Numbers, 9:9-13. God is talking to Moses.

Then the LORD said to Moses, "Tell the Israelites: 'When any of you or your descendants are unclean because of a dead body or are away on a long journey, they may still celebrate the LORD's Passover. They are to celebrate it on the fourteenth day of the second month at twilight. They are to eat the lamb, together with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. They must not leave any of it till morning or break any of its bones, and they must follow all the regulations. But if a man who is ceremonially clean and not on a long journey fails to celebrate the Passover, that person must be cut off from his people because he did not present the LORD's offering at the appointed time. That man will bear the consequences of his sin. (adap. NIV)

That is, Moses is to tell the Israelites that if someone is ritually impure or is away on a long journey and can't make his paschal offering (at the appointed place, which in rabbinic Judaism is the temple in Jerusalem) in the first month of the year (Nissan), he can make it up in the second month (Iyyar).

In the Torah, there is a little dot above the word "long." My new friend Rabbi Yosi explains: it's to teach that "long" doesn't really mean "long."

How so? The ninth chapter of Pesahim; the mishnah asks "So what's a long journey?" R' Akiva says you're a long way from Jerusalem if you're more than a day's walk out. R' Eliezer says you're a long way from the temple if you're not actually in its precincts.

The thing is that if you miss your paschal sacrifice in Nissan because you had a party to go to in Katamon, and then fail to make it up in Iyyar because you had a party to go to in Nahlaot, you're absolutely done for - eternal damnation is yours. But if you missed in Nissan because you were at a business meeting in New York, and missed in Iyyar because of the party in Nahlaot, you're just about okay - you aren't necessarily going to be God's favourite person, but you aren't doomed forever.

Rabbi Eliezer, by defining a long journey as one outside the temple precincts, is being hugely lenient; if someone doesn't make it to the temple in Nissan for the sacrifice because they couldn't find a parking space, and then doesn't make it to the temple in Iyyar because he's babysitting (or going to that party in Nahlaot), is he doomed for all eternity? According to Rabbi Akiva, yes he is, but according to Rabbi Eliezer, no he isn't. Rabbi Eliezer's teaching serves to make eternal damnation just that little bit less likely for all of us.

This is what Rabbi Yosi is saying; the little dot over the word long is there by way of commentary - sometimes even the shortest distance can be a long journey.
Hot on the heels of Shabbat, Eruvin takes the issue of not carrying objects in public domains, and addresses itself to precise definitions of domains, in particular the boundaries which define them. Clearly an entirely closed and high wall is some kind of marker, and clearly some kind of entrance is permitted, but what exactly constitutes an entrance?

So the question "What is a door?" and its complement question "What is an enclosure?" are absolutely done to death in the first few daf.

Now, everyone probably remembers hearing about some eruv being constructed - it doesn't matter where, any heavily Jewish area except Israel - there's the group which wants the eruv, and the group which not only doesn't want the eruv for various ideological reasons, but tears it down every time it's put up.

So. Rav Nachman and Rav Sheshet disagree on a technicality of eruv-building. Rav Nachman then went off and built an eruv his way, just incidentally for the Resh Galuta, the top Jewish political bod.

One of Rav Sheshet's stooges came and told him oooooo, Rav Nachman built the Resh Galuta's eruv his way and not your way! and Rav Sheshet told Rav Gadda, his sidekick, to go pull down the eruv and throw it away. So he did - went up to the Resh Galuta's house, ripped up his eruv, and threw it out. Unfortunately for Rav Gadda, he was caught in the act, and the Resh Galuta's household were a bit ticked, and locked him in a cupboard.* But Rav Sheshet pulled rank and made them let him out.

Later, Rav Sheshet meets Rabba bar Shmuel, sidles up to him and quietly asks him what the right answer to the eruv question was. Rabba bar Shmuel quotes him a piece of ancient legal code which proves that Rav Nachman was utterly, completely correct in his eruv methods, and Rav Sheshet was utterly and totally wrong.

Rav Sheshet realises that he tore up the Resh Galuta's eruv for no reason at all, and his heart falls into his sandals. He had the wrong answer, and all because he didn't know the early codes well enough! Good thing Rav Nachman didn't know that source either, but even so, he doesn't want to be proved wrong, he won't be top rabbi any more, he'll be laughed out of town.

