Tuesday, December 06, 2022

It's been a while...

 I've been blogging a bit on Substack, at Scribal Error. While focused more on gemara and girsaot, I just had a post on Rationalism and Midrash. Check out Luminous Stones and Peshat in Midrash.

An excerpt:

Is this magic? Miracle? The natural process by which luminous stones glow? It seems a natural process. Bereishit Rabba continues:

אָמַר רַבִּי הוּנָא עֲרִיקִין הֲוֵינָן מִן קוֹמֵי גוּנְדָא בַּהֲדָא בּוּטִיטָה דִּטְבֶרְיָה וְהָיָה בְּיָדֵינוּ נֵרוֹת, בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁהָיוּ כֵּהִים הָיִינוּ יוֹדְעִים שֶׁהוּא יוֹם, וּבְשָׁעָה שֶׁהָיוּ מַבְהִיקִים הָיִינוּ יוֹדְעִים שֶׁהוּא לָיְלָה.

Rabbi Huna relates how, when they were hiding from a troop in the ruins of Teveriah, they had lamps. When they grew dim they knew it was day, while when they grew bright, they knew it was night.

Thus, I’d guess that Rabbi Levi, the author of this midrash, viewed it as natural rather than supernatural. 

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Minchat Shai, Bereishit 1:2

 Here is Bereishit 1:2:

וְהָאָ֗רֶץ הָיְתָ֥ה תֹ֙הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ וְחֹ֖שֶׁךְ עַל־פְּנֵ֣י תְה֑וֹם וְר֣וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֔ים מְרַחֶ֖פֶת עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הַמָּֽיִם׃

Minchat Shai writes:

ורוח אלהים. כתב בעל הטורים שנים דסמיכי הכא ואידך ורוח לבשה את עמשי (ד"ה א' י"ב) קרי ביה הכא נמי ורוח אלהים לבשה וגו'. ותימא גדולה על דבריו. כי אין דרך המסורת למסור סימן במה שלא נמצא בכתוב ולומר קרי ביה. ובלי ספק שנוסחא משובשת נזדמנה לפניו והנוסחא האמיתית היא ורוח אלהים לבשה את זכריה (ד"ה ב' כ"ד). וכן כתב מוהר"ר מאיר אנגיל במסורת הברית הגדול. ומה שנמסר בפ' ויקהל רוח אלהים ה' בלישנא. היינו כל הכתובים רוח אלהים בין בוא"ו בין בלא וא"ו כמו שמונה והולך שם:

To analyze this piece by piece. 

ורוח אלהים. כתב בעל הטורים שנים דסמיכי הכא ואידך ורוח לבשה את עמשי (ד"ה א' י"ב) קרי ביה הכא נמי ורוח אלהים לבשה וגו'. 

On the phrase  וְר֣וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֔ים, the Baal HaTurim writes in our digital edition:

"וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים" – ב' דסמיכי. הכא, ואידך: "וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים לָבְשָׁה אֶת זְכַרְיָה" (דברי הימים ב כד כ). קרי ביה הכא נמי: "וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים לָבְשָׁה". פירוש, שעל ידי לבושו אמר "וַיְהִי אוֹר", דכתיב בתריה: "וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יְהִי אוֹר". וזה הוא שדרשו רז"ל (ב"ר פרשה ג): ממעטה לבושו נבראת האורה.

And the spirit of God: [This phrase appears] two [times] as a relational [or possessive phrase]. Here, and the other one is (II Chronicles 24:20) "and the spirit of God clothed Zecharya." One could here too read [as if it was written], "and the spirit of God clothed;" the explanation [of which] is that because of His clothing, He said, "let there be light," after which is written, "and there was light." This is what our Rabbis, of blessed memory, expounded (Bereishit Rabbah 3:4), "from a little of his clothing, He created light."

But Minchat Shai has a different version of Minchat Shai, which he will propose to emend. Minchat Shai summarizes Baal HaTurim that, like a masoretic note, that there are two in construct form (the Spirit of God), namely here and I Divrei Hayamim 12:19, וְר֣וּחַ לָֽבְשָׁ֗ה אֶת־עֲמָשַׂי֮, "Then the spirit clothed Amasai". To explain, we should read it here as if it were "then the spirit of God clothed", etc.

ותימא גדולה על דבריו. כי אין דרך המסורת למסור סימן במה שלא נמצא בכתוב ולומר קרי ביה. 

And Baal HaTurim's words are astonishing, because it isn't the way of the Masoret to record a mnemonic about what is not found in the Scriptures and to say, "read it as if it said this".

ובלי ספק שנוסחא משובשת נזדמנה לפניו והנוסחא האמיתית היא ורוח אלהים לבשה את זכריה (ד"ה ב' כ"ד). 

And doubtless, a mistaken nusach came before the Baal HaTurim, while the true nusach would be to point to II Divrei Hayamim 24:20, which does have וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים לָבְשָׁה. 

(The digital text of Baal HaTurim, which corrected the pointed-to text, makes no sense, for why would we read a text which actually has veruach Elokim as if it said veruach Elokim?)

 וכן כתב מוהר"ר מאיר אנגיל במסורת הברית הגדול. 

