Thursday, 29 May 2014

Rosh Hashana 22

Witnesses can prove in court whether or not someone has witnessed the New Moon.  Today's daf examines those witnesses and the validity of their testimony.  

One of the major points discussed is whether a family member can testify alongside another family member.  In other circumstances, family members' shared testimony does not count.  A freed slave, however, is permitted to share his testimony with his former owner.  The juxtapositioning of these two scenarios is very interesting: is the Gemara suggesting that a freed slave might be somewhat like a family member?  Certainly we know that living together can feel like 'family', even if the relationships are fraught with power imbalances and indenture.  

Another interesting point concerns women.  The Gemara actually includes a discussion regarding whether or not women can act as witnesses to the New Moon in court.  It is determined that women can do whatever they are able to do in other circumstances as witnesses.  This opens up questioning of the first discussion points.

The Gemara takes note of who else cannot be counted as a witness.  Those who gamble in a number of different ways are specifically selected.  Why would the rabbis decide that someone who plays dice should not be a witness when they permit a murderer or someone who desecrates Shabbat to be fit as a witness?  One thought that goes through my mind is the need for money; perhaps when one loses a bet and owes money that he does not have, it would make sense to journey to Jerusalem as a witness and avoid collection agents.  Another thought is more about morality than practicality. Perhaps there was some sort of understanding of gamblers as degenerate people.  Or maybe there is another altogether different reason for the rabbis' reasoning.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Rosh Hashana 21

Amud (a) walks us through the two-day observance of Festivals outside of Eretz Yisrael.   We learn about different circumstances where the rabbis are We cannot be certain of the timing/accuracy of the messengers delivering their report of the stars indicating exact dates.  In modern practice, some movements/individuals observe only one night. Often their arguments include the fact that we do not rely on messengers any longer; we know the exact dates now and we do not require the observance of two days.  However, it seems that our ancestors also knew the exact dates.  The calendar was developed and in use already. My guess is that the tradition of two-day observance has more to do with the experience of two days of chag than it has to do with stringent interpretation of halacha.

Amud (b) begins with a new Mishna.  It teaches that witnesses of the New Moon were allowed to desecrate Shabbat only for the sake of two months: Nisan and Tishrei.  In these months, messengers are sent to Syria.  Nisan and Tishrei's timing set the dates of the Festivals.  And when the Temple was standing, Shabbat was desecrated for the sake of each and every month, for the New Moon had to be fixed accurately each month in order to properly offer sacrifices.

Following a short discussion, amud (b) shares a second Mishna: Whether the New Moon was seen clearly, ba'alil, or not, Shabbat can be desecrated in order to testify (as witnesses of the New Moon) to the court.  Rabbi Yosei states that Shabbat cannot be desecrated if the New Moon is seen clearly by all.
A story is told that forty pairs of people were walking to Jerusalem when they witnessed the New Moon; they continued walking on Shabbat to act as witnesses in the court.  Rabbi Akiva held them in Lod.  Rabban Gamliel disagreed, saying that if Akiva detains them, he will cause them to stumble (ie. not make the effort to testify) in the future.  

The Gemara moves to a more esoteric place.  First it compares the clear view of the sky to v.12:7 from Psalms, where we learn that the words of the Lord are pure; silver refined in clear sight of the earth, purified seven times.

We are then reminded that Rav and Shmuel argued about this verse, introducing a new idea.  Apparently there were fifty gates of understanding created in the world.  All of these but one were given to Moses.  Our notes teach that seven times seven, 49, is considered to be a complete number. Thus fifty is one beyond perfect; something that transcends the perfection of our physical world.  

The rabbis go on to discuss Kohelet, King Solomon, who strived to be like Moses.  He was the leader who decided that two witnesses were required to put someone to death.  One witness was not enough to justify such a severe punishment.

Leaders must be lonely.  They are surrounded by people who want to keep them happy. To find role models, they have to look to those who have been successful leaders in the past.  Moses is the consummate leader; an obvious choice for King Solomon.  But how would a king decide how to adapt that leadership model to his own reign?  If Moses was not allowed to have the wisdom of G-d; the fiftieth door, how should King Solomon use that information to become a better leader?  In this case, King Solomon understood human limitation.   Just like Moses did not have the wisdom of G-d, neither could one witness have reliable enough information to justify someone's death.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Rosh Hashana 20

The rabbis continue to discuss the counting of days and months.  At the start of amud (a), the rabbis examine whether or not Shabbat might be desecrated by witnesses who may not actually have seen the New Moon.

In their conversations, the Gemara wonders why it would be a problem should Shabbat fall next to a Festival.  Ulla suggests that our vegetables might not be fresh, which is countered in one instance because hot water will revive (or cook?) the vegetables.  Rabbi Acha bar Chanina believes that the dead might have to wait to be buried, which is also debated for Gentiles can bury the dead.  The rabbis note that the weather in Babylonia is very hot and both vegetables and corpses will not last two days, though they might do so in Eretz Yisroel.

There seems to be some question as to whether or not witnesses of the New Moon might be trustworthy.  Although these dates were set and verified mathematically, witnesses helped both to solidify any future legal question.  In addition, witnesses might convince heretics that the calendar was truly G-d given.  Overall, it seems possible that witnesses might have be intimidated to alter their reports based on the need of the community.  During some months, the date of the New Moon was necessarily fixed. On other months, intimidation might have affected the witness' reports.

Lying about the months is different depending on its timing.  The Gemara notes that when witnesses lie about seeing the New Moon, others will suspect the lie because they saw the moon themselves.  They would wonder why the sighting of the moon was not declared and the date was pushed back by one day.  However if the witnesses lie about seeing the moon early, people might not suspect a lie for it is reasonable that only some people witness the New Moon.

Likely in an effort to set the calendar without the need for messengers, Shmuel declares that he is able to calculate the entire Jewish calendar.  Abba challenges him, asking if he knows about calculating the molad.  Shmuel admits that he has not heard of the molad, and Abba retorts that there must be other things that Shmuel does not know that might affect his construction of a calendar.  

Rabbi Zeira looks into this and learns that the New Moon must include both a night and a day in the new month.  Molad is discussed in a baraita referred to as the secret addition - calendric calculations. Molad is where the earth, moon and sun line up compared with midday.  This measurement can help to determine the length of the remaining daylight hours.  To declare the New Moon, the molad must before the beginning of the night.  However, we cannot know the true molad unless we know where to measure from.  The navel of the earth, perhaps (thought of as 24 degrees east of Jerusalem)?  Or the navel of the sea?  According to our notes, this secret addition is one of the most difficult passages in the Gemara. 

The Gemara continues to discuss how dates are determined in the Jewish world. In a note, we learn that  the 'halachic dateline' has been debated without resulting in a consensual understanding.  One theory developed based on the need of Jews arriving in Japan in 1942 suggests a line that runs 90 degrees east of Jerusalem.  When this line runs over the land, there might be issues with when to observe Shabbat.  The other theory is that there is no absolute dateline.  Instead, the first Jews to arrive in a place determine when Shabbat is observed.

This suggests to me that the rabbis may not hold in their hearts an rigid interpretation of Torah-law.  Without a black and white understanding of G-d's will for us regarding time, we might be observing Shabbat incorrectly.  We could forgo the World-to-Come! Instead, some of these rabbinical leaders decided to recommend a human-based, unpredictable interpretation of time.  Very progressive!

