Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Beitza 32 a, b

Rabbi Shmuel does not agree with halachot of muktze; vessels and even shards of vessels may be used for one purpose even if they have been designated to another.  This holds on Shabbat and on Festivals. Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Nechamya adhere to laws of muktze.  Rabbi Nechemya is particularly stringent regarding what can be done on Shabbat and Festivals. I find this conversation particularly demonstrative of our historical tolerance of very different interpretations of halacha.

Our next Mishna extends this discussion of the use of vessels on Festivals.   It teaches:

  • we cannot create a candle by hollowing out clay [and placing oil and a wick inside] as it creates a vessel
  • we cannot create charcoal, even to use with food
  • we cannot cut the wick of a lamp
  • Rabbi Yehuda: we can trim a wick with fire but not with a knife
The Gemara explains that ritual impurity cannot be imparted until a substance - in this case, clay - has been formed into a vessel.  The rabbis discuss different types of earthenware pots and vessels; they discuss their opinions on how and when these pots are used.  Some of these 'villager pots' are only half formed. Without being fired and without lids, they might be of different status than other vessels.  

A note reminds us about the principle of a tent over a corpse.  Any structure that has a cavity of one cubic handbreadth or more that contains a corpse or part of a corpse is 'transformed' into a tent over a corpse.  Anything contained by this structure is ritually impure.  In addition, they impart primary ritual impurity to people and objects.  The vessel also acts as a barrier between the ritual impurity within and the ritual purity that is maintained outside. 

Charcoal cannot be created either because it is like creating vessels, because it is weekday work, because it involved the prohibited act of extinguishing, or because it does not directly have to do with our labour for sustenance.  We learn that charcoal is associated with washing, for it is used to heat the water in bath houses.  Considering when the hot water has been prepared, the rabbis argue about whether it is permitted to use a bath house for sweating on a Festival.

There are numerous laws regarding lamp wicks on Festivals (and other times, too).  The rabbis throw around a number of these halachot.  Some ideas stand out as foundational: cutting a wick with a knife is more similar to extinguishing a fire than burning a wick to trim it.  When trimming a wick, the rabbis are in fact speaking about using fire to separate two candles that are still attached by one wick.  We learn that machmir Ashkenazi custom allows flicking the end of a wick with one's finger, for that is not at all like 'extinguishing'.  

The daf digresses to discuss Rav Natan bar Abba, who speaks of the reasons that rich Jews from Babylonia will go to Gehenna.  They lack compassion; they did not support other needy Jews in their midst.  Lacking compassion, they must not be descendants of our forefathers who abounded in compassion.  There is an implication here of 'being from the mixed multitudes' and intermarriage, which seems slightly bizarre at this point in history.  He speaks of the emptiness of lives lived without compassion for others.

This ends with the Sages teaching that there are three lives that are not lives: one who looks to others' tables, one whose wife rules over him, one whose body is ruled by suffering, and some add one who has only one robe.  Steinsaltz shares a note that explains that when one's wife or one's suffering rules over him, he is unable to be ruled by G-d.  An interesting interpretation of something that seems simple: the man should be in charge; the body should not be in pain.  

A new Mishna, the last of today's daf, lists a number of things that we cannot do on a Festival:
  • break earthenware
  • cut paper to roast salted fish on it
  • sweep out an oven or stove - but we are allowed to press down the ashes/dust in the oven
  • draw two barrels together and place a pot on them and a fire beneath them to heat the pot
  • prop up an uneven pot with a piece of wood
  • same but with a door
  • lead an animal with a stick into the public domain - but Rabbi Shimon permits it
The Gemara teaches that breaking earthenware is actually preparing a vessel for use.  The rabbis discuss when it might be permitted to sweep out an oven. They consider different items that might fall into the oven and disrupt food preparation.  They also discuss different foods and their need for a clean oven.  Rabbi Chisda's wife was told when a brick fell into her oven that her husband required good-quality bread, suggesting to her that the brick be removed from the oven.  Rava did something similar with his attendant, asking that a duck not be singed in the oven - something that can only happen if the debris is removed from the bottom of the oven.  Rav Acha from Hutzal allows his attendants to use mud from the Euphrates river to line his oven before Shabbat, though that act of 'smoothing' could be problematic depending on the timing.

I have to wonder whether the rabbis had thought out their opinions on whether or not this labour of 'sweeping out' was permitted before they instructed others to remove the debris.  Sometimes it seems as though the rabbis are able to manipulate the halachot to their advantage.  How satisfying it would be to be the person who decides that a halacha is erroneous - especially compared with the person who is having to abide by those halachot until the rabbis tells her that she can make a change.

Regarding the two barrels, Rav Nachman believes that putting a pot on two barrels creates a tent over the fire, which is not permitted.  Thus it is permitted to move stones together to create a lavatory on a Festival.  The rabbis think about whether or not the structures created are permanent or temporary.  We learn in a note that the construction of temporary structures are prohibited, though temporary lavatories are permitted for the sake of human dignity.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Beitza 31 a, b

A Mishna teaches that we can use wood that has been put aside as kindling before the start of the Festival.  If that wood is in a field or in a karpef, a storehouse, we are permitted to use it as kindling.  What is a karpef, ask the rabbis?  Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai disagree, of course, about what is permitted when it comes to wood that is lying around in a field and wood in a karpef.  Other rabbis argue as well: are we speaking about a karpef that is inside the Shabbat limit?  Is there a key to this karpef? Or is it just a shed?  And is it close to a city?  How do we define "close"?

A second Mishna: we cannot chop beams designated for construction nor can we chop from fallen beams on a Festival.  If we do cut wood, we cannot use weekday tools; we must use a cleaver.  The rabbis wonder why we might be able to cut wood at all on a Festival.  They consider using the 'female' instead of the 'male' side of a cleaver or an ax.  

A final Mishna for today: if a house is filled with produce and there is a hole in one wall of that house, it is permitted to reach in and take the produce.  The rabbis use this Mishna to understand a number of guidelines for the Festivals.  For example, the produce is not muktze, set aside, even though we can hardly see it through this hole.  They think about the doors to such a structure, which might be tied to the ground with ropes and knots. They consider the construction/dismantling of a home made of different substances.  We learn that on Festivals, but not on Shabbat, we are permitted to create that hole ourselves.  Similarly, we can cut and untie/unwind ropes and knots on Festivals but not on Shabbat.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Beitza 30 a, b

It seems that amud (a) of daf 30 finally allows the rabbis to make their point regarding work on the Festivals.  Through the use of numerous examples, the rabbis teach that on Festival days, we should modify our weekday work practices.  As long as there is a change in how we are working, our action is permitted.  If we cannot change our action, for example, how women carry water in jugs, then the action is similarly permitted.  

Most interesting to me is the distinction between Torah and Rabbinical halacha.  We are told not to admonish people for their non-compliance with rabbinic halachot.  However, we must remind people to keep Torah law.  Why this difference?  We may tell people that they cannot behave in a particular way when they are almost certainly going to behave in that manner.  In 'teaching' them, we have upgraded their sin from an unintentional sin to an intentional sin.  Thus we are encouraged to refrain from pushing people to keep rabbinic halachot.

