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:

“ 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.

Friday, March 01, 2019

How could Yaakov Avinu go out at night?

A few days ago, in daf yomi (Chullin 91a), we saw that one a Torah scholar should not go out alone at night, and that this is derived from the case of Yaakov, who went out alone after his small vessels at night.

(בראשית לב, כה) ויאבק איש עמו עד עלות השחר אמר רבי יצחק מכאן לת"ח שלא יצא יחידי בלילה

As Rashi explains, they wrestled until dawn, showing that mazikin cannot harm during the day, such that he would not need shemira during the day.
מדקאמר עד עלות השחר - שמע מינה לא ניתנה רשות למזיק להזיק ביום לפיכך לא הוצרך שמירה:
מכאן לתלמיד חכם כו' - שהרי יעקב נשאר יחידי והוזק:
Someone in the shiur asked how Yaakov could go out alone at night. After all, the avot kept the entire Torah. (And, I would add, the gemara just above sort-of endorsed this idea, stating that Yosef in disguyise commanded that his brothers be able to see the bet hashechita as well as that the gid hanasheh was removed.) How could Yaakov go out alone at night, when the gemara says that a Talmid Chacham should not go out at night?

My answer is this: Where is this halacha derived from, if not this very incident! What if Yaakov tried to keep this halachah, and did not go out at night? Then, the incident would not have happened and the gemara could not have derived the halachah. In which case, Yaakov would not have known not to go alone out at night.

More than that, not going out alone at night would have created a temporal paradox which could have destroyed the entire universe! Therefore, Yaakov had no choice but to go out alone at night and subject himself to danger.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Eating a bit before megillah / maariv

Based on today's Shivti seder.

If you tell me something is assur, I want to see it in the gemara and Rishonim. Today's discussion was about snacking a bit, as opposed to eating a full meal, and how it was prohibited. I was not convinced, based on the presentation, that such a prohibition exists.

The first focus was on the first Mishna in Berachot and on the ensuing gemara on 4a-b. The Mishna set out the time for keriat Shema at night, with the Chachamim saying until midnight, and Rabban Gamliel teaching that the time is really until dawn, and even that the Chachamim who say until midnight said so as a fence.

The gemara on 4a-b elaborates on the nature of this fence by citing a brayta:

והא דקא אמרי עד חצות כדי להרחיק את האדם מן העבירה 
כדתניא חכמים עשו סייג לדבריהם כדי שלא יהא אדם בא מן השדה בערב ואומר אלך לביתי ואוכל קימעא ואשתה קימעא ואישן קימעא ואחר כך אקרא קריאת שמע ואתפלל וחוטפתו שינה ונמצא ישן כל הלילה אבל אדם בא מן השדה בערב נכנס לבית הכנסת אם רגיל לקרות קורא ואם רגיל לשנות שונה וקורא קריאת שמע ומתפלל ואוכל פתו ומברך

and the fact that they say until midnight is in order to distance a person from transgression. 
As it was taught in a baraitathe Rabbis created a “fence” for their pronouncements with regard to the recitation of Shema in order to prevent a situation where a person comes home from the field in the evening, tired from his day’s work, and knowing that he is permitted to recite Shema until dawn says to himself: I will go home, eat a little, drink a little, sleep a little and then I will recite Shemaand recite the evening prayer. In the meantime, he is overcome by sleep and ends up sleeping all night. However, since one is concerned lest he fall asleep and fail to wake up before midnight in order to recite Shema at the appropriate time, he will come from the field in the evening, enter the synagogue, and until it is time to pray, he will immerse himself in Torah. If he is accustomed to reading the Bible, he reads. If he is accustomed to learning mishnayot, a more advanced level of study, he learns. And then he recites Shema and praysas he should. When he arrives home, he eats his meal with a contented heart and recites a blessing.

While the maggid shiur presented this as a separate fence / gezeira from that of the Mishna, I think that the plain meaning of the gemara is that this is the exact same fence. As Rashi writes ad loc.,

מן העבירה - שמא יסמוך על שהות שיש לו כדתניא:

That is, Rashi explains that the Chachamim setting midnight as the end time is to distance a person from sin, for one will rely on the fact that he has time, as is written in the ensuing brayta.

If so, the fact that someone will procrastinate and eat a bit, drink a bit, nap a bit, and so on, are not new and individual prohibitions, but rather explaining what will happen if the person thinks he has time. As per Rashi, the brayta is expanding on the fence of the Mishna and saying what will happen. And by saying (and misleading? decreeing?) instead that there is a closer time, this will influence people to go to shul, learn, say Shema, daven, and only then eat a meal.

