Saturday, 30 November 2013

Yoma 23 a, b

Rabbi Yochanan teaches that it's okay to hurt those who hurt us.  He tells us that we can be like a snake when we are insulted - we can hide and prepare our retaliatory strike in the name of Torah.  His words are disputed and questioned - perhaps this only holds true regarding publicly stated insults on one's personal life and not regarding Torah.  Or perhaps we should be looking at the differences between vengeful and bearing a grudge.  The rabbis clearly are not comfortable with Rabbi Yochanan's statement.

Returning to the larger conversation about the priestly potter, the rabbis discussing one-finger vs. two-finger counts.  We know that the priests themselves could not be counted, but their fingers served as representatives.  And we learn that significant worries about cheating abounded.  Priests were not allowed to use their thumbs in the count, which could allow a priest to enter the lottery twice.  A story about a whip used to punish priests is shared with us, and then we are told about a second incident, this one from the Tosefta, where the priests 'cheated': running up the ramp, one person pushed another down, and was then stabbed by his competitor.  Instead of begging for help for his son who was convulsing on the ground, the priest's father wondered aloud about removing the knife to ensure its ritual status remained pure.  How could the priests care more about these rituals than about the loss of life?

Being born into a priestly caste carries with it great privileges and great responsibilities. It also carries dangers due to jealousy, judgement, competition and fear.  The priests were allowed to perform certain critical rituals because they were priests and not because of any special education or ethical understanding.  Why do our Sages not critique the priests more harshly?  Perhaps this criticism that we are given is already radical...?

Finally, the rabbis turn to the clothing worn when removing the ashes.  The rabbis argue about what clothing was worn by they High Priest vs. the other priests.  They attempt to understand how and when the trousers, belt and tunic were adorned.

With so much attention given to the presentation of the High Priests rather than the content of their thoughts, feelings or beliefs, it is difficult to understand the High Priests as regular human beings like the rest of us. It seems as if their roles are so vacuous, bereft of meaning - just the rituals but without content.  But I may be reading this incorrectly and the priests might be ethical, thinking, compassionate begins who were appropriate figureheads for the people...

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Yoma 21 a, b

After this detailed examination of the High Priest's preparations for Yom Kippur, the rabbis turn to the miracles that took place in the Temple.  Perhaps there were ten miracles; perhaps there were more.  Some of the miracles could be grouped together, but others stood alone. Did miracles count as miracles if they were continuous? Must they be discreet events?  Our notes teach that even the rabbis understood that some miracles were actually natural occurrences.  Why were our Sages so eager to believe that the Temple was a place of miracles?

Some of what they consider a miracle might be considered a flaw in their own understandings of the Temple. For example, one of the 'miracles is that the cherubim fit in the Holy of Holies, though their wingspans should not have allowed for this to happen.  Would it not make more sense that they misunderstood the measurements, or that the baraitot were flawed, which is blasphemous, or - and this is extremely challenging - the the Temple was never built in perfect accordance with Torah instructions?

One of the miracles is important to mention: women never miscarried due to the smell of the meat on the ark.  Apparently the rabbis believed that women's cravings could lead to miscarriage, and that the smell of the meat could spark these cravings.   But no miscarriages because of the odourous meat, or no miscarriages at all?  Of course there were miscarriages.  Did women not report them? were they protecting the 'status' of the Temple as a place of miracles?  Were they protecting themselves and their families from the difficulties and expense that would ensue due to the ritual impurity caused by a miscarriage?  The fact that the experience of miscarriage is mentioned at all is significant, as it is a huge part of our lives as women.

In discussing these miracles further, rabbis consider other possible supernatural happenings in the Temple.  Their discussion of miracles suggests special features of the wind and of fire.  Wind was thought to predict the coming season's weather forecast.  I find this very difficult to integrate into my 21st century mind.  However, our ancestors may have understood the weather differently, as they were wholly dependent on favourable weather to ensure food for themselves and their families - there was no corner store that would sell dates if the date trees did not produce.

Fire provides another interesting story.  A number of different types of fire existed, each with its own characteristics.  Some were 'normal', like fire that consumes solids but not water and fire that consumes liquid but not solid (ie. a fever that burns our organs but does not scorch us externally).  Other types of fire were miraculous, and that fire was able to burn without vulnerability.

Our Sages often speak in metaphors regarding what they cannot control.  They discuss the existential nature of being alive as a human being with all of our frailty and ignorance.  However, they do this through the contemplation of Torah.  The ancient notions of G-d, the elements, the nature of people - all of these provide the context for our rabbis as they analyze and attempt to understand what we still cannot know.  At least not empirically.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Yoma 20 a, b

We begin with a rare (so far) discussion of satan.  Apparently, satan is allowed to prosecute Jews for our sins on any given day of the year. However, he is not allowed to prosecute us on Yom Kippur specifically for sins that we commit on Yom Kippur.  Reading this, I wonder how the rabbis imagined that happening.  Did Satan appear to people?  Did he have a court on some ethereal realm?  Or was this a metaphorical or theoretical notion?

Moving on, the rabbis speak about how the ashes are removed on regular days, on Festivals, and on Yom Kippur.  The timing is different, accounting for (among other things) the crowds of people present.  One of the more interesting details to me is the suggestion of what to do if a limb falls from the fire to the ashes before it is burned.  The rabbis teach that the limb is returned to the fire if it is still within given time limitations, as the limb is considered to be consecrated and as such must be burned.  However, after the given time allotment, the 'fallen' limb is considered to be ashes and it is removed along with the other ashes.

