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.

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