Friday, February 29, 2008

Vayyakhel - Community Mitzvah Participation

When I first read the following midrash, I thought it was a straightforward endorsement of Aaron David Gordon and Labor Zionism:
When the Torah describes the construction of the Mishkan, it tells us “Hukam haMishkan, ” the Mishkan was raised. But then, in the very next pasuk, the Torah says, “VaYakem Moshe et haMishkan,” “And Moshe raised the Mishkan.” Why does the Torah mention the construction twice, and why does it mention Moshe only in the second assembly?
The Midrash explains that the mishkan was actually assembled twice, for Moshe’s sake. The midrash says, “Moshe was upset that he had not personally taken part in actually building the Mishkan, since the materials had been brought by the Jews and the work had been performed by Betzalel, Ahaliav and the craftsmen. Because Moshe was upset, Gd hid information from the people and they could not make the Mishkan stand…
It sounds like Moshe, Gd’s Best Friend Forever, wanted to move the two-by-fours and apply the drywall because he believed in the redemptive power of physical labor. As Gordon said 150 years ago regarding establishing pioneer villages in Israel, “We must do with our own hands all the things that make up the sum total of life. We must ourselves do all the work, from the least strenuous, cleanest, and most sophisticated, to the dirtiest and most difficult.”

But late Thursday night Caren pointed out to me that this is not an honest read – after all, where else do we find Moshe going out of his way to look for physical work?
• While the Jews are slaves in Egypt, Moshe is in the palace.
• Moshe does become a shepherd after he runs away from Egypt, but everyone did that.
• Moshe returns to Egypt and he doesn’t pick up straw to make bricks; rather, he spends his time shuttling back and forth between Gd and Paroh.
• The Jews come out into the wilderness, and we never find Moshe looking for menial tasks.
• The Jews defend themselves against Amalek and Moshe davens while Yehoshua leads the army.
If Moshe were truly committed to labor as an ideal, wouldn’t we have found one additional example, somewhere?
So on Friday morning I had to drop the explanation of physical-exertion-makes-us-holy, but that left me without a derashah and with an open question: What is Moshe trying to do here, by insisting on taking over construction of the Mishkan?

I think the key is to see this event in its greater context. Last week we read about Moshe’s return to the Jews, after they built the Golden Calf. We saw Moshe as Punisher, ordering the execution of thousands of people who had worshipped the Calf as an idol. We saw Moshe turn to Gd as supplicant on behalf of the Jewish people. And, most crucially, we saw Moshe fail to re-integrate into the nation. Moshe must remain outside the camp, a leper of sorts, in order to communicate with Gd. As the midrash explains, he separated from Tziporah. He had to wear a veil when teaching, obscuring the radiance of his face. Moshe has become a pariah among the people he led out of Egypt and saved from Divine wrath!

Moshe understands this need to be apart, to be spiritually elevated and close to Gd, and he complies with the demands of this lifestyle – but he also insists on being part of the tzibbur, the community.
We have already seen Moshe’s insistence on joining the community:
• When Moshe could have escaped to Paroh’s palace, he instead went out to see his brethren, and he endangered his own life in saving the life of another Jew.
• When Gd wanted to destroy the Jews after the Eigel, Moshe said, “You’ll have to kill me first.”
• When Moshe offered his description of the ideal Jewish leader, he described someone who would go out to war as part of the nation and come back from battle with the nation, who would lead as part of am yisrael.
Moshe wishes to be part of the nation – and this is particularly relevant in performing mitzvos. As the Rambam writes, one must always perform his mitzvos along with the community, not on his own. So when the Jews are engaged in the great communal mitzvah of building the Mishkan, Moshe longs to be a part of the process.

Later Jewish leaders would do the same. Dovid haMelech, King David, stood apart from the people as monarch. For all his humble beginnings, he was a fearsome king, executing and exiling those who rebelled against his throne. And yet, when the Aron of HaShem was returned, he came out to celebrate and danced with complete abandon, earning him the scorn of his wife Michal – but Dovid, like Moshe, sought to fulfill the nation’s mitzvos along with the nation.

If we move ahead in Jewish history, we find the Prushim, the Pharisees. “Prushim” means “separatists,” and this is what they were – a group of Jews who adhered to laws of purity in their contact and in their food, and who were therefore forced to remain separate, to an extent, from the rest of the Jewish people.
The Talmud Yerushalmi records several leniencies the Prushim observed, such as around the times of Yamim Tovim as well as on Shabbat, in order to be able to function as part of the nation, along with everyone else.

Moshe’s message, Dovid haMelech’s message, and the message of the Prushim, should resonate for us today. Our practices as Torah-observant Jews necessarily set us apart from others. We only eat in kosher restaurants and kosher homes. We only enjoy certain kinds of entertainment. Friday night is a night to celebrate Shabbos, not to go bowling or take in a movie. We dance differently, we sing differently, we learn differently.
At the same time, we must work as Moshe, Dovid haMelech and the Prushim did, and find ways to be משתתף, to partner with, the world around us. Not as people who are “better than,” not as holy people coming to mix with the rabble, but rather as people just like everyone else, whose religious beliefs and practices force us to be separate, but who also belong to the כלל.

Two such opportunities are coming up in the next several months:
On Sunday April 6, we will participate in a Community Service Day along with the greater Jewish and Lehigh Valley communities. Our shul will be involved specifically in a project with the Holocaust Resource Center as well as a pre-Pesach Chametz-collection drive, but there will be many other opportunities to partner with others, too. Even those going with the Youth trip to the Iron Pigs game will still have time in the morning to participate.
And then, in November, the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley will lead a mission to Israel in honor of Israel’s 60th birthday. This, too, is a chance to partner with the broader community. I’ll have to work in times to daven, etc, but I still feel it’s worthwhile, which is why I signed up this past week. I hope others will do so, too.

In last week’s parshah, after the חטא העגל, HaShem performed the ultimate act of separating Moshe from the rest of the nation: HaShem said, “I’m going to destroy the rest of them, and start a new nation with you.” This is it, Moshe – you are going to be the new Avraham, and your descendants will start over and do this right. Just stand back while I eradicate the current version.
But Moshe dramatically rejected this Divine offer, standing his ground and insisting that his fate would lie with the nation.
Moshe performed his mitzvos along with Bnei Yisrael, in building the Mishkan. Dovid did the same, in welcoming the Aron. And we, on April 6 and in the Federation mission to Israel, will do the same.


Note: There are many ways to take the midrash on Moshe's interest in building the mishkan. I highly recommend reading the whole text, in the Midrash Tanchuma, Pekudei 11.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Daf: Nedarim 69-75

These daf are fascinating in terms of the psychology of language, but I don't have too many off-the-daf added notes to offer. Mostly we've been scrambling to stay ahead of the pace, in anticipation of the complex korbanos of Nazir and the long aggadata found in Sotah.

The case of a person who says, “Make this temurah of an olah temurah of a shelamim,” is fundamentally different from the person who says, “This neder is upheld nullified.” As the Ran notes, the former simultaneity is logically possible, if we dedicate value rather than the animal itself.

It’s odd that we bring a braita to support Shemuel, when Shemuel himself is simply explaining the mishnah. Who needs a braita to support a mishnah?! The Rosh notes this, and offers a way to read it so that this is needed.

On 71b-72a, the Rosh notes (on 72a) that we didn’t really need the re-marriage element of the case for this to work.

The Ran explains why the married man has less power to nullify the neder than the (post-kiddushin) fiancee. It’s not that his power is less, it’s that the father, partner of the fiancee, is gone.