The rabbis end this debate with the difficulty of what seems to be Torah law - if the ashes are supposed to be moved at a Torah-given time, how can we make changes?  The rabbis look at the circumstances surrounding what should be done in the morning, which brings them to a conversation about keriat ha'gever, the call of the rooster, or perhaps the call of man.  I love that we can use the same word for man and rooster, but that's an aside.

We are told a story about Rav, who was not yet well-known, and Rabbi Sheila.   Rav was disseminating Rabbi Sheila's lecture, explaining this concept and speaking about the call of the rooster.  Rav translated Rabbi Sheila's words according to his own understanding.  When Rav challenged Rabbi Sheila, saying that many greater rabbis agree that this is the 'call of the man', Rabbi Sheila suddenly realized that Rav was his disseminator.  He told Rav that he was sorry to give Rav the position of his assistant, so far beneath Rav's status.  Rav stated that 'if you hired yourself to him, comb his wool.'  This suggests that we should do whatever jobs are assigned to us once we say that we will take on a position.

A note by Steinsaltz is helpful in understanding the roles of the rabbis.  Sages of the Gemara would speak in a regular voice when they shared their knowledge.  Disseminators, or amoraim, would translate their words from Hebrew to Aramaic, speaking loudly so as to be heard.  The Sages of the Gemara cal themselves amoraim, disseminators or interpreters of the words of the Tannaim, the earlier, actual Sages.

The rabbis now discuss the power of sound.  Gevini the crier was a priest given the role of timekeeper: he would call out to the priests when it was time for them to work.  Although his voice was tremendously loud, traversing seven parasangs, it is suggested that the voice of the High Priest reaches ten parasangs.  And this is true even though the High Priest is exhausted, fasting, and calling during the day when it is more difficult for sound to carry.

Wait, think the rabbis, why does sound carry more easily during the night?  An interesting discussion ensues.  Apparently the sun creates a type of white noise that stops us from hearing other sounds.  This is like the sound of a carpenters cutting cedars, leaving the dust behind - that same dust that we sometimes can see in rays of sunlight.  In Daniel 4:32, Nebuchadnezzar teaches that "... all the inhabitants of the world are considered like la (dust)".   The Sages teach us that three sounds travel from one end of the world to the other: the sound of the sun moving from one end of the sphere to the other, the crowds in Rome, and the sound of the soul leaving the body. Perhaps, they add in the last line of today's daf, the sound of a woman in childbirth also travels across the world. 

Maharsha offers a lovely interpretation of this last section of the daf.  In a note, we learn that sound is in fact a metaphor for spiritual power; something we cannot ignore.  Thus we are in fact speaking about nature, kingdom, and death.  These things cannot be ignored.  A step further: Rome, with all of its power, will disappear just like the sun, with all of its power, disappears every night. 

I wonder if the same could be said of the earlier comments regarding the power of the High Priests' voices.  Those voices were 'superior' to that of the crier.  Perhaps this refers to a spiritual voice.  The power of the High Priest's connection with G-d, the power reverberating from his voice, could be 'heard' (ie. felt) from a distance of ten parasangs.

It is wonderful when I learn about rabbis interpreting these texts as metaphors; this validates my own tendency to interpret language and concepts with creativity.  Given, all of the rabbis who interpret using metaphors are also practicing halacha according to the letter of the law. So this isn't a comparison, simply a welcome connection. 

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Yoma 19 a, b

New information about the Temple suggests more chambers, some in the north and some in the south. There are chambers for storing salt, for storing incense (and practicing how to offer incense), for cleaning animal innards that have waste in them and cannot be sacrificed, for salting the food that will be stored for the High Priests.  Many other possible chambers are brought to our attention.  There may have been a chamber for priests who were disqualified due to blemishes or lineage.  Interestingly, we learn that these priests, once determined as disqualified by the Sanhedrin, would dress fully in black instead of white.  Certainly a visible mark of shame.

We learn about the seven Gates of the Temple.  Each is named and its position is described in detail.  Amud (a) tells us about the schedule of the High Priest.  Actually, we learn about a number of possible schedules.  The Sages note the special treatment afforded to the High Priest.  They wonder about having him walk far distances from one chamber to another; could this have been done to facilitate his humility?  Or perhaps our Sages did not in fact understand the layout of the Temple or the schedule of the High Priest.

Amud (b) begins by explaining that the High Priest is an Agent of G-d, and not of the Jewish people.  The oath taken with the Elders is proof that the High Priest learned according to the will of G-d and not according to his own interpretations.  The crying that follows this oats is interpreted again: this time, it is suggested that all cry because the High Priest is not trusted.

From this we move into more usual methods of instilling fear: if you practice incorrectly, you will be punished.  First is the story of a Sadducee who was named High Priest.  He was eager to prove that his interpretation of the text regarding the 'cloud over the ark' (in this case believed to be related to the offering of incense).  Days later, he was found dead in a pile of garbage with worms coming from his nose, the hoof-mark of an angel on his back, and the sound of him being slapped by an angel sounding through the air.