I have to say that I recognize how limited my understanding is when it comes to all rabbinical literature - but particularly regarding the complex halacha and reasoning of our calendar.  The genius of our rabbis is evident in every phrase that I struggle to understand.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Rosh Hashana 19

The Gemara explains our rabbis' opinions regarding fasting days and their origins.  They note many contributing factors, such as 

  • fasting is prohibited on a Festival that was given by Torah law
  • fasting is prohibited on the preceding day and the day following such a Festival
  • Rosh Hashana and the New Moon are also considered to be Festivals by Torah law and thus fasting is prohibited
One of their stories - explaining why the 28th of Adar is fortuitous for Jews who do not neglect Torah study - stands out.  Yehuda ben Shammua consulted with a "matron" of the Roman upper class for advice.  She was a friend to all of the prominent men of Rome.  At that time the wicked kingdom was forbidding Jews to learn Torah, to circumsize their sons, and to keep Shabbat.  This woman suggested that they cry out at night, "O Heavens! Are we not your brothers; are we not children of one father; are we not children of one mother? How are we different from every nation and tongue that you issue harsh decrees against us?"  And the decrees were annulled.

Of interest to me:
  • women could carry that much influence; 
  • women knew the appropriate ways of manipulating those in power; 
  • women with this power were sympathetic to the Jews; 
  • this matron was considered important enough to be quoted in the Talmud
Amud (b) takes us into the land of the Jewish calendar.  This land is a foreign land to me; I find the calendar to be confusing, layered with rules, guidelines, suggestions, and reasons for all of the above.  I found it difficult to keep track of the conversation in today's daf regarding the calendar: why months must have certain numbers of days; what is special about the placement of Rosh Hashana on the calendar; how and why we should adapt some months and not others.  Hopefully this will continue to become more accessible to me as I continue to learn. 

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Rosh Hashana 18

When are we judged?  How does G-d judge?  Amud (a) looks at our rabbis explanations of G-d's actions.  Of course, in my mind any attempt to understand G-d's actions is suspect; how can we possible understand something that is not in our realm of understanding?  Despite this gaping question, I'll present some of the rabbis' major points:

  • prayer, Torah study and acts of kindness encourage G-d to change his decree (Avot 1:2)
  • when two people are sick and both pray with one recovering and one remaining ill, what has happened:
    • Rabbi Elazar: one prayed before the sentence and one prayed after the sentence was sealed
    • Rabbi Yitzchak: crying out at any time can change G-d's sentence of an individual
    • Gemara: we must consider the timing of the sentence and whether or not an oath was uttered
  • Rabbi Yochanan told people to study Torah when they desperately asked for help because all family members died at age 18.  This strategy worked.  
  • Of course, I wonder whether these family members had heart conditions that were aggravated by work that was physical in nature - Torah study would keep them alive!
  • A 'stain' (sin) might remain even after it is washed (repented)
  • We should repent when G-d is near (Isaiah 55:6)
  • Does this mean that G-d judges us both individually and as a community?
  • Does G-d "scan" us once; perhaps twice?  When? One by one, or all at once, or both?
  • Are all of our hearts scanned as one heart?
  • When is G-d near us?  The 10 days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur (I Samuel 25:38)
Amud (b) begins with discussion about a new Mishna: "In the six months the messengers go out - Nisan, due to Pesach; in Av, due to the fast [of the 9th of Av];in Elul, due to Rosh Hashana; in Tishrei, due to the Festivals [of Tishrei: Yom Kippur and Sukkot], in Kislev, due to Chanukah; and in Adar, due to Purim.  And when the Temple was standing, they would go out  in Iyyar due to small Pesach [the second Pesach on the 14 of Iyyar for those who missed the offering on Pesach]."

The Gemara wonders about many of these statements. 
  • As told in Zachariah 8:19, can fasts also be times of joy and gladness?
  • When the Temple is standing and there is thus joy and gladness, do we fast because of persecution?
  • Does the 9th of Av differ from other fast days because of the stringency around it?
  • Is the death of the righteous equal to the burning of the Temple? (Zachariah 7:5) Are their fast days also equivalent?
  • Should we be allowed to choose whether or not we participate in the fasts?
  • The fasts are according to Akiva: 17 Tammuz, 9 Av, Fast of Gedaliah on 3 Tishrei, 10 Tevet
  • There was conflict regarding what the fasts were marking, in which months, and whether they were mandatory
  • Chanukah was different in many ways, including its popularity
  • Megilat Ta'anit listed Festivals days when one cannot fast nor eulogize
  • The rabbis debate about whether or not Megilat Ta'anit was nullified, as it was the first Masechet of the Oral Law to be written down.

Rosh Hashana 17

Rosh Hashana 16 fell on Shabbat this year and so I did not blog about it. I will review the Mishna that was introduced, for its impact carries over.

"At four times (annually) the world is judged: On Passover concerning grain, o Shavuot concerning fruits from trees on Rosh Hashana, all creatures pass before Him like sheep as it is stated"He Who fashions their heats alike, Who considers all their deeds" (Psalms 33:15) and on the Festival of Sukkot judging concerns water."

The Gemara of Rosh Hashana 16 examined judging at different times of the year vs. judging on Rosh Hashana, just before Yom Kippur.  The judgement of Kings, the usefulness of praying for those who are sick if G-d has sealed their fate, and the use of the shofar on Rosh Hashana are also considered.    The rabbis consider which deeds we are judged upon.  Gehenna is part of this conversation, as the rabbis want to understand when we can affect change in G-d's judgement of us.

Rosh Hashana 17 continues this conversation.  Some of the major themes:

  • a detailed discussion of Beit Shammai's and Beit Hillel's views on who will go to or through Gehenna, for which sins, and how long they will stay there.
  • to this end distinctions are made between apostates, heretics and those who simply sin with their bodies, a lesser crime
  • Beit Hillel notes that G-d is "abundant in kindness" (Exodus 34:6) and that if we are the same, G-d tilts in favour of kindness.
  • What does this mean?  Mercy may mean overlooking one's first sin.
  • The people of Mehoza are said to be so beautiful that it led to sinning with their bodies
  • Special attention is given to leaders to create excessive fear in the community not for the sake of Heaven
  • A story is told of Rav Huna son of Rav Yehoshua, almost dying. Rav Pappa prepared his provisions for death, but Rav Huna recovered.  He reported that G-d bears sins and forgives transgressions of those who put aside grievances with others.
  • The rabbis look to ways that we are promised to be forgiven, for example reciting our prayers in order
  • Another example of G-d's compassion: Exodus 34:6 is interpreted by Rabbi Yochanan as G-d wrapping Himself in a tallit; thus we are to do the same and to recite the 13 attributes to receive G-d's favour
  • The rabbis consider individual and collective sins; these might be punished differently
  • Beloreya the convert (a woman)asks Rabban Gamliel why G-d favours no one (Deuteronomy 10:17) yet the Lord will show favour to you (Number 6:26).
  • The resolution is offered by Rabbi Yosei: this is like a person who swears to the king that he will repay a loan to a friend.  When he defaults, the king can forgive his insult but the king cannot forgive the insult to the friend.  Here is where we learn that only people can forgive sins against people; we ask G-d for forgiveness of our sins against G-d.
It is exciting to find these sources of my traditions. And it is absolutely amazing that our religion has carried on these traditions - and the texts that created them - after so much time.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Rosh Hashana 15

Today's daf ends the rabbis' debates regarding our last Mishna on the many different New Years.  Their discussions have allowed us to better understand halachot surrounding planting, harvesting, tithing, and how we work with anomalies like the Sabbatical year and plants that take three years to produce ripe fruit.