The use of “talmid chacham” here to describe a forethinking person is interesting. There is no Torah, per se, in this act of thinking ahead, except that we say איזהו חכם? הרואה את הנולד. Who is wise? One who sees that which will happen.
Of course, this use of “talmid chacham” as well as the younger “tzurba meirabbanan” is not meant in the literal sense, as it is in Taanis 10b regarding the title of talmid chacham, and who deserves the title.

Note the Ran on “urcheih,” who explains what exactly the talmid chacham is trying to do here.

R’ Yehudah deduces a law from the word והשקה, which he translates as “and he shall give her to drink.” The Rosh explains that we are building on the “mapik hei,” which indicates that the word is a contraction of והשקה אותה. Note the inside margin comment, though, which shows that this source appears in the Tosefta with a different pasuk, and that the Rambam surprisingly had a third pasuk!

The Rosh explains on 72b and 75a that one cannot uphold/reject a vow in advance because one does not know the content, and so the upholding/rejection is like a vow made in error. On 75a he brings a separate explanation from R’ Elazar miMetz regarding upholding a neder.

How does the gemara know that where a man chooses to nullify his vows in advance, any vows he makes are never applicable at all, not even for a pre-nullification instant? The Ran has a wordy explanation, but the Rosh puts it succinctly: If the vow had applied for a moment, he wouldn’t have the power to nullify it personally.

Note the Rosh on הא כדאיתא והא כדאיתא addressing the apparent logical fallacy.

Monday, February 25, 2008

PLEASE name this blog...

...because I just can't.

What’s in a name, you ask? Far too much, it seems, because after two months here I still can’t come up with a name I like for this blog.

Maybe it’s because I want the name to convey too much:
-That this blog is a place where I can talk about things that are going on in the Jewish and greater world, or in my own life;
-That this blog is a place where I can post derashah and class material;
-That this blog is a place where I can have a little fun… but not so much fun that I am no longer the rabbi. People from my shul have to be able to read this without being embarrassed.

A name, in Jewish thought, is a display of one’s ideals and actions, synonymous with one’s reputation. Think of Pirkei Avos and the “crown of a good name.” Think of Moshe asking Gd “When they ask me what His Name is, what shall I tell them,” and of that grandly eloquent Divine response. Your name is your first interface with the world.

This is particularly true on the blogosphere, where people see a link to your blog and decide, often on that basis alone, whether or not to click through and read what you have to say. That’s the problem with the “Rechovot” title – it says a lot to me, but it’s too vague or too serious for many readers. The current title, “Please extinguish all cell phones,” is all right, I guess, but it still seems to be missing something.

Among the titles I’ve rejected so far:
Rabbi 42: On life, the universe and everything (Too corny.)
The shul at the end of the universe (Too irrelevant.)
Shul Daze (Too cute.)
Torchblog (Too juvenile.)
A Rabbi’s Blog (Too dull.)
Rabbi in the House (Too Huh?!)
Tales out of shul (Too plagiaristic.)
Rabbinic Ruminations (Too I-take-myself-very-seriously.)
Rabbi on the loose (Too too.)

So you see the problem: a combination of failure of creativity and failure of language and, perhaps, failure of nerve. I’m tempted to just title this “Another Blogging Rabbi” and leave it at that…

Your ideas would be more than welcome. Please save me from myself.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Ki Tisa: The Incompatibility of Luchot and Eigel

My Israeli chavrusas in yeshiva had a style all their own. They would scream and yell at me while we were learning together, and then in shiur they would scream and yell at the rabbi teaching the shiur. Of course, they would always preface their remarks with an honorific, “HaRav,” “Master,” but they would go on to declare, “HaRav, you don’t know what you’re talking about!” For their own part, the rebbeim responded in kind; some of them even punched us if the debate got hot enough.
The style left a lasting impression on me, aside from the bruises. It was total absorption in the topic at hand; we forgot everything else.

That total absorption came to mind this week when I read a comment by Rav Naftali Kohler in his sefer חומר לדרוש on our parshah. He noted that when Moshe descended from the mountain with the luchos, he met Yehoshua, and the Torah says, “וישמע יהושע את קול העם ברעה, Yehoshua heard the nation in its celebration. ” Rav Kohler asked: Why didn’t Moshe hear the singing?
He explained: כל מי שיש בידו לוחות העדות והתורה אינו שומע קולות אחרים - One who has the tablets and the Torah in his hands will not hear any other voices. Someone who is truly immersed in Torah is deaf to the world, and hears nothing else.

Why is this the approach of learning Torah? Why isn’t Torah study more sedate, more refined, more classroom and lecturer and sober exchange? Why is Talmud Torah, as it is practiced in yeshivot in America, Europe, the Middle East, Australia and the former Soviet Union, such an all-consuming enterprise?
Part of it is practical, of course; the discipline itself is demanding. And part of it is pure passion. But more than that, the very nature of Talmud Torah, Torah scholarship, demands that we enter a different domain.
• In Talmud Torah, History is not a list of dates and names and accomplishments; rather, we live in the age of our ancestors, experiencing the world and Judaism through their eyes, envisioning ourselves in a dialogue with those scholars as part of the same masorah they inhabit. Rav Soloveitchik famously described himself witnessing the sages entering the room when their names and opinions were invoked - such is the feel of serious Torah study.
• In Talmud Torah, the ladder of honor is structured upon excellence in piety, and our role models are those who have achieved expertise in the texts of the Torah.
• In Talmud Torah, our allegiance is to text and to ancient interpretation and to communal standards of belief as well as behavior. We are expected to work at developing our own logical understanding, but we are also expected to surrender to the collective interpretation and practice.
This is why Torah education requires absorption. If we were to anchor our feet in this world while holding ancient texts open in front of us, if we were to think about dinner or a meeting or a dream we had last night or a song we once heard or a book we once read, we would be as outsiders looking in, like people watching a movie but thinking about the movie theater they’re in, or the babysitter at home, instead of what’s transpiring on the screen or coming from the speakers.
כל מי שיש בידו לוחות העדות והתורה אינו שומע קולות אחרים - One who has the tablets and the Torah in his hands will not hear other voices.

Of course, learning alone is not complete and is not the total goal of our experience; we are taught, “גדול תלמוד המביא לידי מעשה, study is great for it brings about action.” We must still become actors - but transported study is what makes us able to do so. How can a Jew live a powerful Jewish life if he has never left this world and spent time in the pure realm of Torah, with its Masorah and its role models and its allegiance to text and belief and behavior? We need to spend time in that other realm first.

Which brings us back to Moshe, descending with the luchos. Moshe has just acquired these tablets, these representatives of HaShem’s Torah, in forty days on a mountaintop, separated from this world and its concerns on every level. No food, no water, just Moshe and Gd inside a cloud. This is life in the beis medrash, at its fullest. Moshe hears no voices outside that of the Torah.
Moshe was meant to come back to this world and interact here, bringing the lessons of the Divine Beis Medrash to a world empty of Torah - but he couldn’t do it, because what he found in the Golden Calf was not a world simply devoid of Torah, but a world that was the antithesis of Torah.
Where did the Jews get the idea of creating a calf, specifically? Historians note that ancient Egyptians worshipped a bull called Apis - and Apis would have had special significance for the Jews in the desert. Apis, the most important sacred animal in Egypt, symbolized death and re-birth. His breath was supposed to cure disease, and his presence would aid men in virility. Apis, the template for the Golden Calf, provided life in this world for people - where Moshe’s luchos experience was about living outside this world.
The two were incompatible - and so Moshe smashed the luchos.

