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.

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