Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Pesachim 97 a, b

The focus today is on a small detail within the process of offering the Paschal lamb.  When there are two offerings - two consecrated animals - what are we to do?  First of all, why would one group/family offer two animals?  First, the Paschal lamb may have been lost.  A substitute offering could be acquired in this case.  But what if the original offering was found before the substitute was slaughtered?  And what if it was found after the sacrifice took place?

The daf recounts the rabbis' attempts to untangle which rabbis said what with regard to these laws.  In general, the rabbis suggest that one lamb is sacrificed and the other has one of two fates.  Either it is left to graze until it develops a blemish and cannot be sacrificed and is then either offered as a peace- or sin-offering, or it is sold and the money is used to purchase a free-will offering.  The free-will offering involves less ceremony than a sin- or peace- offering, as one does not lay his hands on the lamb or offer libations before the sacrifice.  

Alternately, the second (found or otherwise not-yet-sacrificed-) animal is left in isolation to die. We are not allowed to make a mark on a once consecrated animal, and so it must die of natural causes.  The rabbis never allude to the cruelty of this particular action -- and it strikes me that I am picturing the sacrifice of animals as a clean and relatively painless and thus preferable death.  Amazing what I can become accustomed to in this learning.  

Although they do not offer one word to critique their deplorable actions toward these unlucky animals, the rabbis do argue about when that severe decree should be applied.  Steinsaltz tells us in a note that animals designated as sin-offerings were left to die in a number of circumstances: when it is the offspring of a mother consecrated as a sin-offering; when it is a substitution for a sin-offering; when it's parents have died; when its owners have gained atonement for another offering; and when it is more than one year old.  However, other rabbis argue that not all of these examples should result in that death.

The daf continues with a number of debates regarding the time of day.  A Paschal lamb lost before midday, at midday, and in the evening may or may not be considered 'lost' after all.  Much thought goes into this seemingly small detail.

Two ideas continually ran through my head as I read today's daf.  The first is more general regarding the Paschal lamb.  At the time of the Talmud, were the rabbis actually practicing this sacrifice?  My understanding is that this tradition ended when the second Temple was destroyed.  So why debate for so many dapim about the details of a particular practice that does not exist?  Was this an intellectual exercise or a heart-felt examination?

The second is - you guessed it - about the sanctioned cruelty against animals.  Did people not become attached to their animals?  It is one thing to allow an animal to be sacrificed if one believes that G-d will benefit from that practice directly.  But how could anyone justify the slow, painful death of an animal?  I am wondering whether the people of ancient Babylonia thought about animals completely differently than I think of animals, or whether they cared for their animals just as we do today, and thus these exercises were exceedingly difficult.  

These dapim make me consider vegetarianism more than anything I have ever read.

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