Realistically, we all have our own distracting Eigel. Even as we sit here in shul, during davening or the Torah reading or a speech, thoughts of family and livelihood and health and entertainment clamor for our attention, drawing us into this world - which is why Judaism summons us to be קובע עתים לתורה, to set up fixed times for learning Torah.
The Gemara says that when we will stand on posthumous trial before HaShem, we will first be asked whether we dealt honestly with others, and we will then be asked whether we established fixed times for Torah study.
We will not be asked, “How much time did you set aside for Torah?” We will not be asked, “Did you complete all of Torah in your studies?” No one will question us, “Did you really understand the classes you attended?” Rather, we will be asked, “Did you set aside fixed times for Torah study?”
“Fixed times” means time that doesn’t change, that isn’t subject to the vicissitudes of vacation or work or appointments - time that is ironclad.
• Time that is like Moshe on the mountain, undisturbed.
• Time that is like the debate in the beis medrash.
• Time in which we hold the luchos, unable to hear the noise coming from the camp.
This is the expectation - that all of us, men and women and aged and young, will set up fixed time, even half an hour per week, and say, “This is my time to become part of the masorah, to accept a new set of role models, to pledge allegiance to an ancient text and to its living interpretations.”

Our embrace of another world is the heart of Torah study, and it is what makes our learning more real, and therefore more effective in shaping our lives.
The NEA Higher Education Journal published an article a few years back on the classic Beis Medrash experience; it was written by a Dr. Henry Abramson. Dr. Abramson observed, “Walk into the beis medresh and you will be confronted with a cacophony—some 300 students sitting opposite each other and arguing passionately, defending their delicately nuanced readings of the Talmudic text that lies before each of them.”
This is learning Torah. This is what Moshe was doing, so that he was unable to hear the noise coming from the camp. And this is a goal toward which we must strive, to transport ourselves to another realm, so that we might return here prepared to live powerful Jewish lives.

Some afterthoughts
1. I'm not sure I organized this derashah well; I keep re-thinking it and wondering if I shouldn't have started with Moshe coming down the mountain, then asked why he had to smash the luchos, then discussed the transport to another realm that is Talmud Torah and developed the opposition to the this-worldly immersion of the Eigel, etc. But it's now two and a half hours to Shabbos, so I think I'll run with this.

2. The idea of transport to another realm in studying Torah may be the idea behind advice I once heard in the name of Rav Mendel Blachman, a rebbe of mine in Yeshivat Kerem b’Yavneh: If you have a big, difficult decision to make, stop and learn a page of gemara before making the decision. I’ve tried this, and it works; studying that page takes you completely out of this world, completely clearing your head of preconceived notions and distractions, allowing you to approach the decision anew.

3. For more on Apis, go here.

4. For Dr. Henry Abramson's great article, go here.

5. I quoted the line קול העם ברעה toward the beginning of the derashah, and translated the last word as "in its celebration." There are several approaches to translating that word; see the standard mefarshim.

Daf: Nedarim 63-68

See the Rosh at the end of the mishnah on Achilah and Shetiyah (printed on 62b) – he takes the remarkable stance that the nodeir would be permitted to eat and drink.

It’s important to understand why people experiencing these four states are compared to the dead. It’s not a flat comparison; rather, all four are cut off from something, as a deceased person is cut off from something – society, enjoyment of this world, or continuity.

The poverty of Dasan and Aviram would still seem to be a Nolad factor! See the Ran at the end of the daf, citing a Yerushalmi. This also has applications for the beautification experiment of Rabbi Yishmael at the bottom of 66a and the Rosh at the bottom there.

See the Ran on hatarah “b’fanav” on which nedarim actually require the presence of the other party, and why.

The gemara says that Moshe had to go back to Yisro after the sneh experience, for permission to go back to Egypt. This explains Part 1 of a two-part problem, regarding Moshe’s post-Sneh behavior – why does Moshe not go straight to Egypt, but instead return to Yisro. However, it does not explain the second part of the problem, the fact that Moshe still doesn’t go to Egypt, but rather waits for a second Divine instruction.

In the Mishnah’s case of someone being informed that so-and-so had died, the Rosh suggests that the death had occurred before the neder, based on the Yerushalmi, such that the whole neder is simply a mistake. This leads to a basic machlokes between the Ran and the Rosh as to whether Rabbi Yochanan is saying that Rabbi Meir would require hatarah, or not.

I have to think that מת נולד הוא is an intentional pun.

On the mishnah, see the Ran’s explanation of why this doesn’t contradict 22a.

It’s fascinating that Rabbi Akiva here demands the sale of hair, given his wife Rachel’s sale of her own hair to support them.

The Ran on the top mishnah provides a source from the Yerushalmi for the idea that there is no partial nullification of a neder.

The Ran argues that in the wine/onion cases we don’t require hatarah; they are simply mistaken nedarim.

The practice of marrying one’s sister’s daughter is all over the gemara, as this was considered a praiseworthy way to guarantee her support, if she had difficulty finding a husband on her own. The gemara praises this behavior. You may also recall from the beginning of Gittin מחפה על בת אחותו, that this practice was one of the reasons they required an accurate date on a get – lest the niece be involved in something inappropriate, and the uncle desire to cover up for her by ante-dating a get.

See the last Rosh on v’hitirah R’ Yishmael – is this like the anticipated nolad of poverty on 64b?

The Rosh points out the interesting difference between R’ Shimon’s approach and that of the Sotah case. And, of course, no one needs to die here – they can go for hataras nedarim!

Note that the Rosh has “tlafchi” instead of “tilfi” in the beginning of the Amelia Bedelia story, which makes the whole thing read much cleaner.

See the Ran on “Naarah” who points out the lower limit of this law is not 12.

Note the Ran on בבת אחת in “v’Chazar”

Rosh (beginning of the medium lines) says that we learn av from baal as far as nidrei inui nefesh, but I don’t understand why one needs to do that – the father has his own source?

The Ran has a very interesting discussion (in ורבה) on whether a father has power of all nedarim or only those that affect him.

On the two-olives case:
1. Ran and Rosh believe her neder was about two specific olives. Tosafos says it’s about all olives, and she ate two of them.
2. I am flabbergasted by the Rosh’s analysis, that one olive of the two has simply been removed. How could this make any sense? And what happened to 66a about not nullifying part of a neder?!
3. The Ran’s three approaches to the case are fascinating – as is R’ Akiva Eiger’s note on the 3rd, pointing out that regarding meilah we don’t use “olives” but rather we use shaveh perutah as the standard.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Daf: Nedarim 60-62

The switch from להבא to לעתיד לבא is interesting, but the Rosh downplays it

See the Rosh on כאילו מקריב עליו. His idea that a neder shel mitzvah doesn’t require she’eilah may explain why on Taanis 10b we don’t require she’eilah for the fast that is interrupted by rain.

In the middle of the page: It seems clear to me that this should say לשעבר הוי וליתסר, and the word “לא” does not belong – and so I have seen in the Yaavetz.

See Tosafos in Rosh HaShanah 9a ואי on the issue of how we count Year 50 in the shemitah/yovel cycle.

Why don’t we ask the question as Rabbi Meir vs. Rabbi Meir? See Tosafos Eruvin 99a on מוחלפת השיטה

This is a great daf on the issue of honoring those who study Torah, demanding honor for those who study Torah, and the issue of this-worldy reward for Torah study:

See R’ Akiva Eiger’s reference to Bava Kama 59b, on the man who was jailed for mourning the Beis haMikdash, and the Maharsha’s explanation there of how the man could get himself released by identifying himself as a Talmid Chacham.
The Rosh Yeshiva zt”l in Kerem b’Yavneh explained that they jailed people for mourning the Beis haMikdash because mourning implies a demand for the mourned entity to be returned – and unless one is a gavra rabba, doing something to bring the Beis haMikdash back, how dare he publicly mourn and act publicly as though he wanted it back?

