Wednesday, June 27, 2018

How did Chazal "know" that Bilaam committed bestiality with his donkey?

How did Chazal "know" that Bilaam committed bestiality with his donkey?

They didn't, but it is a matter of textual interpretation. As mentioned in Avodah Zarah 4b, the words

ההסכן הסכנתי

find a secondary meaning, a double-entendre if you will, of 'warming' by night. They point to the parallel by Avishag haShunamit (though there the warming was non-sexual). As Rashi explains (Bemidbar 22:30):

The she-donkey said to Balaam, "Am I not your she-donkey on which you have ridden since you first started until now? Have I been accustomed to do this to you?" He said, "No." לוַתֹּ֨אמֶר הָֽאָת֜וֹן אֶל־בִּלְעָ֗ם הֲלוֹא֩ אָֽנֹכִ֨י אֲתֹֽנְךָ֜ אֲשֶׁר־רָכַ֣בְתָּ עָלַ֗י מֵעֽוֹדְךָ֙ עַד־הַיּ֣וֹם הַזֶּ֔ה הַֽהַסְכֵּ֣ן הִסְכַּ֔נְתִּי לַֽעֲשׂ֥וֹת לְךָ֖ כֹּ֑ה וַיֹּ֖אמֶר לֹֽא:
Have I become accustomed: Heb. הַהַסְכֵּן הִסְכַּנְתִּי. As the Targum [Onkelos] renders [lit., have I learned to do this?]. Similarly,“Does man learn (יִסְכָּן) for God?” (Job 22:2). Our Rabbis, however, expounded this verse in the Talmud: They [the Moabite dignitaries] said to him, “Why aren’t you riding on a horse?” He [Balaam] said to them, “I sent it out to pasture.” [Immediately, the she-donkey retorted, “Am I not your she-donkey?” He said to her, “Just for bearing burdens.” She retorted, “on which you have ridden.” He said to her, “Only on occasion.” She retorted,“since you first started until now, and not only that but I provide you with riding by day, and with intimacy at night, (interpreting Heb. הַהַסְכֵּן הִסְכַּנְתִּי as”I heated you up,") as is stated in Tractate Avodah Zarah [4b]. ההסכן הסכנתי: כתרגומו, וכן (איוב כב, ב) הלאל יסכן גבר. ורבותינו דרשו מקרא זה בגמרא אמרו ליה, מאי טעמא לא רכבת אסוסיא. אמר להון ברטיבא שדאי ליה וכו', כדאיתא במסכת עבודה זרה (ד ב):

It seems possible that they also saw a double-entendre in אֲשֶׁר־רָכַ֣בְתָּ עָלַ֗י. That explains the immediate mechanics. What about the impetus?

I can see three impetiuses.

(A) a global desire to paint bad guys negatively
(B) a local desire to expand upon, and explain, the "embarrassment" of the previous verse, in such manner as to make each subsequent phrase an explanation of the "embarrassment", in increasing order.
(C) that the donkey was executed by the angel, as detailed in another midrash; this execution was for sparing of embarrassment, and Chazal found the other instance of execution of an animal to spare embarrassment.

(A) The global desire to paint bad guys negatively

It is a general trend in midrash to take "bad-guy" Biblical characters who are, on a peshat level, painted in shades of gray, and to paint them as totally dark. We see this for Lavan, for Lot, for Esav, for Pharaoh, and so on.

Similarly, for the heroes and "good guys", even where they act in ways which seem not-so-good, the midrash will paint them and their actions as more clearly defined white-hats. And neutral statements on a peshat level will be certainly taken as accounts of praiseworthy actions.

There may be many reasons for this. (Maharatz Chajes discusses this phenomenon at length, IIRC in Iggeret Bikkoret). The purpose of these midrashim may be homiletical, to provide positive role models and vice versa, a Goofus and Gallant. It could be that Chazal are just always going to pick up on this nuanced language, and will naturally and honestly assume that these will be holding hidden condemnation or tales of good deeds. Context dictates which one, and the overall character of the person is the best context.

(B) a local desire to expand upon the "Embarrassment"

The previous verse (22:29, and Rashi) read:

Balaam said to the she-donkey, "For you have humiliated me; if I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now." כטוַיֹּ֤אמֶר בִּלְעָם֙ לָֽאָת֔וֹן כִּ֥י הִתְעַלַּ֖לְתְּ בִּ֑י ל֤וּ יֶשׁ־חֶ֨רֶב֙ בְּיָדִ֔י כִּ֥י עַתָּ֖ה הֲרַגְתִּֽיךְ:
you have humiliated: Heb. הִתְעַלַּלְתָּ. As the Targum [Onkelos] renders it, a term denoting shame and disgrace. התעללת: כתרגומו לשון גנאי ובזיון:
If I had a sword in my hand: This matter made him greatly contemptible in the eyes of the dignitaries. This man was going to kill an entire nation with his mouth, yet for this she-donkey he needed weapons!- [Mid. Tanchuma Balak 9, Num. Rabbah 20:14] לו יש חרב בידי: גנות גדולה היה לו דבר זה בעיני השרים, זה הולך להרוג אומה שלמה בפיו, ולאתון זו צריך לכלי זיין:

The word hitalalta is ambiguous, but is understood by Chazal to denote embarrassment, shame, and disgrace. We have an immediate disgrace in the very verse, namely that he did not have the ability to slay the donkey with his own mouth, but would require a weapon.

But the embarrassment and shame, on a peshat level, is that his donkey repeatedly has disregarded his directions! He cannot control his donkey, and so has smote her three times.

But then the embarrassment continues. And the donkey's conversation repeatedly exposes the lowly stature of Bilaam before the Moabite dignitaries, culminating with revelations that he regularly engaged in intimacy with his donkey.