The etrog continues to be used to elucidate our rabbis' arguments.  As it produces valuable fruit and it is a short tree; because it grows a fruit used for ritual purposes, the rabbis use this tree to explain their dilemmas.  One of these regards tithing: if a fruit is planted or begins to grow in the sixth year of the sabbatical cycle and then it is ripe in the seventh year, can it be used and tithed in the seventh year?  What if it grows through the seventh year but ripens in the eighth?  These questions allow our rabbis to discuss some of the particularities of the Sabbatical year and of tithing.

The rabbis ask other questions: what if there are two broods over one year?  How should we tithe in this case? The term "brood" usually refers to animals and our Sages are not happy with the use of this word to describe produce.  Nevertheless, they interpret this idea as yielding two crops in one year.

Rabbi Abba the priest and Rabbi Yosei the priest have some fun at the end of today's daf.  It had been said that Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish disagreed regarding a baraita on white figs (which could have been any number of plants, including a pine nut tree), which ripen over three years. Rabbi Yochanan is silent to Reish Lakish's question.  Rabbi Abba and Rabbi Yosei then imagine what each of them should have said to each other; they play-act an argument between Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish.

One of the most amazing things I have found in the Talmud is the fact that anecdotes, references to mothers, funny stories, and toileting details - among many other things - are saved for us to better understand this ancient world.  Only Jews would decide to leave these things in our holiest texts!

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Rosh Hashana 14

Today our rabbis discuss the disagreement stated in our past Mishna between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel.  They want to clarify the whether the first of Shevat or the fifteenth of Shevat is the New Year for trees and for tithing.  Both agree that tithes will be counted toward the New Year if they are taken after that date.  It is just the actual date that is in question.

Looking to Rabbi Akiva as an example, the rabbis argue about whether the halacha follows Beit Hillel or Beit Shammai.  Rabbi Akiva tithes etrogim after picking one from a tree.  We learn about the particulars of the etrog and the etrog tree.  

Again, I find it amazing that our rabbis choose to focus on these small points of difference.  In the larger picture, they are looking to understand a practice, tithing, that was done only when the Temple was standing.  A dormant tradition explored in exhausting detail.  Why?  Did our Sages truly believe that the Temple would be rebuilt and that we would need this instruction to properly perform many mitzvot?  Did they believe that if we missed one of these points, our rituals would be without merit?

It is painfully difficult for me to imagine a society without an understanding of multiple truths.  But we know that even within Jewish tradition, practices and even philosophies changed dramatically.  Jewish sects - beyond our rabbinical tradition - interpreted the Tanach, too.  Our Sages must have known of people (or perhaps even themselves) who changed their beliefs.  Jews were deciding whether or not to follow rabbinical tradition.  So how could the rabbis be so certain that these exact rituals were required for Moshiach to come?

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Rosh Hashana 13

The rabbis want to know how we measure plants for tithing.  Do we simultaneously tithe plants that grow at different paces?  How can we know the precise time at which we should harvest a plant and tithe?  The rabbis wish to determine if produce should be gathered, or harvested, before Rosh Hashana so that the tithing is counted as part of the old year.

Rabbi Yirmeya, a general rabble-rouser it would seem, challenges Rabbi Zeira.  "And the Sages are able to discern exactly between one third and less than one third of growth?"  Rabbi Zeira counters that Rabbi Yirmeya is always being instructed to not take himself out of halacha; all of the Sages measures are indeed exact.  

To prove that point, we look at the requirements regarding pure water for ritual immersions and how food might maintain its ritual purity even when exposed to an exact amount (at least one egg-bulk) of impurity.  

Steinsaltz teaches us in a note that the egg-bulk is the most basic unit of measurement for our Sages.  And even the egg-bulk measure is debated.  While a modern egg would measure 50cc, ancient eggs were much larger.  An egg was thought to be a the size of 2x2x1.8 fingerbreadths.  To make things more confusing, there were three time periods with three different measures, each growing by 20%.  So depending on the measure of fingerbredths, a wilderness egg would measure either 57.6cc or 99.5cc.  A Jerusalem egg, using the measures of the Second Temple period, would measure either 69.1cc or 119.4cc.  And a Tzippori egg, using measurements created later in the town of Tzippori, would measure 82.9cc or 133.3cc.  Now those were big eggs!

What is fascinating here is the conscious juxtapositioning of precision with ambiguity.  Given its name, how could our forefathers and foremothers share an exact understanding of a fingerbreadth's measurements?  And yet the rabbis looked to these measures for precision and clarity.  At the same time that Rabbi Yirmeya critiqued his colleagues for their flawed methods, he is chastised for repeatedly questioning halacha.  And then he is given examples of 'precision' that rely on imprecise measurements and faulty concepts. 

After the rabbis discussion about different amounts of produce for tithing, they look at a number of exceptions.  We are told that rice, millet, poppy and sesame that take root before Rosh Hashana are tithed with the outgoing year (unless it is a Sabbatical year).  The cowpea plant is discussed as well; its stalks, seeds and flowers can be harvested and used.  One of the many reasons explaining the differences in these legumes, or kitniyot, is that they do not ripen all together, at one time.  They can be harvested at different times over the course of a season in order to best capture the ripe produce.  

A note teaches us that in ancient times these harvests were ongoing.  Modern agriculture allows crops to yield their produce all at the same time, so that harvesting is done only once.  This is a concept that I have never considered before; I never thought to question why rice or millet ripen all at once.  I assumed that this modern reality was simply 'natural'.  

Monday, 19 May 2014

Rosh Hashana 12

We continue to learn how the rabbis understand the many different New Years listed in our last Mishna.  In today's daf, the rabbis elaborate on the first of Tishrei as the New Year for vegetables and on the first of Tishrei as the New Year for vows.  

Before those discussions, they complete their conversation regarding the constellation Kima.  The rabbis move from speaking about the month of Nisan to the month of Iyyar to the 'change' that G-d must have made to His creation by having rain fall in Iyyar (or, according to Rabbi Eliezer, in Marcheshvan) for the Flood.  What did G-d change?  He caused the water to boil.  We know that this happened because the same word with the root yud-shin-chaf, abate, was used to describe both the end of the flood and the end of King Ahashverosh's boiling anger (Esther 7:10).  If abating implies 'cooling', then the waters of the great flood must have been hot.

The New Year for vegetables regards tithing.  We learn some of the intricacies of tithing with regard to months of the year.  These details are far beyond my understanding at this point in time - I need to chart each sentence to understand how this larger system of thought works.  I do understand that each crop was tithed, where the first one/fiftieth was set aside for the priests as teruma, and from the remainder of each crop one/tenth was given to the Leviim as the "first tithe".  The Leviim would take one/fiftieth of their "tenth"; the terumah of the tithe, and offer that to the priests as well.  This wasn't all. From the remaining produce, one tenth more was brought to Jerusalem and eaten there or redeemed for money used to purchase food in Jerusalem.  This is called the "second tithe".  The second tithe happens on the first, second, fourth and fifth years of the Sabbatical cycle.  On the third and sixth years, the second tithe is called the "poor man's tithe" and it was given to the poor in any part of the land.

Regarding the New Year for vows, the rabbis want to understand when a vow takes effect and how long it lasts.  They wonder whether a person's vow for a year begins on the stated day and lasts until the first of Tishrei, or whether that vow begins on the stated day and lasts for exactly one year from that date.  I found it reassuring to learn that the rabbis are interested in the intention of s/he who made the vow.  

Today's daf ends with a discussion of tithes: what part of our crops are included when tithes are collected? The rabbis wonder whether a plant should be a certain age, a certain height, or of a certain level of development.  Should the vegetable have sprouted for seed?  Should it have reached a third of its growth?  Which part of the vegetable should have reached that level of growth?  Its seeds? Should it be one third of its mature weight?