See the second part of the Ran אי הכי, where he explains the difference between a talmid chacham claiming his due as a talmid chacham, and a talmid chacham demanding additional benefit

See the Rosh on ולא קרדום, who specifically mentions the issue of learning-for-pay as problematic

See the Ran vs. the Rosh explaining the terms לפתוח and לברך regarding the honors of the kohen.

See the Rosh on מנדה בלו; it’s hard to understand why this rule would apply for all generations, if the original use was specifically for the anshei kenesses hagedolah! However, the Maharsha cites Tosafos from the beginning of Bava Basra that the exemption was really for all those who are involved in מלאכת שמים.

Regarding the Ran on והלך about the king’s partnership in privately held animals, see a similar point in the first perek in Pesachim regarding maaser beheimah and the king’s partnership with animal-owners.

On the bei nura issue, note the difference btween the stances of Ran and Rosh.

Note the Rosh’s final word on this amud – this ראשונה appears to be unique to him.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Derashah: Tetzaveh: In the desert, a return to Eden

Derashah - Tetzaveh 5768

A few weeks ago I was watching my favorite news outlet, YouTube, and I saw Senator Obama's now-famous “Yes we can” speech. The Senator delivered an inspiring observation about America’s history, in the process reminding me very much of the history of the Jewish people, and of our parshah in particular. He said, “In the unlikely story that is America, there’s never been anything false about hope.”

I’m not really sure what is unlikely about America’s story, but I know what is unlikely about our Jewish national story - surviving, and not just surviving but thriving, maintaining a culture, and not only maintaining a culture but building a vital society with its own intellectuals and institutions and integration of ethnicities from all over the world, both in Israel and in global Jewry. And in that story, there has never been anything false about hatikvah, about hope.

Which brings me to the parshah of this week and last, and the most unlikely, the most unrealistic, the most arrogant hope in the history of a chutzpah-filled nation: To re-create Gan Eden.

ויטע ה' אלקים גן בעדן מקדם, וישם שם את האדם אשר יצר - HaShem planted a garden in Eden in the east, and He placed there the man He had created. Human beings were meant to live with HaShem there in the Garden, to live lives of spirituality and meaning and a synthesis of physical bodies and heavenly souls.

Human beings were given an עבודה there, a set of tasks. We were told לשמרה, to guard the Garden against corruption. And human beings, according to the midrash, brought korbanos to Gd there in the Garden.

But Adam and Chavah ate from the fruit of the עץ הדעת, the Tree of Knowledge, and then they cowered and listened as HaShem left the garden, and then they were forced to leave the Garden as well. The bond of human and Gd came to an abrupt halt.

Still, through the ensuing generations, that dream of Gan Eden never perished. Chanoch walked with Gd. Noach found favor in the eyes of Gd. Avraham arrived in Canaan and built a mizbeiach, Sarah offered up her position as matriarch, and their son Yitzchak offered himself as a korban. Rivkah, Rachel and Leah abandoned their families to come live in a tent dedicated to Gd. Yaakov slept in Beit El and dreamed of a place where angels would descend to this plane and ascend from this plane.

But they were not ready - for they were past the time when individuals could truly walk with Gd, and they were waiting for the time which HaShem had foretold in Parshat Lech Lecha, a time when the descendants of Avraham and Sarah would return to Eden as a nation, ושמרו דרך ה', when they would walk the path of HaShem and return to the Gan.

To return to the Gan means to live a life of שויתי ה' לנגדי תמיד, of placing HaShem before our eyes, visible in our minds and evident in our actions.

To return to the Gan means to live a life of avodah and shemirah, focusing not on the purchase that will bring self-satisfaction and the overtime that will bring economic growth, but on the gift that will strengthen society and the Torah that will bring Jewish growth.

To return to the Gan means to live as though we were already there, with an intense religiosity that leaves little room for hesitation, that demands total fealty and bestows total blessing.

A most unlikely hope.

But, finally, after twenty-six generations from Adam and Chavah, we were blessed with the opportunity to return to the Gan. Again, we had a place with an avodah, a way to serve Gd. A place to protect from corruption, לשמרה, as we read this morning in the responsibility of the Kohanim to protect the mishkan. Again, we had a place with korbanos. The new Eden was the Mishkan.

Many of the Mishkan’s icons echo the themes of our original exile from the garden, highlighting the fact that we weren’t really yet back in Eden:
· When we left Eden, Gd gave us special garments - and now Gd gave the Kohanim special garments.
· When we left Eden, the Eitz haChaim and Eitz haDaas, the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge, were marked off-limits - and now, the Kodesh Kodashim, the Holy of Holies, containing the life and knowledge of the Luchos, was marked off-limits.
· And when we left Eden HaShem placed Kruvim at the entrance, to guard the path - and HaShem told Moshe to place Kruvim upon the Aron in the Kodesh Kodashim, the place from which HaShem’s voice emanated to communicate to the nation.
We were not entirely back in the garden, no - but we were on our way.

This was a most unlikely hope, a most daring mission, to recreate Eden among ourselves. Surely those Jews who heard Moshe’s instructions wondered: Is he serious? Can we really return? Can we again live together with HaShem?
To which HaShem replied forcefully, last week and again this week:
· ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם, Make a Mikdash for Me, and I will live among them.
· ושכנתי בתוך בני ישראל, I will dwell among the Jewish people.
· וידעו כי אני ה' אלקיכם, They will know that I am HaShem, your Gd.
Rav Soloveitchik taught that the Kruvim with their shining swords who stood at the entrance to Gan Eden were not there to keep people out; rather, they were there, as the Targum Yerushalmi says, לשמור את דרך עץ החיים, to guard the path to the Tree of Life, to keep that path open for our return. HaShem waits for our return - and in the mishkan, we returned.

Fast-forward a few millenia, and here we are, without Mishkan and without Beis haMikdash. And yet, the Torah’s answer is still, “Yes, we can.” Not in that national forum, not yet, but on a personal level, in our מקדש מעט, in our shuls and in our batei medrash and our homes.
We can still live that life with Gd which emphasizes spiritual in tandem with material, which is filled with עבודה and שמירה and offerings to Gd:
· By assuring our children a powerful Jewish education which will bring them to avodah and shemirah.
· By emphasizing our walk with Gd in our marriages and our family bonds, through the halachos of taharas hamishpachah/family purity and through the shared activity of Shabbos and Kashrus and Talmud Torah.
· By giving of ourselves, bringing our own version of korbanos, through chesed and tzedakah.

This is the dream with which we inaugurate every Jewish home, under the chuppah, when we recite berachot recalling Gan Eden and the joy of that experience. Every new Jewish home is a chance to return to Eden, to rebuild that Divine connection, to live with HaShem.
We remember the Jewish version of Senator Obama’s message: In the unlikely story that is Jewish history, there has never been anything false about hope - and particularly the hope of ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם, They will make for Me a mikdash, and I will live among them.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Daf: Nedarim 54-59

See the Maharsha in his Chiddushei Aggadot; he suggests that Gd didn’t provide “dagah” to the Jews in the desert because of Abbaye’s point here. Obviously, this is counter to the normal explanation re: pregnancy.

Here we see Rava going to Rav Yosef to appease him on Erev Yom Kippur. For another interesting account of the Erev Yom Kippur mechilah phenomenon (which did not turn out so well!), see the story of Rav and the butcher, on Yoma 87a.