Another story tells us that Rav gestured the answer to a question while speaking the Shema.  This is not punishable - so why was he not punished?  The Gemara suggests that Rav was reciting the second paragraph of the Shema, during which it is permitted to be less than perfectly focused if one has good reason.  The rabbis then debate: is it truly necessary to be silent during this prayer?  How does this compare with our conduct during the Amidah?  And what kinds of speech are we referring to - idle gossip?

We end our daf with a new Mishnah focused on how to keep the High Priest awake the night before Yom Kippur. We are told that the attendants would snap their fingers (tzarada - using the thumb and 'it's rival', the middle finger rather than the first finger and the thumb, which are like bride and groom), speak to the Priest, have him stand on the cool floor, and have him perform a difficult bow.

The speaking was in fact singing, we learn, and not using instruments.  When the noise of citizens' Torah study is suggested as a possible stimulant, the rabbis take great offence.  These people are up all night not to study but to sin!  In fact, they are the reason that Moshiach has not come - on Yom Kippur in Neharde'a, the men and women and sinning all night!

Monday, 25 November 2013

Yoma 18 a, b

After completing the rabbis' thoughts regarding sharing the shewbread, we are introduced to a new Mishna.  Here we learn that a number of Elders are provided to the High Priest while he is sequestered. They show him some of the animals that he will slaughter, teach him the service, teach him the Torah reading in case he forgot it or does not read, offer him food and drink at will, and withhold food from him the night before Yom Kippur to ensure he is awake through the night.

The Gemara helps us to understand this Mishna.  Why would the High Priest not know how to read?  We learn that the rabbis believe that priests were often corrupt by the time of the Second Temple.  Why was the High Priest made familiar with bulls and ewes and rams but not with goats?  Different answers are suggested, but one of the more interesting possibilities is that the High Priest will become distracted by the thought of people sinning (when seeing a goat and thinking of the scapegoat) and his distraction will lead to a lack of focus.  

What is fed to the High Priest and why?  Different mnemonic devices are suggested to remind the elders - and the zavim, for they too are avoiding similar pitfalls - which foods are to be avoided by the High Priest.  The rabbis believe that certain foods will lead to seminal emissions.  Eggs, because of their consistency, could lead the High Priest to have a seminal emission. Similarly, different rabbis suggest that etrog, white or old wine, fatty meats, milk, cheese, garlic, cress, purslane, arugula and certain fish and soups can lead to this outcome.

If the High Priest experiences a seminal emission just before Yom Kippur, and he is not able to reestablish his state of purity, he will be disqualified as the High Priest.  I have never heard of food inducing a seminal emission.  Are the rabbis referring to nocturnal emissions or unintentional emissions of other sorts?  I remember reading about a Sage who was walking on the beach with his students when he had a seminal emission.  Seemingly this was without obvious touching or other provocation.  How frequently did these things happen?  Perhaps if masturbation was not an option, the body would find the pressure of clothing stimulating enough to cause an 'emission'.  Or not... I am curious about what this suggests about societal rules around sexual feeling and conduct.

Apparently when Rav and Rav Nachman were visiting certain towns, they would ask for a wife for the day.  The rabbis attempt to understand this.  Were they trying to quell rumours regarding inappropriate sexual behaviour for rabbis?  Were they wanting to show that rabbis were married, settled, models of 'ideal' status?  And how would they deal with the imperative for a woman to be seven days without blood after betrothal and before marriage?  Would a message be sent regarding betrothal in advance of their arrivals?  Or was this all a ruse to allow women to be secluded with these rabbis; their presence alone mitigating the desires of these men (when they knew that the women were not actually allowed to them)?

Our daf ends with another Mishna, returning again to the Elders who have prepared the High Priest for his activities on Yom Kippur.  The Elders are to repeat an oath, stating "My Master, High Priest.  We are agents of the court, and you are our agent and the agent of the court.  We administer an oath to you for G-d who house G-d's name in this house, that you will not change anything from all we have said to you."  All would cry after this oath was completed.  

The High Priest was to be kept awake all night before Yom Kippur.  We are told that either the Elders or the High Priest would teach Torah or Tanach (whomever was more learned), especially from Job, Ezra, Chrionicles, and/or Daniel.  

What is it with rabbis and sex and women?  There is this disconnect between understanding women as people and understanding women as property.   Both beliefs seem to exist simultaneously, but the rabbis use whichever belief better serves their interests in the moment. When sex is added into the mix, our Sages seem to drop the possibility of seeing women as people.  Apparently a baraita tells that Eliezer Ben Ya'akov teaches men not to marry women in different towns to ensure that their children are not matched and married to produce mamzerim.  Other rabbis suggest that rabbis are well known, and thus the issue of identity will not cause such problems.

Some of what I learn seems to interpret text toward the benefit of the community.  At other times, I am learning that our rabbis seem to interpret text to advantage themselves.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Yoma 17 a, b

Today's daf is the shortest I've encountered so far, I believe.  Unfortunately, though it is short, it refers to another possible layout of the Temple - a complex topic made easier with diagrams and mathematical efforts.  I can follow the Gemara, but I know that the depth of this conversation is beyond my grasp at this point.

Yesterday we learned that the Chamber of the Lambs was located in the SE corner of the women's courtyard.  Today, Rav Adda son of Rav Yitzchak suggests that this chamber was removed.  Rashi suggests (as stated in Steinsaltz's notes) that in fact this chamber was long and narrow, located in the middle of the west wall of the Hall of the Hearth.

