Sunday, 15 September 2013

Pesachim 88 a, b

We begin with a fabulous story about Ulla.  He tells that when Babylonia, he was served dates in a basket.  Ulla learned that one could purchase three baskets of dates for one zuz.  Amazing, Ulla said, that Babylonians are not more learned in Torah!  The cost of food is so low that they do not need to work hard to buy their food - they should be studying Torah with their excess time.  That evening, he stomach became terribly upset because of the dates.  "I retract my statement", he declared the next day. Ulla said instead that "a basketful of lethal poison is one zuz in Babylonia" and still, even when ill, the Babylonians continue to learn Torah!

After finding proof texts for other references to prophecies of consolations (related to that of Hosea in yesterday's daf), the rabbis look at the main topic of today's daf: who owns the offering and how others might partake of it.  The rabbis ask a number of fascinating questions.

The first is about the wife of a man who registers her to partake of his Paschal lamb.  As the mishna tells us clearly that a wife can choose whether or not she eats of his offering, the rabbis are quick to defend the woman's right to slaughter her own Paschal lamb.  Women are mentioned specifically in a related baraita, unlike minor children or Canaanite slaves.  Even more interesting from a modern, feminist standpoint, a woman is described as being able to refuse or protest against her husband's will regarding this offering.  Although this is a significant and very unusual account regarding women's rights, it is not clear that this very minor occurrence balanced out against the overriding experience of women as property.

Slaves, however, have much less agency.  The rabbis continue to debate when and how a slave might have the right to eat of his/her own Paschal lamb.  They also examine how to deal with errors, both when the owner of the offering is unclear or forgetful about his request (a lamb or a kid) and when the slave errs in procuring or preparing the offering.  Interestingly, one of the major concerns is the possibility that one will eat of an offering when the registration is faulty. 

Another story is told, this time of Rabban Gamliel.  Apparently King Agrippa I (we are told in Steinsaltz's note that Agrippa I was reliant on the Sages and halachot throughout his rule) and his wife the queen would call on Gamliel to rule on halachic questions.  Rabban Gamliel in turn would rule according to halacha, but the rule might be stringent in order to best serve the needs of the royal family.  Things that ordinary people could not do were acceptable for the king and queen.  

The rabbis use this story to demonstrate the deep respect of royalty for the words of the rabbis.  Again, a self-serving moment in the Talmud.  

Finally, Abaye comments on a situation where the people are not sure about whether or not they have made a proper offering (where both a master and a slave have forgotten whether their offering had a stipulation), they are obliged to use opportunity of the second Pesach.  It is noted that Abaye's ruling may have been based on a baraita.  That baraita describes a situation where five people bring five offerings and one of the offerings has a wart.  No one knows which person brought that offering.  We learn about the various reasons that we cannot fix this situation quickly.  For example, we can't allow all five to bring another offering, which would solve the problem without wasting the offerings, because each was already registered for a separate offering and one cannot sacrifice twice.  This question is not yet resolved at the end of the daf.

Today's daf introduces some new conversations regarding power and agency.  The rights of wives and slaves are discussed, all within the context of the rites Paschal lamb.  I can't help but question why now and not at other points in this discourse.  Perhaps that will become more clear to me as I continue to learn.  

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