Here we talk about animals as being “non-gidulei karka” “not growing from the ground.” This is actually not so simple; see, for example, Eruvin 27b, and the Meiri to Succah 11a on using animal hide for schach.

Regarding wearing rain-gear outside the Eruv when there is no rain, see the Rosh 55b yotzim b’sakim.

The encounter of Yehoshua and the Malach pre-Yericho is actually rather problematic, not in terms of our gemara but in terms of the classic gemara (Megilah 3a) on this story, which says that Yehoshua is being reprimanded for failing to study Torah. That gemara proves its point by showing that Yehoshua "immediately (מיד)" went to study Torah – but the Torah study pasuk is actually long after the war with Yericho (8:13)!

See also Ralbag to Yehoshua 5:13, with another, fascinating explanation of Yehoshua being “in Yericho” at this point.

Make sure to see Ran vs. Rosh on the key word “eilu” at the beginning.

Note the Ran on gidulei gidulei gidulin

Note the Ran vs the Rosh on meduchanin. I find the Rosh’s approach easier to understand, especially as the gemara continues.

Here, again, we find the issue of considering a Neder as a Davar sheyesh lo matirin. This passage seems extremely difficult for the Meiri we mentioned here, who says that a Davar sheyesh lo matirin must be guaranteed to become mutar.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Mussar in messing with the rabbi's parking spot

Last night, after coming back from Halifax, I was in an odd mood - which accounts for the remarkably foolish thing I did. If it were irredeemably foolish I wouldn’t post it at all, but I do feel like there is a lesson to be learned here.

My flight was late coming in (surprising, I know), and so I was five minutes late to minchah. In my absence someone had assumed I was still away from my Shabbos trip, and had parked in my “Reserved for Rabbi” parking spot.

This is no big deal, it happens from time to time and I somehow survive the grievous insult – but, as I said, I was in a weird mood, so I decided to park perpendicularly behind him, neatly locking him in until after my post-Maariv, ten minute mishnah class would end.

It was a joke, and everyone seemed to be laughing about it when I went out to the lot later. This includes the locked-in guilty party; he came to my mishnah class, and laughed when he saw what I had done. I apologized for any embarrassment, and it was over – or so I thought.

I received an email later last night, from a third party, castigating me for my “display of pique” against the person who had parked in my spot. To this minyannaire, it appeared that I had been angry at the tresparker, that I was taking revenge against him for his offense. Within that view of my actions, he quite logically criticized me.

I immediately assured him that I had not been at all upset at the lazy parker, that this was just a sophomoric practical joke and nothing more. But I also had to admit that I had broken Rebbe’s rule from Pirkei Avos: Choose a path which will be תפארת for you personally and תפארת for you from others. In other words, think carefully about the way that others will interpret your actions.

As part of our basic obligation of Kiddush HaShem, and avoiding Chillul HaShem, we are forced to weigh our actions based not only upon our internal calculus, but also upon the calculus of bystanders. Even if 99 out of 100 - or 14 out of 15 as I believe it was last night - will understand what you were doing, the last one is still a concern.

Last night I hadn’t thought about that perspective at all; I was just having a good time. And therein lies the mussar of messing with the rabbi’s parking spot.

Daf: Nedarim 52-53

The Ran asks how we could permit a nadur item which is mixed into other items – after all, it’s a davar sheyesh lo matirin (through hataras nedarim), which is never batel!
The Ran resolves the problem by suggesting that a davar sheyesh lo matirin can be batel in a mixture of non-like (eino mino) items.

One could present a couple of other answers for the Ran’s question:
1. Ramban to Pesachim 30 (in Milchamos) says that the chachamim rule that davar sheyesh lo matirin is batel.
2. The Meiri to Chullin 97a says that an item is only a davar sheyesh lo matirin if the ultimate permitted status is a guaranteed result (he says this to explain that an egg from a safek tereifah isn’t a davar sheyesh lo matirin, even though the mother might prove not to be a tereifah).

Also worth noting: The Ran explains that we are machmir by davar sheyesh lo matirin in a mixture because the issur isn’t permanent, and so it is like min b’mino. Rashi in Beitzah 3b seems to say that the reason is more simple: Why eat it in a prohibited manner, if you could eat it in a permitted manner?

The Rosh and Ran disagree whether the challenge at the top of 52b is for Rabbi Yosi alone or also for the Rabanan. This appears to be tied to their debate about what Ashishot are – whether they are processed lentils (Ran) or the dross from lentils (Rosh on Mishnah 53b).

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Daf: Nedarim 50-51

On 50b Shemuel is put down for his large stomach, which is odd; Rabbi Yochanan is described elsewhere (such as Berachos 5b and 20a) as being of surpassing beauty, and yet the gemara calls him a Baal Basar (Rubenesque) (such as Berachos 13b and Niddah 14a)!

Those who complain about expensive weddings should wonder at Rebbe's son's wedding on 50b. Of course, Rebbe was the Nasi, with political responsibilities involving the Romans as well as the Jews, but the idea of spending such a sum - and inscribing it on the chuppah! - is still remarkable.

50b also introduces the concept of an individual's suffering saving others from Divine punishment. We also see this elsewhere in the gemara, regarding misas tzaddikim mechaperes and Miriam's death. This is also the likely basis for the Christian concept of vicarious atonement. We have a different take, though. As I understand it, an individual will always have to answer for his sins, no matter how much someone else (such as Rebbe) sufffers. The tzibbur, though, may be saved from tzibbur-wide punishments, due to an individual's suffering - because when an individual suffers, the tzibbur is said to have suffered as well. There is much more to say on this, of course.

On 51b we get the word "tefel" as bland; some some use this to explain "tiflut" on Sotah 20a, in the position of Rabbi Eliezer on women's talmud torah.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Daf Notes on Nedarim - IV

Just one short note on 42a - pay careful attention to the Bach's amendment of "Nechasim elu" to read "Nechasai." When you get to the end of the discussion on 42b, you'll see that his amendment makes the whole discussion read more clearly. Without it, the whole discussion is superfluous.

46b - Note the Rosh (I am referring to his second edition on "Taska", rendering it "Piska") vs the Ran on the difference between Rav Nachman and Abayye. The Ran's odd edition "beitzim" gives him a whole different way to look at the difference, but his approach has the force of logic behind it. It's hard to understand distinguishing between percentages, but it's easy to see a distinction between bathhouse commissions and a separate (egg) concession.

Of course, the gemara on 46b about splitting a shul - and the fact that individuals don't have that right - is also fascinating. It reminds of the Mishneh Berurah's forceful language regarding breakaways, in 150:2.

47a-b - The Raavad on the Rambam Hilchos Nedarim 5:16 is fascinating, with many ramifications.

On 48b we discuss avurei achsanta, warping the normal order of inheritance because of children's behavior. Of course, one must see Bava Basra 133b on this issue, and whether or not it is a good idea. Caren wrote her third-year law paper on this issue, and the way it plays out in halachic estate planning.

Also on 48b, we discuss kinyan sudar, and what works and does not work. This is a fascinating issue, and it comes up every year when we delegate people to sell chametz on our behalf. Whose pen do we use, and what if the delegator decides to walk off with it? See especially the Ran's concluding comments, which appear on 49a. See also Choshen Mishpat 195:3 for a ruling on this issue.

49-50 is just packed, wall to wall, with fascinating material (most of which has very little to do, directly, with Nedarim...)!

