Thursday, September 11, 2008

Daf: Gittin 51-54 – Psychology of Borrowers, Tzedakah, Dream Prophecy and Parenting

Getting closer to catching up on my Daf Yomi notes. Bored by this? No problem; jump down to read about how Israel, with Large Hadron Collider, creates Black Hole to destroy Palestinians.

Gittin 51a
See Tosafot וכי; I find this read simpler than that of Rashi.

Gittin 51b
Our gemara here makes a psychological assumption which, I think, requires explanation. The gemara says that a borrower who could not pay back his debt might deny part of the debt in an attempt to stall full payment, but he would not have the chutzpah to deny the debt entirely, in front of his benefactor. Therefore, if a defendant denies a debt entirely, we trust him.
In our day, this seems strange – of course people would lie! But I think that’s partly a function of the change in lending habits. Today, individuals rarely lend significant sums of money; institutions are the lenders, with their mortgages. But in the days of the gemara, as I have explained elsewhere, interest-free loans were the chief engine of tzedakah from one individual to another.
Therefore, the borrower, knowing he has received hefty tzedakah from the plaintiff, would not have the hubris to deny the tzedakah outright and in entirety.

Gittin 52a

The gemara here says that court-appointed guardians cannot perform mitzvot for his charges using their funds, if the sums that would be spent would not be known and fixed (קצבה). Mezuzot are considered to have a known, fixed value. Tzedakah, on the other hand, does not.
One might argue that tzedakah has a fixed value, 10% of income, but that would not be correct. We have two separate mitzvot of tzedakah. One is the requirement to give to needy people who are standing before us, and there is no limit on that giving. The practice of giving 10% is a separate custom of allocating 10% of our income to tzedakah, and going to find needy people to whom we will be able to distribute it.

The gemara here says that dreams “לא מעלין ולא מורידין,” have no practical import. This would seem to clash with the idea that dreams have some element of prophecy, a view held by many sages!
Of course, the most famous passage of gemara on this theme, in the 9th chapter of Berachot, offers both views. Ibn Ezra, though, among others, argued that the majority view is that dreams do have great prophetic significance!
R’ Yehudah haChasid (Sefer Chasidim 444) argued that dreams are considered prophetically significant. He explained our gemara to mean that if one sees in a dream that he should do something wrong, then he should say that dreams are insignificant. This fits our gemara, in which the dreamer (Rabbi Meir) felt the dream was giving him inappropriate counsel.

Gittin 52b
The gemara says that although we ordinarily require a thirty-day waiting period for evaluation and bids before selling minor orphans’ property on their behalf, this is not the case where the money is needed for burial. Tosafot ולקבורה asks that this is obvious, since we don’t delay burial! He explains that the gemara is saying we would sell off the property immediately even to pay debts incurred in the process of burial.

Gittin 54a
The gemara here debates whether we fine people for accidental violation of the law, in order to keep them from violating it intentionally. There is a concern that if we do not penalize accidental violation, people will be careless.
This same debate comes up in the field of parenting, too; do we punish children for accidents, in an attempt to make them be more careful? Does that method work?

Gittin 54b
Abayye says that we believe a person who says that he disqualified my korban or contaminated my produce with טומאה, if he could just as easily do it right now, anyway. The idea seems to be that since, if we didn’t believe him, he could go ahead and do it right now, we might as well believe him about the past.
This seems a bit odd to me; after all, his testimony about the past was that happened by accident in the past. Would we really think he would do this intentionally, violating biblical law?! (There is, as I recall, a Tosafot in Bava Metzia on a similar idea in a מיגו argument.)

The gemara here talks about repairing a Sefer Torah in which all of the Names of HaShem were written with improper intent. It talks about tracing over the Names with proper intent, but doesn’t mention the other solution: cutting out the parchment in each spot, and replacing it. Presumably the reason it doesn’t mention this approach is because the same problem that applies to tracing – the fact that it will make the Torah scroll look odd – would apply to this solution, too.

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