Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Shekalim 13 a, b

Another daf looking at consecrated animals.  At the start of 13 (a), we watch a group of rabbis attempt to justify their beliefs regarding whether or not it is ever appropriate to exchange a female animal consecrated to the Temple for another.  A female animal is only permitted in certain offerings; further, an animal requires a blemish to be exchanged for another animal to be sacrificed.  I find the arguments around this conversation to be too complex and challenging to follow without a deeper background in this area.

In Halacha V we learn that the Temple always has the upper hand: every thirty days, new prices are set for wine and flour for the altar.  However, any fluctuation in price will be in favour of the Temple treasury and not the seller.  Should the price of wine go up, the treasury will continue to pay the lower price.  Should the price of wine go down, the Temple treasury will benefit from those savings.

The next Mishna describes fifteen Temple offices along with the names of their administrators. The rabbis disagree about whether all of these fifteen served concurrently, whether these administrators were copied from another document, or whether this is a list of righteous leaders over the 420 years of the Second Temple.  Interestingly only one of these Temple administrators is singled out: Mordechai, also known as Pesachyah because of his ability to explain the meanings of mystical topics, and because he knew 70 languages.

Amud (b) brings us to a discourse on the Talmud itself and its precursors.  We begin with "may the name of the righteous be for a blessing", which may have influenced who was chosen as the fifteen administrators listed above.  The rabbis then speak of righteous Torah scholars who had died, thus being able to state that their names were for blessings.  First is Rabbi Akiva, who is credited (erroneously) with being responsible for the Mishnah, the Midrash, the Halachot and the Aggadot.  The Mishna predate Rabbi Akiva significantly.  Perhaps instead, the rabbis suggest that Rabbi Akiva was responsible for the generalizations and the specifications.

The rabbis continue their discussion with a number of lists.  Rather than elaborate on the details of those categories, they move to a justification for lists.  They note that when 'sofer' was mentioned twice with regard to Ezra the Kohen, the sofer, it referred to a sofer both writing the words and counting the words written.  Apparently the Torah is easier to remember when we use mnemonic tools like lists.  We are reminded, in the time of the Talmud, that people used to remember these important words.  Now, however, we have forgotten the words of Torah.  They were angels but we are just men. No, they were  men and we are donkeys..Just imagine if our Sages were to see us now!

But speaking of donkeys, the narrative seems to tell us, R'Pinchas ben Yair's donkey was stolen and held three days by the thieves.  After three days where the animal refused to eat, they freed it so it would not die and smell in their cave.  The donkey returned home, and continued to refuse food.  After much cajoling, R'Pinchas deduced that the animal was being stringent and required his food to be tithed before he ate.

Using the special Mordechai or Pesachya as a model, the Gemara tells us that all members of a Sanhedrin must understand all 70 languages of the world without a translator.  At least one should be able to speak all of these languages.  If four members can speak all 70 languages, then the Sanhedrin will be wise.

Further information about Pesachyah is quite remarkable. First, he is able to interpret the meanings behind where a person who is deaf and mute places his hands to divine where barley can be found on three separate occasions.  the rabbis do not seem to take note of the special powers of the person who is deaf and mute, however.

More interestingly, Pesachyah is able to interpret the words of three women who bring him their offerings.  Each of the women is assumed to be speaking of her issue as one related to menstrual blood. Pesachyah, the very early feminist, suggests that each woman is describing something unrelated to the fact that she is a woman.  For example, one of these women is in fact grateful for surviving at sea rather than describing her menstrual flow as being like the sea.  Big difference.

At the very end of the daf, we are told a bit more about other administrators of the Temple.  Ben Achiyah is in charge of intestinal illness, which he says comes to Kohenim more frequently than others.  Kohenim walk on cold floors with bear feet, eat much meat and drink frequently, leading to stomach upset.  He was able to provide wine that was helpful and not harmful for this condition.

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