The issue of digestion and diet (on the figs at the bottom of 49a) is part of the foundation of the Rambam's dietary advice in Hilchos Deios as well as his "Medical Aphorisms." We ran a program on his dietary advice in the winter of 06/07, and it was a great hit. It's interesting to see the way the Rambam blends the gemara's advice with that of Galen and Arab writers, as well as eastern medicine. All are referenced in his writing, although he is explicit about the Greek and Arab sources and not explicit about the Eastern element.

The Bavel/Eretz Yisrael 'rivalry' shows up on 49b in comments about diet, reflecting a much larger issue which surfaces in other comments, such as the classic "Bavlai Tipshai" lines. You might look at some of my references here.

The unisex garment at the bottom of 49b is also interesting, in light of concerns for Beged Ishah. There is a major machlokes as to why the Torah prohibits Beged Ishah, and it has a practical ramification. Most rishonim believe it's because of the danger of inappropriate gender mixing, but the Rambam also notes a concern for the practice of idolatrous priests, who might wear a single garment from the opposite gender in their worship. If we follow the Rambam, then even wearing one garment from the opposite gender should be prohibited - so how do we understand this robe? Perhaps (and I admit that I haven't looked into it) the Rambam accepts the idea of a unisex garment.

The Yerushalayim shel Zahav that R' Akiva wishes to give Rachel on 50a is very interesting; recall the Gemara in Shabbos about going out with such an ornament on Shabbos, but more important is the Gemara in Gittin (7a) about wearing ornamentation after the churban. See the Hagahot Oshri to the Rosh in Shabbos 6:4; he permits this ornament post-Churban other than for weddings.

Also see the Ran (printed on 50b) on the legitimacy of annulling Kalba Savua's neder.

Daf Notes on Nedarim - III

39-40 are so packed it feels absurd to say anything at all. Here are a few notes, but there is a lot more to say:

1. Regarding the sitting/standing debate - Assuming no nedarim are involved, I always recommend that people sit down, unless they feel their prolonged presence would be a burden for the choleh. Sitting tells the choleh he has your full attention, and you aren't racing out the door ASAP.

2. Why is there no gezeirah of "don't visit, lest you sit inappropriately?" I suspect it's because chazal don't want to create a gezeirah limiting bikur cholim. (Alternatively, perhaps we don't have a gezeirah because this is a milsa d'lo shchicha, but then why do we have a gezeirah not to sit, lest one remain?)

3. These laws re: neder pertain to private home visits, but should not apply to hospital visits, other than in an area where we pay people (such as social workers) to visit cholim.

4. The group of 7 is interestingly divisible into 3 complementary pairs, and Mashiach.

5. Note the angelic titling of Moshe as "Ben Amram." This is standard in Malach dialogue regarding Moshe, such as the gemara in Shabbos in which the malachim challenge Moshe's right to the Torah. We find in midrashim that "Ben Amram" is used as a pejorative, such as when Kalev gives his "bait and switch" attack on Moshe, and when Dasan and Aviram attack Moshe. Here, though, that doesn't seem to be the case. Perhaps it's because the malachim recognize Amram's great rank (as one of the four who never sinned). Alternatively, perhaps it's because Moshe was great in his youth, when he was known by his father's name - we have a similar explanation for the names of Ben Zoma and Ben Azai, in some rishonim.

6. Rav Yosef discuss the schar for bikkur cholim here. I haven't had a chance to do a CD-ROM search, but recall that Rav Yosef discuss schar mitzvah in other places as well - re: his own schar mitzvah as a blind man, and the question of the schar for an eino metzuveh v'oseh. Perhaps there are other places as well; I don't recall at the moment. See also his comment on Makkos 23b regarding HaShem's punishments and Chagigah 4b on dying early (I admit I looked at my own webshas notes for those last two).

7. A MUST see - The Ran at the top of 40a on praying for a person to die.

On 40, the issue of reward for bikkur cholim comes up. One of my Daffies here asked about the gemara at the end of Chullin, which says Schar mitzvah b'hai alma leca. I would respond with two points:
1. Specific to this issue - Here, the schar is explicitly stated in a pasuk;
2. In general - It seems to me that the nature of HaShem's schar/onesh is subject to machlokes in the gemara; views are expressed which are mutually exclusive. This isn't a big deal; as the Rambam noted in his comments to the end of Sanhedrin, we don't need to pasken on these issues.

40 is also very interesting for the tangent into the laws of Mikvah vs. Maayan. I highly recommend an article by Rabbi Howard Jachter on the differences between the two, and the issue of Zochlin.

You might take a look at Tosafos in Bava Basra 141a "l'didi", when you see Rav Chisda's note on the importance of a wife, on 41a. I'm not sure what to do with Tosafos's second answer, in relation to Rav Chisda's emphasis on marriage. There might be no connection, but it seems to me that there is one...

On 41 we find Rav Yosef's tragic story, which is particularly ironic given his role as "Sinai" in the classic "Sinai vs. Oker Harim" debate at the end of Berachos.

We also find a similar story involving Rebbe and R' Chiyya, and here the number 13 appears again. If you recall my comment on 13 and exaggeration, see my reference there to Bava Basra, but also see Rashi in Shabbos 119a on the ilisa d'dinri (towards the bottom of the page), and the Maharsha there. Of course, 13 here does seem to be a specific number - unless the point is that the launderer knew the lesser half.

Re: miracles of refuah, see the Ramban's approach to nisim, that the purpose of a nes nigleh (open miracle) is to make sure we notice the nes nistar (hidden miracle). We also talk about this regarding the nes of waking up in the morning.

Note also the Rosh on eating milk at the same table where someone eats dairy, and the difference between that and the neder case.

In general: See the Ran and the Rosh all through this daf; interesting conflicting views here, such as on the issue of the tamchui hachozeir l'baal habayis, and on the question of whether healing the animal is a mitzvah of hashavas aveidah.

Daf Notes on Nedarim - II

Worth noting: The Rosh on "tipol hanaah l'hekdesh" on the Mishnah on 33a. His approach (as opposed to that of the Ran) is remarkable.

35b mentions the issue of using a moch as a means of contraception, and seems to permit it in certain cases in order to prevent danger to the life of an infant (in the case of a nursing woman), a fetus (in the case of a pregnant woman), or a very young woman. It's worth noting that where the Rosh and the Ran here, as well as Tosfos in Yevamos, take the logical position that use of this moch is mandatory, Rashi in Yevamos disagrees and contends it is optional. This view is difficult to understand, if we are talking about protecting a life!

On 36a we mention a concept which also came up toward the end of Kesuvos, of disavowing a shaliach if the shaliach's actions work against the meshaleiach's perceived best interests. From a theoretical standpoint (and juts my own thought), there are a couple of ways to understand this disavowal: (1) The mission did not include this action (ie making the item pigul), or (2) Shlichut is inherently invalid if it harms the sender, because one cannot acquire liability for a person without his explicit consent.
Practical ramification: What if I did license that specific action, but I didn't realize it would lead to a liability? As in: I told the Kohen he could plan to eat the korban tomorrow, not realizing it had to be eaten today.
No. On second thought, I don't think that idea works - if it were correct, then according to the view that Kohanim are our shlichim, a kohen could never create pigul!In any case, Shlichut is stronger than "zachin," and doesn't depend on producing merit/gain for the sender. When I empower someone to be my shaliach, he can create liability as well as zchut for me.

The gemara on 36a also talks about challenging one's children to race to Yerushalayim, and figures into two interesting discussions - the legitimacy of Bereirah, hinted at in the Ran here and discussed more fully in Gittin 25a, and in the issue of gambling as well. I cannot recall the reference for the gemara on gambling at the moment, but I think it's a gemara in Shabbos.

37 is a hugely fun daf, with a lot to see.
Keep a close eye on the Rosh throughout, particulary his note on "Aggadot" which might prove contentious in some circles, depending on what you do with it.

