Thursday, 29 November 2012

shabbat 57

what women can wear on their heads depends on water getting to their hair

(discussion about what women can wear in public, if it constitutes carrying on shabbat. also on this page the rabbis try to understand why women would wear something tight around their neck for the sake of fashion.... men trying to understand women's fashion. age old problem)

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

shabbat 56

what do we do to the text to read perfection in between the lines?

(list of those in Tanach who, despite what seems to be written to the contrary, did not sin. discussed on this page are sons of Samuel, David, Solomon, and Josiah. the contortions of interpretation so do not have to accept the contorted and blemishes of these characters.
but Josiah is also called a perfect penitent, he did sin but his repentance was fully accepted. like Okvan aka Natan, who is described as sparks emerging from his head, and embraced by angels. for english translation of the full talmud page, see here)

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

shabbat 55

who is safe from the six angels of destruction?
only those branded with ink, not blood.

who is without sin, and only dies because of a snake?

(from discussion about holding leaders to account for the actions of the people. to a strange tale that God was going to brand the righteous with a tav in ink on their forehead, the wicked are branded with a tav of blood, only for the attribute of justice to protest, saying if they were truly righteous then they would have protested what the wicked were up to. So the 6 destructive angels gather, and one appears with an inkpot... does everyone die on account of their own sins? the talmud starts to list those who are without sin... for english translation of this talmud page see here)

shabbat 54

leading camels & caring and being merciful to sheep


making leaders responsible for those in their hands who they can influence - their households, their towns or even the whole world.

Monday, 26 November 2012

shabbat 53

amulets, manipulation of creation & milk-production

in both animals and people

and it is easier to make widower nurse from redundant nipples than to provide money from nothing.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

shabbat 52

R. Eliezer learns that he needs to be very specific when he is discussing needles and rings

shabbat 51

snowballs, crushing hailstone and melting ice
and cats

(although putting a rope on a cat without a collar is probably a little like holding onto a falling snowflake)

Thursday, 22 November 2012

shabbat 50

grooming tips from the rabbis who are men enough to be beautiful for their Creator, without losing their hair.

shabbat 49

in the hands of Elisha
the forbidden black tefillin becomes the white feathered wings of a dove

(and on page 49, we start to discuss the 39...)

shabbat 48

some things are complete when put together

and some things need to be broken apart

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

shabbat 47

the significance of small things can depend on the size of one's wallet.

shabbat 46

 it was a good thing that R. Avya knew what can be carried in hands when he put his dirty feet on Rava's bed.

but why did he put his feet on Rava's bed? didn't he realise....?

Sunday, 18 November 2012

shabbat 45

when dead animals, undomesticated animals and succah decorations are like dried figs and raisins.

(laws of mukzah)

Friday, 16 November 2012

shabbat 44

R. Yehudah v R. Shimon

can something be moved on shabbat? - depends

do you care where it was; or where it is?

can things be defined in the half-light of twilight?

(discussion if things can be moved on shabbat, eg bed with money on it. if the money was there at twilight or one has assigned the bed as a place for money when shabbat came in, can't move the bed. But R. Shimon is concerned about how the object as it is, ie if the wagon doesn't have money on it can move it, even if the money was there when shabbat came in)

apologies for photo quality - I'm away - this time, shabbat shalom from the grey winter light of Sweden.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

shabbat 43

preventing predictable accidents and damages

(or; Rabba doesn't trust new buildings)

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

shabbat 42

problems of adding spices, salt, cold water to hot

even when it is not on the fire

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

shabbat 41

in the bathhouse one should let steam enter the mouth to heat up the body

but on shabbat

don't add drops of cold water to hot.

Monday, 12 November 2012

shabbat 40

bathing, washing, rinsing & steaming
just leave a limb out
and don't scald your hand

shabbat 39

heating something that has been heated by the sun
is very similar to
heating something that has been heated by fire

Sunday, 11 November 2012

shabbat 38

sure as eggs is eggs

the many ways to cook and heat.

and forget.

Shabbat 32: Living with Death

This draw yomi chavrutah/other voice is from Samuel Lebens. Sam studies at Yeshivat Har Etzion, holds a PhD in metaphysics and logic from the University of London, and is the chair of the Association for the Philosophy of Judaism. He is also a contributor for Ha'artez, see here for his blogs.