So Rav Sheshet says to Rabba bar Shmuel, please, please, don't let this get about, don't let any of the Resh Galuta's lot know about that source! don't tell them Rav Nachman was right! don't ruin my reputation!

* ok, I invented the cupboard. But they did lock him up.
We've been discussing various kinds of remedies, since low-grade healing isn't allowed on shabbat. And on the subject of remedies, here's the Home Medical Manual on snakes and women.

If you're not sure whether a snake wants to have sex with you, you should throw your clothes at it and see whether it gets off on them or not. If it does, you can either have sex with your husband so that the snake will think "Eww! Ick!" and go away, or, if that just gets it even more interested, you can tell the snake "I'm niddah" and again it'll think "Eww! Ick!" and go away. If you're too late and it starts having sex with you, apparently you should squat over a nice roast dinner, so the snake will lose interest in you and go for the dinner instead.
(Yeah, I'm still a bit behind)

Rabbi Yehudah, in the Mishnah, says one thing about trapping [animals on shabbat], and Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel says something a bit different and lays down a general principle.

Later, Shmuel says yup, the halacha follows the general principle of R' Shimon ben Gamliel. And Abbaye says ok, well, does that mean everyone else disagrees with him? and Shmuel says what the heck does it matter? the halacha is the halacha, why do you need to ask irrelevant questions?

Gemara gomer v'zomarta t'hei? says Abbaye - the halacha is a song? you're just going to repeat it mindlessly?
R' Yehoshua b. Levi is in a romantic mood. He's reading Song of Songs, the bit which says "v'siftotav shoshanim not'fot mor over"*

RYbL: Every word that issues from the mouth of God fills the whole universe with wonderful spices.

Isn't that visionary? and lovely? But the Stamma d'Gemara is not in a romantic mood.

SdG (with commendable logic) : If the first word filled the universe with wonderful spices, there can't have been room for the spices from the second word.

Oh, just spoil the image, SdG, won't you? Do you always have to take everything so literally? RYbL has a comeback, fortunately:

RYbL: God blows all the spices away between words - "v'siftotav shoshanim not'fot mor over" - don't say shoshanim, say she'shonim - his lips renew the perfume.

* his lips are lilies dripping perfume (Song 5:13)
In a discussion about how icky women's bodies are, we come across the phrase "Yisrael k'doshim hen, v'ein m'shamshin mitoteihen bayom."

At 7am on the subway, I read this as "The Jews are a holy people, they don't sleep late."

It actually means they don't have sex during the daytime, but at that particular point in my day, sleeping late seemed a far more attractive prospect.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Aug. 1st, 2005 09:20 pm)
After a long period of technicalities with very few treasures, we have a huge number of treasures all at once, around daf 80/81.

I'm not going to do the whole toilet discussion cos I always think those are funny and it's getting a bit predictable - suffice it to say that they go on at length. We'll join the discussion where we ask whether you can use a piece of broken pottery for toilet paper. More obvious reasons aside, they suggest that perhaps it's a bad idea on account of witchcraft - pottery is a relatively common vehicle for curses. A real-life example: one of those feisty Roman women is getting onto a boat with Rav Hisda and Raba b. Rav Huna, and she wants to sit next to them. They don't want her sitting with them (the Roman women in these stories are usually inappropriately randy), and, piqued, she casts a spell to stop the boat moving. They cast a spell right back, and off the boat goes. Damn it, she says, I can't even curse you, cos you don't use pottery shards for toilet paper.

What was Raba b. Rav Huna doing hanging out with Rav Hisda? Raba didn't like going round Rav Hisda's place, because whenever he went round there Rav Hisda would talk about irrelevant things. What sort of things? asks Rav Huna of his son. He always talks about toilet habits, says Raba. But, my son, toilet habits are very important, says Rav Huna. You must go round his place and learn these important things! And it seems they ended up taking boat trips together.