(C) That the donkey was executed by the angel

However, I think a real key to this interpretation is to be found later in the same perek. In pasuk 33:

When the she-donkey saw me, it turned aside these three times. Had she not turned aside before me, now also I would also have killed you and spared her [the she-donkey]." לגוַתִּרְאַ֨נִי֙ הָֽאָת֔וֹן וַתֵּ֣ט לְפָנַ֔י זֶ֖ה שָׁל֣שׁ רְגָלִ֑ים אוּלַי֙ נָֽטְתָ֣ה מִפָּנַ֔י כִּ֥י עַתָּ֛ה גַּם־אֹֽתְכָ֥ה הָרַ֖גְתִּי וְאוֹתָ֥הּ הֶֽחֱיֵֽיתִי:

and spared her: But now, since she spoke and rebuked you, and you could not withstand her rebuke, as it is written, “He said, No,” therefore, I have killed her, so that [people] should not say, “This is the one that silenced Balaam with her rebuke, and he could not respond,” for the Omnipresent shows regard for human dignity. Similarly, “you shall kill the woman and the animal [through which the sin was committed]” (Lev. 20:16), and, “you shall kill the animal” (ibid. 20:15) - [Mid. Tanchuma Balak 9, Num. Rabbah 20:14] ואותה החייתי: ועתה מפני שדברה והוכיחתך ולא יכולת לעמוד בתוכחתה, כמו שכתוב (פסוק ל) ויאמר לא. על כן הרגתיה, שלא יאמרו זו היא שסלקה את בלעם בתוכחתה ולא יכול להשיב, שחס המקום על כבוד הבריות, וכן (ויקרא כ, טו - טז) ואת הבהמה תהרוגו, וכן (שם) והרגת את האשה ואת הבהמה:

The clear meaning of this midrash is that it is the embarrassment of rebuke for which the donkey here is killed.

However, Vayikra is one of two times an animal is executed. An animal who kills a person is executed, and there are even full court procedures for it, but the reason seems to be that spelled out in Bereishit 9:5, וְאַךְ אֶת-דִּמְכֶם לְנַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם אֶדְרֹשׁ, מִיַּד כָּל-חַיָּה אֶדְרְשֶׁנּוּ; וּמִיַּד הָאָדָם, מִיַּד אִישׁ אָחִיו--אֶדְרֹשׁ, אֶת-נֶפֶשׁ הָאָדָם.

The other time is the case of bestiality. Now animals are not typically deemed guilty of sin. Why should the animal be executed for sleeping with a human? This is what the midrash (above) is saying, that it is to spare the human embarrassment and preserve their dignity. The animal cannot be walking around and have people point to it and say it was Ploni's girlfriend or Plonit's boyfriend.

Once this connection had been made, it was a very short leap to say that Bilaam's female donkey was executed to spare him for embarrassment in the exactly the same way the other animal in the Torah was executed to spare someone from embarrassment. And this then guided Chazal in all the other interpretations.


Friday, March 16, 2018

Avoda Zara 60b: Falling into a vat

This is inyanei de-yoma, since this appears in today's daf, and since tomorrow is St. Patrick's Day. :)

In today's daf, we have the following:

נפל לבור ועלה: אמר רב פפא לא שנו אלא שעלה מת אבל עלה חי אסור מ"ט אמר רב פפא דדמי עליה כיום אידם: 
§ The mishna teaches that if a gentile fell into the wine collection vat and emerged, it is not prohibited to derive benefit from the wine. Rav Pappa says:The Sages taught this halakha only in a case where the gentile emerged from the vat dead. But if he emerged alive, the wine is prohibited. The Gemara asks: What is the reason that the wine is prohibited? Rav Pappa said: Sincethe gentile was rescued from death, he considers that day like their festival day, and he offers the wine as an idolatrous libation in thanksgiving.

Rashi explains Rav Pappa's reasoning as follows:

דדמי עליה כיום אידם - ואזיל ומודה על שניצל ומסתמא נסכיה בעלייתו ואסור בהנאה
That is, since he was saved, he will thank his deity, and therefore as he is pulled out of the cistern containing the wine, he will presumably libate some of the wine.

I would suggest another possibility, that since he lives, he was happy to be in the wine cistern, since he gets to enjoy the wine! And his thrashing around in there is shichshuch of someone who having a festival day.

Talking about Yom Eidem, festival days, tomorrow is St. Patrick's Day. And this story is just on point:

Old man O'Malley had worked down at the brewery for years, but one day he just wasn't paying attention and he tripped on the walkway and fell over into the beer vat and drowned. The foreman thought it should be his job to inform the Widow O'Malley of her old man's death. He showed up at the front door and rang the bell. When she came to the door, he said, "I'm sorry to tell you, but your poor husband passed away at work today when he fell into the vat and drowned." She wept and covered her face with her apron and after a time, between sobs, she asked, "Tell me, did he suffer?" "Knowing Brian O'Malley as well as I did, I don't think so," said the foreman, "He got out three times to go to the men's room."

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Do Tzfardeia Defecate?

One of my favorite midrashim is the one that Pharaoh went to the Nile to defecate, because he wanted people to think he was a god who did not have bodily functions. I like it because of the multiple derivations, some explicit and some implicit.

It is based on the pasuk in Shemot 7 which begins:

טו  לֵךְ אֶל-פַּרְעֹה בַּבֹּקֶר, הִנֵּה יֹצֵא הַמַּיְמָה

The midrash in question as it appears in Shemot Rabba:

לך אל פרעה בבקר הנה יוצא המימה 
לא היה יוצא אלא המימה [בבוקר], לפי, שאותו רשע היה משתבח ואומר שהוא אלוה ואינו יוצא לנקביו, לפיכך היה יוצא בבקר בשעה שהוא נצרך, תפוש אותו. 

It is not just that he went specifically baboker, in the morning. But "Yotzei Hamayma" perhaps has the implication of urinating, or even of defecating (yotzei) into the water (hamayma).