Different versions of the Hall of the Hearth are resolved by looking at descriptions in two tractates. In Masechet Tamid, the chambers are listed from the left, and in Masechet Middot, the chambers are listed from the right.   It would seem that each version offers a different puzzle to solve, as the shewbread would be found in the 'wrong' place according to each version.

In amud (b), we learn about one particular privilege offered to the High Priest.  He is allowed to choose whether he takes a sin-offering, a guilt-offering, a burnt-offering or a meal-offering first when all are presented to him.  He must declare his intention, (for example, "This burnt-offering I am sacrificing," or "this sin-offering I am eating" or "this guilt-offering I am eating") and then he is entitled to take any portion of that offering for himself.  Individual offerings allow the High Priest to take what he wants, while communal offerings go through communal channels.

Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi believes that the High Priest also may take one of the two loaves offered on Shavuot and five of the twelve loaves of shewbread offered each week.  His opinion is based on Leviticus 24:9, where Aaron and his sons were entitled to the shewbread - this has been interpreted to mean that Aaron was entitled to half and his sons were entitled to the other half.  Extending this notion to the High Priest and the other priests, the rabbis generally agree that the High Priest was entitled to slightly less than half of the shewbread (as it would be improper for one person to have so many of the loaves of bread.

Our daf ends with Abaye's comment on the baraita referred to throughout this argument.  Could it be that the first and last comments are in accordance with some rabbis while the middle section accords with others?  Abaye suggest that the first and second comments are coherent.  A High Priest cannot be given a piece of a loaf; instead his should be given an entire loaf.  Thus he should be allowed these extra privileges.

Again I am reminded that that I am missing the baraitot upon which the Mishna and Gemara are based. It is difficult to follow the arguments of our Sages without those primary documents.  A good part of what I am learning is not the intended content of the dapim but is the structure and hermeneutical systems of thought that form the building blocks of our shared understandings.

Often the rabbis suggest proof texts that provide little rationale, in my mind, for the connections that they propose.  But when those texts are found in the Torah, Neviim or Ketuvim, I can source the texts myself and search for connections.  The baraitot, on the other hand, seem to be distinct from each other and difficult to track.  I wonder what languages were used to record the baraitot, and what came before those documents.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Yoma 16 a, b

Our Sages describe the layout of the Temple, including a conversation about different levels/storeys and the staircases connecting those ares.  The larger areas, chambers, are split into five sections.  Each of their corners is dedicated to a specific purpose.    Between the corners is a common space.  In the Hall of the Hearth, Beit Ha'mok'ed, holds the Altar in the NE corner, the shewbread in the SE corner, the lambs for sale as offerings in the SW corner, and the site for immersion in the NW corner.  In another chamber, the common area is known as the Women's courtyard, which is in fact open to all Jews.  The surrounding corners hold the House of Oils, the Lepers waiting for immersion, the Woodshed holding wood for the altar, and the Nazirim, where people prepare shave off their hair and prepare for time away from luxuries.

A couple of points held my interest: the priests who were unable to do any other service (because of blemishes) were assigned to check wood in the Woodshed for worms.  And why are worms in the wood forbidden?  Steinsaltz shares a note that suggests that perhaps worms were not Kosher.  Or perhaps worms simply are disgusting, and we don't denigrate the Altar by allowing their presence.  When I think of this, I think: maybe worms weren't allowed because they weren't Kosher, or maybe they were just gross.

Another interesting point is that there are separate spaces for potential Nazirim and for Lepers.  But it would seem that members of both of these groups would use the same mikvah for immersion as they transitioned from one state to another.  Again, the creation of strict lines between people blurs.  The same water is used with different populations, but the water itself does not carry a title; it is 'neutral'.  If someone continued to have syphilis, for example, would his/her immersion (or the communal preparation for immersion) put others at risk?  In an attempt to create stark lines that separated us, our halachot sometimes push us together, altogether blurring the differences between us.

Along the same theme, one of the chamber quarters is for lambs.  These are the lambs that are bought to be slaughtered and dismembered as offerings.  Just imagine - in the holiest place possible, the Temple, there are monetary transactions.  There are live animals crowded together.  In another quarter, those lambs are killed.  Their their blood is swung onto the walls.  Next door, a group of people check themselves for blemishes and hope that they are ready for immersion - finally to be named ritually pure so that they can return to their families.  The mundane and the holy, all in one place.  When seen in this way, the Temple is like a site of humanity - with its striving, its disappointments, and its spiritual connection.

Amud (b) describes the placement of the Alter within the courtyard itself.  It would seem that given the measurements provided, the eastern wall would have to be lowered to allow the Priest on the Mount of Olives to view the entrance of the Sanctuary.  I must admit that I found the mathematical calculations challenging to follow and verify.  However, if the given measurements provide us with the possibility that there was an error in design, should this not be extremely concerning to our Sages?

Certainly we are not through with these explanations.  However, the entire system of Jewish belief does not have to come crashing down if there are errors or misinterpretations regarding theses measurements.  At least, not according to me.  We'll see how tomorrow helps to elucidate these ideas.  

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Yoma 14 a, b

At the start of today's daf, we complete yesterday's conversation regarding protocol should the wife of the High Priest die.  The rabbis question whether or not the High Priest would be in a state of acute mourning if his ex-wife were to die. An interesting question; today we continue to struggle with how much feeling we 'should' have for our ex-partners.