That does not indicate that the bit of eating is itself forbidden.

The source presented (in Shivti) that it was in fact forbidden was the top Tosafot on the daf:

וקורא קריאת שמע ומתפלל - מכאן משמע שמשעה שהגיע זמן קריאת שמע של לילה שאין לו לאכול סעודה עד שיקרא ק"ש ויתפלל ערבית:

But, as we noted immediately, Tosafot said le'echol seudah, to eat a meal until he reads Shema and prays Maariv. This is not necessarily the same as the ochel kim`a, eating a little bit, of earlier in the gemara.

Further, we should pay attention to the dibur hamatchil. What part of the gemara are Tosafot commenting upon when they say mikaan mashma? It seems like it is the end of the brayta, that the effect will be that someone will end up first saying Shema, then praying Maariv, and only then eating a meal. (And see the iba'it eima of the gemara that this is according to the position that davening Maariv is not something optional.) That is, it is going on ואוכל פתו, rather than the earlier ואוכל קימעא. I don't think you can derive from here a prohibition on snacking a bit. And the prohibition on a full meal is fully in line with the prohibition we saw in masechet Shabbat, about eating (a full meal) prior to keriat Shema.

I am not the only one to read closely like this. Look at the Rosh on this gemara.

When citing the gemara, he omits the final words ve'ochel pito umevarech. On the spot (note ס), we have Maadanei Yom Tov who comments:

That is, that the Rosh omitted these final words. But Tosafot were medakdek on those very words that one should not eat a meal until he read Shema and prayed. And even the Rosh agrees to this, except that here he is going after the girsa of the Rif.

We can see the words of the Rif here, and I get the same sense, that there is no innovated prohibition of eating a bit, but rather the one gezeira we are speaking of is the time of midnight:

However, this that Rabban Gamliel said {that you can say the entire night} and this that R Shimon ben Yochai said {that the night one you can fulfill right before either dawn or sunrise} is bedieved - after the fact - and even if you did so willfully {bemeizid} and read keriat Shema before dawn you will have fulfilled your obligation, even though you are not permitted to do this, for we learnt in a brayta {Berachot 4b}:
The Sages made a fence to their words in order that a man should not come from the field in the evening and say 'I will eat a bit, drink a bit, and sleep a bit, and afterwards I will read Shema and pray' and if sleep snatches him he will have slept the entire night; but rather a man should come from the field and go to the house of gathering {shul} or the house of study - if he is used to reading {Scripture} he should read, and if he is used to learning he should learn - and afterwards read the Shema and pray. And all who violate the words of the Sages is liable the death penalty.
You are not permitted to delay until after Chatzos, and the brayta is brought for elaboration. I see no indication that prohibiting eating a bit, in and of itself, was a decree from Chazal.

So too, in the Tosafot HaRosh, he says the same thing as Tosafot, that one should not begin the seudah. And I took pains to point out during the shiur that we have to pay careful attention to the dibbur hamatchil, which in this case is explicit that it includes ואוכל פתו ומברך.

I don't think that Rashi on the daf, defining terms, is a clear-cut introduction of a prohibition. He writes:

קימעא - מעט:

We should not produce from here a machlokes between Rashi and Tosafot as to what is being prohibited. Even Tosafot know what the word kimi`ah means. They aren't arguing a definition in terms. Rather, Tosafot don't see any prohibition here, just and explanation of the procrastination that the person will do. And Rashi can agree with this as well, that this is an explanation of what the person will say and do as he procrastinates, if he thinks he will have time. It is just that, entirely separate from this, Tosafot and Rosh look at other words at the end and derive a prohibition on starting an entire meal, even before Maariv.

Maybe we can see such a decree in the words of the Rambam, though.In Hilchot Tefillah 6:7, we have:
ז  אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁתְּפִלַּת הָעֶרֶב רְשׁוּת, לֹא יָבוֹא אָדָם מִמְּלַאכְתּוֹ וְיֹאמַר, אֹכַל מְעַט וְאֶשְׁתֶה מְעַט וְאִישַׁן קִמְעָה, וְאַחַר כָּךְ אֶתְפַּלַּל--שֶׁמֶּא תֶּאֱנֹס אוֹתוֹ שִׁינָה, וְנִמְצָא יָשֵׁן כָּל הַלַּיְלָה; אֵלָא מִתְפַּלֵּל עַרְבִּית, וְאַחַר כָּךְ אוֹכֵל וְשׁוֹתֶה אוֹ יִישַׁן.  וּמֻתָּר לְהִסְתַּפַּר וּלְהִכָּנֵס לַמֶּרְחֵץ, סָמוּךְ לַשַּׁחְרִית, מִפְּנֵי שֶׁלֹּא גָזְרוּ אֵלָא סָמוּךְ לַמִּנְחָה שְׁהוּא דָּבָר הַמָּצוּי, שֶׁרֹב הָעָם נִכְנָסִין בַּיּוֹם; אֲבָל בַּשַּׁחַר, דָּבָר שְׁאֵינוּ מָצוּי, לֹא גָזְרוּ בּוֹ.