But at the end of the episode, there is also this gem, which clinches it:

כג  וַיִּפֶן פַּרְעֹה, וַיָּבֹא אֶל-בֵּיתוֹ

Apparently, there is a dvar Torah going around which argues for a sort of middah keneged middah regarding the second plague, of frogs. I will let Rabbi Dr. Natan Slifkin tell it:
Someone sent me an insight that they heard from a contemporary rabbi: "Because Pharaoh portrayed himself like a god by not relieving himself, G-d specifically brought frogs as the second plague, since frogs are creatures that eat and do not void their waste." Pharaoh falsely claimed to be a God who does not excrete, so he was punished with lowly creatures that really do posses this ability.

There is a problem with that, however:
I don't know how this frog drash came about. I've never heard of an ancient belief that frogs do not excrete. (Though I do often hear people asking me if snakes excrete; for some reason, people seem to think that without legs, there's no tushie.) But the fact is that frogs, like every other creature in the world, excrete their waste. How could it be otherwise? What else would they do with the parts of their food that they haven't digested?
I think I derash. First, I will point out that Rabbenu Bachya held that tzfardeia were crocodiles rather than frogs. That makes the makka pretty frightening.

Second, while I also have not heard of an ancient belief that frogs do not defecate, I have heard of an old belief that crocodiles do not defecate.

To wit, we have the following from the 1481 travel account of Meshulam de Volterra, that crocodiles lack an anal orifice and rely on birds to remove the excrement. To cite "The Rabbi and the Crocodile: Interrogating Native in the Late Quattrocento", by David Malkiel, published in Speculum,  A Journal of Medieval Studies, Volume 91, Number 1, from January 2016:

What Meshulam actually is describing is the symbiotic relationship between the Egyptian plover and the crocodile. The plover picks out the food, and at the same times cleans the crocodile's teeth. But even crocodiles defecate.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Daf Yomi, Shevuot 47

Something to consider when learning Shevuot 47.

The gemara reads:

חזרה שבועה למקומה:
להיכן חזרה א"ר אמי רבותינו שבבבל אמרו חזרה שבועה לסיני רבותינו שבארץ ישראל אמרו בחזרה שבועה למחויב לה אמר רב פפא רבותינו שבבבל רב ושמואל רבותינו שבארץ ישראל ר' אבא 

Thus, according to Rav Pappa, by "rabotainu" of Bavel, he meant Rav and Shmuel, and by "rabotainu" of E"Y, he meant Rabbi Abba, even though Rabbi Abba is just one person and even though, as Tosafot makes a diyuk from the language which says that Rabbi Abba sat before Rabbi Ammi, Rabbi Abba was a student rather than a teacher.

However, Rabbi Ami was an Amora of Eretz Yisrael (third generation). If we look at the Yerushalmi, we see Rav Hoshaya (third generation) tell Rabbi Ami this limmud.  And while the raboteinu of Bavel are left unspecified, the rabotainu of E"Y is Rabbi Yochanan citing Rabbi Yannai. These would certainly qualify as rabotainu.

דף לו, ב פרק ז הלכה ד גמרא
רב הושעיה אמר קמי ר' אמי בשם רבנין דתמן חזרה שבועה לסיני רבי יוחנן בשם רבי ינאי חזרה שבועה לבעלין.  מאן דמר חזרה שבועה לסיני כמי שאין כאן עדות המוציא מחבירו עליו הראיה ומאן דמר חזרה שבועה לבעלין ממה דהוא גברא חשוד ולא יכיל מישתבע לי 
קום שלם לי:

Further, if we look at the Tosefta (thus, a Tannaitic source) , we will find an explicit statement like the raboteinu of Bavel, together with a scriptural derivation. This could then be the source.


ו,ג  שכנגדו חשוד על השבועה כיצד זה נשבע ונוטל.  היו שניהם חשודין פטורין שנא' (שמות כב) שבועת ה' תהיה בין שניהם בזמן שאחד מהן חשוד לא בזמן ששניהן חשודין.  בין שניהם יוצא מבין שניהם אם הנשבע נשבע על שקר סוף שהשבועה חלה עליו ואם המשביע משביע על שקר סוף שהשבועה חלה עליו שנא' (זכריה ה) ולנה בתוך ביתו וכלתו בוא וראה דברים שאין האש אוכלתן שבועת שקר אוכלתן.

Rav Pappa could either be unaware of the identities, or is trying to associate certain known Amoraim of E"Y and Bavel, based on their statements elsewhere. But this involves some kvetches, and applying a principle from a different case to our local case. One could question whether they are indeed applicable. For instance, we end up having Rav and Shmuel establish a general principle of what happens when one is obligated in an oath and cannot swear, applying it then to our local case, while the Tosefta deduces from the pasuk, it for just this particular case, namely when both of them are unable to swear.

Meanwhile, these sources I mentioned are explicit in their position, rather than being a transfer from what they said elsewhere.

Another point. Towards the end of amud aleph, we see Rava's support for Rabbi Abba based on a brayta brought by Rabbi Ammi, in which they darshen the pasuk of shevuat Hashem tihyeh bein shneihem  -- velo min hayorshim:

דתני רבי אמי (שמות כב, י) שבועת ה' תהיה בין שניהם ולא בין היורשין

On the next amud, the gemara asks what the opposing position - that is, Rav and Shmuel - would do with that pasuk, since they must not hold like that brayta. And the setama degemara points us to another brayta that uses it for a quasi-homiletic purpose, namely:

ורב ושמואל האי שבועת ה' מאי קא דרשי ביה מיבעי ליה לכדתניא שמעון בן טרפון אומר שבועת ה' תהיה בין שניהם מלמד שהשבועה חלה על שניהם

We need not say this. We could say like the Tosefta, which explicitly takes this very pasuk to teach the very law in question - that only when one of them is suspect, and not when both of them are suspect. (Unless you want to interpret Shimon ben Tarfon's derasha to be precisely that...)