Beginning with a new Mishna, we learn more about the roles of the High Priest - and of the common priests in the Temple.  Throughout today's daf, rabbis share different opinions based on contradictory baraitot.  

What is the order of the High Priest's tasks in the sequestered room, and why does he perform these tasks (a combination of ritual leadership and basic housekeeping)?  During any other week, the priests participate in three daily lotteries that assign these and other tasks.  The Mishna suggests that the High Priest performs three jobs: burning the incense, cleaning the ashes from beneath the lamps of the menorah, and offering the back leg and head of the offering.  Why those particular tasks and not others?  

The rabbis speak about what might happen should the High Priest perform the rite of sprinkling water from the hyssop onto a person/animal accidentally.  There is some confusion about ritual purity - can the sprinkling of water impart ritual impurity, or might it remove ritual impurity, or both?  How does sprinkling differ from dipping?  And how might the High Priest and/or a common priest deal with errors in sprinkling?

Amud (b) demonstrates the many different interpretations and sources that our rabbis have relied upon to inform their diverse opinions.  They argue about the directions and order of chores, including sprinkling blood, the daily tasks of common priests, and the possible connections between clearing ashes and burning incense.  Each argument is supported by a proof text (or an unseen baraita).  

Today's learning reminds me of the rich, multi-dimensional history of the Jewish people.  As much as our rabbinical tradition has suggested that there is one 'right' answer, we come from a long line of disagreements, a valuing of multiple interpretations, and turning to metaphors as proof texts.  It is difficult to believe that we are meant to follow only one line of reasoning.  Our Sages created a system that helped them choose the 'right' answer, and that became halacha.  But we would not hold the Talmud sacred if we did not value the process of dissention and debate which sits just beyond our halachot.  

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Yoma 13 a, b

We begin with the High Priest and his replacement on Yom Kippur.  The High Priest may feel somehow competitive with his replacement, even if the replacement Priest only becomes High Priest in the case of death (rather than just ritual impurity).  

The rabbis speak of a related question, that of the High Priest's wife.  Earlier we learned that the wife of the High Priest represents his "house", which is referred to in Leviticus.  Because the High Priest must pray for his house, he must be married - to one woman, and not to two women, for he is not praying for two houses but for "his house".  So what do we do if his wife dies?  We looked at this question at the start of Yoma.  The rabbis were concerned that any number of wives could die - once we are considering the possibility of death, we should be concerned that both wives could die.

Jealousy between the two wives would have been the least of the High Priest's troubles.  As mentioned, he was not allowed to have two wives.  So the rabbis wonder if he could bethroth or even marry the second wife while presenting her with a conditional get.  The get would allow the High Priest to divorce his second wife should the first wife still be alive at Yom Kippur.  But this would not solve the problem for our High Priest if his orginal wife died on Yom Kippur itself.  

The Gemara continues to wonder about the pros and cons of multiple wives and the job of the High Priest. They walk through examples that could leave the High Priest with erroneous prayers, incluing having no house to pray for. The rabbis move into a discussion of yevamot, children of a woman whose husband has died.  She is then to marry her dead husband's brother.  Incidentally, a note teaches that a man who dies with many wives leaves only one of these women to his brother.  The brother an choose the wife that he wants, while the others are permitted to remarry.  

At the end of today's daf, the rabbis take note of the fact that the High Priest would be in mourning should his wife die on Yom Kippur.  In such a situation, should the High Priest serve in teh Temple?  Yes, agree our rabbis.  But why?  To serve in the Temple is a mitzvah and a comfort to the mourner.  

It helps to see the rabbis struggle with the grief of the High Priest.  We rarely read about people's emotional states when we read in the Talmud.   One might think that no-one cares about injustices, or inequalities, or unfair power structures.  To lose one's wife is horrible, and the Talmud does understand the needs of a man in mourning

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Yoma 12 a, b

Are synagogues in large cities and in small villages both vulnerable to leprosy?  Villagers own their synagogues themselves, while synagogues in large cities are frequented by disparate people, and thus are owned by "the public".  And can ritual impurity affect synagogues and study halls in Jerusalem? Is it only the Mikdash, the Temple, that is immune to the ritual impurity carried through leprosy?

Amud (a) considered the opinion of Rabbi Yehuda regarding Jerusalem.  He used a baraita to prove that Jerusalem was divided between Judah and Benjamin, and not among all of the tribes.  The Temple was also divided between these two tribes, which caused Benjamin and his people to be jealous of Judah.  

Deuteronomy 33:12 can be used to argue that in fact Jerusalem was divided among the tribes.  In this case, the tribe of Benjamin was allotted the Holy of Holies.  The question of ownership in Jerusalem is raised: Jerusalem could not have been divided among the tribes as it was owned by the Jewish people.  Meaning that houses were not owned, nor were beds rented out.  More examples offer proof that in all of the land of Canaan, leprosy is a plague put on the houses of land that has been conquered and is now owned.

The rabbis turn their attention back to the High Priest, sequestered away to ensure ritual purity before the Yom Kippur offering.   If he becomes impure before the morning offering, the second Priest chosen for this role puts on the eight garments of the High Priest.  But if the disqualification occurs after the morning offering, the belt alone can be used to transfer power.  We learn that the ordinary belts of the Priests were made of pure linen (or wool and linen, according to Rabbi Elazar, son of Rabbi Shimon & Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi), while the ordinary belt of the High Priest was made of diverse kinds, dyed blue and purple.  On Yom Kippur alone, the High Priest's belt was like that of the Priests on ordinary days - pure linen.