We are learning about the rabbis' sensitivity to the needs of women and to the needs of those who are less observant.  The rabbis are willing to let go of some of their control.  Why is it today that observant communities can be so stringent in their demands when our Sages were able to recognize the need for flexibility?  I'm sure that there are many answers to that question...

Amud (b) teaches that we cannot take wood from a sukka on any Festival because this is 'dismantling'.  We are permitted to take wood from near the sukka.  The Gemara wonders how a sukka differs from a tent, where we are not permitted to use the wood - or even bundles - placed near a tent.  The rabbis question whether we might be speaking of a sukka that is not sturdy; they wonder whether we are in fact discussing items that are muktze, set aside.

The rabbis consider a sukka that is decorated for Sukkot.  This sukka is a mitzvah - we are obligated to build, decorate, sit and eat in this sukka for one week each year.  We hear a fascinating question about the mitzvah of etrog compared with the mitzvah of sukka.  Why might a person use seven etrogim but only one sukka?  Because the blessing over etrog lasts for only the day and not the night.  The blessing over sukka lasts for the full week.  This notion of designating blessings based on units of time or time-based brachot is a fundamental principle of Jewish practice.  The rabbis' interpretations of whether or not a mitzvah is time-bound determine much of our practice, including who is obligated to perform the mitzvot.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Beitza 29 a, b

Today we learn more about money, measuring and weighing on Festivals.  A Mishna at the very end of 28b teaches that a person cannot ask a butcher to weigh a dinar's worth of meat.  However, it is permitted to slaughter an animal and prepare it for customers without naming a price.  The rabbis clarify that any measure is not to be said, whether that is a dinar or a half an uzya or a 'quarter'.

The next Mishna elaborates: a person cannot ask another person to fill a vessel for him/her during a Festival where the payment will come later.  Rabbi Yehuda says that a filling mixing vessel is permitted.  We learn that Abba Shaul ben Botnit would fill vessels before the chag so that he would not have to measure on the chag itself.  Abba Shaul [unrelated] pointed out that this should be one's practice at all times to ensure accurate measurement.  The Gemara looks at which vessels can and cannot be used for measuring.  It wonders which practices are done on weekdays.  It discusses measuring barley for animals, spices, flour, or dough for bread.  Rav Huna the Short permits sifting flour a second time, and we are told to "go out and see how many sieves circulate in Neharde'a" - the women already know what is permitted.

A story is told about  Abba Shaul ben Botnit, who along with other grocers felt that he might be cheating his customers when  apportioning into vessels.  It was decided that he had done no wrong, but more importantly: items stolen from an unknown victim are to be donated to the betterment of the entire community (cisterns, etc.).

Other stories are shared.  Rav Yosef's wife and Rav Ashi's wife are descried sifting flour in unusual manners.  Both of their husbands hint to them that this stringency is not required and that they should sift the flour in their usual manner.*  Interesting that the wives of rabbis would take it upon themselves to keep halacha so strictly.  They heard their husbands arguing about the laws and so they knew that one rabbi's opinion would prevail as the most 'correct' interpretation. So they knew that G-d's will might mean sifting; it might mean not sifting.  And yet they tried to be stringent.  Is that piety?  Or subservience?  Or the will to please those with power?  Or did these women practice Judaism like I do, understanding that the halachot are created by people but that we benefit from following these practices, and so it is worth our effort?

One more Mishna: On a Festival people are permitted to go to their usual grocers to request specific numbers of eggs and nuts for it is normal for homeowners to count this way in their homes.  So counting eggs and nuts are not considered to be commercial activities.  The Gemara quotes the Tosefta first, saying that shepherds are permitted to request a specific number of lambs or kids.  We are thus permitted to request specific numbers of legs or thighs from the butcher; specific numbers of cakes from the baker; specific numbers of fruits from the grocer.  People are permitted to name the number of items requested but we are not permitted to name a measure nor are we allowed to discuss cost on a Festival.

Daf 29(b) ends with a final Mishna.  A person who brings wine jugs from one place to another may not bring lots of them in a basket or in a tub on a Festival, as usual.  Instead, he may bring one-two barrels on his shoulder or carry them in front of himself.  Similarly, a person who brings straw (kindling, animal feed) may not place the tub behind himself.  Instead, it should be transported in front of him in his hand.  It is alright to take straw from a pile of straw for kindling but it not alright to take wood from a woodpile in storage .

*In fact, Rav Ashi's wife was sifting onto a table which was not considered to be as stringent an interpretation, while Rav Yosef's wife was using the sifter upside down - not as effective a 'sift'.  The rabbis discuss Rav Ashi's lineage; she came from minds who knew that 'only' sifting onto a table on a Festival was perfectly reasonable.  The implication is that leniency should be encouraged.

Beitza 28 a, b

Amud (a) discusses two Mishnayot.  The first tells us about an opinion of Rabbi Yehuda compared with that of other rabbis.  Rabbi Yehuda tells us that a person who sells meat cannot weigh that meat on a scale but can weigh it against a vessel or a cleaver [on a Festival].  the rabbis believe that this is far too lenient; one cannot even look at the pans of a scale at all.  The Gemara considers different ways of weighing meat.  Differences between weighing firstborn animals and other meat are discussed.  The rabbis emphasize the importance of measuring, if at all, in a manner that is very different from weekday measuring.

The second Mishna tells us that we cannot sharpen a knife on a Festival.  However, we can do so in an unusual way, including sharpening one blade against another.  The Gemara considers whether or not it is permitted to sharpen a knife on a wooden sharpener rather than the usual stone implement.

Amud (b) continues this discussion.  Perhaps the knife is rubbed against the side of a basket to sharpen the blade, but one says that s/he is doing this simple to rub fat from the blade.  We run into one of the difficulties in assessing intention versus action.  Jewish thought is predominantly  focused on action.   What if our intent runs against halacha?  Does that matter?

We learn that we cannot show a blade to a Sage before slaughtering an animal on a Festival, likely because the knife could be carried beyond the eiruv limits.  Apparently Sages inspected these blades before slaughter in the times of the Temple.  Rabbi Yehuda and the rabbis continue to clarify how Shabbat and Festivals differ with regard to the preparation of food.  A number of other examples are shared to further this idea, including what to do with bent skewers for food.

We meet Rav Malkiyu, who contributed only a few halachot.  He shared the halacha regarding setting aside a bent skewar.  In addition, he taught that even when a bride is given 100 maidservants as her dowry, her husband can compel her to work so that she is not led by boredom to sin.  Rabbi Malkiyu also decided that 12 year-old girls required only two pubic hair follicles, and not two pubic hairs, she is of legal age to perform chalitza.  Thanks, Rabbi Malkiyu. He also taught that we are to cut the forelocks of Samaritans at three fingerbredths on every side to ensure that they are not grown for the purpose of idolatry.  He taught that burnt ashes cannot be placed on a wound because it looks like a tattoo.  Finally, he forbade eating cheese made by a Gentile because of the use of lard.

