Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Eiruvin 11a, b

Today's daf was tough for me.  Without being able to clearly identify the rabbis in question, following their arguments was almost impossible after a full day of work followed by a board meeting.  Not that I would have had an easier time if I had been wide awake and fully focused, however.  Today's arguments are multifaceted, challenging, and reliant on information that I have not yet accessed in my limited learning.

Here are some of the arguments about permitted carrying on Shabbat that I could not follow today: the height or width of an alleyway's entrance, the height of a doorway or a cournice, the broken entrance or the poles with grapevines stretched over them, the top or side attachment of vines, the height of an archway (regarding placement of a mezuzah), the form of a doorway - including reeds, straw, hinges and loops.  As I read over this list, it does not seem to merit such confusion on my part.  But each argument is a question about another argument made by a rabbi with regard to another rabbi's opinion.  Like walking through a four dimensional maze.

A mishna in 11b tells us that there is a basic disagreement between the house of Hillel and the house of Shammai.  As usual, Beit Shammai are more stringent and insist that a crossbeam and a side post are required when deeming an alleyway fit for carrying on Shabbat.  Beit Hillel, on the other hand, say that only one of those two is required.  A list of rabbis then debate about what these great schools of thinkers really meant.

Much of today's daf describes the rabbis arguing with each other about what was intended by earlier rabbis.  It strikes me that I am continuing that tradition, albeit in an unthinkable way (at that time): alone, in English, on a computer, as a woman.  We are all part of this tradition of struggling with the all-important question, "but what does it MEAN??"  The entire study of Torah is a question mark, where "but what does it MEAN?" often leads the list of questions.

Perhaps that is why I love Judaism.  I am only one in a long, long line of people who have searched for meaning.  The most lauded Jewish personalities in our history are not the richest, or the most perfect, or the best looking.  They are hospitable, and kind, and flawed, and questioning.   Not terrible role models, all told.  

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