community while the High Priest performed these rituals, forging a more cohesive community for a couple of days.  Perhaps blood-rites create a deeper sense of importance.  

The notion of atonement in itself is difficult.  No one can judge whether or not another person has truly atoned.  For some of these ancient rituals, the High Priest is alone in the Holy of Holies.  He might atone 'properly' and he might not; we are not given access to his process.  Perhaps atonement is about trust in each other: I will do what I'm supposed to do and i will choose to believe that you are doing your part.  And whether or not G-d punishes us for our errors/omissions/repetitions/etc., we are only in control of ourselves - we are not in control of the entire process.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Yoma 60 a, b

We learn a hermeneutic rule: one overarching halacha can be applied to many similar situations.  This is called an analogy, a binyan av.  When that same halacha is stated in two different verses/contexts, however, we are not to assume that the second derives from the first.  The rabbis try to apply other rules, like notar and piggul to help us understand their thinking about ritual impurity when dealing with the blood of the bull and goat on Yom Kippur.  Our Sages put limitations upon their own interpretation.  Had they decided on different hermeneutic rules, our halachot and thus our lives might be very different.

A new Mishna tells us that the order of Temple rituals are very important, but errors can be corrected.  If a preliminary ritual is done out of order, there is no consequence. If the blood of the goat is sprinkled before that of the bull, the goat's blood must be sprinkled again following the bull to reestablish the proper order.  And if the blood is spilled earlier than allowed, another animal must be sacrificed and the entire service must be repeated.  Rabbis Elazar and Shimon believe that it is enough to continue the service from the point of sprinkling, as each sprinkling is its own action.

The Gemara clarifies: when rites are done in white clothing inside the Sanctuary, these rules apply.  However, outside of the Holy of Holies, when wearing white, the High Priest is not required to go back and repeat these rites.  Other rabbis argue different versions of what is required when, and in which places.  Specifically, the rabbis argue about what is done when errors are made during the year when the High Priest is wearing golden clothing compared with what is done on Yom Kippur.  Which actions are less important and which are indispensable?

The rabbis come back to questions about the timing of these rituals.  What if the incense is offered erroneously; does this affect the blood sacrifices?  Will the scooping of incense have to be repeated if there is an error later in the rituals at the Altar?  How might the answers to these questions help us to determine whether or not the incense is indispensable?

How would the rabbis actually decide which rituals were of greater importance?  Beyond the blood-related rituals which are described in the Torah as critically attached to atonement, of course.  So often the proof texts chosen by our Sages seem to be only minimally connected with their arguments. How much power the rabbis held in their hands.  I understand that they were establishing the rabbinic model of Jewish thought and practice.  But did they know, on some level, that their words and rules would be taken with such seriousness some two thousand years later?