Again, I am humbled by how much I do not know regarding Talmud -- and agriculture, and astronomy, and the cycles of the year... the list could go on and on.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Rosh Hashana 11

Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua share their ideas about the importance of different months in Biblical history and in our future.  For example, Rabbi Eliezer believes that we were redeemed from Egypt in Nisan and that Moshiach will come in Tishrei.  Rabbi Yehoshua believes that we were redeemed from Egypt and that Moshiach will come in Nisan.

The months in question are when the world was created, when the Patriarchs were born, when the Patriarchs died, when Isaac was born, when Sara, Rachel and Channah were remembered, when Joseph came out from prison, when slavery in Egypt ended, when we were redeemed from Egypt and when we will be redeemed in the final redemption.

The Gemara details different verses that prove that Rosh Hashana was the the day that our foremothers were 'remembered' ie. conceived; that Tishrei was the month when the world was created.  To do this they use both natural laws and verbal analogies.  For example, we are told in Genesis 1:11 that G-d said that the earth should grow grass, that herbs should grow seeds, and that trees are yielding fruits according to their kind.  Rabbi Eliezer asks in which month do these things happen?  In Tishrei, of course.  Tishrei is also a time of rain, which is described in Genesis 2:6.  And thus Tishrei is the month in which the world was created. 

But based on Genesis 1:12, which describes these things happening, Rabbi Yehoshua argues that the month must be Nisan, for that is the month when grass, seeds and fruit are in abundance at once.  Further, Nisan is the time when animals mate, as Psalms 65:14 describes connected with this time.  Thus Nisan must be the month in which the world was created.

The rabbis use verbal analogies; they note that words may allude to other similar sounding words.  This connection is used to prove interpretations and arguments.  One of my favourites in today's daf is the conversation regarding Sarah, Rachel and Channa giving birth on Rosh Hashana.  How do we know this?  We learn in different sources that both Rachel and Channah were remembered by G-d, zechira.  Both Sarah and Channah are also revisited by G-d, pekida.  How are we remembered or revisited?  Rosh Hashana is "a solomn rest, a memorial proclaimed with the blast of a shofar" (Leviticus 24:25).  Thus these women were remembered on Rosh Hashana.  And if Channa was remembered AND revisited, and we know that being remembered results in a baby on Rosh Hashana, then Sarah's revisiting must have resulted in the same timing of conception and birth.

Another baraita is said to describe Isaac's birth on Pesach.  This is because Sarah is told that at the appointed time G-d will return to Sarah and give her a son (Genesis 18:14).  The word time, mo'ed, is the same as the word for Festival.  The next Festival would have been Pesach, for any other Festival would mean that Sarah gestated for somewhere between five and seven months. 

The rabbis share other proofs regarding the months including Tishrei being 'watched' and the constellation Kima rising in the morning... the rabbis can use verbal analogies based on their extensive knowledge of Tanach to prove almost any possible connection.  

This creative use of text and passion for G-d is exciting and invigorating.  It is fodder for a searching mind; it connects the dots that we cannot even see.  It helps us believe that there might be some logic behind the words in the Torah - no accidents; everything is there just waiting to be discovered.  At the same time, this kind of ideologically based search for meaning can yield whatever it is we are looking for.  If I were a true scholar of Tanach and Talmud, I could find words that sound like other words to prove my points.  I could use verses as metaphors, simply demonstrating the 'truth' of my interpretations.  

And so as much as I loved today's daf and its wonderfully colourful conversations, I am more critical than before beginning Daf Yomi about the 'truths' that the rabbis are uncovering and explaining.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Rosh Hashana 10

Today's daf discusses a question that has perplexed me since first grade.  I clearly remember questioning the concept of the number one.  It began with my close examination of the number line above the chalkboard.  There was a clear line separating 0 from 1.  But where did 'one' truly begin?  On that line? At some point after the line ended and within that first empty space of 'one'?  Or perhaps one began at the end of that empty space, somewhere within the vertical line delineating 1.

0    1     2     3  
|___|___|___|___ ....

My confusion became more pronounced when classmates were counting down days to their birthdays.  Mine was on June 17, and I counted several days.  But how did the other students know whether or not to count the day that we were in?  And when did the birthday start, at midnight?  At the time that each student was born?  How could any of us declare that we knew with certainty how many days there were until our birthdays?

Beginning with the concept of orla, today's daf questions how we are to count days from different New Years.  The halacha of orla prohibits the use of fruit from trees for at least the first three years of their lives.  We learn that the rabbis were curious about how to count those years.  Do we wait three years after the tree was planted in the ground?  Or three years from its establishment in the soil, which seems to be mostly understood to be 30 days?  Do we assume that there is a New Year for trees, where all trees celebrate their birthdays regardless of when they were planted or when they took root?  This would avoid any confusion about whether or not an individual tree is three years old and ready to spend its fourth year giving fruit to the priests (and then its fifth year giving fruit to its owner).

The rabbis engage in a debate about grafting, rooting, and other horticultural practices.

More interesting to me, as I have no green thumb at all, is their discussion regarding 'one day'.  Some rabbis believe that one day can be one year; others insist that one day or any other part of a year cannot be thought of as the same as one year.

It is telling that they often use the same verses to prove their contradictory points.  One regarding the date that the waters dried up beneath Noah's ark.  Genesis 8:13 can teach us that one day beyond six hundred years is the same as 601 years.  If we look at its phrasing differently, the same verse teaches that the intended amount of time is 600 years plus one day.

It is reassuring to find our Sages questioning the same concept that has stumped me for years.  The nature of one can be defined in practical terms, but the concept of one deserves much more complex philosophical discussion.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Rosh Hashana 8

We examine three more clauses of our most recent Mishna.  

1) Rabbi Elazar & Rabbi Shimon say that the New Year for animal tithes is the first of Tishrei
2) The first of Tishrei is the New Year for counting years
3) The first of Tishrei is also the New Year for counting Sabbatical years

Following each of these statements, the rabbis present verses from Psalms and from the Torah. They each interpret these verses differently, using the 'ancient' words to help them justify their interpretations. 

For example, the rabbis use poetry describing the land in its glory to conclude that animals go into heat and become pregnant at certain times of year.  They have their young after differing gestation lengths.  We are taught that this proves that the New Year lines up with animal tithes.  Through interpretation of texts, we learn that Jewish Kings and Gentile Kings; Jewish people and Gentile people are judged at different times.   We learn about the announcement of Sabbatical and Jubilee years.  We also learn about Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur compared with our Festivals.

What amazes me is that the rabbis would all agree that the chosen verses indeed teach us how to interpret our seemingly unrelated Mishnayot.  How can they be so certain?  Perhaps those verses are metaphors but they do not refer to this Mishna.  There is no hard science involved in our rabbis' interpretation of poetry and verse.  

Much of rabbinic literature is founded upon the notion that the rabbis have found "the answer" through their learning.  Principles for consistent interpretation are formulated and followed to this day.  Numbers are counted and recalculated.  everything about the notion of Talmudic study speaks to truth and certainty.  But so much of the rabbis interpretations are just that - interpretations.  

This idea reminds me of my first philosophy class in university.  Beginning to learn about logic, we were taught, "Given that G-d exists, ...".  I found that opening statement frustrating.  How can we say that we are searching for truth if we begin our search with "Given that G-d exists"?  For if G-d does not exist, the entire argument will fall apart.  And because we cannot 'prove' that G-d exists, we are arguing toward something less than fully examined.

