Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Eiruvin 103a, b

Another daf that seems more like "tying up loose ends" than like an examination of eiruvin.  At the start of today's daf, the rabbis continue their conversation about tying the broken strings of musical instruments on Shabbat.  They consider tying strings in bows in the middle of the string, which would not enhance Shabbat through performing the mitzvah of adding music.  Which, again, leads me to wonder about how halacha may have changed with regard to playing musical instruments on Shabbat.

A new mishna brings us to the topic of priests with warts.  If they are in the Temple, priest cannot do their duties with warts.  So can the warts be removed? If so, should this be done by hand or with the aid of an instrument?  Does it matter if the wart is moist or dry, as we know that removing dead skin is permitted? And should it be done by the priest himself or by a colleague?  One of the more disgusting things I've read in Eiruvin - and there have been quite a few - is the conversation in today's daf that considers whether or not a priest can remove another priest's wart with his teeth.  Yes, with his teeth.  I won't elaborate.

I am noticing a number a distinctions between what is allowed in the land, in other places, and in the Temple.  I am assuming that the rabbis are not referring to "the synagogue", where one is on each corner, but to "THE Temple".  And because the Temple was destroyed by the time that most of these conversations occurred, I will further assume that many of these comments are with regard not to the past experiences in the Temple.  Instead I am imagining that they are referring to rituals that will take place in the Temple when it is rebuilt.  

But I could be off about all of this.

Rabbi Eliezer is the Sage who teaches that preparation for a mitzvah overrides the prohibitions of Shabbat.  However, to emphasize that Shabbat is different from other days, we will "alter the manner in which a procedure is performed" both to avoid Torah prohibitions and to emphasize that the day is Shabbat.

In another Mishna, we learn more about wounds and bandages. If a priest has a wound on his finger, he is allowed to cover it with a reed - but not to stop the flow of blood or to heal the wound, both of which are prohibited on Shabbat.  Instead, the reed acts as a block between sancitfied objects and the wound.  The rabbis argue about using a very small cloth - three fingerbreadths by three fingerbreadths - to do the same job as the reed.  But is the cloth like adding a layer of clothing to the priestly garments?  or is it a block between the priest's own body and the larger environment?

To be a priest would allow the time and space to truly think about more esoteric, ephemeral and existential realities.  Must my body be connected to the air and the clothing surrounding it?  The notion of ritual purity would be of incredible importance at all times.  And what a lofty, difficult concept!  We are continually in the process of destroying our pure state... the moment one exits the mikvah and dresses, one returns to the world of material, base, impure, real life.  How might one live when that ritual purity is all-important to every moment of one's day?

The concept of ritual purity, cleanliness, connectedness - whatever we want to call it - is challenging and contradictory to say the least.  Hopefully I will explore that in much greater detail over this path of learning!

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