Thursday, 12 September 2013

Pesachim 85 a, b

We continue to learn about breaking bones and eating marrow.  It is determined that marrow matters - when a bone from the Paschal lamb has at least an olive bulk of meat or marrow, it must not be broken. The rabbis describe peeling away meat with some detail... it is enough to make me consider vegetarianism.  Ritual impurity renders the priests' hands impure, and piggul and leftover meat of consecrated animals is impure.  There is discussion about priests using their power to disqualify offerings of those whom they dislike.  The Gemara suggests that the decision regarding the ritual impurity of piggul/leftover meat may discourage such behaviour.  As well, the Gemara tells us that lazy priests - those who do not burn leftovers immediately - may have encouraged this ruling.

I love when we learn about the imperfect behaviours of those who are supposed to be above reproach.  Clearly the priests were not expected to be 'better' than anyone else; it was understood that they used their religious/social power to their own advantage.  Some of the halachot are created simply to address these injustices.  

As the rabbis continue to understand how the priests deal with ritually impure offerings, they arrive at a question around concealment.  If part of an animal is ritually impure, how do we stop that impurity from affecting the ritual status of the rest of the animal?  A principle: ritual impurity in a concealed place does not render other objects impure.  One of their examples is a dead fetus in its mother's womb.  Good to know that she is not considered ritually impure.  Talk about adding insult to injury!

We turn to look at meat that has been taken from the boundary of its group, and a Paschal lamb that has left the boundary of its group.   In both cases, the lamb is not to be eaten.  Daf (b) begins with some specific descriptions of how the meat becomes disqualified, especially through the placement of that meat with another group.  I wonder about these boundaries - how were they guarded? how would they be measured? how much of a problem was this boundary issue, and why was it important?  Are well looking at social rules masked as religious obligation?

A mishna creates a clearer picture of the scene at the Temple.  It seems that the Jews would congregated in courtyards with wall and doors separating groups.   The thickness of these structures is included when we determine barriers between groups.  

The Gemara begins with Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi saying "Even a barrier of iron does not separate between the Jewish people and their Father in Heaven".  Prayers are stronger than any physical barriers.  This seems to contradict the halachot regarding minyanim, for all ten people are required to be in the same place (ie. inside or outside of a doorway).  Priests, however, are still considered to be with the Jewish people if they are behind an iron wall when offering the priestly benediction.

More energy is focused on which walls and doorways are sanctified.   We learn a fascinating comment about why certain gateways are not sanctified.  Apparently lepers would sit outside of the gateways to Jerusalem using their structures as respite from the sun and as protection from the rain.  As well, they used the Gate of Nicanor to receive their sprinkling of blood on heads, thumbs and big toes once they were healed from leprosy.  

Can one heal from leprosy?

The notion of inside and outside is fundamental to Jewish ritual and philosophy.  I have written before about the distinctions that we delineate and then accentuate in Jewish thought.  We are provided with new examples today - walls, doors, gates, roofs, etc.  Why is it so critical to distinguish one from another; this from that?  Judaism begins with the notion of 'chosenness' and then continues to push that notion of separate and distinct.  Kashrut, modesty, ritual purity, Shabbat -- all of these cornerstones of Jewish practice depend upon the celebration of lines in the sand.  

But it is all sand.  Tiny specs of rock that appear to line up but can be moved and reshaped with the wind.  Even if our lines are completely arbitrary, we fight to defend them.  And even if our lines are determined by G-d, we must admit that they will shift over time.

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