So did Rabbi Meir Engel write in Masoret HaBrit HaGadol:

ומה שנמסר בפ' ויקהל רוח אלהים ה' בלישנא. היינו כל הכתובים רוח אלהים בין בוא"ו בין בלא וא"ו כמו שמונה והולך שם:

Meanwhile, regarding the masoretic note in parashat Vayakhel which reads רוח אלהים, there are five with this language, these are all the verses with רוח אלהים, whether with or without a vav, as he will enumerate and detail there.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Minchat Shai, Bereishit 1:1

Here is Bereishit 1:1:

בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֑ים אֵ֥ת הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וְאֵ֥ת הָאָֽרֶץ׃

Minchat Shai comments:

בְּרֵאשִׁית דגש הבי"ת עם טפחא תחת השי"ן. ב' רבתי. ובראש השיטה ובראש הדף וזו היא בי"ת של בי"ה שמ"ו. עיין ברבינו בחיי פ' בשלח וריקנאטי ריש פ' בראשית ובפי' שערי אורה למהר"ר מתתיה דלאקרט ז"ל במדה ראשונה על מלת ואת:

To analyze this, piece by piece.

דגש הבי"ת עם טפחא תחת השי"ן

The bet gets a dagesh. This is obvious and unsurprising, as a straightforward application of the rule that beged kefet at the start of a word will take a dagesh kal, indicating that it is the plosive rather than fricative. So, it is a bet rather than bhet.

עם טפחא תחת השי"ן.

Is this obvious, or are there contrary texts? I'll point to William Wickes (in A Treatise on the accentuation of the twenty-one so-called Prose books of the Old Testament), page 32, who asserts that the rules of trup, if only looking to the logical (followed by syntactic division) would have been other than what we have, but the etnachta is placed on Elokim for emphasis. Otherwise, presumably, the logical division would be on Bereishit. 

Once the etnachta is on Elokim, the syntactic division would separate of the PP (prepositional phrase) from the VP (verb phrase), and one or two words away from the etnachta, we can have a tipcha as the disjunctive accent. This all follows from a modern analysis of trup, which isn't necessarily what would motivate Minchat Shai. More likely, it is simply that this is the very first word of Tanach, so gets focus.

 ב' רבתי. ובראש השיטה ובראש הדף וזו היא בי"ת של בי"ה שמ"ו

An enlarged bet. And this is at the start of a line, at the start of a column. And this is the bet of the mnemonic of  בי"ה שמ"ו, (a quote of Tehillim 68:5) which are letters that start columns. These are:

YUD - Bereshit 49:8

HEH - Shemot 14:28

SHIN - dispute. See Minchat Shai to Vayikra 18:8

MEM - dispute. See Minchat Shai to Bemidbar 24:5

VAV - Devarim 31:28.

 עיין ברבינו בחיי פ' בשלח

This is to explain the masoretic note. Rabbenu Bachya on Shemot 14:28 begins:

הבאים אחריהם בים. משפט ס"ת להיות ששה בריש דפין והסימן הוא בי"ה שמ"ו. ואלו הם, ב'ראשית, י'הודה אתה יודוך, ה'באים אחריהם, ש'מור ושמעת, מ'צא שפתיך, ו'אעידה בם,

and Rabbenu Bachya proceeds to offer a reason. The SHIN would be Devarim 12:28, the MEM would be Devarim 23:24, and the YUD would be Devarim 31:28.

וריקנאטי ריש פ' בראשית

Recanati at the start of Bereshit discusses, from a kabbalistic perspective, why the Torah begins with the letter bet.

ובפי' שערי אורה למהר"ר מתתיה דלאקרט ז"ל במדה ראשונה על מלת ואת

And in Shaarei Ora, from Rabbi Matitya Delecrut (with R' Yosef Gikatillia), in the midda rishona, on the word ve'et.  (Another kabbalistic work. unsure what it says there.)

Friday, October 22, 2021

Review Questions for Learning Sukkah 2a.1


1) Who is the typical author of a stam Mishnah? Tosefta? Sifra? Sifrei?

2) Why put the position as setam instead of spelling it out?

3) Which side of the page is Rashi?

4) What are the three types of links on the gemara's page? Names of these commentary links.

5) What are two extremely important skills / characteristics for learning gemara?


1) What is Rashi's explanation for why Rabbi Yehuda and the Tanna Kamma disagree about >20 amot?

2) What is Rashi's explanation for why < 10 is invalid?

3) What is Rashi's explanation for why more sun than shade is a problem?

4) Why is shlosha put in parentheses?

Gemara - first sugya

1) What is a "mavuy" that has a height?

2) Why not say pasul, in your own words? Two explanations.

Some hints:

אמר רבי יוחנן: "סתם משנה רבי מאיר סתם תוספתא רבי נחמיה, סתם ספרא רבי יהודה, סתם ספרי רבי שמעון וכולהו אליבא דרבי עקיבא".

plurality because pasken. came out of his beit midrash with rabbi yehuda hanasi redacting

inside margin

back in time, contemporary, forward to halacha

sitzfleish and keeping finger on place

wait and see



crossbeam needs to be seen, before moving from alleyway to real road

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Koy and Chatzi Shiur - Yoma 74

 On Yoma 74:

איתיביה רבי יוחנן לריש לקיש אין לי אלא כל שישנו בעונש ישנו באזהרה כוי וחצי שיעור הואיל ואינו בעונש יכול אינו באזהרה תלמוד לומר כל חלב מדרבנן וקרא אסמכתא בעלמא

Rabbi Yoḥanan raised an objection to the opinion of Reish Lakish from what was taught in a baraita with regard to the prohibition of forbidden fat: I have derived only that anything that is included in the punishment of karet is included in the prohibition. However, one might have thought that there is no prohibition to eat fat of a koy, or a half-measure of forbidden fat, since there is no punishment for those. Therefore, the verse states: “ All fat” (Leviticus 7:23), indicating that there is a prohibition to eat any kind of fat, including fat of uncertain status and a half-measure of fat. Therefore, a half-measure of fat is prohibited by Torah law. Reish Lakish rejects this argument: This prohibition is rabbinic, and the verse brought as a proof is a mere support. It cannot be claimed that there is such a prohibition by Torah law.