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Noach vs. Gilgamesh: YKVK and Elokim, Ea and the gods

A quick contrast from the Epic of Gilgamesh to the story of Noach.

In Gilgamesh, there are two parties, namely the council of Great Gods (=HaElohim) who move to destroy the earth via a flood, and Ea (=YKVK ? Ehkeh asher Ehkeh? ), who elsewhere was the creator of humankind, while part of this group and bound by the secret, nevertheless employs a strategem to pass on the news to his servant Utnahpishtim.

The hearts of the Great Gods moved them to inflict the Flood.
Their Father Anu uttered the oath (of secrecy),
Valiant Enlil was their Adviser,
Ninurta was their Chamberlain,
Ennugi was their Minister of Canals.
Ea, the Clever Prince(?), was under oath with them
so he repeated their talk to the reed house:
'Reed house, reed house! Wall, wall!
O man of Shuruppak, son of Ubartutu:
Tear down the house and build a boat!
Abandon wealth and seek living beings!
Spurn possessions and keep alive living beings!
Make all living beings go up into the boat.
The boat which you are to build,
its dimensions must measure equal to each other:
its length must correspond to its width.
Roof it over like the Apsu.
I understood and spoke to my lord, Ea:

Meanwhile, in the Torah, it is Hashem described both as YKVK and as HaElokim who decide to bring the flood. In perek 6:

ז  וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה, אֶמְחֶה אֶת-הָאָדָם אֲשֶׁר-בָּרָאתִי מֵעַל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה, מֵאָדָם עַד-בְּהֵמָה, עַד-רֶמֶשׂ וְעַד-עוֹף הַשָּׁמָיִם:  כִּי נִחַמְתִּי, כִּי עֲשִׂיתִם.7 And the LORD said: 'I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and creeping thing, and fowl of the air; for it repenteth Me that I have made them.'


יא  וַתִּשָּׁחֵת הָאָרֶץ, לִפְנֵי הָאֱלֹהִים; וַתִּמָּלֵא הָאָרֶץ, חָמָס.11 And the earth was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence.
יב  וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָאָרֶץ, וְהִנֵּה נִשְׁחָתָה:  כִּי-הִשְׁחִית כָּל-בָּשָׂר אֶת-דַּרְכּוֹ, עַל-הָאָרֶץ.  {ס}12 And God saw the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth. {S}

And it is both YKVK and Elokim who inform Noach in order to spare him:

ח  וְנֹחַ, מָצָא חֵן בְּעֵינֵי יְהוָה.  {פ}8 But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD. {P}


יג  וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים לְנֹחַ, קֵץ כָּל-בָּשָׂר בָּא לְפָנַי--כִּי-מָלְאָה הָאָרֶץ חָמָס, מִפְּנֵיהֶם; וְהִנְנִי מַשְׁחִיתָם, אֶת-הָאָרֶץ.13 And God said unto Noah: 'The end of all flesh is come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth.
יד  עֲשֵׂה לְךָ תֵּבַת עֲצֵי-גֹפֶר, קִנִּים תַּעֲשֶׂה אֶת-הַתֵּבָה; וְכָפַרְתָּ אֹתָהּ מִבַּיִת וּמִחוּץ, בַּכֹּפֶר.14 Make thee an ark of gopher wood; with rooms shalt thou make the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch.

Then, in perek 7:

א  וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה לְנֹחַ, בֹּא-אַתָּה וְכָל-בֵּיתְךָ אֶל-הַתֵּבָה:  כִּי-אֹתְךָ רָאִיתִי צַדִּיק לְפָנַי, בַּדּוֹר הַזֶּה.1 And the LORD said unto Noah: 'Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before Me in this generation.

In a monotheistic religion, the good and the bad both come from the one, all-powerful God.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Women were created in the image of God

It is a bit unbelievable that there should even be a reason to write this.

The pasuk in last week's parasha, Bereishit, makes this fairly clear:

כז  וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָאָדָם בְּצַלְמוֹ, בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים בָּרָא אֹתוֹ:  זָכָר וּנְקֵבָה, בָּרָא אֹתָם.27 And God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them.

That is,

וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָאָדָם בְּצַלְמוֹ - "and God created humankind [man in the sense of humanity] in His own image."

בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים בָּרָא אֹתוֹ - "in the image of God he created it [meaning the species, which is referred to in the masculine singular]

זָכָר וּנְקֵבָה, בָּרָא אֹתָם - "creating them male and female" [referring to the same encompassing act of creation, encompassing both male and female, now in the masculine = neutral plural because the referents are two items, male and female]

Meanwhile, the author of the Daas Torah blog, who encourages get refusal and who says awful things about Gedolim who would help out agunos, unsurprisingly latches on to one Rishon and one Acharon in order to assert that not only are only men created in the image of God but that only men are human (bold emphasis my own).
We are all familiar with Bereishis (1:27): And G-d created the Man in His Image. In the image of G-d He created him. Male and female He created them. 

It seems from this verse that only Adam was created in the image of G-d and not Eve. This implies that only Adam was human and not Eve and by extension that only males are human and not females. I am going to explore this question - to see where it goes and the implications for male-female relationships as well as society as a whole.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Sanhedrin 60: throwing stones at Markulis