The rabbis wish to ensure that Shabbat is different from weekdays and that Festivals are different from both weekdays and Shabbat.  Today's daf demonstrates the creation of halachot that are quite obscure, especially in today's modern world.  Each halacha might on its own give little direction on how to live today - does it matter if I show a blade to a Sage before slaughtering a firstborn?  Not relevant.  But the intention - to walk us through decision-making where we are to ensure that there is a difference between the Festivals and Shabbat - that continues to be useful.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Beitza 26 a, b

Responding to the Mishna introduced at the end of daf 25, the Gemara wishes to clarify the rabbis' arguments.  Are they disagreeing about whether we can examine a firstborn animal that has fallen into a cistern?  Or whether we can pull it up?  Or feed it?  Or whether it is muktze?  A good part of the argument regards whether or not we can examine blemishes just before a Festival.  Such a legalistic question.  What are the implications of this one simple action, undertaken in a specific place at a specific time?

Hillel wonders whether something can be muktze for half of Shabbat or all of Shabbat.  The question is not about something that is fit or unfit before Shabbat and stays that way.  Instead, Hillel is asking Rava about an item that is fit but then becomes unfit during Shabbat - and then become fit again.  

Further discussion uses food items to ask similar questions.  If food is fit and then changes status, what do we do with that food on Shabbat?  Rav Kahana offers an example.  If we put aside grapes for drying into raisins - they are muktze - and they become dried and thus fit for eating on Shabbat BUT their owner did not realize their readiness until Shabbat, they are permitted.  If they continue to be muktze, however, for they had not dried out yet, they are cannot be eaten on Shabbat.

The rabbis also want to understand the interplay between prior designation and muktze.  How can we designate food that is muktze?  They explain that we can designate food that is fit for some and not for others.  Tat way, everyone can eat the food on Shabbat. 

We end with a clever idea shared by Rabbi Zeira about uncooked lentils and beans, which are permitted because they can be eaten raw and thus are not muktze.  Once boiling in the pot, though, they cannot be eaten and thus they are prohibited.  They are again fit to be eaten when their boiling is complete.  Thus an item can be in a temporary state of muktze even on Shabbat.

Fun to untangle these concepts!

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Beitza 25 a, b

Our Sages want to understand the specific details that permit us to take and/or prepare an undomesticated animal on a Festival.  They discuss fish that were caught before the Festival, birds that have found homes in peoples' gardens, birds that are marked -- and their mothers, birds that are shaken to affirm and prove their status among other things.  It continues to startle me when the rabbis make statements reminding me of their very different world.  I would assume that these halachot are designed to address issues of cruelty to animals.  However, I read things like, "... and those [birds] that were shaken [prior to the Festival to designate their preparedness]", I remember that animals were considered to be tools for people, period.

We learn a new Mishna that the rabbis want to discourage people from slaughtering an animal that is already in danger of dying.  The slaughter must be done in time to eat an olive bulk of roasted meat.  Rabbi Akiva suggests that one needs only enough time to eat an olive bulk of raw meat from the neck of the animal (where it was slaughtered).  Notes by Steinsaltz echo my own questions: how could people be asked to eat raw, unsalted, bloody meat? And yet the statement stands.  The end of the Mishna teaches that we must collect a slaughtered animal differently on Festivals than on weekdays: by hand, limb by limb, rather than with poles and extra people to help.

The Gemara discusses the presumptive prohibited status of a slaughtered animal and different opinions regarding whether or not the animal should be examined after the slaughter.  We do not assume that this animal is a tereifa, going to die within twelve months.  The rabbis also discuss from where in the animal the raw meat should be taken: perhaps it is the intestine rather than the neck, as this is the 'place' where the animal itself slaughters others.

Amud (b) begins with a lesson in etiquette. We should not rush to skin an animal - and we should not rush to drink our cup of wine in one gulp.  Two is preferred; three seems haughty.  On the topic of good manners, we should eat garlic and onions from the sides/leaves and not from the bulbs to present ourselves politely.  And we should act like the sea squill and keep our roots (feet) in our own yards.

Other gruesome ideas that suggest our feet might get cut off in the world to come: "young trees will cut off the feet of butchers and those who have relations with women who are menstruating".  This refers to a number of prohibitions: eating fruit from a tree younger than three years whose roots/feet have not spread; preparing meat quickly without removing blood.  These connections are obscure and yet they help us remember the seriousness of seemingly unrelated prohibitions.

After speaking about the lupine, a plant, that will cut off the feet of the Jewish people, we are told about our impudence and forcefulness as a people.  Perhaps this is why we were given the Torah, says Rabbi Meir, as Deuteronomy teaches that "from His right hand went a fiery law for them" (33:2).  Rabbi Yishmael's school taught that we Jews have fiery natures requireng a fiery law.  Others suggested that we were given the Torah to mitigate our wrath, for no nation could withstand us without the observance and study required by Torah law.

Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish teaches about those who are impudent: Jews among the nations, dogs among the animals, roosters among the bird - and others add: goats among small cattle, and caper bushes among trees.

We then learn about a number of restrictions on Festivals: walking with canes/poles unless absolutely necessary, going out on a chair on poles held by four others -- unless, of course, s/he is required by the people. In that case we are permitted to be carried out in our chair.  This is debated by rabbis who travel to the Ladder of Tyre to visit Rabbi Ya'akov bar Idi.  Wasn't Rav Nachman's wife, Yalta, carried on such a chair? But perhaps she was afraid - either of falling or of the pushing of the crowd. And perhaps she was required by the community.  Two rabbis were also carried on Festivals to their honoured spots. Were they also scared of the pushing crowds?  

Our daf ends with a new Mishna: We know that firstborn cows, sheep and goats are consecrated to G-d.  They cannot develop blemishes.  If one of these firstborn animal falls into a cistern, an expert is permitted to climb in to examine the animal for blemishes.  If the blemish is permanent, the animal should be raised out and then slaughtered.  Rabbi Shimon says that even when the blemish is not perceptible in the daylight on the day before a Festival, the animal cannot be prepared for slaughter on the altar.   

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Beitza 24 a, b

The rabbis walk through animals and birds that are enclosed inside a yard or a home.  When are these animals off-limits?  When is this action like 'hunting' and thus not permitted?  Interesting that the rabbis discuss deer as animals that might be trapped in a home.  Many different animals are discussed, from geese and chickens to doves and fish.  The rabbis look in depth at the notions of enclosures, inadequate traps, and 'freedom' (to fly, to hide, etc.).

Abaye uses  a 'folk' expression' to describe either when learning is done without focusing on the meaning or when one questions without having learned the halacha.  The phrase is "learning the lesson as if it is a song."  As a musician, I find it difficult to think of learning as song as an inadequate learning experience.  The lyrics should be understood in depth in addition to knowing the melody.  But I do understand the underlying concern.

A new Mishna expands on these ideas.  It teaches that when traps for animals, birds and fish are set on the eve of a Festival, we may not remove those captured creatures during the Festival itself unless we are certain that the animal in question was captured on the eve of the Festival.  Rabban Gamliel once said of a Gentile's fish that the fish are permitted, "but I do not wish to accept them from him", as I despise him.

The Gemara clarifies: Rabban Gamliel allowed trapped animals even when it was uncertain whether or not the animal was caught on the eve of the Festival.  A note tells us that some rabbis saw Rabban Gamliel as very stringent in his own practice, but willing to create halacha that was more lenient.  Hence he did not accept the fish that was officially, by his own ruling, permitted.