Why would the brayta put together koy and chatzi shiur. Is the focus of Rabbi Yochanan's question just the latter part, the chatzi shiur, but these are just linked together in the derasha?

We could possibly answer based on Rav Chisda's understanding of a kvi / koy. On Chullin 79b, he defines it as a hybrid of a he-goat and a doe. Thus, it has aspects of both. And only the chelev of beheimot, not chayot, are prohibited. This is not a matter of safek, but rather of an instrinsic chatzi shiur.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Shabbat 75: Keeping the chilazon alive

For today's daf yomi, Shabbat 75a, let us consider the chilazon. Does the gemara's description of it match up with what contemporary scientific sources say about it? In particular, here is Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, Book 9, Chapter 60.

The quote I would like to focus on is this:
"People strive to catch this fish alive, because it discharges it juice with its life; and from the larger purples they get the juice by stripping off the shell, but they crush the smaller ones alive with the shell, as that is the only way to make them discharge the juice."

This matches up with some of the statements in the gemara. My concern is more with statements of named Amoraim. Statements of the setama degemara, which might well be from the Savoraim or later, do not concern me as much, as they never saw a murex snail and were far in time from when the chilazon was available.

A brayta firstly talks about first catching and then being "potzeia" a chilazon:

הַצָּד חִלָּזוֹן וְהַפּוֹצְעוֹ — אֵינוֹ חַיָּיב אֶלָּא אַחַת. רַבִּי יְהוּדָה אוֹמֵר חַיָּיב שְׁתַּיִם. שֶׁהָיָה רַבִּי יְהוּדָה אוֹמֵר: פְּצִיעָה בִּכְלַל דִּישָׁה. אָמְרוּ לוֹ: אֵין פְּצִיעָה בִּכְלַל דִּישָׁה.

The Tanna Kamma says he is liable for two acts, while Rabbi Yehuda says only for one act. That is slightly ambiguous, because perhaps Rabbi Yehuda holds there is no such thing as catching a slow-moving chilazon. The brayta (maybe a later stratum) continues and clarifies that all hold there is a liability for the catching, and the dispute is about potzea - whether this is like disha, threshing.

What is petzia? Rashi writes:  הפוצעו - דוחקו בידיו שיצא דמו: That is, he squeezes / crushes it in his hands so that the blood will come out. Potzea usually means to crush or crack open. See Jastrow.

I am not sure if I am forcing this explanation, but perhaps we can say that the brayta is ambiguous. Is it possible to that petzia is the same as the "stripping off of the shell" of the larger murex, and that there is some cracking open that is possible here, that does not kill it?

Rava says that this is only an issue of whether disha (threshing) applies only to plants.

אָמַר רָבָא: מַאי טַעְמָא דְּרַבָּנַן — קָסָבְרִי אֵין דִּישָׁה אֶלָּא לְגִדּוּלֵי קַרְקַע.

The setama degemara objects that there is the issue of taking a life! This is a prelude to the (earlier) statement of Rabbi Yochanan, that we are dealing with a dead murex:

וְלִיחַיַּיב נָמֵי מִשּׁוּם נְטִילַת נְשָׁמָה! אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן: שֶׁפְּצָעוֹ מֵת.

And Rava disagrees and says that it could even apply to a live murex, because that is not his intent.

רָבָא אָמַר: אֲפִילּוּ תֵּימָא שֶׁפְּצָעוֹ חַי, מִתְעַסֵּק הוּא אֵצֶל נְטִילַת נְשָׁמָה.

The setama degemara objects that this is a statement by Rava, and Abaye and Rava agree about pesik reisha velo yamut. And answers that here, it is not in the person's interest that the murex dies, because if extracted while alive, the dye will be clearer.

 וְהָא אַבָּיֵי וְרָבָא דְּאָמְרִי תַּרְוַויְיהוּ: מוֹדֶה רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן בִּ״פְסִיק רֵישֵׁיהּ וְלֹא יָמוּת״! שָׁאנֵי הָכָא, דְּכַמָּה דְּאִית בֵּיהּ נְשָׁמָה טְפֵי נִיחָא לֵיהּ, כִּי הֵיכִי דְּלֵיצִיל צִיבְעֵיהּ.

This reason, that its dye will be clearer, is Rashi's explanation, and Rashi's girsa of the gemara. (He says "Hachi Garsinan").

דליציל ציבעיה גרסינן - שתהא מראית צבעו צלולה:

What would be the alternative? Maybe a sense of hatzala, saving its dye. It is like hatzala. The variant manuscript in question is ktav yad Vatikan. Here, from the Hachi Garsinan website, is a comparison of several manuscripts:

And it glosses delitzlei as denitzlach, that it be saved.

Dr. Mendel Singer, a Radziner chassid, in his article about the criteria for the chilazon, in which he tries to show that the murex does not match, writes:
Dye is better while chilazon is alive: We learn in the Gemara that people try not to kill the chilazon when extracting the dye because the dye is better if extracted while the chilazon is alive.[42] From this Gemara we learn that there is a significant difference in the dye when extracted while the chilazon is alive and when it is extracted just moments after its death. Petil followers argue that the murex secretion (mucus) loses its dyeing power a few hours after the snail's death. This doesn't help since the Gemara is speaking not of a few hours, but mere moments after death. Another problem is Pliny's statement that the murex discharges its dye upon death.[43] If so, the reason not to kill the murex when removing the gland containing the dye is because otherwise the precious few drops of dye will be lost!

