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.

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