Many of the arguments presented in the Talmud are based on leaps of logic that astound me.  However, this is my tradition.  The interpretations of our rabbis have informed the traditions that I fall back upon in times of need.  So whether or not their arguments are based on 'truth', they continue to be valuable and meaningful.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Rosh Hashana 7

Some highlights from today's daf:
  • an animal can be eaten on the day it is born if it is blemished - fit for slaughter - and if we are sure that it has fully gestated
  • if we think that a blemished animal might be premature, we must wait 8 days before eating it.
  • an animal fit for sacrifice from birth must wait 8 days before the sacrifice
  • as a first born, this unblemished animal counts its first year from day 8 even if viable from birth because it is not fit for sacrifice for those first eight days
  • We learn that the first of Nisan is the New Year for months from verses in Exodus (12:2-6) and Deuteronomy (16:1)
  • Heirs' obligations to offer on Festivals and women's obligations to rejoice on Festivals -- and thus to "not delay" are reiterated
  • Leap years might be declared at different times of year.
  • A complicated system determining the Jewish calendar is introduced
  • The first of Nisan is connected to this cycle as well because we count toward Pesach from Purim
  • Different interpretations of the start of the year based on Torah verses and rabbinical analysis of the months of the year
  • The first of Nisan is said to be the New Year for shekels
  • This may refer to old/new contributions of shekels
  • A baraita teaches that Nisan begins a new year for all annual rental contracts
  • The first of Elul is said by our Mishna to be the New Year for Animal tithes
  • A note teaches that owners of Kosher animals were tithed three times each year
  • The animals walked single file through a gate where every tenth animal was marked with red paint as the tithe - these were sacrificed as peace-offerings, their blood sprinkled on the altar, and they were eaten by the owners and not the priests
  • Were there really four New Years?  or perhaps there were six...?
  • Does a New Year require an action for that year to commence?
  • How are the Festivals related to the New Years?
Today's daf opened up questions that I am ill-prepared to struggle with at this time.  The combination of the Jewish calendar, the debate around the Jewish calendar, months of the year and details of the Festivals threw me way off track.  Hopefully I will continue to grasp more of the rabbis' conversations as I walk through their words.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Rosh Hashana 6

We learn a number of useful and interesting ideas through today's daf.  Overall, we are looking at how to ensure that we meet our commitments (vows).  One of the major considerations is time - how long do we have to do what we said we'd do? - which is understood through Festivals, or the cycling of seasonal celebrations.

This makes me think of my son (and myself) when he is asked to do something like, say, clean the bathroom.  He says, "okay!" and goes back to playing guitar.  "What are you doing?" I holler up the stairs. "I'm finishing playing," he replies.  "But you said you would clean the bathroom." "I will," he calls, "soon. You didn't say 'right this second'!"

We need structure to help us ensure that things will get done.  Without those guidelines, we tend to delay.  According to the Talmud, delay leaves us liable to huge consequences, including our deaths.  Or even the deaths of our spouses.  Fulfilling our vows; saying that we will formally demonstrate our gratitude, is serious business.

As mentioned yesterday, these vows are to G-d.  Which means that these vows are ultimately made to ourselves.  Not that we are G-d, but instead that we humans are the only creatures who state and hear these vows; we can make these vows privately, which suggests that only G-d - and we, ourselves - would know if we transgress the vows.  And so strict guidelines to help us enact our vows is similar to solution-focused therapy.  We consciously adhere to structures that will help us meet our own stated goals.  We learn that we can be trusted; that our words are valuable and meaningful.

The basic outline of today's daf includes these ideas:

  • piggul (peace-offering eaten on the third day) is prohibited
  • when a man refuses to/cannot fulfil his vow on time, his wife may die as punishment
  • when a man of means does not fulfil his vow without delay, only he will die as punishment
  • "That which has gone out of your lips you will keep and do as you have vowed as a gift to the Lord your G-d which you have promised with your mouth" Deuteronomy 23:24:
    • this verse is deconstructed to explain which offerings are committed in which ways to which places
    • we delay by failing to set aside animals as offerings and/or not yet bringing them to the altar as offerings
    • A vow-offering is defined as the declaration that one will bring a burnt-offering
    • A gift-offering is defined as the declaration that one will bring a specific animal as a burnt-offering
    • "with your mouth" refers to charity
    • charity must be given immediately upon seeing a poor person to avoid "delay"
  • the rabbis are careful to take note of methods of counting: by day, week, month, etc.
  • the rabbis thoughtfully consider when we are prohibiting positive mitzvot and negative mitzvot
  • Firstborn animals must be offered within a year of being vowed
  • The measure of a year includes the notion of "three Festivals" passing by
  • what to do about Festivals without a year?
  • what to do about years without all Festivals?
  • the rabbis debate over the number of days in a year
  • heirs must complete their fathers' vows without being subject to the "delay" imperative
  • women are permitted but not obligated to bring offerings on Festivals
  • women are obligated to experience joy, provided by their husbands, on Festivals
  • if women do bring offerings, they are subject to the "do not delay" clause

Monday, 12 May 2014

Rosh Hashana 5

We count the days of Festivals by days, weeks and/or months, depending on clues given to us in the Torah.  As we learned in Rosh Hashana 5, we are required to stay overnight in Jerusalem when we bring offerings on Festivals.  The rabbis look at different Festivals, wondering whether each might require different lengths of residence in Jerusalem.

We explore the requirement to "not delay" in giving offerings.  First the rabbis note that the Paschal lamb is sometimes included in references to peace-offerings. 

Deuteronomy 23:22 tells us that "When you vow a vow" to G-d, you should not delay in the offering, for G-d requires it, and it would be a sin in you otherwise.   Of course, the rabbis suggest that this refers to vows, and not to other offerings.  However Leviticus (7:15) tells us that a vow or a gift-offering also is subject to the "do not delay" directive.  

The rabbis compare burnt-offerings, peace-offerings, sin-offerings and peace offerings regarding a temurah, substitute.  When are we allowed to substitute one animal for another?  Are all of these offerings subject to the "do not delay" mitzvah?  And might there be different guidelines for different offerings with regard to the firstborn animal and its condition (has it been set aside; has it developed a blemish)?  Does a substitute offering take on its predecessor's 'wait time', or can we add on another three Festivals' time when the substitute arrives?  Have we "delayed" too long if we offer a substitute animal that has been set aside before completing one's commitment?

The rabbis end our daf with a complicated argument about when and whether to eat an offering.  Is the offering consecrated because of any number of factors? Is it disqualified because of the "delay", or because of a substitution?  

A few thoughts have stayed with me over the course of today's learning.  First, I am not clear on who ate these offerings. Was it the priests?  Or was it the person who brought the offering?  Are the rules different depending on the offering?  Was the paschal lamb the only offering eaten by its owners?  If the Israelite population were to eat of their own offerings, the notion of offering becomes much more palatable.  For some reason, I have been picturing animals being sacrificed and not being eaten.  But in fact it is clear that sacrificing was in fact creating a holiness around a regular (and some would argue necessary - I won't get into that now) action - eating one's animals.

Second, the listing of vows and the comparison between vows and other offerings reminded me of Yom Kipur. I have studied the Kol Nidre in some depth, and the many sorts of vows have continually caught my attention.  There are so many ways that we can vow to G-d.  And it is powerful to imagine that G-d cares whether or not we complete that vow.  Particularly when we are the only person who knows of our vows, we hurt ourselves when we break our vows to G-d. We are showing ourselves that we are not to be trusted.  If we can't trust ourselves, we cannot trust anyone else.