I personally would not try, like the Petil people, to make the setama's statement accord with contemporary observed reality. In terms of Rabbi Yochanan, he could be dealing with a dead chilazon. In terms of Rava, he could be dealing with a live chilazon. But we see from Pliny that people prefer, at least with the large snails where it is possible, to not crush it with the shell. It is only the smaller snails that they crush with the shell. It could be that this brings in impurities, because you are mixing it with bits of shell and other flesh of the snail. Indeed, the extracted dye will not be tzalil, pure. You would need to filter it. As the setama describes, perhaps.

I am a bit stymied by Dr. Singer's last two sentences, though:
Another problem is Pliny's statement that the murex discharges its dye upon death.[43] If so, the reason not to kill the murex when removing the gland containing the dye is because otherwise the precious few drops of dye will be lost!
I can only surmise that he was exposed to Pliny secondhand, and so did not see the full context. Recall that Pliny wrote:
"People strive to catch this fish alive, because it discharges it juice with its life; and from the larger purples they get the juice by stripping off the shell, but they crush the smaller ones alive with the shell, as that is the only way to make them discharge the juice."
The same Pliny who wrote that it discharges its dye upon death said immediately that they crush the smaller murex alive with its shell, to make them discharge the juice. Obviously Pliny is not saying that when you crush a live murex, killing it, the drops will be lost! That would be nonsensical.

Rather, Pliny seems to mean that, if a murex dies in the water, it discharges the dye into the water, and so you will not have a chance to extract it. But once you catch it alive, you can do with it what you will - strip off the shell for larger murex, crush it alive for smaller murex. And then they will discharge their juice / dye, which you can use.

So Dr. Singer presumably did not see Pliny inside, and kvetches him beyond recognition. However, if Dr. Singer does want to say that the concern of the gemara should be is that precious drops of dye will be lost, he can always use the Vatican manuscript, which interprets the word as hatzala, דנצלח צבעיה, or even interpret our own girsa in like manner.

Thursday, March 05, 2020

Berachot 62: Roman Replacement

In today's daf yomi, Berachot 62b:

רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר עָל לְבֵית הַכִּסֵּא. אֲתָא הַהוּא רוֹמָאָה דַּחֲקֵיהּ. קָם רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר וּנְפַק. אֲתָא דְּרָקֹונָא שַׁמְטֵיהּ לְכַרְכְּשֵׁיהּ. קָרֵי עֲלֵיהּ רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר: ״וְאֶתֵּן אָדָם תַּחְתֶּיךָ״, אַל תִּקְרֵי ״אָדָם״ אֶלָּא ״אֱדוֹם״.
The Gemara relates that Rabbi Elazar entered a bathroom. This Roman came and pushed him away. Rabbi Elazar stood and left, and a serpent came and ripped out the intestines of the Roman. Rabbi Elazar recited the following verse about the Roman: “Therefore I will give man [adam] for you” (Isaiah 43:4); do not read it as adam, but rather read it as Edom, meaning a Roman.

Rashi translates כַרְכְּשֵׁיהּ as חלחולת שהרעי יוצא בו שקורין טבחיא, and so Artscroll translates it as rectum. (Rect 'um? Dang near killed 'im!)

I think the derasha here is more than the al tikrei for Adam / Edom. It is also based on the word tachtecha. Therefore I will give an Edomite as for your rectum.

Assuming the Babylonian Amoraim were Ashkenazim, there could be a similar derasha at play in the segment that follows, on the pasuk: ״וְאָמַר לַהֲרָגֲךָ וַתָּחָס עָלֶיךָ״, about what happened when King Shaul went to relieve himself.

Sunday, March 01, 2020

Berachot 58a: No Reshut HaRabbim

On today's daf (Berachot 58a), the following statement of Ulla, accompanied by a brayta:

אָמַר עוּלָּא: נְקִיטִינַן אֵין אוּכְלוּסָא בְּבָבֶל. 
תָּנָא: אֵין אוּכְלוּסָא פְּחוּתָה מִשִּׁשִּׁים רִבּוֹא.
Ulla said: We hold there is no multitude in Babylonia. 
The Sage taught: A multitude is no fewer than six hundred thousand people. 
Artscroll points us to Kesef Mishneh to Rambam Hilchot Berachot 10:11, that the blessing (chacham harazim) is only said in Eretz Yisrael, and to Maadanei Yom Tov on the Rosh that it is inappropriate to make such a blessing on Jews in exile.

That is one possible interpretation. Another is that there won't be a gathering of shishim ribo in Bavel, and perhaps by extension elsewhere in exile. And that might have repercussions elsewhere.

We should connect it to another statement of Ulla, which he might have made. People wonder at the basis of Rashi's statement that a reshut harabbim requires 600,000. That is, in Eruvin 6b, Rashi writes:

רה"ר - משמע רחב שש עשרה אמה ועיר שמצויין בה ששים ריבוא ואין בה חומה (או) שהיה רה"ר שלה מכוון משער לשער שיהא מפולש דומה לדגלי מדבר:

The Meira and Ravya each refer to a (slightly different) Talmudic text of Shabbat 6a that we don't have in our printed edition. But it exists in Ktav Yad Vatikan and in a rubbed out marginal text in Ktav Yad Minkin. You can read more about this on the Eruv Online blog. Here is the image from the Vatican manuscript of Shabbat 6a:


That is, that there is no reshut harabbim in Bavel. And further, from Rabba bar bar Chana, if not for the walls of Yerushalayim closed at night, people would be liable because of Reshut HaRabbim.