In today's daf (Sanhedrin 60), in the Mishnah, we see kissing and hugging as a form of idol worship, and throwing stones at Mercury as a form of idol worship.
There is a famous Ibn Ezra on Daniel (link) that speaks of Muslim practice. He writes, in part:
"ויש לתמוה מחכמי צדוקים שפירשו זה לעתיד, ואמרו: כי המקדש היא מיכ"א שיחוגו עליה הישמעאלים והסירו התמיד, החמש תפילות ונתנו השיקוץ עכו"ם ואלו התועים, איך יתכן שיקרא מקדש רק ירושלים לבדה, וככה שמה בלשון ישמעאל בית ואיך הוא מיכ"א קדש, והלא פקחו אלה העורים את עיניהם וראו כי יש במיכ"א שיקוץ עד היום והלא מרקוליס שאליו יחוגו כל ישמעאל ממזרח וממערב לזרוק אבנים שם, ואלה המפרשים חללו המקדש.
ועוד: אם היה אלה עכו"ם אין תשובה ממרקוליס, כי זה ידעוהו אבותיו ולא סרו אנשי מיכ"א למשמעתו, עד שנשבע להם שלא יסיר עבודת מרקוליס, ואין צורך להאריך."
"One is surprised by Sadducee sages who interpreted this as referring to the future. They said that the sanctuary is Mecca, around which the Ishmaelites circle. and they put aside the daily sacrifice the five prayers (the Salat). and they set up the abomination, idolatry. And they are the mistaken. As is it may be that miqdash/sanctuary refers to Jerusalem alone. Thus it is that in the Ishmaelite language its name is “house”(al-ka’aba). And how is it that Mecca is sacred? Didn’t those blind ones open their eyes and see that in Mecca there is an abomination to this day? Is it not Mercury, around which all Ishmaelites, from east and west, circle to throw stones? And these interpreters have desecrated the sanctuary.
And further, if it was a pagan god, the answer is not Mercury, because his fathers knew him and the men of Mecca did not turn to obedience to him till he swore to them that he would not put aside the service to Mercury. And there is no need to expand."
Ibn Ezra is referring to the stoning of the devil (link):
"The Stoning of the Devil (Arabic: رمي الجمرات‎‎ ramī al-jamarāt, lit. "stoning of the jamarāt [place of pebbles]")[1][2][3] is part of the annual Islamic Hajj pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. During the ritual, Muslim pilgrims throw pebbles at three walls (formerly pillars), called jamarāt, in the city of Mina just east of Mecca. It is one of a series of ritual acts that must be performed in the Hajj. It is a symbolic reenactment of Abraham's hajj, where he stoned three pillars representing the temptation to disobey God and preserve Ishmael."
One could also add the kissing worship of the black stone, (link):
"Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba as a part of the tawaf ritual during the hajj and many try to stop and kiss the Black Stone, emulating the kiss that Islamic tradition records that it received from Muhammad."

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Sanhedrin 11: Where does Rav Pappa's statement end?

At the bottom of Sanhedrin 11a going on to the top of Sanhedrin 11b:

אמר רב פפא זרצו חדש רצו שלשים יום
 תא חזי מאי איכא בין תקיפאי קדמאי לעינוותני בתראי

This is typically understood, within the flow of the gemara, as two separate statements. That is, first Rav Pappa resolves a seeming contradiction within Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel as to whether they wait a month (29 days) or thirty days, and he says that it is up to them. Then, the setama degamara transitions to a new topic, contrasting the behavior of the earlier, purportedly arrogant Rabban Gamliel (who yet said that he and his colleagues saw fit to declare) and the later, purportedly humble Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel (who said he saw fit by himself to declare). And the answer of the setama degemara is that דילמא בתר דעברוהו, perhaps it was after they had removed him (Rabban Gamliel) from office.

I would suggest that we read both of the above quoted statement as a single continuous statement from Rav Pappa. Rather than תקיפאי meaning powerful / arrogant, let it refer to the tekufa, the solar-based season. After all, one of the reasons for declaring an extra month is על התקופה. And קדמאי refers to relative earliness between the solar and lunar calendar. Further, rather than עינוותני meaning humble, let it refer to lunar time (an onah), and have בתראי refer to relative lateness.

That is, Rav Pappa is saying that we already have computed calendars and know how much it would be appropriate to correct to get them in sync, so use that number of days.

This does not seem to work with what follows. What would be the question from that brayta regarding Rabban Gamliel? (The question, we should note, is not made explicit.)  The answer certainly seems to speak to Rabban Gamliel's stature, of lack thereof, where it says

דילמא בתר דעברוהו

However, note the root עבר in the word דעברוהו. Sure, it means that he was removed from office. But isn't it odd that the topic under discussion here is עיבור השנה? Perhaps we can (poorly, as I am grasping here) reframe the question as why he used various seasonal signs rather than the calculation, or why he phrased something some way in his message. And the answer is that perhaps this was after he or they had already intercalated the year.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Do the rich need to pay for the healthcare of the poor?

In a recent Huffington Post article, Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz criticized the Republican health care plan and puts forth what he asserts is the Jewish perspective.
Today, Senate Republicans unveiled their so-called healthcare plan—the Better Care Reconciliation Act—conceived in secret and designed to deprive millions of people access to affordable health care, while cynically giving tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans. These Senate Republicans, who so-often like to flaunt their spiritual credentials, would do well to remember the obligation to pay for the cure of a person who has a life-threatening illness: “From the straightforward reading of Sanhedrin 73a, we see that one is obligated to do everything to save him, and if not, one transgresses the negative commandment: ‘Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor’” (R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, Minchat Shlomo, V.2, 86:4).

Personally, I am not entirely convinced that Rav Auerbach is correct, that the obligation mentioned in Sanhedrin 73a of hiring others to save, in cases of external acute threat to life (such as drowning, mauled by beasts, attacked by robbers), would extend even to internal and chronic conditions*.  Or that Rav Auerbach's position is widely accepted.

Regardless, I always encourage people to look up the sources, because people on the religious or political right or left -- that is, a lot of authors out there -- can be tempted to take sources out of context. Here is what Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach actually writes:

"4: The obligation regarding expending money to save a sick person:
Regarding the obligation to finance the costs to save the life of a dangerously ill person, from the straightforward reading of the gemara in Sanhedrin 73a we see that he is obligated to do everything to save him, and if not, he violates the prohibition of 'Do not stand idly over the blood of your fellow. (In my humble opinion, it is obvious that the sick person himself is obligated afterwards to repay him.)  
And if it be said that upon this prohibition, which requires an action, there is no obligation to despoil all his wealth, still, a tenth or fifth he is still obligated. And in this particular case, it seems more logical that this prohibition is much more severe, and indeed he should be required to despoil all his wealth..."