Amud (b) offers a discussion about uncertainty.  What if we find the nets/traps disturbed at certain times?  And when we decide that an animal or fish is permitted to us, what is is permitted for, exactly?  Are we permitted to eat it, or simply to receive it?  If a Gentile offers us a fish as a gift and we believe it caught before the Festival, are we allowed to prepare and eat it that same day?  Steinsaltz shares various thoughts about these questions in his notes.  We must remember that food attached to the ground or food that is carried inappropriately on a Festival are also prohibited.  Thus we must be careful to wait specific amounts of time before we eat such gifts to ensure that we do not eat prohibited food.  Further, a Jew might eventually direct a Gentile to bring him/her food on a Festival, which is a form prohibited labour.  To be stringent, we must be careful in these situations.

I wonder if people were aware of these numerous, detailed halachot in their day-to-day lives.  It would be quite tempting to listen to the Karaites - though their interpretations might be simple and brutal, the ease with which one could interpret their halachot would be a huge relief! 

Monday, 21 April 2014

Beitza 23 a, b

We learn that on Festivals, ketura was permitted in an Exilarch's home.  But what is ketura?  Does it refer to the Aramaic root which would imply folding or creasing?  Or does it refer to the Hebrew root, which  implies smoke, as would happen when burning incense?  I cannot help but think of Kibbutz Ketura in the south of Israel, where I spent some time 20 years ago.  I wonder why the founders chose that particular name - and if they were aware of this conversation.

The rabbis refer to Theodosius, who may have been a Torah scholar, when they reconsider  Rabban Gamiliels' leniency of preparing a whole kid goat.  They are clear that the kid goat was not in fact in violation of halacha, but that the community might see this action as similar to Temple sacrifice.

We are taught four new Mishnayot in the remainder of today's daf.  The last of these begins Perek III.

First, we learn a Mishna parallel to our last: Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya permits three things that the Rabbis prohibit: a cow going out on Shabbat with a decorative strap between its horns which may or may not be considered a burden, combing an animal for ticks which may or may not wound or bruise the animal unintentionally, and grinding pepper in its own mill, which may or may not mimic weekday labour.  Rabbi Yehuda agrees with combing an animal with only a wooden comb, but the rabbis disallow this action.

The Gemara first notes that Rabban Elazar had many thousands of cows, and thus we are speaking of permission given to his neighbour to decorate her one cow.  The rabbis discuss the possible differences between combing and brushing; between unintentional and intentional acts.

Our second Mishna teaches that the pepper mill is prohibited because each of its three parts is susceptible to ritual impurity: the receptacle is a vessel, the middle section is a sieve that filters pepper, and the upper part that does the grinding is a metal vessel.

The next Mishna tells us that a child's wagon is susceptible to ritual impurity imparted by treading - it is sat upon.  It may be handled on Shabbat for it is considered to be a vessel, and it can be dragged on the grown d on Shabbat  only upon cloth, a stone pavement, or other similar surface, for it would otherwise create a furrow when dragged (and thus would be prohibited because plowing is not allowed).  Rabbi Yehuda teaches that the only vessel that can be dragged on the ground on Shabbat are wagons, for their wheels do not make furrows in the ground; they press the earth down.  Plowing requires that earth is moved from its place.

In the Gemara, Rabbi Shimon notes that it is permitted to drag beds, chairs or benches as long as there is no intention to create a furrow.  Further, Rabbi Yehuda was the person who put forward the argument that wagons create furrows and that was accepted by the rabbis.  He then goes against his own opinion when he states that the wagon's wheels do not in fact create furrows.  A note reminds us of the resulting halacha.  We cannot drag beds, etc., on Shabbat if they are so heavy that they will certainly create furrows - even if that is not our intention.

A couple of points - what a different time; we live on solid wooden and concrete floors; we create no furrows when we drag beds or chairs today in most of the developed world.  Further, how could the rabbis equate that type of furrow with plowing?  We are not in the fields, for heaven's sake.  Why did they not take context/location into account?  These 'fences' create restrictions that push many Jews away from halacha - when they are rabbinical in origin as well as illogical or unreasonable, it is difficult to accept their authority.   This begs a  much larger question regarding ow we regard authority in Jewish thought and in Jewish life, but not for tonight.

Finally, our first Mishna of Perek III, which regards limitations on fishing and hunting.  We are not allowed to trap fish on Festivals nor are we allowed to feed them.  This is too close to the prohibited action of hunting.  We are allowed to trap animals or birds from within enclosures, though, as they are considered to be trapped already and thus this is not hunting.  We can place food before them just as we do for other kept animals.  Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel goes on to explain that enclosures are not identical regarding hunting.  He teaches a principle: we are not allowed to trap an animal in an enclosure where that animal can evade us.  But if we can simply take the animal from the enclosure, this is not considered to be hunting and is allowed on Festivals.  

Notes remind us that we are only permitted to feed the animals that are not muktze, or set aside, lest we take them when we are not permitted.  We can feed the non-kosher animals.  We can feed fish that were taken and placed in a fishbowl before the Festival, and we can catch fish from small, clear ponds where the fish cannot escape us.

So much thought has gone into our treatment of animals.  And yet the thought is geared toward understanding how G-d intends those animals to be of use to us, with his halachot being the ultimate rule.  Today, in secular, ethically questioning segments of society, as much thought goes in to how we treat animals.  But the ultimate end is the welfare and experiences of the animals rather that our interpretation of G-d's will.  Thus to better our treatment of animals, Jewish, ethically-minded, observant thinkers must find ways of interpreting the Torah (and the Talmud, etc.) to creatively understand G-d's will when it comes to the treatment of animals. 

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Beitza 22 a, b

We are learning about how Festival halachot are different from halachot of Shabbat.  The rabbis teach us about varied ideas, from food preparation to lighting incense.  In yesterday's daf, Rabban Gamliel described the three stringencies he followed based on Shammai's teachings.  Some of the ideas discussed today include:

  • are we acting with Shabbat in mind when we prepare food on a Festival?
  • what should be included in an eiruv tavshilin, a meal that connects Shabbat and a Festival
  • the labour involved in righting a disassembled menorah
  • trimming a burned wick
  • extinguishing a light for a different purpose
    • marital relations, where darkness is considered a holier practice: people can get creative about getting around the brightness of the light without extinguishing it.  To actually put out the light, the action must benefit all people there and not just the marital couple, thus it stays on.
    • putting out a fire, where we must be certain that we will lose our home, possessions and food before we are permitted to extinguish the fire.
  • medical treatment for eyes 
    • not permitted when the ailment is not serious or is ending
    • if treated by a Gentile and the Jew is only 'assisting' minimally during the treatment itself, it is permitted
  • thick loaves on Pesach
    • how thick is thick?
    • how thick are the shewbread loaves?
    • does thickness refer to quantity rather than to the size of one loaf?
    • how does a metal oven differ from an earthenware oven usually used for baking bread?
    • Beit Shammai say that we may not bake a large quantity of bread on Festivals while Beit Hillel permit it.
A new Mishna teaches that Rabban Gamliel also said three things as leniencies which were against the views of most other Sages.  One may swept the room of the couches on a Festival (the dining room); one may place incense of herbs on burning coals to perfume the house on a Festival;  One may roast a kid goat whole (with its entrails over its head) on erev Pesach.  The rabbis disagree because the floor could become level if holes were filled in by crumbs, because the incense does not meet the guidelines for prepared foods, and because the whole kid is too much like Temple practice and people might denigrate Temple rituals.