This accords well with the Resh Lakish's opinion in the Yerushalmi Eruvin that there is no reshut harabbim nowadays. It will technically exist sometime in the messianic future, when all hills and mountains are flattened. This is a general trend of eliminating the reshut harabbim deorayta, so that various halachic positions can be applied.

Eruv Online also mentioned a Gra, who asks how Ulla can say there is no uchlesa (=shishim ribbo) in Bavel, if the same Ulla says (Ketubot 54a) that Mechoza would be a reshut harabbim if not for their closing their doors at night, given that Rashi there says that there was shishim ribbo in that city. And he cites an answer I don't like so much, about Bavel the city vs. Bavel the country, and then points out a Tosafot that contradicts that assumption.

I think the answer is straightforward. Ignore the details. Ulla in both cases comes to undo the status of reshut haraabim. There are ways of doing it: Resh Lakish's nuclear option; Ulla's statement that there is no multitude (=shishim ribbo); and Rabba bar bar Chana's statement about Yerushalayim and closing the doors at night.

That Ulla in Ketubot instead applies Rabba bar bar Chana's rule, to the Babylonian Mechoza, rather than the rule he possibly stated elsewhere, about shishim ribo, is not surprising. There is an overarching aim, and he could get to it in either way. He didn't have to resort to a population count given that the city closed its doors.



Thursday, October 24, 2019

Bereishit: Natural Consequences

I've written before extensively on reading parshat Bereishit, and the narrative in the Garden of Eden as metaphor. A slight rehash: I think that such a reading should arise from text-internal concerns indicating its genre rather than from discomfort with accepting its claims as true at face-value. An author can write a story as fiction (Goldilocks and the Three Bears) without it containing some deep allegorical meaning, and an author can write falsehoods due to primitive / mistaken beliefs or due to malice (e.g. UFO stories) without it containing some deep allegorical meaning. With that said, I think that use of prototypes and the nature of the punishment as establishing the natural order, or the existence of a compelling allegory that works well with many of the details (the beginning of civilization / agriculture) would argue in favor of an allegorical meaning.

This year, I have been thinking about natural consequences. A surface read of the story certainly presents these changes to the natural order as a penalty from On High, because Adam and Chava did something wrong. But it can be viewed as a natural consequence. (See here for how it is used as a discipline strategy.)

Humankind was not meant to be a primitive primate, or an unblemished angel, or an unthinking automaton. God granted mankind with a Tzelem Elokim, that is, freedom of thought and choice, to be able to chose from good and evil. This design, briefly described in Genesis 1 (27), is described in greater detail in Genesis 3. Man is naked and uncomplicated, a wordplay / opposite of the serpent's cunning. He / she internalizes the ability to choose between bad and good by eating the Forbidden Fruit. The action, not the fruit, brings from potential to actuality the ability to make such a selection. What the snake says is as least partly correct, as is God's command, that הֵן הָאָדָם הָיָה כְּאַחַד מִמֶּנּוּ, לָדַעַת, טוֹב וָרָע. In this way Adam and Eve are "in His form and in His image". Such a human cannot remain in a Garden, but is properly meant to interact with the world.

The punishments are the way things should be. Mankind needs to and is meant to strive to produce, rather than being granted the rewards on a platter. That plays out in conventional historical human society, classically, as men sweating in the field to produce grain and as women enduring the pain of childbirth. The snake is a stand-in for humankind's struggle with their Evil Inclination. There is a love-hate relationship. There is constant struggle between them, and the snake is never really satisfied with its food.

A relative noted an interesting natural consequence. Other female primates - monkeys, chimpanzees, gorillas, do not suffer the pain of childbirth. Only humans do (and Neanderthals did). In Bereishit 3:

טז  אֶל-הָאִשָּׁה אָמַר, הַרְבָּה אַרְבֶּה עִצְּבוֹנֵךְ וְהֵרֹנֵךְ--בְּעֶצֶב, תֵּלְדִי בָנִים; וְאֶל-אִישֵׁךְ, תְּשׁוּקָתֵךְ, וְהוּא, יִמְשָׁל-בָּךְ.  {ס}16 Unto the woman He said: 'I will greatly multiply thy pain and thy travail; in pain thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.' {S}

What causes this pain is the larger infant head size, in order to contain the larger human brain. So, in fact, the pain of childbirth is a natural consequence of this ability to reason and choose.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Arakhin 2b: Who does Yochanan ben Dahavai cite?

Today, in Daf Yomi, we started Arakhin. In the beginning of Arakhin, the Stam goes through various Mishnayot, asking each time the purpose of the inclusive language of HaKol. On Arakhin 2b, we encounter the following:

לאיתויי סומא באחת מעיניו ודלא כי האי תנא
The Gemara answers: It serves to add one who is blind in one of his eyes, and teaches that he is obligated to appear in the Temple, whereas one who is entirely blind is exempt. The Gemara notes: And this ruling is not in accordance with the opinion of this tanna, Rabbi Yehuda.
דתניא יוחנן בן דהבאי אומר משום רבי יהודה סומא באחת מעיניו פטור מן הראייה שנאמר יראה יראה כדרך שבא לראות כך בא ליראות מה לראות בשתי עיניו אף ליראות בשתי עיניו
As it is taught in a baraita that Yoḥanan ben Dahavai says in the name of Rabbi Yehuda: One who is blind in one of his eyes is exempt from the mitzva of appearance, as it is stated:“ Three times in the year all your males shall appear [yera’eh] before the Lord God” (Exodus 23:17). According to the way in which the verse is written, without vocalization, it can be read as yireh, meaning: Shall see, instead of yera’eh, meaning:Shall appear. This teaches that in the same manner that one comes to see, so he comes to appear, i. e., to be seen: Just as the usual way to see is with both of one’s eyes, so too, the obligation to appear applies only to one who comes with the sight of both his eyes. This is one possible explanation for what is added by the general statement of the mishna in Ḥagiga 2a, according to Ravina.