And it continues, but I am going to stop here.

Since Rav Auerbach writes that obviously the sick person must pay back, the idea seems to be that if these medical expenditures are holding up the procedure, that the wealthy (or really, anyone who can provide the money) must provide it to save the life. But that does not mean that the poor sick person is not on the hook for the expense. Rather, 'it is obvious that the sick person himself is obligated afterwards to repay him'.

Therefore, I am not sure that this would be a convincing argument to those wicked corrupt Senate Republicans who really want to oppress the poor, but on the other hand want to listen to Gedolim.

* While we don't make such distinctions nowadays, there is a tension between 'verapo yerapei', you shall surely heal him', and the criticism of King Asa for going to doctors, and a distinction is made between internal vs. external. See Ramban, Ibn Ezra, Rabbenu Bachya.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Praising those with whom you disagree (Bava Basra 176)

Today we finish Bava Batra. The Mishna (on the previous page) recorded a dispute, in a practical case, between Rabbi Yishmael and Shimon ben Nanas. After Ben Nanas presented his argument, Rabbi Yishmael praised Ben Nanas to the heavens:

To become a Chacham, one should study monetary laws. It is the greatest field in Torah; To learn monetary laws, one should study under Ben Nanas.

With such high praise, one might think that Rabbi Yishmael retracted. However, the gemara reports (via Rabba bar bar Chana) that not only did Rabbi Yishmael still hold firm in his position, the halacha is like him. And it turns out that even in the case of promise of repayment to save the borrower from choking, which was the comparison Ben Nanas offered, and which Rabbi Yishmael praised -- even there, Rabbi Yishmael disagrees, and the halacha is like Rabbi Yishmael.

This is a nice way to end a masechta, and is fitting for the three weeks. We can learn from Rabbi Yishmael's example. Even when we believe someone's halachic positions are wrong, we can still be polite to them, and even praise their character or thought process. All the while, holding true to what we believe is the correct halacha. And such niceness does not mean that we will lose the day.


Some thoughts about Rav Papa, especially after seeing the Rif and the Rosh. We saw on the previous daf that the Amoraim of Bavel were all aligned to say that Shibud is not Biblical, while all the Amoraim of Eretz Yisrael were aligned to say that it was Biblical. And when, for a moment, it seemed that a statement of Rabba indicated the opposite, the gemara explained that he was explaining it according to what the Amoraim of Eretz Yisrael held.

Then, we have Rav Pappa. He is the fifth generation, is thus Batrai, the halacha is like him, and he employs the word hilchesa. With whom does he align? Like Ulla that it is Biblical, or like Rabba that it is Rabbinic? The text of Rav Pappa in our gemara appears in the chart below, on the left hand side.

He stakes out a practical position regarding inheritors and purchasers, and the words he uses for each match exactly to what the gemara offers ("mai taama") to explain Rabba. And he is an Amora of Bavel. So it makes sense to place him as Shibud being Rabbinic. That is why a reason needs to be given to collect from the inheritors, of not closing the door before borrowers. If it were Biblical, then there would be no need to give a justification.

But the gemara in Kiddushin 13b has a different version of Rav Pappa, where his reason for inheritors is that Shibuda deOraysa, is Biblical! 

Rif and Rosh harmonize, and say it is not a dispute. Rather, Shibud is Biblical, but the reason the Rabbis didn't nullify it (as they did by purchasers, in the sefa) is the reason given, of not shutting the door before borrowers. This works. And there is a general trend of harmonizing sources to arrive at a globally optimal explanation.

There is a different derech halimud (IIRC popular in Spain before the expulsion) in which we identify the primary sugya where something is discussed and follow that. And look to a locally optimal explanation. And reasoning or interpretations from elsewhere, where it is brought it, are left there as interpretations brought to make things work.

In Kiddushin 13b, it definitely is a haavara, a transfer. The gemara introduces it that they hold (and are teaching here) that Shibud is Biblical, and then asks that they have taught this already once. Then it goes on to cite the foreign sugya, and ends with a slightly different version of Rav Pappa.

אלמא קסבר שיעבודא הוה דאורייתא והא פליגי בה חדא זימנא דרב ושמואל דאמרי תרוייהו מלוה על פה אינה גובה מן היורשין ולא מן הלקוחות ור' יוחנן ור"ל דאמרי תרוייהו מלוה על פה גובה בין מן היורשין בין מן הלקוחות צריכא דאי איתמר בהא בהך קאמר שמואל משום דלא מלוה כתובה בתורה היא אבל בהך אימא מודה להו לרבי יוחנן ולר"ל ואי אשמעינן בהא בהא קאמר ר' יוחנן דמלוה כתובה בתורה ככתובה בשטר דמיא אבל בהך אימא מודה ליה לשמואל צריכא אמר רב פפא הילכתא מלוה על פה גובה מן היורשין ואינו גובה מן הלקוחות גובה מן היורשין שיעבודא דאורייתא ואינו גובה מן הלקוחות דלית ליה קלא:

Also of interest is Tosafot there, who ask that Rav Pappa is different in Kiddushin and Bava Batra. But Tosafot's version of Bava Batra is different from ours:

Tosafot, Kiddushin 13b

Namely, they have explicitly in the sefa of Rav Pappa that Shibud is not Biblical. This is a quote from Tosafot, not an explanation by Tosafot. And they harmonize, but that is not our interest.

I would suggest further that, as in the case of Rabba, the primary statement by Rabba is positional, what to do in each case, as stated always in Hebrew. And the explanation (with mai taama for Rabba and bald for Rav Pappa) is the explanation by a setama, and that can be be more fluid across texts.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Sefer Bemidbar: Fairness vs. Morality

A while back, people were discussing a study which concluded that conservatives and liberals viewed the world in different ways*. Roughly, liberals think in terms of fairness while conservatives think in terms of morality. And, as Scott Adams suggested, that might be one reason one side cannot persuade the other -- they are speaking different languages, and what one side would consider a strong argument, the other would consider irrelevant.

