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! 

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