According to the highlighting, Yochanan ben Dahavai is a 4th generation Tanna. Rabbi Yehuda, who without patronymic refers to Rabbi Yehuda bar Ilai, is a 5th generation Tanna. Is seems strange for the former to cite the latter.

Meanwhile, Rabbi Yochanan ben Dahavai, at least according to my biographical data (e.g. Who's Who In The Talmud), is a student of Yehuda ben Tema, a 4th generation Tanna:

If so, the easiest to do would be to add the patronymic "ben Tema", and to assume that the absence is due to scribal error akin to dittography. Repeatedly in the sections above, certain positions were taken to be not that of Rabbi Yehuda, and there, the reference was to Rabbi Yehuda beRabbi Ilai. It is understandable, then, for the "ben Tema" to be accidentally dropped here.

Looking at the parallel text in Sanhedrin 2a, it appears that they do have Ben Tema:

דתניא יוחנן בן דהבאי אומר משום רבי יהודה בן תימא הסומא בא' מעיניו פטור מן הראיה שנא' יראה יראה כדרך שבא לראות כך בא ליראות מה לראות בשתי עיניו אף ליראות בשתי עיניו

It is difficult to say that occurrences in Chagiga, Arakhin, in Yerushalmi, and in the source Tosefta that they are citing all made the same error. Maybe it is just OK to leave out the patronymic, and people would have understood based on context which Rabbi Yehuda was intended; and only Sanhedrin added it.

This, of course, operates under the assumption that my biographical data is correct.

Now, looking at Toledot Tannaim vaAmoraim, volume 2, page 547, I see that he has a discussion:

He mentions that, though in our printed texts in Arakhin we lack it, the patronymic ben Tama does appear in Dikdukei Soferim.

Sunday, June 02, 2019

Bechorot 46: In defense of Shmuel

The Mishna:

On the point of whether the live head of a nefel which was then retracted prior to the twin's birth effectively is poter (either "exempts" his brother, or consider: effects a peter rechem -- each has the same effect). The Mishna states that it would.

However, the language of the Tosefta strongly suggests otherwise: Tosefta perek 6:

That is, it just says שיצא but does not specify the head. Indeed only for the viable nine-month infant who died is the head mentioned. And then, we see rosho verubo mentioned in the general rule. This Tosefta would be like Shmuel, in the gemara, who is "refuted" by the Mishna.

I think that because of this, the Minchat Bikurim emends the text of the Tosefta, so that it would match the Mishna.

Here is the start of the Gemara:

However, I personally believe that it is difficult to refute Shmuel based on the Mishna, as the setama degemara eventually concludes. He is a first generation Amora, just like Rav (who sometimes is a Tanna who can effectively argue). He surely knows the text of the Mishna. He is arguing with it. And it turns out, there is a brayta that supports him!

If so, I don't think we need to reinterpret the Mishna as the gemara first attempts. If we do, I am somewhat convinced by the reinterpretation - that the focus in the reisha was on the aspect of bechor lanachala rather than on the peter rechem, and the author of the Mishna tried too hard to set up a minimal pair, of a contrasting case, because the main focus was the law in the seifa, where a live head would not only not be a bechor lanachala but even not for peter rechem. That some other distant Mishna states that novelty explicitly or implicitly does not mean, to me, that the gemara is right that the novelty is no longer necessary, and so the kvetch is unnecessary, which means we cannot reinterpret the Mishna. I don't accept the tanina, which I am not sure is even so regularly applied. Rather, it shows that the "novelty" is indeed something that is true, that holds in general. And so the Tanna's focus was similarly on this law, and in this focus ended up loosening the precision of the reisha. Indeed, I suspect that the Tosefta, and its language, is an earlier form of the gemara in reinterpreting the Mishna. (Thus for example the emphasis on rosho verubo.)

But even if we do say the Mishna is against Shmuel, we have a brayta that supports him. This is no refutation.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Bechorot 37-38: Trephination

Once again, I find myself taking issue with a Talmudology post. Trephination might be mentioned in the Mishna / Talmud, but why did the ancients practice this art?

Let us start by establishing the meaning of the word מקדח. It literally means a drill or borer, rather than the hole made by a drill. To cite Jastrow:

Talmudology writes:

בכורות לז,ב
ובגולגולת ב"ש אומרים כמלא מקדח וב"ה אומרים כדי שינטל מן החי וימות
Concerning the deficiency in the skull: Beit Shammai say that it must be missing a piece like the size of a drilled hole, and Beit Hillel say: It must be missing an amount that if removed from a living person, he would die.
But just how big is Bet Shammai’s “size of a drilled hole?” In tomorrow’s daf (38a) we learn that it is the size of “the small drill hole, used by physicians” (בקטן של רופאים). So around the first century BCE there were physicians going around drilling holes (of various sizes) into the skulls of the living. Why on earth would they do such a thing, and just how common was this practice?