One final thought - why might we be given a year to complete our vow or to give the offering that we promised?  Could we not annul that vow at Yom Kippur?

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Rosh Hashana 4

A spicy daf.

The rabbis discuss why and how the first of Nisan is the New Year for Kings.  Continuing from yesterday's daf, they discuss Cyrus and whether/why he moved from righteousness to corruption.

Perhaps his charitable works are intended to further his own means rather than being for the sake of G-d; for the sake of the World to Come.  But we know that this is not a problem for Jews; why should Gentiles have to have 'good' intentions when giving tzedaka?

Commentary shares some of our Sages' thoughts regarding what makes a person a tzaddik, righteous, and what makes a person pious, a chasid.  We must give charity regularly, with or without the desire for a reward, to fulfill our mitzvot.  When we perform more than the minimal requirements of the mitzvah, we can be called righteous, according to some rabbis.  The Maharal suggests that intention does make a difference. We can be righteous even when we hope for some sort of reward as we give tzedaka - as long as we give for the sake of G-d.  Others tell us that we can be full-fledged righteous people when we give tzedaka according to halacha.  Masechet Avot teaches us about pious people.  To be pious, we must give at a higher level.  Thus an expectation of reward for giving tzedaka is a blemish on a pious person.

Perhaps Cyrus' choice of building the Temple with wood at the bottom rather than the top of the structure is a sign of corruption.  Solomon's Temple was built with wood at the top so that the structure would withstand a fire.  Solomon also plastered over any exposed wood.

One of their arguments about Cyrus involves the placement of a kalbta, a female dog, to the king's right where his shegal, his consort, should be (Nechamia 2:6).  The rabbis imply that the king is uses his dog for sexual purposes.  While reading, I had assumed that a "she-dog" was a euphemism for a prostitute.  However, the rabbis discuss the king's concubines drinking wine; teaching this dog to drink.  They note that the king must have considered his "she-dog" to be as valuable as a consort.

Are the rabbis suggesting that consorts have sexual relations with their kings?  Was this based on rumour, on norms in Gentile societies, or on the first-hand experience of Jews who somehow witnessed this 'difference' in culture?

Next, the rabbis discuss the first of Nisan as the New Year for Festivals.  They explain that when we make a vow, we must not delay in our observance of that vow.  What does it mean to delay?  It is generally understood that we cannot let three Festivals go by in the order of Pesach, Shavuot, Sukkot without fulfilling our vow.  Thus depending on when one takes a vow s/he might have many or few months to fulfill her/his commitment.

The rabbis also look at differences related to burnt-offerings and peace offerings; positive and negative mitzvot.  They question the observance of different Festivals and their relative importance.  To this end, it might be required to remain in Jerusalem overnight following one's offering.  On Sukkot, it may be required to stay in Jerusalem for the full length of the Festival.  The rabbis offer some specific guidance around our practice on the Eighth Day of Assembly, Shemini Atzeret.

Rosh Hashana 3

Yesterday's Mishna:
  • First day of Nissan is the New Year for Kings and for Festivals
  • First day of Elul is the New Year for animal tithes: Rabbis Elazar and Shimon say it is the first of Tishrei
  • First day of Tishrei is the New Year for counting years - where planting and tithing vegetables are prohibited from that date on Sabbatical and Jubilee years 
  • First day of Shevat is the New Year for the tree, also regarding tithing, as taught by Beit Shammai.  Beit Hillel say this is the 15th of Shevat
The Gemara continues its discussion of the New Year for Kings:
  • Numbers (21:1) teaches that the king of Arad heard that Israel would come through Atharim and he fought against Israel
  • what did he hear?  Of the death of Aaron. 
  • what did he see? The clouds leave the camp of Israel
  • Rabbi Abbahu, Reish Lakish discuss 
    • the word vayiru as they saw OR they were seen
    • the word ki which can mean if, perhaps, but, and because
  • The Gemara discusses different translations of the King's name
Could his name be a metaphor?  Could this story be a metaphor rather than a recounting of history?

The Gemara discusses a complicated recounting of dates to better understand the establishment of the Tabernacle and to counter the argument regarding the New Year for Kings

  • Rav Chisda: Years of Jewish Kings are counted from the First of Nisan; Gentile Kings are counted from Tishrei
  • Artachshast, or Artaxerxes, was King Achasveros' son
  • The rabbis debate whether Kislev or Nisan marked the twentieth year of Artachshast's rule
  • The rabbis recount Nechemya's stories of Artachshast 
  • Rav Yosef and Rabbi Abbahu argue about how to measure the reign of Gentile Kings 
The daf ends with another reference to names.  Artachshast may have also been called Darius and Cyrus.  Cyrus refers to his virtuousness.

We learn that kings who are virtuous might follow Israel's dates... but what makes a king virtuous?  If one is a Gentile, is it necessary to be like a Jew to be virtuous?  What if one follows the Noahide laws and also follows his or her own religious rules?  How do we measure virtuousness in one who is not obligated to follow known guidelines? 

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Beitza 40 a, b

Today we complete Masechet Beitza.  I went into this masechet knowing nothing of the topic to come. An egg?  What are we going to learn in this chapter about an egg?   However, Beitza increased my understanding of how and why Festival practice is different from - and similar to - weekday and Shabbat practice.  I also learned about a number of principle and concepts that were helpful in better understanding everything that I am reading.

Looking at a new Mishna that began yesterday, the rabbis wonder how to manage gifts brought on Shabbat by a guest/s.  Should the gift be given before Shabbat altogether?  If so, can the receiver and the giver both walk together within the eiruv, of course, with the gift?  The Gemara argues about how we can determine the jurisdiction of an object in different situations.  They want us to know its ownership and where it 'belongs'.

The notion of eiruv and boundaries are fascinating.  Something physical, usually food, defines the extension of an area.  This assumes that humans are entitled to a 'home base'; a place where we can be comfortable to live without restrictions on carrying, for example. Now we learn that other individual items should have their own 'home base' as well.  

The rabbis consider a case where meat is hung on the door for a time.  If one hangs the meat himself, the meat is allowed.  If the meat is hung by someone else and thus not observed at all times by its (trustworthy) owner, it is prohibited.  The important factors include what object is being discussed, what time it might be transferred to another person or place, who owns the object, and more.

We are introduced to a final Mishna as Masechet Beitza comes to a close.  In that Mishna we are told that on Festivals, we are not to water or slaughter animals that sleep in the desert, ie. outside of the city limits.  Those animals are considered muktze, as we would not be thinking of them before the Festival begins.  However, we are to care for our animals in the city, as they are considered 'domesticated'.

The Gemara clarifies a number of points.  Watering comes before slaughtering because watering an animal before killing it will help with the removal of its skin after death. A horrible thought.  The Gemara looks to grazing habits according to the time of year and other factors to determine whether or not an animal is domesticated. 

These desert animals are thought to be similar to drying figs, which are also muktze, even thought they could be eaten earlier.   Because we know that we are drying the figs, we do not think of them as food and they are not thought of -- and thus they are muktze.  

We end where we started - with a discussion of what is muktze.  For me, the concept of muktze was new when I began this masechet.  I can say that learning the past 40 dapim have helped me to gain a better understanding of the concept of muktze.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Beitza 39 a, b

Completing yesterday's conversation, the rabbis talk through the nullification of water and salt.  Water and salt are nullified when they dissolve into another food during preparation.  If the grains of salt are from Mount Sodom, for example, and can be detected one the food is prepared, the salt is not nullified. Similarly, if a dish has a thin, watery sauce after cooking, the water added that food is not nullified.