However, I don't think that even this needs to be a prohibition. The brayta was explaining the reason for the gezeira of until midnight, because they feared people would do this. They were thus coralling people away from falling into this trap. And the implication is that, totally separate from this, it makes sense that one should not fall into this trap. There is the correct hanhagah, and that is what one should follow, and that is why Rambam encodes it.

Even so, I would not say that this is a gezeira, and that this is an issur deRabbanan.

The result of all of this is that I don't think that it is correct to turn around and (like the Terumas HaDashen), in places of need, such as hearing a late Megillah reading after a long fast (which Chazal would have not have held of, since it is Yom Nikanor), that there is a gezeira that one cannot nibble on something.

That is my reading of the sources, though various Acharonim apparently read this differently.

Update: Here is a lengthy Artscroll footnote on the subject, which shows how others read differently. Bli neder, I will address in a follow-up post. Note that it is Rif (as explained by the Rashba) rather than just plain Rif. The Rashba is here and the (later, meaning siman 9) Rosh is here. And Avot deRabbi Natan, illustrating how the phrase asa seyag lidvarav is used as an expression of overstating one's opinion to be more stringent than the actual law, is here.

Sunday, February 03, 2019

chamar medina, via Shivti

This morning, I attended a very interesting program at Beth Aaron with my son -- Shivta. Great egg salad and tuna, and a nice topic, namely chamar medina. First there was a chabura with the assistant rabbi, Rabbi Gabbai, and then a shiur continuing on from there by Rabbi Willig.

The presentation of Shivti in their pamphlet is a bit more elaborate than your typical shiur source sheet. The typical source sheet will have either (literal) cutouts from various gemaras and rishonim so that you see the tzuras hadaf or standard printed text from Bar Ilan. This is a combination, so that each full page is a source, in the original. So we will see the gemara in Pesachim 107a, together with Rashbam and Tosafot, in the full tzuras hadaf, with shading for what they deem the relevant material. And on the bottom, in plain printed text, just the excerpted material.

The order of presentation is also nice. It is chronological, so we start with the relevant gemara and meforshim on the daf, then on to Rosh, Rif, Rambam, and then Tur, Shulchan Aruch, and Mishnah Berurah. A few others in between. The result is that you get to see the development of the ideas and how it is fleshed out or derived from the original sources.

Rabbi Willig presented his take on the sugya and his halachic position that, nowadays, it is impossible to justify using beer or whiskey for kiddush on Shabbat morning. I cannot do it justice, so don't rely on my presentation for an accurate representation of his position. But it can only be used as a substitute (according to Rashbam) where wine or grape juice is not readily available. And according to the Rosh who cites the Rashbam and also says:

ויש מפרשים דחמר מדינה היינו עיר שאין יין גדל בתחום אותנ העיר עד כדי מהלך יום סביב לעיר

that the unavailability (due to what is grown) has to be one of a day's journey around the city limits. And meanwhile, today with airplanes, the entire world is within a day's journey. Also, whiskey and beer are very low on the list, in terms of beverages Americans drink. Water comes first, then soda, then coffee, then beer, and finally milk (maybe among kids).


My thoughts on the matter. First, as an aside, in terms of growing, it is certainly not that they did not have wine transportation back in those days. One can certainly point to gemaras of people who went into business to purchase wine in a certain locale, and then the wine prices went down or up.

In terms of understanding the Rashbam, he did not invent of whole cloth this idea of no accessible wine in that city. He gets it from the story in Pesachim 107, that the first time Ameimar came to town, he did not make havdalah on the date beer, and went to bed hungry. And the next day they made efforts and were able to bring him wine, at which point he made havdalah and tasted something. So Rashbam is looking to the unavailability as a requirement, even while other Rishonim might argue.

So too, the position some held, cited by the Rosh, of the unavailability within a day's journey, is also not surprising and without clear basis. Rather, it appears to be a clear outgrowth of the same story, that they only managed to fetch it the next day.