I believe that this is a mistaken translation. It is not that the physicians were drilling holes of various sizes, large and small. Rather, there were drills of various sizes. The Mishna in Ohalot, cited by our gemara, contrasts Rabbi Meir's position that it was a hole made by a small drill, that of doctors, to the chachamim who say it is the hole made by a larger drill, used in the Temple:

דתנן באיזה מקדח אמרו בקטן של רופאים דברי רבי מאיר וחכ"א בגדול של לשכה
As we learned in a mishna (Oholot 2:3): With regard to which drill did Beit Shammai state their opinion concerning an incomplete skull? It was with regard to a small drill of doctors, used for drilling bones. This is the statement of Rabbi Meir. And the Rabbis say: It was with regard to a largedrill, such as that used in the Temple chamber. According to the mishna concerning a window that imparts impurity, the size of this drill is like that of a sela coin, and the opinions of Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel would still be identical.

So it is not a small vs. large hole that doctors make, but rather a smaller hole, made by the smaller drill, which is the standard drill doctors use. Nothing in the Mishna or gemara itself states that doctors use this to drill a hole in a skull - trephination -  rather than in other bone, but Rashi does in fact make the leap and state that the doctor drilled a hole in the skull:

באיזה מקדח אמרו - ב"ש בגולגולת כמלא מקדח כקטן של רופאים שקודרין בו את הראש לתקן את המכה:
Along the way, Rashi also gives an explicit reason the doctors would drill such a hole - to fix a head injury.

This is also where I think Talmudology missed the boat. Why did the doctors drill into the skull? He should mention Rashi. Instead, the only scientific discussion is why it was practiced in rather ancient cultures, as a result of superstition:

“..an opening in the head, trephination, could be “the activating element,” the act that could allow the demon to leave the body or the good spirit to enter it, for the necessary “undying” process to take place. If deities had to enter or leave the head, the opening had to be sufficiently large…The head was chosen for the procedure, not because of any particular intrinsic importance or because of magic or religious reasons, but because of the unique and universally accumulated experience observed by primitive man in the Stone Age with ubiquitous head injuries during altercations and hunting. Otherwise, the pelvic bone or femur could have served the same purpose. We must recall that even the much more advanced ancient Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Hindu, and even Hellenic civilizations believed the heart to be the center of thought and emotions, not the brain. In fact, the association of the heart with emotions lingered to the present age.
And so it was that the procedure came to be practiced across the world. This may also explain how it also ended up being used in ancient Israel, and trickled down into a teaching about ritual impurity cited by Bet Shammai.

If the purpose was to discuss the science of the Talmud, it seems that here would be a place to discuss trephination as contemporary science, as practiced by Galen, or by Hippocrates. For instance, here is Hippocrates:

That is just a taste. It is utterly confounding that he doesn't present this from a medical perspective.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Bechorot 36: The Truth Will Come Out!

The Talmudology blog is an excellent Daf Yomi blog. Its author, a doctor, looks at the modern scientific evidence for or against ideas presented in the Talmud. On today's post, about milta de'avida li'igluyei, I would have to say that he is off the mark.

In evaluating the veracity of a scientific claim in the Talmud, there are two steps. The first is establishing the content of the scientific claim. The second is checking whether the content matches the modern observable facts. I think the blogpost fails on the first step, by misidentifying the content of the claim. The disproof in the second step then misses its mark.

The claim, as put forth by Talmudology:
בכורות לו, א
מילתא דעבידא לאיגלויי לא משקרי בה אינשי
People do not lie about something that may later be revealed [as having been false]
Can a Cohen may be relied upon to testify that first-born animal in his possession has been declared by an expert to have a blemish (which would widen its permitted uses)? Rav Yehuda ruled (in the name of Rav) that the Cohen should indeed be believed. Since that expert could come forward and state that he issued no such ruling, the Cohen would not risk being discovered as having lied. In a small village or town of a few dozen to a few hundred families, this ruling is reasonable. To lie would expose the Cohen to the risk that his fraud might be exposed. But does Rav Yehuda’s no-lying rule make sense in today’s society?

The full quote is actually כל מילתא דעבידא לאיגלויי לא משקרי בה אינשי, but the omission of the word kol is not relevant. What is relevant is the English word I bolded in red above, "may".

As a contrast, this is how the Koren Talmud translated it (from Sefaria):
With regard to any matter that is likely to be revealed, people do not lie about it.
This is a major distinction. If Rav Yehuda, citing Rav, or even the setama degamara explaining him, asserts that one will not lie about anything which may / might be revealed, that means that where there is any level of risk in the matter, the person will not lie. And that is easily falsifiable. Students regularly cheat on tests, and are caught. People regularly lie, and they are caught in the lie, so there was obviously some risk. This assertion is easy to falsify.

If Rav Yehuda citing Rav asserts that this holds only when the truth is likely to come out, then that is more difficult to falsify. One would need to present studies where people lied even though there was a good likelihood that the truth would eventually come out.

The word דעבידא in the Aramaic strongly suggests the latter interpretation. That we can somewhat expect it to be revealed. The cases in which this is applied in the gemara also lends support to this interpretation. A woman claims her husband died, and we allow her to remarry. Because people know other people, the husband walking around when he is reported dead can be expected to eventually come to light. In terms of blemishes of bechorot declared by an expert, a bechor is big news, and the expert circulates. A local expert is somewhat likely to hear, and the lie will be found out.

Meanwhile, all of Talmudology's studies have to do with people who lie, either with no risk, or some risk, of being caught. This is "may", not "likely". Therefore, it is irrelevant.