A new Mishna teaches us about the differences between coal and flames.  It goes into detail regarding five distinct differences.  Coal is an object, and thus it can only be carried by its owner within the Shabbat boundaries.  Flames, however, are not understood as objects.  Thus there is no limitation on how far or where they can travel on Shabbat.  For some reason, flames can be transferred and used without penalty even if they are originally being used for idol worship.  Clearly the rabbis consider flame to be insignificant and thus without influence.

Another new Mishna considers water removed from cisterns.  If an individual owns the cistern, water removed is as the feet of the owner.  If a cistern is jointly owned, water removed is as the feet of the entire community.  And if a cistern is owned by visiting Babylonians, each person who removes water is liable on her/his own.  The Gemara debates a number of issues raised here, including standing versus flowing water, and whether or not a public cistern is ownerless.

Amud (b) shares a more in-depth explanation of ownership.  We learn that things that are ownerless are thought of as coming 'from Babylonia'.  Further, people can declare charem: they are not able to derive benefit from another person or thing.  It is particularly interesting to me that a person can declare charem on another; that second person is not permitted to derive benefit from the person who is making the statement.  How can one person make a vow on behalf of another?  I can understand vowing that others cannot benefit from us, but how can we control the benefits given to others?

We are given lists of things that are coming up from Babylonia (ownerless) and of things that are jointly owned by the people of a city. Of note is that a synagogue is understood as jointly owned.  I wonder how that works within today's economy.

The rabbis discuss ownership with regard to inheritance and its division between brothers.  The notion of ownership is one I have not yet learned in my Talmud study and I realize that I comprehend very little of its principles and philosophies.  The rabbis also look at found items in their conversation.

We end with a new Mishna that I found rather confusing.  If one who sells produce leaves that produce in another city on Shabbat, and there is a joining of Shabbat boundaries, the seller is still not permitted to retrieve his produce in Shabbat.  Instead, someone must place an eiruv between the cities.  In this way the seller can ensure that he is able to walk and carry his produce on Shabbat

So many of our halachot are inconvenient and even detrimental.  How is it that we should be asked to comply, particularly when the halachot are rabbinical and not Torah-taught?

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Beitza 38 a, b

The rabbis continue their conversations about the halachot of Festivals.  They wish to identify how observance on Festivals can be distinguished from the halachot of weekdays and of Shabbat.  Some highlights from today's daf:

  • Bereira: retroactive designation
    • when facts were not established at a certain time but those facts were determined later, we ask questions about whether or not the act was understood retroactively
  • Gilui Milta Lemafreya: retroactive discovery of a matter
    • when facts are known at a certain time, but a person was not aware of those facts.  We can clarify the situation retroactively.
  • As the feet of another: when another person has the power to determine either facts or decisions
    • an ox fattener is as the feet of all people
    • an ox of a shepherd is as the feet of the people in that city only
    • when one borrows a vessel before a Festival; it is as the feet of the borrower
    • when one borrows a vessel before a Festival but it is delivered on the Festival; it is as the feet of both the borrower and the lender
    • when one borrows a vessel during a Festival; it is as the feet of the lender
The rabbis discuss the concept of nullification when foods are combined.
  • When a prohibited item is combined with permitted items of the same type, it is nullified
  • Salt and water may 'disappear' when they combine with wheat from dough
  • Nullification and Monetary matters are compared with nullification of slaughtered and unlsaughtered meat, which is debated.
  • The rabbis point out that spices added to a dish cannot be nullified as even small amounts change the taste of the dish 

Monday, 5 May 2014

Beitza 37 a, b

In yesterday's Mishna we were presented with a list of actions that should not be done on Festivals.  Some of these were prohibited outright and others were optional.  Today's daf begins with explaining why these actions are taboo.  Turns out that the actions are exceptions: we are actually speaking of levirate marriage with a younger brother; consecration is too much like commerce; teruma can usually be given to a priest on the same day that it is separated.  The optional actions include shevut - labour that is permitted by Torah but prohibited by rabbinical law.

We are reminded that we cannot lift two cows from a pit that they have fallen into because we can only lift an animal on Shabbat if that animal will be eaten immediately. In case the two animals are other and child, we cannot eat from both in one day.  We should feed the one who remains in the pit in order to ensure that it does not lose its status by becoming injured.  Interestingly, the rabbis suggest the possibility that we raise one cow with artifice, saying that we intend to sacrifice it, and then saying that we changed our minds which allows us to raise the second cow as well.

A new Mishna uses the phrase, "as the feet of" to indicate 'responsibility for', especially with regard to travelling with the item in question.  The Mishna teaches that the status of animals and vessels on Festivals is "as the feet of their owner" [limited by the eiruv].  One who delivers his animal to his son or to a shepherd are also as the feet of the owner; the son/shepherd are not responsible for that animal.  When vessels are inherited by brothers, all brothers must have eiruvin that allow the vessels to be carried on Shabbat.  If someone borrows a vessel before a Festival, he is responsible for that vessel.  If someone borrows a vessel during a Festival, the owner is responsible [because the vessel was at rest on the Festival in the hands of the owner].  If a woman borrows spices from another or water an salt for her dough, these dishes are as the feet of both of them.  Rabbi Yehuda exempts water from travel limitations for it has no substance and is not connected to the original owner.

The Gemara speaks about Rabbi Dosa's objections to this Mishna.  The halacha accords with Rabbi Dosa, who holds that the purchaser/borrower/shepherd is responsible for animals brought to him over the course of the Festival.

In looking at a transaction where one person gives something to two people, the rabbis share a story about two people sharing a robe that needs to leave their eiruvin for an evening wedding.  What is most intriguing about this story for me is the knowledge that people shared robes for special occasions including morning services and weddings.  I often wonder how many different articles of clothing people owned; whether they might have shared clothing or bedding; how they were able to wash and wear clothes at the same time.  How many shirts did they own; how many skirts?

The rabbis discuss a case where two people purchase an animal or a barrel of wine before the Festival intending to share it during the Festival; however, they have different eiruvin.  Many opinions are shared: it is prohibited to use either; it is alright to carry the wine but the animal is prohibited; etc.  In explaining their opinions, the rabbis share other ideas, including retroactive designation with regard to removing a corpse from a house.   They also wonder about muktze, and how part of an animal or barrel could be muktze when the other part was not set aside.  Of course, they argue, when one thinks of one's own half of the animal or barrel, one is not thinking of the other half at all.  Thus the other half is muktze.

As an off-shoot from their conversation about retroactive designation, the rabbis remind us of some of their conflicted thoughts about eiruvin.  When a rabbi is visiting on Shabbat and we do not know from which direction he will arrive, is it alright to establish two eiruvin, stating that only the one used by the rabbi will come into effect?  What about two rabbis arriving from two directions, where we like one more that the other?  How much can we use our craftiness to circumvent the halachot of eiruvin?

It warms my heart to know that our Sages were interested in finding ways to use halacha to their own means.  They were human, too.  And if they wanted to facilitate the visit of a rabbi on Shabbat, why no bend the law - or, more accurately, why not dance around it?   When halacha gets in the way of our observance of mitzvot, what are we to do?  Certainly traditional views suggest that we act stringently.  However, even our role models are conflicted in their views.  To me this is heartwarming.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Beitza 35 a, b

Today's daf begins with an exploration of exceptions to tithing.  Through examples, our rabbis seek to establish halacha.  Are we permitted to remove olives from a vat and immediately salt them and eat them without tithing?  Well, that depends.  Is the vat ritually pure?  Is the person ritually impure (for s/he may return an olive to the vat and impart ritual impurity on all of  its contents)?

