Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Daf: Gittin 56b-57b – Titus, Divine muteness, Onkelos, Eretz Tzvi, Suicide in Judaism

We continue the “Tisha b’Av” gemara regarding the destruction of the Beit haMikdash and the fall of Beitar. For those who are looking for something other than Daf Yomi notes, feel free to skip down for an article on surviving the 120-year death sentence.

Gittin 56b
Titus slashes the parochet curtain before the Ark, and sees blood emerge; he believes that this shows he has done something to Gd. The Maharam Shif suggests that the blood may have been from the sprinklings of the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur, but this is problematic. As Maharam Shif notes, the sprinklings were toward the curtain rather than on it – but, also, the gemara here states explicitly that the emergenc of the blood was miraculous.

The sages observed that Gd did not act to defend the second Beit haMikdash from the Romans, and altered verses as part of a pain-driven, theodicy-based challenge to Gd's mute unresponsiveness. For a passage that goes even further, see Yerushalmi Berachot 7:3, where Yirmiyah and Daniel actually altered the way we praised Gd, eliminating some of the praises, after the destruction of the first Beit haMikdash – until the Great Assembly restored those praises. (That is a beautiful passage of gemara; I need to use that in a derashah at some point.)

The gemara refers to Sisra drowning in water; that may be a reference to his chariots becoming stuck in the mud, or to Yael’s substitution of milk for water, which led to his death.

Abbaye uses the Aramaic word נקטינן here to introduce an aggadic observation. That’s odd; נקטינן is normally used regarding legal statements.

Regarding the identity of Onkelos in the story of Onkelos and Titus and conversion to Judaism, Mahartz Chajes discusses this and notes that he is not the Onkelos who recorded an Aramaic commentary on the Torah.

Gittin 57a
It is suggested that, in this passage, either Bilam, or “the sinners of Israel” are meant to be a reference to Jesus.

Regarding the three great cities on Har haMelech, the Yerushalmi has a different take on the explanation of Kfar Shichlayim and Kfar Dichraya. See also the Maharsha here.

The gemara here calls Israel ארץ צבי, but I don’t believe such a term appears in Tanach. The citation from Yirmiyah 3:19 is actually ארץ חמדה נחלת צבי צבאות גויים. Either way, the literal meaning of צבי in context is to connote something desirable – the desirable/desired land.

Gittin 57b
The Babylonian Nevuzaradan’s decision to write a will for disposition of his assets before converting to Judaism is a rebuke to Achitofel, who betrayed Dovid, was caught, and then wrote a will disposing of his assets before strangling himself.

The issue of Jewish children – and communities – committing suicide rather than face torture and death is a large and complex topic. Tosafot קפצו here has a brief discussion, but there is much more to say. For a start:
Bava Kama 91b clearly prohibits suicide.
Bereishit Rabbah 34:13 shows that we have exceptions – Shaul, as well as Chananiah, Mishael and Azariah.
Mitigating circumstances include certain death (Radak Shemuel I 31:5) and fear of having to violate one of the sins which warrant ייהרג ואל יעבור, death before violation (Tosafot Avodah Zarah 18a).
Pain, as a mitigating factor, is hotly debated but generally rejected for active suicide – see Avodah Zarah 18a, Chatam Sofer Yoreh Deah 326:3 and Shut Beit Efrayim Yoreh Deah 76.
There is much more to say, but any discussion would be incomplete if it did not include the story cited by Ritva (I forget where) and the Beit Yosef (Yoreh Deah 157), of the rabbi who was involved in his community’s mass suicide to avoid the crusaders, and who lived to see the decree against the community annulled, so that the deaths were unnecessary. See the horrible details there.

We then encounter the well-known story of the woman and her 7 sons who refused to bow to the idol:
Note that the story does not involve anyone named Chanah; that name doesn’t appear until the 15th century or so.
See three versions – ours, the Maharsha’s and Eichah Rabbah 1:50, all of which offer different orders of pesukim recited by the seven children.
The Maharsha and the Yefeh Anaf explain why each child chose a different pasuk. The Maharsha matches each pasuk to a day of the week; Yefeh Anaf on the midrash shows that each pasuk responded to a different claim made by the Roman.

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