The rabbis discuss a number of interesting arguments regarding each of Rabban Gamliel's leniencies. It seems that these leniencies are in no way 'short cuts'.   Each is an expression of passionate adherence to the halachot.  For example, the type of broom and the type of floor were not at issue - for in Rabban Gamliel's home, they swept and then covered the floor with a sheet, removing it on the Festival or Shabbat to find a perfectly clean floor.  Not exactly a leniency!  But the rabbis are concerned with the wording of specific interpretations and how those interpretations might be used in the larger communities.

Fragrance is discussed similarly.  Rabban Gamliel would prepare an incense vessel or pan before Shabbat or the Festival and then plug its holes.  The following day, the holes were unplugged and it would seem that the room perfumed itself.  This is permitted, though the rabbis are concerned about leniencies that might encourage people to put incense directly on top of burning coals on sanctified days.  

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Beitza 21 a, b

Shabbat halachot are consider with greater stringency by the rabbis than halachot of the Festivals.  So the rabbis ask questions to better understand these specific, Festival halachot.  

Are we permitted to offer an animal - or dough - that is owned jointly by a Jew and a Gentile?  Are we permitted to bake for military troops (not Jews) on a Festival?  We walk through a number of stories to illuminate the rabbis' thinking.  These include a number of rabbis, but Rav Huna is the central leader in these examples.  

Rav Huna may even misdirect the great Rabbi Avya the Elder when he answers his question with, "look, a raven flies through the sky".  The rabbis wonder about this evasion - was it intentional, based on exhaustion?  Was it a metaphor?  Was it a mystical reference?  Rav Huna teaches us that troops intent on looting a Jewish village were appeased when a rabbi prepared food for them.  But if that animal was fit for Jewish consumption, was it permitted to the Gentiles?  And if the animal was not allowed to Jews, were Jews permitted to prepare it on a Festival?  

Rav Chisda and Rabba disagree about whether or not a person is flogged for improperly preparing or serving loaves of bread that are fit for dogs and for people.  These rabbis bring up the principle of ho'il, or 'since'.  Interestingly, one of the explanations for Rav Chisda's argument involves ho'il, but we learn that Rav Chisda did not himself subscribe to that principle!

The rabbis use their logic to prove an opinion about whether "for you" is referring to Jews and not Gentiles or Jews and not animals.  But in addition to their proof, a wonderful interpretation of a baraita is elucidated.   We learn the baraita says, "only that which every soul must eat, that shall be done for you."  Further, in Leviticus 24:18, we learn that "and he that kills the soul of an animal shall pay it."  The rabbis understand this to mean that every being, animals included, has a soul.  How can we separate the human nefesh from the animal nefesh?  How should we understand that the Torah tells us that animals are created for our human use if each animal and each person has a nefesh?

Following their (and not my) line of reasoning, the rabbis look to understand when and how we can give food to dogs on Festivals. If a date pit, for example, is unfit for human consumption, it should be muktze, set aside. We are not allowed to derive any benefit at all, even for our dogs, from things that are muktze.  How could we give the pit to a dog? Or even carry it or throw it to the fire?  

The rabbis ask about inviting Gentiles to Shabbat and Festival meals.  Shabbat meals are permitted, as ruled by Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi.  But Festival meals are not.  We cannot prepare extra food for a Gentile - though we can send food to his or her home on a Festival.   These rulings seem to rest on the mitzvot - the obligations of Jews.  We are obliged to do certain things including eating specific foods, lighting candles, etc. as part of these meals.  If we gear our meals toward the inclusion of Gentiles, we are not focusing on our obligations; our fulfilling of the mitzvot.  Somehow this rings hollow to me, but the reasoning might be sound for people in particular cultures/places/times.

The rabbis had looked at how we might carry date pits by placing them on bread.  They now wonder about moving other items that are muktze, from cups to chamber pots.  The rabbis want to understand how these things might affect whether or not we share our sacred meals with Gentiles.  A wonderful idea is posed by Mareimar and Mar Zutre.  They would tell a visiting non-Jew, if you enjoy your meal with us, that is good.  If not, we will not be able to go to any extra trouble on your account.  Honesty might be the way to maintain good relationships - and to educate people who might otherwise have reason to become anti-semitic!

A new Mishna teaches about an argument between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel. The former tell us that water cannot be heated to wash our feet on a Festival unless it is also fit for drinking.  Beit Hillel tell us that we can light a fire for washing on a Festival - in fact, we can even light a fire to warm ourselves.

And another Mishna just as our daf concludes.  It teaches us about the three things that Rav Gamliel is stringent about when considering Beit Shammai's opinions.  First, one does not heat anything to insulate food on a Festival ab initio.  Second, one does not right a fallen metal menorah on a Festival.  Third, one does take the time and effort to bake thick loaves and instead bakes thin loaves on a Festival.

The Gemara questions whether or not we are considering this heated food as an eiruv tavshilin, or a connector between domains.  That conversation has just begun as our daf ends.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Beitza 19 a, b

The concept of twilight is fuzzy.  Twilight does not have a measurable, exact time or status.  Unlike sunset, where the sun disappears beneath the horizon, or evening, where we can visually locate stars, twilight is purely subjective: I can't define it, but I know it when I see it.  Twilight might best be identified after the fact; once the sun has set, we know with certainty when twilight ended.  But in any given circumstance, can we define when twilight begins?

If we err and we immerse a vessel after twilight on the eve of a Festival, what is the consequence?  If we are warned, does the consequence change?  And if we knew what we were doing, how might that change the consequence?

The rabbis discuss whether or not we can assume a person's intentions based on his or her actions. If someone is running to immerse a vessel at twilight, for example, should we assume that s/he knows about the laws regarding immersion at twilight before a Festival?  Or, perhaps that person is running because s/he needs to know whether a creeping animal the size of a lentil bulk can impart ritual impurity.  

A new Mishna brings us back to offerings on Festivals.  Beit Shammai say that we can bring peace-offerings but not put our hands on their heads during a Festival.  Putting our hands on an animal is similar to using an animal for a separate purpose, which is not allowed on Festivals.  They also say that burnt offerings are prohibited on Festivals, as burnt-offerings are meant to be consumed by people and on Festivals, burnt-offerings are eaten on the altar only.  Guess what Beit Hillel say?  Both peace-offerings and burnt-offerings are permitted on Festivals.

The rabbis argue about what Shammai and Hillel are actually debating.  Is this about a larger principle, like the meaning of a peace-offering?  Or is this in fact an argument about the requirements on a Festival?

Steinsaltz teaches in a note that a thanks-offering follows a miraculous event.  It is comprised of 10 loaves of leavened bread and 30 loaves of three different types of matzah.  It is to be consumed that day or the following day.  Thus thanks-offerings are welcome on Sukkot but not on Pesach or Shavuot, which restrict bread and/or the timing of consumption.  In addition, the rabbis argue, Sukkot is a time to rejoice, which we do with thanks offerings.  They suggest a number of other arguments to justify this understanding.