Amud (a) ends with an explanation of the initiation of the replacement Priest should the High Priest contract ritual impurity.  The Priest is to change into all eight garments of the High Priest, and then he turns over the offering - likely with wood and/or ashes - on the alter with a fork.  By performing this sacred duty in the garb of the High Priest, the Priest is now initiated into that very special role.  Or, argues Rav Pappa, his service as High Priest is enough to initiate him.

More rabbis jump into the argument about how to initiate a common Priest into the role of High Priest.  Is it his belt? Is it his clothing - are all eight garments required, or are four (tunic, trousers, turban, belt) enough to symbolize his changed status?  And is the High Priest the exclusive actor in the rituals of Yom Kippur?  Can a common Priest turn over the ashes on the altar, for example?  Can his garments be threadbare?  Must they be kept from year to year, or made anew?  The rabbis share their proofs for these and other possible practices.

Our daf ends with an interesting question.  If the High Priest is replaced and then becomes qualified to practice the Yom Kippur rituals again, what becomes of the second 'High Priest'?  We learn that there cannot be two High Priests, nor can a High Priest move down in status after moving up to become High Priest.

The detail with which our rabbis describe the practices in the Temple is more than impressive.  To have dedicated that much time over hundreds - and now thousands - of years to better understand our earlier rituals... it is mind-boggling.  But like so many stories, we are learning the 'history' of the winners - we do not know what was done to a zavah who was forced from her community, for example.  And so our understanding is often limited to the experiences of the most privileged, like the Priests (and especially the High Priest).  I wonder if the rabbis chose consciously to focus much of their energies on the "leaders", hoping that we would draw from those models.  Or perhaps, like the rest of us, they were just drawn to celebrity.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Yoma 11 a, b

After considering whether or not a mezuzah should be affixed to the doorpost of the High Priest's chamber for the week preceding Yom Kippur, the Sages continue their thoughts about mezuzot in more general terms.  Deuteronomy 6:9 teaches "you will write them upon the doorposts of your houses and upon your gates".  We learn that 'your gates' refers to the gates of houses and courtyards and cities and towns, as long as Jews reside in those places.  Synagogues do not require mezuzot when no one resides there; however, it is customary to place mezuzot on synagogue doorposts.

We learn a number of facts about mezuzot:

  • they are to be checked twice every seven years 
  • public mezuzot are to be checked twice in a Jubliee period (50 years)
  • barns and other 'filthy' places need not have mezuzot
  • mezuzot are not affixed in places where women bathe
  • mezuzot are affixed on the doorposts of women's homes
  • Rav Kahana believes that mezuzot are affixed on places designed primarily for residence
  • Rav Yehuda believes that mezuzot are affixed on regular places that are designed to honour the person entering that place
  • Rav Shmuel bar Yehuda taught before Rava that hay storehouses, cattle barns, woodshed, storehouses, Median gates (domes without gates), unroofed and short gates are exempt from the obligation of mezuzah
  • we use the following phrases: 'obligation of mezuzah' and 'exempt from the obligation of mezuzah' to describe these determinations
  • Mezuzot are affixed on the right doorpost because we begin walking with our right feet
We learn how the rabbis justify the decision to affix mezuzot on women's homes.  Both men and women's homes can contract leprosy - in Leviitcus 14:35, "the house is his" was interpreted as "his or hers" - we have precedent for the 'agency' of women's houses. Further, our Sages teach that mezuzot are affixed "So that your days be numerous, as well as the days of your sons." (Deuteronomy 11:21).  Surely, the Gemara tells us, this could not refer only to our sons but to the lives of our daughters as well!

It is fascinating to learn where the rabbis chose to interpret the masculine pronoun as exclusively male. If "he" usually means "he" and not "she", why would the rabbis sometimes choose to include women in their interpretations?  Or, in reverse, if "he" was usually interpreted to be inclusive of women as well as men, why would the rabbis sometime exclude women from what men's obligations or exclusions?

It seems very clear that the rabbis interpreted our laws based on their cultural - and very gendered - biases.  We always live within the limitations of our cultures.  Even when we step beyond the 'norms' of our worlds, we do so in response to that norm.  And why would our Sages be any different?  If they were closer to G-d than the rest of us, and perhaps they were, why would they not be influenced by their families, their teachers, their adversaries, their friends?  

In today's daf we are offered opportunities to witness our rabbis' beliefs about where women and men should be treated equally.  Living long lives, afforded to men and women equally through the obligation of affixing mezuzot.  Not withstanding their other opinions about women's 'equality', the hope for womens' long lives is much appreciated by this daf yomi beginner.

Yoma 10 a, b

We begin with some geography.   Our Sages attempt to understand how we know that the Persians came from Yephet and where ancient cities and towns are located.  Of the many interesting references shared, one stands out: "... Sheshai, and Talmai, the children of Anak" (Numbers 13:22) refers to the fact that the sun is a necklace, ie. they are tall (shema'anikin).  The rabbis enjoy finding meaning in each name based on the physical characteristics of that place (or its people).

What follows is a political discussion about Persia.  Will it succumb to the Romans?  The rabbis cite numerous proof texts to illustrate their opinions.  Today people refuse to take the words of our leaders seriously simply because a Torah text (or anything else, for that matter) seems to point to the stated opinions.  I'm not sure whether or not that is a good thing anymore.