Talmudology's blogpost concludes:
People will lie even if there is a risk of being discovered, and will do so brazenly and without concern for others. Just ask Elizabeth Holmes. Actually, don’t ask her, since she’d probably lie you. Rav Yehuda’s rule that people will not lie if there is a risk of their lie being uncovered is at best aspirational. Sadly, it is no-longer an accurate description of social norms. (Perhaps it never really was.) But wouldn’t it be wonderful if it were so?
Perhaps Elizabeth Holmes is somewhat who lied while knowing that she would eventually be caught out. Perhaps she dug herself into a hole and then lied in order to push off the inevitable fallout. Regardless, an anecdote is not data, and the plural of anecdote is not data. Indeed, the gemara in Bechorot itself pointed out a counterexample and dismissed this anecdotal evidence:

רפרם בפומבדיתא הוה ליה בוכרא ויהביה ליה לכהן בלא מומא אזל שדא ביה מומא יומא חד חלש בעיניה אייתיה לקמיה א"ל בכור זה נתן לי ישראל במומו ארפסיניה לעיניה חזייה בשקריה א"ל לאו אנא דיהיבתיה לך
In this regard, the Gemara relates that Rafram, who resided in Pumbedita, had a firstborn animal and he gave it to a priest in an unblemished state. The priest went and caused a blemish in it. One day, Rafram had an affliction in his eyes, which rendered it difficult for him to open them. The priest to whom Rafram had given the firstborn animal brought it before him,as an expert examiner, for him to deem the animal permitted. The priest said to him: An Israelite gave me this firstborn animal with its blemish upon it. Rafram forced his eyes open and saw the animal and recognized it [bashkerei] as the one he himself had given the priest. Rafram said to the priest: Is it not I who gave this firstborn animal to you?
ואפ"ה לא חש לה למילתא האי הוא דחציף כ"ע לא חציפי
The Gemara notes: And even so, Rafram was unconcerned by the matter of the priest’s attempted chicanery, as he maintained that it is only this priest who is impudent, but all other priests are not impudent. This scenario did not cause Rafram to discredit any other priest’s claim that he received a blemished firstborn animal from an Israelite, as this was an exceptional case. This priest demonstrated extreme impudence by bringing it to be examined by Rafram himself, and therefore one cannot draw conclusions about the behavior of other priests from this incident.

In sum, the Rav Yehuda's assertion was not disproved and shown to be merely "aspirational". Rather, the assertion was misunderstood (IMHO) and what was disproved was an assertion prime.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Chullin 96: What does Rav Pappa mean that Shmuel's position is a matter of Tannaitic dispute?

In today's daf yomi (Chullin 96a, going on to b), Shmuel had a position that only that portion of the sciatic nerve which was over directly the spoon of the thigh was prohibited. And Rav Pappa says:
אמר רב פפא כתנאי אכלו ואין בו כזית חייב רבי יהודה אומר עד שיהא בו כזית

That is, while the Mishna did not have Rabbi Yehuda argue regarding whether one who ate a full gid hanasheh was liable, in a brayta Rabbi Yehuda does argue. And, somehow, one unspecified side of this argument lines up with Shmuel's position limiting the (Biblically) prohibited area of the gid.

Rashi explains it as follows:

אמר רב פפא כתנאי - כדמפרש ואזיל דרבנן אית להו דשמואל ורבי יהודה לית ליה דשמואל
This is indeed a faithful rendition of the conclusion of the gemara, that the side in the machlokes who holds like Shmuel is the Rabbanan (=Rabbi Meir, I think), and it is not in accordance with Rabbi Yehuda.

The gemara which follows bears the clear mark of authorship by the setama degemara. It is a derasha chain. This Tanna interprets this pasuk in this way. So how does the opponent interpret the verse? And if so, where does the first Tanna derive that law? And so on, until the game of musical chairs ends. This is a systematic approach to derashot that one often finds in the setama.

And the way it operates here is that Rabbi Yehuda requires "asher al kaf hayarech" to derive a specific law, while the Rabbanan utilize that verse for Shmuel's derasha. So, even though the specifics of the dispute between Rabbi Yehuda and the Rabbanan about eating a berya of gid less than a kezayit have little semantically to do with Shmuel's identification of the prohibited gid, it turns out that the two positions are related because of competition for the verse each is derived from.

Besides being somewhat awkward and surprising, in the sense that Rav Pappa should really have been much clearer in how these relate, there are difficulties in the derasha chain itself. In particular (96b), we have to believe that Rabbi Yehuda holds that the presence of the word achila in the pasuk indicates that it must be a kezayit, and a berya does not suffice, even though (as Tosafot points out), in all other places, one is liable for a berya (such as an ant) even less than a kezayit, and there is no indication that Rabbi Yehuda disagrees there. Tosafot's question is better than any answer. And the Rabbanan's rejoinder, that the word achila is to indicate that one is liable even if there are multiple olive measures and he only ate one is also suspect. Would one say that one is liable only if he ate all the cheilev?

My resolution of Rav Pappa is against what is explicit in the setama degemara, but I think that it makes sense. Shmuel's position is in accordance with Rabbi Yehuda, not the Rabbanan. Here is how.

If the entire gid is forbidden, then it makes sense to say that eating a berya, meaning a complete forbidden entity, makes one liable, even if that whole entity is less than a kezayit. But if you tell me that only a small portion of the entity is forbidden, one cannot label it a berya. If only the cheilev of the ant were forbidden, eating a whole ant that includes that cheilev is not berya. And eating just all that forbidden portion is also not berya.

Therefore, since Shmuel holds that only a small subsection of the gid, namely that over the spoon of the thigh, is forbidden, Rabbi Yehuda would say that there is no aspect of berya here for eating that entire forbidden entity. The forbidden part of the gid is not a complete entity in and of itself. Therefore, the Rabbanan who maintain that it is indeed a berya for less than a kezayit could not hold that only a small portion of the gid is forbidden, and argue upon Shmuel.


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