We also discuss plaster made with lime. What do we use lime for? As a depilatory, of course. Apparently it's very unfashionable to have pubic hair before you're twelve, so little girls use lime. And bigger girls use it all over. Rav Bibi limed his daughter all over, bit by bit, and this resulted in her getting a huge present from her bridegroom because she was so beautiful. A local girl observed this, and thought she'd do the same thing - she limed herself all over all at once, and died horribly. Rav Nachman said that Rav Bibi drank lots of beer, so his daughter was hairy and needed more liming than other girls.
Chappie 1 bets Chappie 2 400 zuz (that's two years' salary) that he can piss off Hillel. So he goes round to Hillel's place right before shabbat starts, and Hillel's in the shower, but he gets out to answer the door. And the chappie asks him why Babylonians have round heads, to which Hillel gives a reasonable answer.

Hillel gets back in the shower, and our chappie bangs on the door again, and Hillel gets out of the shower again, for another silly question, and give a reasonable answer.

And again...

and again...

...and Hillel is unfailingly patient and polite and doesn't get pissed off at all, even though he's had to get out of the shower and come and answer the door multiple times and it's right before Shabbat and he's probably still got soap in his hair and all.

Chappie: Aren't you going to get annoyed with me asking you all these silly questions?
Hillel: No. Keep asking.
Chappie: Dammit.
Hillel: ?!£$*$*???
Chappie: You made me lose 400 zuz!
Hillel: Ha. That'll teach you.

(slightly paraphrased)
Ravin is from Israel, Abbaye is from Babylonia (otherwise known as Bavel).

We have a Mishnah which discusses various substances and materials one may and may not use for Shabbat lamps. The words it uses are in the Hebrew spoken in Israel. Abbaye is living in Bavel trying to learn the Mishnah, but he doesn't know obscure words for different sorts of cloth in Hebrew, and he doesn't have a dictionary, poor chap.

Well, Ravin comes to visit, and he knows Hebrew, but he doesn't know the Aramaic of Bavel, so Abbaye's all like "What's kalach?" and Ravin goes "Uhhhhh....." (except it's Uhhhhh in Hebrew, obviously), because he doesn't know technical words in Aramaic any more than Abbaye knows them in Hebrew.

So at some point they're hanging out with Ravna Nehemya, and Ravin goes "Look! That shirt he's wearing! THAT'S kalach!"

I so identify with that.

There are other bits where the poor guys in Bavel don't know what the words in the Mishnah mean exactly, and so whenever anyone comes back from visiting Israel they all jump on them and ask them to tell them what various mishnaic Hebrew words mean in Aramaic.

I like the real-life bits.
Couple of interesting stories lately.

First up, a fine scholar, upstanding pillar of the community I expect, one who leads a highly virtuous life, dies young. His distraught widow goes around to the rabbis and asks them, he did all the right things! why did he die young?! Most of them ignore her, except Eliyahu, who quizzes her: How did he behave when you were niddah? Oh, says she, he was super-frum, didn't touch me at all. Very well, says Eliyahu, how did he behave during the week after you were niddah?* We ate together and drank together, she says, and we slept in the same bed whilst not wearing very much. Hurrah! says Eliyahu. That proves it! God is great! Why is God great? Because he punished the chappie suitably with an early death for behaving so badly, and didn't let him off on account of what a good chap he was.

* during which time there is, strictly speaking, no actual problem with touching, but there is a custom to be as strict about that interval as for niddah itself

Which is partly interesting for its utter lack of sympathy, and partly interesting for what it says about reward-and-punishment doctrines. Apparently credits aren't transferable.

We then move into a long discussion of various halachot, which were all enacted during a monster halachic jamming session in Hananiyah ben Hezekiyah's attic (his mum wouldn't let them do it in the bedroom - no, just kidding).

A lot of it is rather hardcore, but one fun bit has to do with the book of Ezekiel. Now, if you ever bother to read the book of Ezekiel, you see it contains a lot of Weird Stuff, amongst it some prescriptive law. The problem is, the prescriptive law doesn't always match up 100% to what's in Torah, which is a bit of a problem. The usual trick in this case is to find a clever way of reading the problematic text, in order that the two may harmonise. Hananiyah ben Hezekaiyah sat in his attic and worked out a way to reconcile the texts...and it took him so long that he got through three hundred barrels of lamp-oil...
One shouldn't kill lice on Shabbat; one who kills a louse is as if he killed...a camel.
Small, black, scuttly, sucks blood; big, yellow, clompy, spits. Got it. Next time I find a camel in my clothes, I'll know that if it's a weekday, I can squish it between my fingernails.