Returning to the Parhedrin chamber, the rabbis take on the question of mezuzah: where were mezuzot placed in the Temple?  Was the Temple considered to be a residence in all seasons; was it inhabited for long periods of time?  Part of the reason for looking into the question of mezuzot was to determine whether we should look to rabbinic or Torah law to determine the obligation of tithes, which was one of the rabbis' previous discussions.

Rabbi Yehuda reasons that the Temple needs no mezuzah as it is publicly owned.  The Parhedrin, on the other hand, certainly requires a mezuzah for at least the time that the High Priest resides there during the week before Yom Kippur.  Perhaps, the rabbis wonder, we can look to the practices on Sukkot.  The rabbis might assess whether or not it is an obligation to affix a mezuzah on a sukkah even though that structure is temporary.  Rabbi Yehuda clarifies: there is no obligation of mezuzah on a sukkah as mezuzot are affixed on permanent, well-built residences.   

The sukkah is temporary and thus no mezuzah is required.  Similarly, the High Priest lives in the Panhedrin involuntarily, which means that the Parhedrin is not a true residence.  Further detail is added:  because one's family can stay in a sukkah, it is considered a voluntary residence.  The Panhedrin is in fact like a jail cell, as it is a substandard residence with no option of leaving or visiting with family.

The notion of separation from one's family and community can serve many purposes.  It distinguishes the High Priests from all others, thus creating that same distinction around the Yom Kippur offering. It forces the High Priest to meditate on his life, his relationship with G-d, his feelings about himself and his responsibility toward his community.  It would also represent an assurance of ritual purity; there would be no opportunity to acquire those 'cooties' that seemed to help people understand their limitations and their obligations.   

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Yoma 9 a, b

And we're off... daf 9 takes us on a journey off of the more direct path of Yom Kippur ritual and onto the path of tithing customs and laws, Tabernacle and Temple destruction, and the conduct of Jews toward Jews.  And so we begin.

We learn that people were separating terumah gedolah but were not consistent with the the tithes given to the Leviim.  In fact, bakers were beaten by city officials all year, part of an effort to 'encourage' low prices.  Because of this, they were not made to separate tithes and further reduce their meager profits.  Notable is the gendered language which does not translate into English: the bakers were women.  So women were beaten all year, forced to charge little for their essential services.  No comment is necessary (I hope).

The rabbis begin a new conversation regarding the First and Second Temples.  Based on their years standing (410 and 420 years, respectively) and the Priests serving there (debatably 18 in the First Temple and over 300 in the Second Temple), the rabbis attempt to interpret Prophets 10:27.  The rabbis tell us that the many Priests of the Second Temple era were not fearing G-d and they died before serving in the Temple for decades.

In another commentary on destroyed sanctuaries, the rabbis wonder about the Tabernacle in Shiloh.  It was built in the time of Samuel after first being established in Gilgal when the Jewish people entered ha'aretz.  Kind of amazing to follow this historical and genealogical line...  The rabbis suggest that this Tabernacle was destroyed because of forbidden sexual relations and because of the degredation of consecrated items. I Samuel 2:22 tells us "Now Eli was veryold and he heard what his sons were doingto all fo Israel, how they lay with the women who did service t the opening of the Tent of Meeting". 

Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmani quotes Rabbi Yochanan: anyone who believes this is mistaken.  We know this, he argues, because the women's bird-offerings (following childbirth) were delayed.  This suggests that Eli's sons only delayed the women's return to their husbands - of course, for the purpose of procreation - which was also a sin, but not as severe as improper sexual relations.  Regarding the second accusation, I Samuel 2:15-17 describes the ways that Eli's sons degraded consecrated items: they bullied people who were in the process of offering and they insisted on improper rituals. 

And why was the First Temple destroyed? The Tosefta suggest that idol worship ("The bed is too short for stretching", Isaiah 28:20, idols were taking up space in 'the bed'), forbidden sexual relations, and bloodshed.

Here we find an informative section of the text regarding how women are seen as inappropriate in ancient times.   Forbidden sexual relations refers to Isaiah 3:16: "The Lord says because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with outstretched necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go and making a tinkling with their feet."  Breaking this down, we learn:
  • "haughty" refers to a tall woman walking next to a short woman to draw attention to the former
  • "outstretched neck" means that women would walk "with an upright stature", carrying themselves immodestly
  • "wanton eyes" refers to blue eye shadow, worn to draw men's attention to women's eyes
  • "walking and mincing" suggests a 'heel to toe' gate that draws onlookers
  • "tinkling with their feet" refers to myrrh and balsam placed in women's shoes which splashes out a perfume when stomped upon (of course, when they encounter a group of Jewish men in the marketplace) "... [to] instill the evil inclination into them like the venom of a viper"
From this I understand that women were not to draw attention to themselves through their posture, make-up, perfume, gait, or company.  To be modest is to cast one's eyes down, to stay with women of the same height, to slouch, and to be very careful to blend into the community.  On the flip side, this teaches me that women who stood out because they were tall and had short friends/relatives, who had good posture, who wore makeup or looked up to attract eye-contact, who attempted to draw the attention of Jewish men in the marketplace in any way - these women were considered to be one of the causes of the First Temple's destruction.  Amazing, the influence of women in ancient times.  And we thought that women had no power!