We learn about the halacha of not delaying, denai baal ta'acher.  When we vow or promise to do something and it is not done by the following Festival, we have negated a positive mitzvah.  But if we have not kept our promise after three Festivals have passed, we have transgressed the negative mitzvah of "you will not delay".  The rabbis imagine situations where we could invoke an exception.  For example, if we promise to do something between two Festivals but we cannot so so, we might be excused - depending on the circumstances.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Beitza 18 a, b

What an added joy to learn about halachot for Festivals during a Festival!  Though the learning was not directly relevant to my experience over the past few days, I appreciate the rabbis' search for ways to express our joy without violating any restrictions.

Today we review a number of concepts and principles.  The topic is ritual immersion on a Festival: is this allowed?  Under which circumstances?  Using what reasoning?

Steinsaltz offers a quick review of the rules of ritual impurity.  He reminds us that ad hatuma, primary ritual impurity, will impart ritual impurity to people, vessels, food and drink.  Any of these objects that become ritually impure are now velad ha terumah - derivative sources of impurity.  A corpse is the ultimate source of ritual impurity.

Items that are velad hateruma can impart ritual impurity only to food, drink or consecrated items.  Food that is velad hateruma cannot impart ritual impurity to any other items.  However, velad hateruma does invalidate teruma, and so priests must know whether their food has come into contact with second degree ritual impurity.  To clarify: any item that has become impure through contact with a velad hateruma is also said to have second degree impurity.

Much of the daf wonders whether we can immerse items in ritual baths - including women ending their menstrual cycles - on Yom Tovim or Shabbatot.  The rabbis question different items and their degrees of ritual impurity.  They are careful to evaluate whether or not an action might be violating a halacha related to Shabbat.  For example, we are not allowed to bathe on Shabbat.  Is immersing a form of bathing?

Of particular interest to me were two items related to this immersion.  One regards women who do not bring a change of clothing to the mikvah.  Should they be allowed to "employ an artifice" and immerse while wearing their clothing? During a Festival?  The second regards a person who immerses in a bath not to wash not to affect his/her ritual status but to cool down on a hot day.  Is this always allowed?

These questions (among others) bring us to the principle of ho'il, since.  Ho'il helps us to understand how context might affect one's actions and whether those actions are halachically sound.  For example, if a person is permitted to bathe in foul smelling water on a hot day simply to cool down and not for pleasure, bathing nor for ritual immersion, should we not allow another form of immersion in water under other circumstances?

Another argument used regards using vinegar on Shabbat to ease gum pain.  We are not permitted to use items primarily for their medicinal qualities on Shabbat.  However, we are certainly permitted to ingest vinegar as food.  Thus we can dip bread in vinegar and eat it in a usual manner on Shabbat - and if we benefit medicinally from that vinegar, that is perfectly fine.  

Some of the other complicating factors in determining whether or not immersion is permitted on Festivals involves the status of the item to be immersed, the status of the water itself, the status of the vessel holding the item to be immersed, the timing of the immersion and the day in question (Shabbat, Yom Tov, 9th of Av, etc.).

Clearly this daf is beyond my current ability to comprehend.  At the same time, its clarity helped me to better piece together a number of important Talmudic principles/concepts.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Beitza 15 a, b

The rabbis are deeply immersed in a conversation about what we can send or bring as a gift on a Festival.  They discuss garments, including shoes of different colours and fabrics.  It is interesting to note that while we are told not to wear linen and wool together, many other combinations of fabrics are permitted.  Some thoughts about felt are shared: is this permitted?  There is no sewing involved!  Just fibres mashed together by force.  We learn that people may have worn felt insoles for comfort.  And the maintenance of both black shoes and white shoes was cumbersome.  Spiked shoes, those with nails, had caused a tragedy in the past - we learn that while hiding from anti-semites, one person tapped such a shoe and the sound created panic for it sounded like a group approaching.  Thus spiked sandals were forbidden, possibly just to keep the memory of that experience alive.

We return to a discussion from Eiruvin where the rabbis whether found tefillin should be carried on a Festival.  They look to the days of the week to help determine whether or not a particular item might be appropriate to send on a Festival.  Weekdays are fine. The rabbis use this information to round out their stories about a person who finds tefillin.  We learn in Steinsaltz's notes that beit sefarim were often built far from the centre of town.  They were placed between towns to use the funds of multiple communities and to draw more attendees.

Amud (b) also begins Perek II.  A new Mishna tells us that food for a Festival may be prepared for that day; if the Festival falls on a Friday, we may prepare food for Shabbat on the Festival.  However, we must first create an eiruv tashlishin between the two days so that the food can be thought of a one meal, carrying over from the Festival to Shabbat.  Beit Shammai say that this eiruv requires two dishes while Beit Hillel say that only one dish is required.  We can eat what is left over from the Festival on Shabbat, but the rabbis want to encourage people to prepare in advance and so other restrictions are introduced.

The Gemara looks more carefully at the eiruv tashlishin.  The word eiruv is meant in the form of 'connection' or 'continuation' rather than referring to a physical joining, like that of courtyards.  The rabbis note that Shabbat is to be held sacred; different from all other days.  How can we treat Shabbat with such disrespect?  In response, the rabbis find proof texts that teach us to prepare our food for Shabbat in advance of the day of rest.

We are told a fascinating story about Rabbi Eliezer the Great, who watched groups of students leave as he lectured on the halachot of Festivals.  As each group left, he became more angry and called to the departing group that they must have a pittas, a barrel, a jug, a jar, a cup waiting for them - they must be hungry and are compelled to leave.  When the sixth group left, he told them that only a curse was waiting for them as they did not value learning Torah over the call of sustenance. Finally, the remaining students were afraid of Rabbi Eliezer.  He reassured them, giving them a blessing (including giving food to the poor) going forward to enjoy their meals.

Our Sages debate what is important in celebrating a Festival: devotion to G-d (through Torah study) or physical pleasure (through eating and drinking).  When Eliezer became upset, he was adhering to the notion that his students were not devoting themselves completely to the pleasure derived through study. Some rabbis agree that we should choose one of these two forms of celebration on the Festivals.  Others believe that we should give half of our celebration to G-d (through Torah study) and half to ourselves (through eating and drinking).  Although Eliezer was stringent on these - and many other - points, he was famous for such opinions.  

A note teaches us that the one or two most prominent families in each town would make the eiruv itself.  In so doing, people without enough to prepare for Shabbat would be able to enjoy their Shabbat meal following the Festival.  It was frowned upon to rely on such gestures, however.  People were expected to create their own eiruvin whenever possible.

As we are about to enter the Festival of Pesach and I will not be blogging for two nights, I am pleased that the chag did not fall just before Shabbat this year so that I was able to avoid the degree of planning discussed in today's daf.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Beitza 14 a, b

We learned four Mishnayot today.  Each of them had to do with food preparation on the festeivals.  Although much of the reading was very interesting, I found it ironic that my 'break' from Pesach preparations was spent reading about food on Festivals.

1) Are we permitted to grind or pound spices (including salt) on a Festival?  The Gemara suggests that we are indeed permitted to do this given that thef ood will lose its flavour if left fore the day.  It seems that our rabbis lived in a time where people bought chinks of a certain spice and then ground it with a large mortar and pestle.  We learn that if we do the grinding/pounding in an unusual manner, all the better.