You can't use a lamp (lest you come to make it burn brighter, which is bad news) to work out which are your clothes and which are your wife's clothes. Aren't men's and women's clothes usually fairly different? Rashi says only workers' clothes - city slickers don't do any work, so they wear wide garments like women.

I thought that was cute.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( May. 13th, 2005 08:55 am)
Yesterday's Daf-Yomi treasure (Shabbat 10b, if you're interested):

Idea that if you give somebody a present, you should tell them about it. For an adult, this is easy. But for a child, who isn't legally considered capable of receiving information, what should you do? You should tell its mother.

In what manner should you tell its mother? Well, if you gave the child a sandwich, you should...get this...put oil on the kid's head and draw around his eyes with eyeliner, so that his mother will say "what on earth happened to you?" and the child will say "X gave me a sandwich."


Alternatively, if people will think that you were doing that for nefarious purposes, you should wipe some of the sandwich on his head, so that the mother will realise her kid has been eating a sandwich someone gave him.

One would think there would be easier ways of doing it.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( May. 10th, 2005 03:29 pm)
Daf-Yomi's been a bit dull lately, going on about what the difference is between a public and a private domain; if you put a basket on the top of a pole in the street, is the basket public domain or private domain?

Instead, a comment from the Rashb"a, in a responsum. He's asserted that something (actually something quite complex) is forbidden, has given a very brief explanation, and then - ??? ????? ?????? ??? ???? ????? ???? ????? - "I see no need to go on about this, because to me it is completely obvious."

You gotta love 'em.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( May. 3rd, 2005 09:08 pm)
Daf-Yomi finished Tractate Blessings today. That means I've spent two months and a bit, reading a huge great long page in the mornings on my way into the city and another huge great long page on the way out. My opinion of the tractate has increased hugely; I used to think it was all boring stuff about when you can pray, but it's stuffed full of cool stories and discussions about poo.

We made a celebration at Drisha - Sara and me, who had read all the way through, brought cake and doughnuts, and everyone helped us eat them.

Later in the morning, I got a package in the mail. It was from some web site I'd never heard of, and contained a five-CD set of classical Spanish guitar music, recorded under Deutsche Gramophon. Random, huh? Why me? Why classical Spanish guitar music? There was no leaflet, or explanation of any kind. Haven't tried listening to it yet (not much point at the moment, unless I want to hear it with heavy bass and rap line).

And this evening I had my first real lesson with my bat mitzvah student. She's utterly gorgeous - smart AND works hard! and musical! So that was nice as well.
I'm writing copy for my website, which at present sucks royally and needs updating because I have customers looking at it (and probably going "ick"). It's a funny job - it's the first time I've actually had to aim copy at an audience to try and convey a particular message in reasonably straightforward terms. I have an extra problem to do with denominations, as well. I want to appeal to an orthodox audience, because I want to be a role-model in the left-wing orthodox community. On the other hand, since most of my trade actually comes from the non-orthodox spectrum, I don't want to alienate that audience either.

Today's Daf-Yomi treasure deals with the behaviours appropriate to a scholar. He shouldn't go out with patched shoes, for example. He shouldn't go out alone at night, unless it is his regular habit to go to a study session. If he makes irregular evening trips, people are going to suspect that he's going whoring. He shouldn't be late to school. He shouldn't walk with a big stride (if you take big steps you'll go blind. The cure is looking at the light of the shabbat candles). He shouldn't hold his head up (because the Holy Spirit stands on your head, and if you hold your head up, it's like you're trying to push it off).

He shouldn't talk to a woman in the marketplace (including his wife, sister, or daughter, because people might get the wrong idea). Well, in a society that doesn't like women, I can see that. He also shouldn't have meals with boors, and again, in a society that values scholarship, I see that. The fascinating bit is how the gemara takes these opinions, which are a relatively early source, and discusses them - because it accepts without question the idea that he shouldn't talk to women, but questions the necessity of his not eating with boors. J thinks:!?

The best bit, though, is where it says he shouldn't go out wearing perfume (he's allowed to wear deodorant). It refines its statement at once, and says - he may not wear perfume in the gay district. It really says that!