What about today, where every place is accessible? As Thomas Friedman wrote, The World Is Flat, and every place is accessible? I don't think that this matters a whit. Are we concerned here with lechatchila vs. bedieved, such that the only allowance to use this is where you couldn't access the wine? That is one way of looking at it, but the other is that, in terms of respectability of the beverage, this is the equivalent of wine. Where they don't grow wine in that region, and where they typically use this instead of wine, it has the chashivus of wine. That the word is more accessible and one could go further in less time does not change this from being the regular regional drink.

When Ameimar came the second time and they brought him date beer, maybe it made it clear to him that wine was not accessible in the region. Or maybe the repeating bringing for havdalah made it clear to him that they treated it as a respectable drink.

In terms of water (or soda, or coffee) being intermediately popular before whiskey or beer as national drinks, this may indeed differ by region. I would imagine there are areas of the country (like New York) that prefer their Starbucks lattes, and other, rural areas of the country that prefer their beer. Or even neighborhoods in New York.

But see Rashbam (ad loc, in fact same d.h. as before), who also says that water does not count as chamar medina. He says this in the sense that you can't use it as such, even, as he says, in the absence of wine and beer. But I would say that water also doesn't count in chashivus even to disqualify. It should be considered kemi she'eino. Among intoxicating drinks that people treat in the equivalence class of wine, beer is actually more widely consumed than wine. And who cares about water, soda or milk?

So for those who do make kiddush on chamar medina on Shabbos morning, I think there is a way to read through the sources in their defense. (I personally use wine or grape juice, because I can't really stand whiskey or beer.)

Friday, July 27, 2018

Daf Yomi: Zevachim 107 - hidden derashot

There are some awesome hidden derashot on Zevachim 107a. (I call a derash hidden if there is a surface and superficial way of reading it that seems 'light', but an alternative way of reading it with greater depth.)

הדתנן הזורק מקצת דמים בחוץ חייב מנלן
 נפקא ליה מדתניא
 דם יחשב לרבות הזורק דברי רבי ישמעאל רבי עקיבא אומר או זבח לרבות את הזורק

The 'straightforward' understanding of Rabbi Yishmael's derasha requires that we consult Rashi, who includes a later phrase from the pasuk as well (matching how they brayta appears in Sanhedrin):

דם יחשב דם שפך - לרבות את הזורק והאי קראי בשחוטי חוץ כתיבי:

That is, it is considered 'blood' guilt (liability) for spilling (throwing) blood. That is how Artscroll (footnote 16, in brackets) explains the difficult derasha.

I would suggest that the derasha simply focused on the words 'dam yechashev'. The peshat is that for **slaughtering** the sacrifice outside the Temple, it is considered bad, bloodshed, blood-guilt, shedding of blood. Rabbi Yishmael, in order to arrive at a (previously known?) halacha that throwing the blood also counts, narrowly focuses on the words 'dam yechashev' out of context (significance maximalism, context minimalism) and translates it as  'blood is also reckoned'.

What about Rabbi Akiva? His derasha is:
או זבח לרבות את הזורק

The full pasuk for Rabbi Akiva is:

וַאֲלֵהֶ֣ם תֹּאמַ֔ר אִ֥ישׁ אִישׁ֙ מִבֵּ֣ית יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וּמִן־הַגֵּ֖ר אֲשֶׁר־יָג֣וּר בְּתוֹכָ֑ם אֲשֶׁר־יַעֲלֶ֥ה עֹלָ֖ה אוֹ־זָֽבַח׃

The simple meaning is that the pasuk is talking about someone who offers a burnt offering (olah) or a sacrifice (zevach), but outside the Temple. And the simple derasha is that since it does not say 'olah u-zevach', using the 'and' conjunction, but instead adds a whole word (and an alef) to make it 'olah `o zavach', using the 'or' conjunction, this is a 'ribbuy', an inclusion. And we can use inclusions to include whatever we like which is somewhat related to the context, so we are including not just the act of bringing the korban, but also the act of sprinkling. (And so the gemara goes on the 'or' being used to divide, that one need not bring both an olah and a zevach, and then goes on a sytematic derasha chain, how each interprets the others source text.)

I would suggest an alternative understanding of the derasha. The last word in the pasuk is zevach. But since it is the last word of the pasuk, it takes on a pausal form, zavach, with a kametz, yet retaining the stress on the first syllable. With the 'and' connective, it would be clear that this is a noun, and the 'olah uzavach' are the object of 'asher yaaleh'. With the 'or' connective, the word zavach can be read as a verb instead. Namely, the past tense of 'zoveach'. Then, there are two actions. Asher = who. Yaaleh olah = brings (ascends) a burnt offering. O Zavach = or who was 'zoveach'. And this other action would then be the closely related act of 'yaaleh', namely sprinkling the blood.

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...)


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