2) When are we permitted to prepare legumes on a Festival? The rabbis describe separating refuse from the food.  We learn about how legumes are selected and rinsed in ordinary circumstances:   Instead, he is permitted to select in his lap with a tray or in a large vessel.  Normal selection uses utensils like winnows [?], sieves, or tablets.  In addition, legumes are washed in water where the refuse will float to the top.  The Gemara questions what to do with this refuse.  I am guessing that regardless of the method used, the older daughters take of it.

3) Beit Shammai say that on Festivals, we can only give portions of food or other items. Beit Hillel teach that we can give anything, providing us will a lengthy list of permitted items including slaughtered and unslaughtered animals.  Surprisingly, the Gemara shares arguments how these gifts might be delivered.  We learn that a convoy is three or more people.  

4) We are permitted to send each other clothing on a Festival.  In fact we are able to send diverse kinds, even one shoe.  But these items should not be unfinished, nor should they create work to be done on Shabbat.  The Gemara shows us the rabbis' thoughts about this Mishna; how could we transport diverse kinds as gifts when we cannot wear them in other circumstances.  And so the rabbis begin to argue that there must be an exception - these must be curtains and not clothing.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Beitza 10 a, b

Finishing their commentary on yesterday's Mishna, the rabbis comment on Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai.  There may be other arguments where Shammai was lenient and Hillel was stringent.  The rabbis list a number of these cases while arguing about their relevance given differences (muktze, etc.).  Rabbi Yochanan is the Sage who is said to believe that their opinions might be reversed.

A new Mishna tells us about preparing fledgling doves from their dovecoats.  Beit Shammai says that we should shake the birds while it is still day.  Beit Hillel says that shaking is not necessary; we can prepare the doves by standing and selecting them the day before.  We learn in a note by Steinsaltz that the first pair of birds are watched to understand the value of those eggs.  Doves will lay eggs in pairs throughout the year.  

The rabbis speak about removing a corpse from a home.  To avoid imparting ritual impurity to the home, the corpse can be removed through a window.  If the corpse is removed through one door, it is as if all doors have been made impure for the house is like a tent if it has many doors.  Beit Hillel says that all of these entrances are pure retroactively.  In turn, if we handle many pairs of doves to see if they are suitable to us, then we are touching things that should not be touched because they are muktze and should not be moved.  Notable is that the rabbis believe that choosing doves in advance will promote joy for we will happily take what we chose rather than looking for perfect doves on the day itself and perhaps not even celebrating.

We are introduced to a new Mishna about the doves.  If after we have chosen doves our doves are obviously not there: the colour is missing, we are prohibited from taking another dove.  We are told about other restrictions including number of birds and location of birds.  The idea is that we are not to take birds that are not designated.  In addition, we can only move the birds that were designated as bird that will leave the dovecoat.

The rabbis discuss this Mishna at some length.  They look at similarities/differences between fledglings and money that is found and combined with tithed money.  They note that fledglings hop on their own - this allows the rabbis to change their comparison.  Perhaps the money is contained in discreet pouches.  But that doesn't quite work, either.  So what if the fledgelings were tied together, and the pouches were tied together?  But fledgelings can break free of that bond; similarly pouches that rely on worn leather can break apart, too.

So much of today's daf seems to be a caveat.  The rabbis are talking about how we choose the pair of doves for ritual slaughter on Shabbat.  But they are also talking about how they come to that decision - which are the most important considerations, the tools (like analogy) that we should use to create logical arguments.  And every word of this text is sacred.  But only if we believe that the Talmud offers us the ability to know ourselves and our world better.

Beitza 12 a, b

A Mishna introduces today's daf.  It teaches that Beit Shammai are very stringent: on Festivals we are not permitted to carry out a minor child, a lulav, or a Torah scroll into the public domain.  As expected, Beit  Hillel disagree.  A note clarifies: we cannot carry out an adult, either - this is how stringent Beit Shammai are!  All three activities are mitzvot.  Minor children are carried out after a circumcision, a lulav is carried out to be shaken, and the Torah scroll is carried out to be read.  We learn in another note that the halacha is in accordance with Beit Hillel.  Because we are permitted to carry on a Festival for food preparation, we are also allowed to carry for other purposes.

The rabbis determine some of the differences between halachot of Shabbat and of Festivals.  They note that there is no eruv required on Festivals, but that boundaries between courtyards should still be joined.  They differentiate between forms of labour, like carrying out, to understand which forms are permitted on Festivals but not on Shabbat. To demonstrate how this works, the rabbis remind us that a person who eats the sciatic nerve cooked in milk on a Festival has violated 5 mitzvot: cooking the sciatic nerve, eating the sciatic nerve, cooking mild and meat together, eating them together, and kindling a fire.  For each of these, a person is flogged.

The halacha allows kindling fire on a Festival for cooking or even for other purposes, though some believe that this action should be undertaken in an unusual manner.  The rabbis note that analogies should be consistent.  When we state: if.... then...., we must be able to do that in related cases as well. This rule of logic helps them create stringencies and/or leniencies depending on the situation at hand.

We are introduced to a new Mishna about gifts for the priest on Festivals.  Beit Shammai assert that we are permitted to separate challah and to prepare animals for slaughter on the Festivals.  Even so, we cannot bring that challah nor the parts of an animal offered as gifts to the priest on a Festival. We are told that Hillel questions Shammai, eventually explaining that a consistent argument would allow either preparation of the gift and giving the gift OR no preparation and no gift.

We go on to follow generations of rabbi's disputing whether or not we understand the dispute between Shammai and Hillel.  They argue that the rabbis actually agreed about these issues; perhaps they were discussing the definition and rules of teruma.  We learn that rabbis use Hillel's opinion, that we are permitted to bring teruma to priests on Festivals, is used to justify similar behaviours down the road.

At the end of today's daf, the rabbis share a story regarding mustard seeds.  Is it permitted to husk and prepare them on a Festival? The rabbis ask questions and compare this action to other similar actions on festivals.  They also note the importance of doing this labour in an unusual manner.

I have never understood with any clarity how the Festivals differ from Shabbat regarding prohibited and permitted labour. It was only recently that I learned that cooking is allowed on Festivals. In my meager education regarding halacha, we did not cover the differences between Festivals and Shabbat.  Thus I have always assumed that what is prohibited on Shabbat is prohibited on Festivals.  I wonder why more of an effort was not given toward explaining that significant difference.  Did the teachers of my youth want for us to err on the side of 'more' observance?

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Beitza 11 a, b

Bird enthusiasts?  Desperate to raise enough kosher doves for the offerings?  People with too much time on their hands?  Our beloved rabbis continue to describe, in detail, the behaviour of fledgling doves. We are given the tools to know which doves are appropriate and which are prohibited for slaughtering.

A new Mishna moves on to other prohibitions: a large pestle removed from the mortar to cut meat, a hide placed on the floor where it can be stepped on, lifting a hide as it is muktze, set aside, unless it has meat on it.  Or not... because Beit Hillel permit the last two prohibitions.

The rabbis explain some of our halachot regarding food preparation.  After being used to cut meat for the Festivals, pestles cannot be moved for safekeeping.  They can be moved to be used again, however. I am not completely clear about how this works; it seems that utensils are categorized as muktze unless they are used for a food-preparation purpose during the Festival.  But don't quote me on that.

Is it the same for an anvil, used to crush bones? wonder our rabbis. Can we move a knife or an animal to a butcher?  Hillel rules with leniency in these and other scenarios.