Most of us are not surrounded by death.
It makes it easier to pretend.
To pretend that we won’t die.
In our part of the world, a child dying is a tragedy that is made even more poignant by the fact that most people live to a ripe old age.
In other places in space and time, places that we try not to think about too often, a child dying is an everyday occurrence. In such places, parents simply don’t expect that all of their children will survive.
In our part of the world, a woman who goes into labour, despite the agony and the terror, expects to come out of the other side alive.
In other places in space and time, women routinely die in child birth.
Some people, in different places in space and time, are surrounded by death. Death is, for them, a part of their everyday life. For them, it’s harder to pretend.
The Rabbis of the Talmud lived in the midst of death. They couldn’t escape its stench. How many of them lost children? It would have been the norm. Rabbi Meir and Bruria lost two sons on the same Shabbat. Bruria didn’t mention it to him until after havdala, for the Torah commands us to rejoice on the Sabbath day. How many of them lost their wives in labour? They lived amidst the stench of death.
And it led them to say the most horrifying things. Children and wives die because you didn’t fulfill your vows? Women die in labour because they weren’t stringent in certain rituals? Children die in their youth because their parents didn’t buy or take care of their mezuzot?
These things seem hideous. How callous to blame the woman for the death that befalls her in labour, when it was you who made her pregnant. How dare you justify the suffering of the child because a scribe missed out a letter on your mezuzah?

A rabbi told me a true story. He went to a tragic shiva. A friend of his had lost a child. His friend, in the midst of his grief, was angry that people had told him to check his mezuzot. As if God would be so cruel to kill a child for such a thing. As if the absurd injustice of child mortality has some easy justification. And then somebody at the shiva had the audacity to argue back. ‘No,’ he said, ‘you really should check your mezuzot.’ My Rabbi, at this shiva, was incensed by the insensitivity. He told the man in question that it was ridiculous to think that mezuzot had anything to do with the senseless loss of a child. At that point, the grieving father told my Rabbi to be quiet. Later, the grieving father explained that the man who my rabbi was arguing with had also lost a child. Subsequently, that man had found that some of his mezuzot weren’t kosher. And, somehow, though it was an offensive suggestion in the ears of this grieving father, it had helped that man with his grief.

But what about the people it doesn’t help? What about the people that it hurts? The people that it accuses of murder and suicide?

I have no answer.
I love the Talmud and I subject myself to its halakhic authority. But this isn’t halakha. This is philosophy, or theology. It’s theodicy. And I can just say, no.

But there are two ways to read these words of the Rabbis. You could read it as an explanation. Person A died for reason X. And now all is explained.
Or you can accept that there is no explanation.
But then, in certain places in time and space, you just have live with the stench of death permanently in your nostrils.
Rabbi Soloveitchik wrote, in the wake of the holocaust, that evil exists and cannot be explained. It is a mystery never to be unraveled. Person A didn’t die for reason X, because evil is something that we can never claim to understand.
In his words: ‘We do not inquire about the hidden ways of the Almighty, but, rather, about the path wherein man shall walk when suffering strikes. We ask neither about the cause of evil nor about its purpose, but, rather, about how it might be mended and elevated. How shall a person act in a time of trouble? What ought a man to do so that he not perish in his afflictions.’

I think Rabbi Soloveitchik would have to argue that the Rabbis didn’t really think that a faulty mezuzah was an explanation of a child’s premature death; that the Rabbis didn’t really think that not taking enough dough out of the mixture so as to satisfy the ritual requirement of challa was an adequate explanation of a woman’s dying in childbirth.
But, in the face of evil, and these people lived in the constant presence of death, if we don’t have anything to say, by way of explanation, then at least give me something to do; give me mezuzot to fix, and challa to take. Give me a response to all of this misery.

When Rabbis today blame evil upon certain sins, they blaspheme. They assume that they know God’s inscrutable ways. But today, most of us live hidden from death.

The Talmud was written in the midst of death. And perhaps it can be read with Rabbi Soloveitchik’s eyes. In the face of inexplicable evil, don’t ask why. Ask, what now?