The rabbis look at the notion of 'fixed'.  We learn in a note that six things define fruits as fixed; fixed fruits must be tithed before we eat them.  These are fire, ie. cooking the fruit; salting the fruit; taking from the fruit on Shabbat; already taking teruma from the fruit; taking from the fruit in a courtyard; the act of buying the fruit from its owners.  At this point, I do not know why these particular items are thought of as fixed - why a courtyard and not a kitchen, for example - but further reasoning will be shared, I'm sure.  

Beyond salting olives, other examples include clusters of grapes, the coming of evening/darkness on Shabbat, and whether or not labour has been completed.  We learn that Hillel believes that fruit is completed by the arrival of Shabbat, while other rabbis disagree.  In this unusual case, the halacha is against Hillel.  Because I am not fully clear as to the meaning of "completed" (ie. ripe? prepared to consume? all parts are ripe? etc.), it is difficult to understand the significance of this position - beyond the fact that the halacha goes against Hillel.

Amud (b) ends in Perek IV.  Our first conversation discusses figs that are collected and are ready to be dried in the courtyard.  Perhaps this is the meaning of completed; the fruit is ready to consume but we have not completed the task that we designated ourselves?  The rabbis' conversations about this issue is complicated.  It is clear that tithing can happen a different times, and so the importance of tithing before food is consumed is a particularly challenging question.  We learn that if two people exchange foods with the intention of eating those foods - which is a transaction, like buying - then both must tithe their food.  If one is taking the food to dry it for later consumption, that person is not obligated to separate tithes. This confirms the words of Rabbi Yehuda, in accordance with the previous baraita as stated by Rabbi Yochanan.

One more Mishna to end Perek IV.   We are taught that one may lower produce [left on a roof to dry] through a skylight on a Festival to protect them from rain -- but not on Shabbat.  Similarly we can cover produce, jugs of wine/oil with cloths to protect them from leaks indoors.  On Shabbat, we are allowed to catch the water from a leak in a vessel to keep the house from becoming dirty.

First, the rabbis discuss the language used in this Mishna.  The consider the spelling and meaning of words used to describe what is done to produce.  Of course, the rabbis raise the question of whether we can cover produce, wine and oil on Shabbat and not only on Festivals.  Finally, they look at how much produce can be lowered through a skylight.  It is suggested that since up to five sacks of hay or grain. can be removed from a room to create space for study or for a guest, the same amount should be permitted to be lowered on a Festival.  Of course, different opinions are debated.

What is most interesting to me is the fact that people stored hay and grain in their homes!  I cannot imagine the state of the homes we are discussing.  Dirt floors were 'cleaned' for Shabbat?  Huge amounts of semi-perishable items were stored inside peoples' homes?  Skylights?  Courtyards?  Rooftops used for drying fruit?  Just the idea of this as a 'welcome sign' for insects and animals is enough to make me itchy.  I continue to wonder how our ancestors managed these conditions while maintaining their dedication to the observance of halacha. 

Beitza 36 a, b

Beitza 36a uses points from our last Mishna to flush out the differences in halachot on Festivals and on Shabbat.  Those points include clearing a room of stored produce for visitors, lowering drying fruits from the roof through a skylight, covering produce, wine and oil with cloths, placing a vessel beneath a leak.  They also look at beekeepers who cover beehives over the rainy months.  The bees are considered to be animals that are not 'meant' to be trapped.  

The rabbis continually consider how people will interpret their halachot.  It is assumed that people take the alachot of Shabbat seriously. But if the rabbis are lenient on Festivals, will Jews take those holidays with any seriousness at all?  Even though the Festivals are supposed to be less associated with obligation and more filled with joy, the rabbis do not trust that the community will be as stringent as necessary without their halachot.

Also of note is the reminder that monetary loss is thought to be less important that fulfilling mitzvot.  Especially if that monetary loss is 'minor'.

We are told a story about Abaye and his uncle, Rabba.  Abaye's millhouse's roof was leaking on Shabbat and he asked Rabba for direction.  Rabba instructed Abaye to move his bed into the millhouse and to consider the vessel catching the rainwater as the same vessel containing excrement or urine, which can be removed on Shabbat if it is repulsive.  Abaye thought about this, wondering if he should move something on Shabbat knowing that the move is not required.  While he was thinking, the roof fell in.  Abaye chastised himself for not following Rabba's advice immediately. 

This would not have stopped the roof from caving in, however.  

We learn that excrement or mice - things that are repulsive - can be removed directly (ie. by hand) if required.

Our next Mishna provides us with a list of activities that are prohibited by the Sages on Shabbat in the name of shevat, rest.  It also tells us which activities are 'optional'. Forbidden activities include climbing trees, riding animals, swimming, clapping, and dancing. Optional activities include judging, betrothing, performing chalitza, or performing a levirite marriage.  Although they are mitzvot, we are told not to consecrate, vow, consecrate objects to the priests, or separate teruma/tithes.  All of these acts are forbidden on Festivals and Shabbat; we are told that the only leniencies on Festivals regard food preparation.

Notes teach us that the rabbis expanded these suggestion, including marriage of any kind and divorce.

climbing a tree - we could break a branch which is like reaping
riding an animal - we could go beyond the eiruv and/or we could break a branch while riding [see above]
swimming - we could create a barrel as a floatation device
clapping - we could construct a musical instrument

Judging is discouraged though it is a full fledged mitzvah.  This is because there could be another qualified judge present, lessening the obligation to judge.

We will learn more about the other optional activities in tomorrow's daf.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Beitza 33 a, b

We learn more Festival-specific halachot.  It is emphasized over and over that we must distinguish Festivals from other days.  Whether it is how we lead an animal with a stick or what piece of wood/bamboo we choose to turn over the fire, our actions must be different from those on a weekday.  As an aside, we learn about food for animals.  An item that is muktze cannot be used on a Festival.  If we roast a duck, we cannot give its innards to our house cat unless we had thought of this in advance of the chag.  The aside: people kept house pets!  And cats were kept in the house!

A new Mishna offers two new ideas.  First, Rabbi Eliezer teaches that we can find a sliver from our own pile of straw to clean between our teeth.  We also can use our own straw to kindle a fire, for anything in our courtyard is considered to be prepared.  The rabbis counter: only those things directly in front of a person can be used on a Festival. Other things, like those in a courtyard, are too numerous to have been thought of in advance and thus they are muktze.    Second: we learn that we cannot produce fire.  Not from wood, nor stones, nor tiles, nor water and glass.   Also we cannot heat tiles until they are white and then use the tiles as roasting tools.

We learn that the wood of a spice tree might be cut down and then crushed in order to offer the fragrance to an ill person.  The rabbis debate whether it is permitted to cut the branch, to crush the wood, to use the fragrance.  They argue over the punishment for transgressions in these categories and when the punishments might apply.  

The rabbis discuss breaking a barrel.  It seems that we must be vigilant about the creation of vessels, which could happen in the process of breaking (or reattaching) a barrel.  Here we learn again about the importance of intention: as long as we do not intend to create a vessel, we are permitted to break things.  So much of Jewish thought revolves around action rather than intention; here we learn that the intention (or lack thereof) is key.  Masechet Beitza seems to be filled with references to intention.

The Gemara wonders how we are expected to roast if we cannot whiten tiles with heat.  They will continue this questioning into tomorrow's daf.  What we learn from this, already, is that our ancestors would use heated tiles to roast things like duck.  I am trying to picture how this might work, but I'm not clear on where the tiles would be placed in relation to the meat.  Perhaps I will learn more about this tomorrow.