Fairness and equality, as opposed to adherence to God-given rules, seems a recurring theme in Chumash Bemidbar. We have three separate instances in which the rules were set up, ordained by God, but in which some people, through no fault of their own, end up in an unequal situation. And in each instance, they complain to Moshe with למה נגרע, "Why should we be worse off?"

1) For Korban Pesach, people with ritual impurity contracted from a corpse may not eat of it. That is the Divine rule that applies equally to all people, that ritual impurity invalidates people from partaking in a korban in general. And some years, people miss out, and other years, they may partake. But the impure complain that it isn't fair to them, because they get left out. As they said in Bemidbar 9:7, lama nigara:

  • פסוק ז: וַיֹּאמְרוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים הָהֵמָּה, אֵלָיו, אֲנַחְנוּ טְמֵאִים, לְנֶפֶשׁ אָדָם; לָמָּה נִגָּרַע, לְבִלְתִּי הַקְרִיב אֶת-קָרְבַּן יְהוָה בְּמֹעֲדוֹ, בְּתוֹךְ, בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל. 
Rather than dismissing their complaint and saying that they have lost out, Moshe takes their complaint seriously. Since he has a direct connection to God, he revisits the topic and asks what can be done for these folks. And God tells him about Pesach Sheni, a second chance. But adds a protection that people don't use this to be derelict in the first korban Pesach.

2) The inheritance of Israel is based on males. The daughters of Tzelophchad complain that, because their father died in his own sin and only had daughters, they have been left out, and their father has no share in the land. Their situation wasn't the origin intent of the Divine decree, but it has that unfortunate effect. It is not fair.  As they say, in Bemidbar 27:4, lama yigara:

  • פסוק ד: לָמָּה יִגָּרַע שֵׁם-אָבִינוּ מִתּוֹךְ מִשְׁפַּחְתּוֹ, כִּי אֵין לוֹ בֵּן; תְּנָה-לָּנוּ אֲחֻזָּה, בְּתוֹךְ אֲחֵי אָבִינוּ. 

Rather than dismiss their claim, he tells them to wait while he asks God directly. And he gets a revision, that in such a case, the daughters will inherit.

3) Even revisions can have unintended effects. The tribe of Menasheh complains that when the daughters of Tzelophchad marry, they will take their inheritance with them to another tribe, and so Menasheh's portion will shrink. That is not fair. As they say, in Bemidbar 36:3, venigraah:

במדבר פרק לו
  • פסוק ג: וְהָיוּ לְאֶחָד מִבְּנֵי שִׁבְטֵי בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, לְנָשִׁים, וְנִגְרְעָה נַחֲלָתָן מִנַּחֲלַת אֲבֹתֵינוּ, וְנוֹסַף עַל נַחֲלַת הַמַּטֶּה אֲשֶׁר תִּהְיֶינָה לָהֶם; וּמִגֹּרַל נַחֲלָתֵנוּ, יִגָּרֵעַ. 
Moshe consults Hashem and revises the law once again, to require women, in such a situation, to only marry into their own tribe.

Is such a situation sustainable? Any time someone is adversely affected by the law, should they complain and the law will be revised? Maybe that was the intent, if we understand going to the shofet in a given era in that light. But having the law in such a constant state of flux does not seem sustainable to me. Eventually, the law is the law, and some people fall through the cracks, and it isn't fair.


* I would treat all such studies with skepticism, because I think that the researchers' political views will influence the design of the study or the interpretation of the results.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Bava Basra 152: Mit eyn hintn zitst men nit af tsvey ferd

There is a Yiddish idiom, which appears in various forms, Mit eyn hintn zitst men nit af tsvey ferdמיט אײן הינטן זיצט מען ניט אױף צװײ פֿערד‫.‬
This appears in English as "You can't ride on two horses with one arse."

This idiom appears at the top of today's daf, Bava Basra 152.

"The academy of Rav said in the name of Rav, you are causing him to ride on two steeds / saddles."

The setama degemara proceeds to interpret this as a positive thing, giving the transaction some of the force of a shechiv mera and some of the force of the kinyan of a healthy person. This is problematic, because it contradicts an explicit statement of Rav elsewhere, that it will not work because a kinyan is the opposite of matnat shechiv mera. But the gemara manages to harmonize it.

This idiom only appears once in Shas, namely here. Later posekim seem to employ it in a very different sense than the setama interprets it, namely that of tartei desasrei (two contradictory aspects which will therefore not work.)

Given that it is an idiom, and it is easy to misinterpret an idiom without direct knowledge of its usage, perhaps we can suggest that the setama degemara misunderstood the idiom. (Yes, they are closer in time and place, so maybe we are misunderstanding it, but on the other hand, we have the other statement of Rav.) If its intent is indeed the same as the Yiddish expression, and the same as the later posekim, then the is the same as Rav's position elsewhere, and the contradiction was never a contradiction, but was rather explicit agreement.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Bava Basra 98a and 102

אמר רבא האי מאן דזבין ליה חביתא דחמרא לחנואה אדעתא לסבוייה
See the dispute between Rashbam and Tosafot. Rashbam asserts that he did not purchase the cask of wine, but agreed to sell on the behalf of the owner. Tosafot (responding to "Rashi", but this is changed by Masores Hashas to Rashbam) say that this cannot be, since the word דזבין is employed, implying that he sold it. Instead Tosafot say he did sell it, and explain difficulties that arise as a result.
However, there is a girsa difference in play. Rashbam does not have the text I cited above. He has:
האי מאן דמזבין ליה חביתא דחמרא לחנווני
while Tosafot have:
האי מאן דזבין חביתא דחמרא אדעתא לסבוייה
Many differences might trigger this difference in understanding. Rashbam has mezabein, to Tosafot's and our gemara's zabein. Rashbam and our gemara have leih (to him) while Tosafot lack leih. Rashbam has lechenvani, our gemara has lechenvaah, and Tosafot lacks it.
So we can read our gemara as "a person who engages in sales on his (?) behalf for shopkeeping" (chenvaah), and this would not present the problem which bothers Tosafot.