On "schar shimur" go with the Rosh's graphic explanation - but note that Tosafos believes children from the age of 10 already don't need babysitting. This certainly worked for their children, who were apprenticed at vocations at a very young age, but today it is hardly the same.

Shemuel gives a piece of medical advice on this page, which is consistent with his general role as the Gemara's doctor-on-call. See my page here for some.

Re: Ran on "itur sofrim" - See Rashi Bava Metzia 60a and Tosafos Sanhedrin 60a on the Torah using certain language to sound nicer (na'eh yoteir).

Put yourself through the effort of reading the GRA's fine print on the pesukim at the bottom of 37b, top of 38a.

And, of course, the big point - women should be taught to lein, it appears. Presumably this is because it will help them learn the pesukim properly, although it has added advantages; when I leined as a teenager, my mother was the one who listened to me to correct my mistakes.

Daf Notes on Nedarim - 1


I've begun emailing people little notes on the daf, based on things that come to mind as I deliver the daf shiur here in Allentown, PA.

Here are digests of those emails. Unlike the standard daf sites, I'm not really touching these up to make them into full divrei torah; these are more like jumping-off points for people who want to look into issues a little further, but the reader will have to do most of the work.

19a - "safek mashkin."
Several "Rashi" notes in Nedarim give away the fact that the author is not really Rashi. One of those is on "safek mashkin" - contrast the Rashi on Nedarim 19a with his comment at the top of Pesachim 16a on "safek mashkin" and you'll see what I mean.

The gemara at the bottom of 25a discusses the exaggeration of a snake that is "like the board in an olive press," and it compares this to a story about a snake so big that it swallowed 13 crates of straw.
The funny part in this is that the straw story may, itself, be an exaggeration! See Rashi Shabbos 119a "Treisar" and Tosafos Bava Basra 133b "Ilisa", both of which show cases in which 12 and 13 are used in exaggerations...

Make sure you see the Ran on dina d'malchuta (the law of the land) on 28a. There are many fews of how 'dina d'malchuta' works. Here are some:

1. One view is that the king owns the land. Rashba, like the Ran, takes this view. Radvaz also took this view, although he said it was specifically a result of the king having conquered the land.

2. A second view is that it's a function of the nation itself. The Nimukei Yosef on our Nedarim daf points out that we say "dina d'malchuta," the law of the kingdom, not "dina d'malka," the law of the king. The Beit Yosef, in his teshuvot (Avkat Rochel), presented this view. Some, like the Rama (in a teshuvah) and Rashba (also in a teshuvah), say this is meant to empower the king to help the nation. Rav Moshe Feinstein appears to have held otherwise, as he limits government authority to areas that directly affect the government itself.

3. A third view is that HaShem gives this right to all kings, based on Sanhedrin 20b on the rights of Jewish kings. Of particular note is the Meiri to Bava Kama 113b.

4. A fourth view is that since HaShem required bnei Noach to create courts, those courts (and related governments) must have legal standing.

5. A fifth view is that the power of government is actually a function of communal custom. The Rosh to Gittin 1:10 seems to follow this, and Rav Moshe used this in discussing labor laws. Rashba also seems to support it.

1. 31a - Regarding the issue of a seller being sad, or feeling he has come out the "loser," in a sale, see Berachos 5a regarding HaShem's disposition upon giving the Jews the Torah. The general trend in the Gemara is to view a seller as unhappily liquidating an asset, even if the seller is a merchant who does this for a living.

Regarding the delay of the Bris Milah for Moshe's son Gershom, the Chasam Sofer to Shabbos, 131a or so as I recall, where he presents two fascinating rationales for why Moshe delayed the bris. One has to do with the preference for a metal blade, the other with the geographic placement of Yisro's home, the inn and Egypt.

Just a quick note on 32b (although there is much to say about the bottom of 32a, on drafting talmidei chachamim for war!) - Malki Tzedek is criticized for blessing Avraham before blessing HaShem. Therefore, it is appropriate to be careful when making a "L'Chaim" that we first make the berachah on the beverage, then take a drink, and only afterward say "L'Chaim."

Monday, February 4, 2008

Class: Allocation of Scarce Medical Resources

Tomorrow I'll teach a Jewish Medical Ethics class at Lehigh Valley Hospital, the last in our two-year series. Our topic is: Allocating Scarce Medical Resources.

Interestingly, as Rabbi Steinberg points out in the Encyclopedia of Jewish Medical Ethics, this is a fundamentally new field. Historically, physician care was personal rather than communal or institutional, treatment was based largely on accessible items, and the outcome was either healing, death or acceptance of a chronically untreatable condition. Today, though, we have research investment costs, expensive treatment options and extended treatment periods as well as preventive medicine, all of which drain our resources - and so we need to make choices.

Our class will address two topics:
1. Me as an individual vs. You as an individual
2. Society vs Individual, and the issue of spending on one patient and thereby depriving society of resources

We'll address the first case by looking at the classic "Ben Petura" and "Water supply" cases (and also see Rav Moshe's interesting look at the Ben Petura case, in Igros Moshe Yoreh Deah 1:145):

Talmud, Bava Metzia 62a
If two people were traveling, one of them holding a pitcher of water, and the result of both drinking would be that they would both die, but if one would drink then he would reach civilization:
Ben Petura taught: Better for both to drink and die, rather than for one to see the other die.
Rabbi Akiva taught: It is written, ‘The life of your brother will be with you’ - Your life precedes that of your brother.

Talmud, Nedarim 80a
If a spring is owned by a certain town, and there is a choice between their lives [in access to the spring] and the lives of others, their lives come before those of others. Their animals precede the animals of others, and if there is a choice between their laundry and that of others, their laundry comes before that of others. If there is a choice between the lives of others and their laundry, the lives of others precede their laundry.
Rabbi Yosi said: Their laundry precedes the lives of others.

We'll then look at Society vs. Individual.
First, we'll ask whether Society is the same as a collection of individuals, or whether Society has a set of rights unto itself.
We can view this through the prism of the Torah's narrative, such as re: the Mabul and the Givonim.
We can view this as the Kuzari put it, through Tefilah (3:19).
We can view this from a business ethics perspective, in terms of the rights and obligations of a corporation, as Rav Chaim Soloveitchik did in contrasting the mitzvah of Tzedakah in Behar and in Reeh.
And we can view this in terms of life and death, per the Sheva ben Bichri case and the Hostage ransom case:

Talmud Yerushalmi, Terumot 8:10
We learned: If groups of people were traveling on the road and they encountered non-Jews who said, “Give us one of yours and we will kill him, and if you don’t then we will kill all of you,” then even if all will be killed they should not give over anyone. If the non-Jews specified a victim, such as Sheva ben Bichri, then the group should give him over and not be killed.
R’ Shimon ben Lakish said: Only if the victim is liable for death like Sheva ben Bichri.
R’ Yochanan said: Even if he is not liable for death like Sheva ben Bichri.

Mishnah Gittin 45a
One may not redeem captives for more than their value, due to Tikkun haOlam.

Talmud, Gittin 45a
Does Tikkun haOlam refer to the burden upon the community, or to a concern that the captors may capture and bring more captives?
Come and hear: Levi bar Darga redeemed his daughter for 13,000 gold dinar.
Abayye argued: Who says that the sages agreed with this? Perhaps he did it against the desire of the sages.

Talmud, Gittin 58a
Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananiah said: I will not budge from here until I redeem him for whatever sum they demand.