Friday, 9 November 2012

shabbat 37

how close can the pot get to the flame?
on top? inside the stove? or just leaning against?

perhaps best not to get too close.
no one likes over-cooked food.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

shabbat 36

things are different after a fire

food gets cooked
and some things switch identities

(after the destruction of the temple, various things change their names e.g. what was called a shofar is now called a trumpet, and what was a trumpet is now called a shofar. The opening mishna of the next chapter discusses about placing and leaving food on different types of fire. because fire changes things. for english translation of this talmud page is here)

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

shabbat 35

at the end of the day, is it about sight or sound?

seeing 2 stars in the sky, birds coming back to nest, or the sun just above the treetops.

or listening to the shofar being blasted from the rooftops?

sight or sound?
either way, twilight comes from above.

(discussion about twilight, and the beginning of shabbat. different opinions about observation of various natural phenomenon - 2 stars, birds coming back to nest, sun just above the treetops. & the communal 6 shofar blasts in the countdown to shabbat. for english translation of this talmud page, see here)

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

shabbat 34

walking and the freedom of movement

finding the bodies so priests can walk in the marketplace (until R. Shimon reduces R.Yehudah to a pile of bones)
walking to the edge of twilight and the beginning of night

Monday, 5 November 2012

shabbat 33

the consequences of sins and slander.

& when you talk badly about the good things the Romans have done for us, need to spend 12 years and 12 months as a disembodied head to learn the healing benefits of marketplaces, bathhouses and money.

(it all gets Monty Python with "what good have the Romans ever done for us..." conversation. R. Shimon bar Yochai is critical of Roman rule, so he and his son  go on the run, they hide in cave, and remain there, buried up to their necks in sand, for 12 years & 12 months. R. Shimon, when finally exiting, wants to repay the miracle done for him by bringing healing to the town. like Ya'acov who healed Shechem by building marketplaces, bathhouses or introducing currency... the very things that R. Shimon was critical of the Romans for building. for english translation of this talmud page, see here)

Sunday, 4 November 2012

shabbat 32

"for 3 things women die in childbirth..."

punishment happens at vulnerable times. so childbirth is a 'good' time to punish women.

but for the woman who can't get pregnant, who never experiences childbirth, is she invulnerable?

or is that punishment enough? a living death...

(very problematic texts about women being punished by death in childbirth. Vulnerable times when men are punished are also transitional times, crossing a bridge, in a ferry, walking under trees in high winds. also speculates the different sins that are punished by death of young children. very difficult texts to study... for english translation of this talmud page, see here)

Saturday, 3 November 2012

shabbat 31

Hillel v Shammai

the cloak that enwraps and holds v the measuring stick that drives fools away

shabbat 30

babies, babies, babies

under the sun, a son places a baby on his father's body to carry it out of the sun
and opened the temple by evoking his father's restored good name (forgiveness after the sin that resulted in a dead baby, who would have been his brother)

and 8 days later, many baby boys were conceived.

(law that one is allowed to extingush a lamp on shabbat to care for a critically ill person, leads to R. Tahum telling stories about Shlomo and David's death, for english translation of this talmud page, see here)

Friday, 2 November 2012

shabbat 29

when is a garment not a garment?

when it has been singed or thrown away.

and everything gets forgotten when it is behind closed doors

Thursday, 1 November 2012

shabbat 28

uncovering the mystery of the one-horned multi-coloured animal, sacrificed by Adam, that appeared to Moses,
using tefillin, linen, and hairy goats

(debate about hide from non-kosher animals could become impure from covering a corpse leads to speculation of the identity of the tachash, whose skin was part of the covering of the Mishkan. for english translation of this talmud page, see here)

shabbat 27

the 'tree' that gets turned into linen thread by bacteria

which can become ritually impure by tiny creeping insects.

(discussion about if fabrics other than wool & linen can be termed garments for purposes of ritually impurity, and the obligation of tzitzit. for english translation of this talmud page, see here)

shabbat 26

a volatile relationship between a woman and her mother-in-law that led to her incineration.

and what makes a garment that covers the body, also makes a succah covering.

(story of a woman who was instructed by her mother to wear balsam oil and then light the lamp, as an illustration of the unsuitability of balsam oil for shabbat lamps as it is too volatile. and the definition for what is a garment is a woven fabric of 3x3 finger-breaths that is able to become ritually impure. and nothing that can become ritually impure can be used to cover the succah. for english translation of this talmud page, see here)