Bava Basra 102
The Mishna in Ohalos is better understood in light of Bava Basra 82b:
וכמה יהא ביניהן רב יוסף אמר רב יהודה אמר שמואל מארבע אמות ועד שמונה רבא אמר רב נחמן אמר שמואל משמונה ועד שש עשרה א"ל אביי לרב יוסף לא תפלוג עליה דרב נחמן דתנן מתניתין כוותיה דתנן הנוטע את כרמו שש עשרה אמה על שש עשרה אמה מותר להביא זרע לשם
[If the buyer of three trees is to acquire possession of the ground]. how much [space] must there be between [the trees]?25 — R. Joseph said in the name of Rab Judah in the name of Samuel: [A distance] of four to eight cubits [between any two trees]. Raba said in the name of R. Nahman in the name of Samuel: From eight to sixteen [cubits]. Abaye said to R. Joseph: Do not dispute with R. Nahman, for we learnt a Mishnah that is in agreement with him. For we learnt:26 He who plants his vineyard [and leaves distances of] sixteen cubits [between the rows] may insert seed there.27
That is, that the distance of 4 to 8 cubits between corpses is parallel to the 4 to 8 cubits between trees. There, as in the Mishna in Ohalos, selling one tree gives you just the tree and the immediate dirt, as does selling two trees. Three trees makes an orchard and so all the land comes with it. In Ohalos, one and two corpses just have the immediately surrounding dirt. Once we have three, then it is a cemetery (shechunat kevarim), and they cannot be moved.
The setama degemara shoehorns the Mishna in Ohalos into the box presented by our local Mishna, such that the "4 to 8" must be the side of a cave, and thus from the edge of the first of three corpses to the last of three corpses, rather than the space between each corpse and the next. But we are not talking about digging through rock, and the term is shecunat kevarim, not that it is a kever, nor is it (to employ the term used in Ohalos for the same structure in earth) a sedei kuchim.
And then the setama has difficulties making the "4 to 8" accord with the dimensions by either the Tanna Kamma or Rabbi Shimon. The same about the 20 cubits, and the difficulties which arise there.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Bread of Affliction, which our Ancestors ate in Egypt

We say ha lachma anya, and it is called that based on the pasuk (Devarim 16:3) which refers to matza by the term lechem oni. One famous answers (from Rabbi Akiva)  is that we say (“onin”) upon this bread many things. Besides the straightforward meaning that we are reciting both Maggid and Hallel upon it, we can also understand this to mean that it is pretext bread. Thus, we see it is unusual and we ask (that is, mah haavodah hazot lachem or mah zot), and it becomes a reason for retelling the story of Pesach. Or, even better, we have many different explanations for why we eat it. The pasuk which gives the putative reason is for matzah for pesach dorot, and wouldn’t account for the matzah consumed in Egypt. And various reasons are given for it. And frankly, while there is presumably one true reason for eat, eat of the devarim harbeh which are given express and develop an interesting idea, all of which have value. So the devarim harbeh is a nice thing.

At a recent shiur in Rinat, a prominent modern Torah interpreter discussed what was meant by דִּי אֲכָלוּ אַבְהָתָנָא בְּאַרְעָא דְמִצְרָיִם, what matzah they ate at what point, and why. He developed the idea of matzah as the opposite of chametz, leavened bread, which was the Egyptian staple, and which even had a minister of bread (sar ha’ofim).

Along the way, he mocked the idea that the Egyptians were mean and therefore forced their Hebrew slaves to eat this bread of affliction. This, he said, was something kindergarten teachers taught the children in class, but lacks a basis in rabbinic literature.

Here is a basis, which appears in the Avudraham:

“And if you ask as to the meaning of ‘which our ancestors ate in Egypt’ since, after all, וַיֹּאפוּ אֶת הַבָּצֵק [Shemot 12:39] was only after they left Egypt; then, Rabbi Yehosef HaAzovi explains in the name of Ibn Ezra, who had been imprisoned in India, and they would feed him matza[-like] bread, and never gave him chametz. And the reason was that it was tough [heavy] and was not quickly digested like chametz, such that a little would suffice. And so did the Egyptians do to Israel.”

I agree that this explanation is not well supported by the Chumash text. But at the same time, there is some support in rabbinic literature for it. It is not purely an invention of the kindergarten morot.

Besides, even if we don’t find an explicit text to support it, the fact is that matzah is a word in the Hebrew language, and wasn’t invented on the spot. The Hebrews understood Moshe, and so it could make sense that it played some role in society, that some people would make unleavened bread for some purpose. And Ibn Ezra, with his personal experience, is engaging in realia, explaining what role it could play in some cultures. It is possible that the Hebrews made this bread for themselves for similar purpose, because it had to sustain them for a tough day of work. And then we can understand the pasuk of it being lechem oni, bread of affliction, that is bread that they ate in Egypt regularly, during their affliction. And then it is not without some scriptural tie-in.

I’ll close with another possible explanation of lechem oni I came up with. Maybe it is obvious, or maybe it is my own chiddush. The process of making the bread, and the experience of eating a bread of this texture, parallels that of affliction. With chametz, you put in yeast and allow the bread to expand, and you end up with a light, fluffy texture. But in Egypt, there was lachatz, oppression, in which the Hebrews were suppressed and not allowed ease and breathing space. And so too, we do not allow the dough to become chametz and the result is a bread which has been afflicted and has an afflicted texture.


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