Can we say taking things a bit too far?
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Apr. 12th, 2005 01:10 pm)
Another Daf-Yomi treasure.

We have a number of different blessings to say before eating various kinds of foods, but if you have the same food twice in one meal, one blessing does for the both of them. Like if you have two glasses of wine.

So, what constitutes one meal? Certainly if you make the huge long grace-after-meals, anything after that doesn't count as part of the meal, but what if you clear the table and bring out something else? Does dessert require a blessing of its own? If you had sandwiches, cleared them away, and then had a bready sort of cake for dessert, does the cake need a new blessing?

The gemara tells a story about Rav Huna, who had finished having dinner with Rav Nahman, and was having some cake. He didn't believe that you need to make a different blessing on dessert, so he didn't. He had thirteen pieces of cake, and Rav Nahman said "Dude! No-one eats that much cake! You should make a blessing on that!"
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Mar. 31st, 2005 09:21 pm)
Yay, I have another bit of work. It's only writing text into a printed ketubah, but it's still work. The funnest bit is meeting with people and being all professional at them.

Halacha this week has involved a great deal of drawing on the board, and today the drawings got so intense that they covered the whole board and we had to tape big sheets of paper to the wall to continue the drawings. This was highly amusing.

Oh, and Wednesday was nice - a pleasant balance of sofrut, learning the Laws of Hitting People, otherwise known as Makkot, and nattering with Kate.

Daf Yomi is still being the funnest part of the school day, though. My commute is just about the right length to do the daf and Rashi, and this week featured the glorious story where Raban Gamliel (top bod in the school) is mean to Rabbi Yehoshua and the students depose him, deciding at length to install R Elazar ben Azarya in his place. Then they start whooping it up, making laws like never before. Later on, we see drunken partying rabbis - and their temperance chums smashing up the crockery, we see how to pray on a donkey, a bunch of stuff about when afternoon starts, and a little story about the psalm which goes "Then will our mouths be filled with laughter" - Rabbi Yohanan taught that since this verse is talking about a time far in the future when all nations will respect the Jews, it is forbidden to fill your mouth with laughter before then. And Resh Lakish never laughed again.

Resh Lakish was what you might call over-keen.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Mar. 16th, 2005 11:18 pm)
Arm subsided and more or less restored.

Megillot approaching completion.

Talked to Hebrew school class about sofrut. I think it would have been more meaningful to all of us if the kids had actually known what mezuzot, tefillin, megillot, etc, were, but I had a nice discussion with the grown-ups afterwards.

Daf-Yomi funny. They learn out the principle of the resurrection of the dead by a parallel with birth, thus: Birth starts silently (at conception) and finishes loudly (it cries when it is born). Death starts loudly (with the noise of the mourners) - should it not also end loudly (with the resurrection of the dead person)? I think it's funny that they're deriving theology with this kind of highly formalised logic.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Mar. 8th, 2005 11:01 pm)
Listening to a setting of Psalm 23. "Yea, though I walk through the valley of death, I will fear no evil." It occurs to me that you could also read it: "Yay! Though I walk through the valley of death I will fear no evil!"

8/20 pages of Megillah #2 done. It's looking really rather good, though I says it as shouldn't.

Daf Yomi's been rather odd lately. They gave a recipe for how to see demons. If you just want evidence that they exist, you should sprinkle dust round the bed, and in the morning you'll see their footprints. But if you want to see them for real, you have to get a black cat born of a black cat, firstborn of a firstborn, and roast it, grind it to a powder, and apply it to your eyes, whereupon you'll be able to see demons. Later, they suggest that you should pray that there'll always be a toilet nearby. And a story about a woman who hid a dead baby in a bed. Plus a bunch of stuff about praying.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Mar. 1st, 2005 09:07 pm)
The Daf-Yomi cycle is a plan whereby you study a page of gemara every single day, using the fact that squillions of other people are doing the same thing to keep you going. It's a fairly popular institution in the circles I'm in at present - all the Cool Kids are doing it. Well, the new cycle is starting tomorrow, which is an auspicious time to join the herd.

It takes about seven years to complete the cycle and read through the whole of the gemara at that rate. I could have children by then. That's scary.