We learn about the pros and cons of salting hides.  Yes, the hide is preserved; the animal is ready for roasting. But salting a hide is similar to tanning, which is prohibited on the Festivals.  The rabbis speak about some of the intricacies of hide preparation that are foreign to me - the use of the fats. the use of fats and salt, the use of a pot for cooking...

Finally, in looking at stretching the hide, the rabbis look again at salting the hide.  I am not clear exactly how this is very different from the rabbis' second point.

A second Mishna teaches us about shutters.  Beit Shammai tell us that we cannot remove the shutters from a store on a Festival.  We would be breaking the 'building and demolishing' prohibition.  Beit Hillel permit us to open the shutters and even to replace the shutters!  The Gemara notes that stores should be allowed to remain open so that people can prepare for the Festival.  Ulla reminds us of a principle: the Sages permit an action whose result is undesirable to encourage a desirable initial action. An example is laying out hides, even if they are trodden upon.  Other examples of this principle are shared: bandaging Priests on Shabbat; selling wine and dough on the Festival.

The rabbis tell us that these leniencies applied in the Temple but not in the rest of Israel.  Why?  Because rabbinic law does not apply to the Temple.  The rabbis share details regarding which prohibitions were treated with greater leniency and why.  For example, a person outside of the Temple cannot replace her/his bandage on a Festival or Shabbat - unless s/he is eligible for Temple service.  In that case, bandages can be replaced.

The rabbis share their thoughts about selling wine and dough on Festivals.  These products are considered to be ritually pure until opened; there is some debate as to whether or not they regress to a state of ritual impurity or whether they retain their status as ritually pure after selling some of each product.  Steinsaltz shares a note explaining that when these items are opened on a Festival, they do retain their ritual purity until the end of the holiday, after which time they lose that status.  This is due to the principle cited earlier regarding an undesired outcome.

We learn more about shutters being removed.  Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar suggest that Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai in fact agree that it is permitted to remove shutters; they disagree about whether or not it is allowed to replace them.  The rabbis wonder about the hinges of the shutters: what work would be involved in replacing the shutters?  Without hinges, those shutters would be similar to boards - no problem, because the action is not at all related to building/demolishing.  In the end, the rabbis agree that it is important to know where the hinges are attached to the board: the middle? The ends/sides?  This will help them to know when it is permitted to remove that shutter.

Today's daf demonstrates the minutiae that our Sages considered while they were forming arguments about larger issues.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Beitza 9 a, b

Is separating challah on a Festival or Shabbat subject to the same rules as covering blood on a Festival or Shabbat?  The rabbis debate the similarities and differences between these two actions.  They note the importance of planning in advance for an action to be taken on Festivals/Shabbat.  They also note differences in and outside of Eretz Yisroel.

After a very long discussion in Gemara, we begin a new Mishna.   We learn that Beit Shammai say that  one cannot carry a ladder from one dovecoat to another (used for reaching doves).  One is permitted to move the ladder slightly; tilting it so that one can reach other windows within the same dovecoat.  Beit Hillel say that one may carry the ladder.

The rabbis look at whether this conversation might apply only in the public domain, for it would be permitted in the private domain.  This brings the rabbis to a detailed debate regarding what is allowed in the public versus the private domain.  Perhaps anything that is prohibited because of an appearance of prohibition should in fact be prohibited in private, as well.  The example of drying clothes in the sun exemplifies this principle: we may not dry our clothes in the sun on Shabbat to prevent others from believing that laundering is permitted on Shabbat.  And we are prohibited from drying our clothes in private, as well.  

The rabbis wonder whether we might be speaking about other types of ladders in addition to dovecoat ladders.  They question the specificity of the Mishna: are we allowed to shuffle with the ladder? What about more than two windows?  Rav Chiyya's sons seems to have great interest in this particular Mishna, for they continue to argue with regard to its meaning.  Were they perhaps benefiting from the ruling in some way or another?

The Sages go on to discuss rejoicing.  Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai cannot be in disagreement about whether or not to rejoice on the Festival; all people know that we are to rejoice!  They must be arguing about whether the requirement to rejoice is important enough to encourage a lenient ruling over a possible prohibition.   The rabbis even question whether or not the Mishna somehow reversed the great Sages' opinions.  If so, this would be one of the rare leniencies by Beit Shammai listed in Masechet Eduyyot.  We learn about the possibility of an embedded shovel and other details that might make Shammai.  Notes by Steinsaltz tell us more about this possibility.

Interesting that we spend so much time on what seems like an 'aside'.  In truth, the rabbis are walking us through larger principles.  Paying attention to this conversation, we learn about their decision-making and the practical applications of these principles.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Beitza 8 a, b

Are we allowed to slaughter an animal on the Festival?  If so, are we permitted to cover the blood?  What if we prepare the pile of earth in advance, with this purpose in mind?  What are the differences if we are in a home (with dirt floors, of course) or on a field?  Is an act of destruction, digging a hole, always prohibited on Shabbat and Festivals?  What if that act of destruction is done to allow the performance of a positive mitzvah of covering (blood)?  

Again we are faced with the difficult task of measuring intention against action.  One of the examples used by the rabbis is what we do when a baby's foreskin is leprous.  It is prohibited to remove leprous  skin; however, we must remove the foreskin regardless of its state, as that is a mitzvah.  We are not intending to remove the leprous skin; we are intending to circumsize the baby.  So this act should be permitted.  

The rabbis look to other examples, including whether or not ashes can be used for a number of purposes, including covering blood.  The intention of the person who prepares the ashes for use on the Festival or Shabbat is important.

One of the appeals of Jewish thought is its hesitancy to evaluate thought.  In many other religions, we must think certain things and believe specific precepts.  Judaism does not want us to judge our thoughts; we evaluate actions.  And so any time that the Talmud offers us our Sages' reflections on that unmeasurable, intention, I take notice.

We learn about this question of intention with a particularly informative example.  If we bring earth into the home to cover a baby's excrement, we can also use it to cover a bird's blood.  This is because the earth was prepared in advance from a place of uncertainty: we didn't know that the baby would have an accident in the home though we knew that the bird would be slaughtered.  If we prepared the earth only to cover the bird's blood, however, it cannot be used to cover the excrement.  

The rabbis look to the koi, a disputed animal, and its slaughter to further understand this point.  However, they are unclear as to whether or not the koi is in fact comparable to the example of excrement.  Intentions were different in these different cases.  The Gemara wonders about what impressions we might give regarding the koi as a domesticated or undomesticated animal if we cover its blood on a Festival.  We hear related concerns, including the importance of timing (what could be done at a later time), the number of thrusts taken to cover the blood, and the prohibition on covering a mixture of bloods on a Festival.

So much packed into one daf!  Learning about hermeneutics, new (to me) principles, halachot regarding Festivals in comparison with Shabbat, the importance of the appearance of consistency in practice, the management of baby digestive issues, housekeeping, the maintenance of yards and dungheaps, the slaughter of birds inside a home... and more.  My favourite (next to the baby excrement, of course), is a note that teaches that if the blood is located in a place that disturbs people, it can be covered.  This suggests that people were disturbed by these blood rites, even though they are presented in the Talmud as commonplace and uninteresting.  Perhaps people had similar, complex thoughts about the treatment of animals in ancient times, too.