Maimonides, Laws of Gifts for the Needy 8:12
One may not redeem captives for more than their value, due to Tikkun haOlam, lest the enemies pursue them to capture them.

Code of Jewish Law, Yoreh Deah 252:4
One may not redeem captives for more than their value, due to Tikkun haOlam, lest the enemies endeavor to capture them. But one may redeem himself for any sum he chooses. The same is for a Torah scholar, or even one who is not a Torah scholar but is a sharp student and may become a great man - one redeems him for a great amount of money.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Class: Women in the Talmud

This morning (in about ten minutes, in fact) I am teaching a class on "Women in the Talmud."

Many books have been written, from both Jewish and secular perspectives, on the Jewish and non-Jewish women of the talmudic era, on the role of women in the evolution of Torah, on specific women who are mentioned in the Talmud, on relations between men and women in those days, etc.

To my mind, when dealing with the Talmud we ought to remember that this is not intended to be an historical or biographical document. It is fundamentally a work of law, analyzing the connection between law and the Torah's physical text, and all of the non-legal material present is there because of its connection to law, or to the events and ideas involved in daily Jewish life. Therefore, all of the material we find in the Talmud, whether about men or about women, is not to be taken as comprehensive.

Further, one need be extremely careful in making assumptions about the deeper meaning of stories when engaging in deconstruction. I've seen some pretty awful stuff out there, based entirely on the authors' ignorance of the greater talmudic canon, as well as basic Hebrew and Aramaic.

My goal today will be to talk about some of the roles Jewish women filled in that time, based on certain accounts presented in the Gemara.

We'll look at some typical roles for that era:

The Jewish mother
Abayye’s nanny - Medicines and therapeutic treatments
Yalta - Healed Rav Amram Chasida
Mother of Rav Achadbavi bar Ami - Curing someone of giluya

Rachel supporting Rabbi Akiva
Mar Ukva’s wife escapes the oven unharmed, due to her tzedakah
Abba Chilkiah’s wife brings rain, due to her tzedakah

Emotionally sensitive
A maid in Rebbe’s household
The widow in Rabban Gamliel’s neighborhood

We'll also look at some less “typical” roles for that era:
Beruriah (daughter of R’ Chanina ben Tradyon, wife of Rabbi Meir)
Yalta (daughter of Rabbah bar Avuha, wife of Rav Nachman)
Daughter of Elisha ben Avuyah

Stickler for mitzvot
Queen Helene of Adiabene and the Succah
Mother of Mar bereih d’Raveina and the Matzah
Kimchit and her hair
Rav Chisda’s daughter and the un-treibered meat

Ima Shalom (sister of Rabban Gamliel, wife of Rabbi Eliezer)
A maid in Rebbe’s household - Translations and witticisms

And we'll look at two interesting questions:
How did women become scholarly in those days, in a spoken tradition?
The role of the maid, in Talmudic anecdotes

Some sources we'll use:

Talmud, Ketuvot 104a
Rebbe's maid went up to the roof, and said, “The Heavens request Rebbe and the earthly realm requests Rebbe. May it be Gd’s will that the earthly realm should overpower the Heavens!”
When she saw how often Rebbe had to go to the bathroom, and remove his phylacteries and then put them back on, and how he was in great pain, she said, “May it be Gd’s will that the Heavens should overpower the earthly realm!”
The sages were not silent in their prayers for Gd’s mercy, so she took a pitcher of water and threw it from the roof. The praying people paused, and Rebbe passed away.

Tosefta Kelim, Bava Metzia 1:6
A klostra [hinge-bolt]: Rabbi Tarfon says this can become tamei. The sages say it remains tahor. Beruriah said: One may let it fall from one door and attach it to another on Shabbat. This was reported to Rabbi Yehoshua, who said, “Beruriah has spoken well.”

Talmud, Berachot 51b
Ulla visited Rav Nachman, broke bread and then recited the blessing. He gave the kos shel berachah to Rav Nachman.
Rav Nachman said to him: Master, give the cup to Yalta.
[Ulla demurred, saying that she benefits through Rav Nachman]
When Yalta heard this, she rose in rage, went to the winecellar and smashed 400 barrels of wine. Rav Nachman said to him: Master, give her another cup.
Ulla sent a message to her, “The whole barrel is blessed.”
Yalta sent back, “Wanderers are filled with words, the way that rags are filled with lice.”

Talmud, Succah 2b
A Succah that is more than twenty amah tall is disqualified. Rabbi Yehudah approved of a Succah being even forty or fifty amah high.
Rabbi Yehudah reported that once, when Queen Hilni was in Lud, her Succah was taller than twenty amah. The sages entered and exited, and didn’t say anything.
They replied: Will you bring proof from there? Women are exempt from Succah.
Rabbi Yehudah responded: She had seven sons! Further, she did everything upon the instruction of the sages.

Talmud, Shabbat 116a-b
Imma Shalom, wife of Rabbi Eliezer, was the sister of Rabban Gamliel. There was a philosopher, who had a reputation of not accepting bribes, in his neighborhood. They wished to expose him for ridicule.
Imma Shalom sent him a gold lamp, and then went to him and said, “I would like to take a share of my family’s estate.”
The philosopher replied, “Take a share.”
She replied, “It is written for us, ‘Where there is a son, a daughter does not inherit.’”
The philosopher replied, “From the day you were exiled from your land, the Torah of Moses was removed, and the law of the Evangelium has been given, in which it is written, ‘Daughter and son inherit as one.’”
The next day, Rabban Gamliel sent him a Libyan donkey.
The philosopher then told them, “I read to the end of the Evangelium, and there it is written, ‘I have not come to detract from the Torah of Moses, and I have not come to add to the Torah of Moses.’ And in the Torah of Moses it is written that a daughter does not inherit where there is a son.”
Imma Shalom said to him, “Your light shines forth like a lamp!” To which Rabban Gamliel added, “The donkey came and kicked over the lamp.”

Talmud, Sotah 20a
Ben Azzai said: A man is obligated to teach his daughter Torah, for if she will drink Sotah water then the merit of study will still suspend any punishment..
Rabbi Eliezer said: One who teaches his daughter Torah, teaches her tiflut.

Talmud, Moed Katan 17a
The maid of Rebbe’s household saw a man striking his adult son. She said, “Let him be excommunicated, for he violated, ‘Do not put a stumbling block in front of the blind.’”

Talmud Yerushalmi, Moed Katan 3:1
A maid from the house of Bar Pata was passing before a synagogue, and she saw a teacher striking a student more than necessary. She said, “May that man be excommunicated!”
He went and asked Rabbi Acha, who told him that he should worry for his life.

Class: Items which do not need kosher certification

Yesterday, I presented a class entitled, "Which items do not need kosher certification?"

The fundamental point is that kosher supervision is required for the following seven reasons:

1. To ensure that ingredients are kosher (including ensuring that bugs are not present);

2. To ensure that equipment is not used in any way that might compromise its kosher use;

3. To ensure that products are properly sealed, and that there will be no confusion between kosher and non-kosher product en route to the consumer;

4. To ensure that the food is prepared by the people who are supposed to prepare it, averting bishul akum, pat akum and stam yeinam problems;

5. To ensure that potential halachic problems are detected and properly resolved;

6. To ensure that meat, dairy and pareve are all kept separate;

7. To ensure that Shabbat and Yom Tov issues are properly handled, particularly in establishments with Jewish owners or employees.

If all seven of these points can be addressed without supervisory presence, then certification is not necessary.

Rabbi Eliezer Eidlitz has an interesting list of no-supervision-necessary products here. Not everyone will agree with his list, but I applaud his bravery in publishing a list at all! That is truly a task for broad shoulders.