Finally we turn to the effects of bloodshed.  The rabbis believe that the hatred between Jews caused needless bloodshed, leading to the destruction of the Temple.  The rabbis argue whether or not the First and Second Temple both suffered from baseless hatred.  Rabbi Eliezer interprets Ezikiel 21:17 as teaching that "people who eat and drink with each other and then stab each other with verbal barbs" cause hatred and then bloodshed.  Perhaps, the Gemara suggests, only the "princes of Israel" were afflicted by this baseless hatred, rather than the larger Jewish community.

Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish point out that perhaps in the First Temple era, people's "sins were exposed"; their sins were out in the open, and thus the punishment was also exposed, leading a prophet to reassure them that they would rebuild the Temple in seventy years.  In kind, the destruction of the Second Temple with a 'hidden' consequence (ie. we don't know when the Temple will be rebuilt) was the punishment for the hidden, disguised sins of those in the Second Temple era.

About this Rabbi Yochanan tells us that the fingernails of the former are preferable to the belly of the latter (First Temple era people were superior).  Proof is easy to find; people of the First Temple era were given another Temple and they were not besieged by vindictive kingdoms.  Reish Lakish disagrees.  His argument is that our continued Torah study is proof of our superior status.  Another example of the rabbis drawing attention to the importance of their work, interpreting Torah.

The daf concludes with a story about Reish Lakish insulting the Babylonian who attempts to help him out of the Jordan River.  Reish Lakish seems to have more than a small chip on his shoulder about the dedication of Babylonians to Torah study and to Israel.  He also refused to speak with people of lesser status in the marketplace.  So interesting that someone could be so intelligent, talented in different areas, worldly, learned - and yet so closed-minded when it comes to certain arguments.  Is that particular to Reish Lakish and a few select others, or does this apply to all of us in some way or another?

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Yoma 7 a, b

A short but complicated daf today.  Amud (a) wonders about the role of the the High Priest in the case of ritual impurity. The example of the omer is used to help us understand.  If the High Priest is in the process of offering the omer and he learns that it is impure, the rabbis wonder whether he should offer another ephah of barley or whether he should keep the information to himself and offer the impure omer.  

The rabbis attempt to understand when and how an impure offering is valid. They determine that a public offering can be offered in a state of impurity -- as long as the ritual impurity is unintentional.  A private offering, however, must be ritually pure.  

In amud (b), the rabbis begin a conversation about the powers of the frontplate.  The High Priest wears a frontplate - either on Shabbat and Festivals/Holy Days or at 'all' times.  The frontplate is said tot have the power to effect acceptance of some offerings.  Some rabbis argue that the frontplate only holds this power when it is worn on the forehead.  Other rabbis argue that the frontplate cannot be worn at all times, as the High Priest must sleep and must go to the bathroom, and thus the frontplate need not be worn on the forehead to effect acceptance.

Although the Koren notes provide a picture of a High Priest wearing the frontplate, I am confused as to what exactly is placed on his forehead.  It seems to me that the bulk of the frontplate is worn on the chest, but that a simply a headcovering is attached from the forehead to the back of the head.  It would be helpful to better understand what is meant by 'frontplate' and by 'forehead' in this context.

The magical power of the frontplate is amazing to me.  Raiders of the Lost Ark plays with the idea of finding the ancient, lost tablets of Moses. DaVinci's code imagines that there is a descendant of Jesus still alive.  Wouldn't it be an amazing to create a narrative based on the lost frontplate and the current descendant of the Kohanim, still alive, who would be required to perform the Temple rites and offerings when the Temple is rebuilt?

But again we return to the notion of offerings; of animal sacrifices which would not be understood with compassion by most modern readers/viewers of such a narrative.  Myself included.  Perhaps the story would require  twist: a modern-day Kohen finds the lost frontplate and thinks himself powerful though he has no special powers...

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Yoma 6 a, b

Why is the High Priest sequestered for an entire week to ensure his ritual purity on Yom Kippur?  If the rabbis are worried about his state of ritual purity based on intimate contact with his wife who learns retroactively that she was niddah, he should still have time to immerse before the rituals of Yom Kippur.  The rabbis argue about this throughout amud (a), considering different views on the nature of ritual purity, the practicalities of separation and immersion, and the limitations that are associated with different types of impurity.

As an aside, I am still learning about the different sources of ritual impurity and their relative consequences.  Some forms of impurity can be contracted easily, through sitting on an object or touching a person.  Others do not carry the same degree of transmissibility.  Uterine blood and corpses (including the corpses of creeping animals) seem to be the primary sources of ritual impurity.  I am looking forward (well, with some reservations) to learning more about these seemingly arbitrary rules.  There is no question that these rules serve to limit women's participation in functioning and thus in decision-making on a systemic level.  

Amud (b) wonders at the differences between the effects of ritual impurity through different types of contact.  We learn from Rav Chiyya that 
the zav or zavah,
the leper or female leper,
the man who had intercourse with a menstruating woman,
and the person who is impure because of contact with a corpse
will be ritually pure following immersion during the day.

the menstruating woman,
and the woman who has gone through childbirth
become ritually pure following immersion in the nighttime.

Further, the rabbis discuss impurity imparted by a corpse in greater detail.  Is this type of impurity treated with more or less stringency that ritual impurity caused by intercourse with a menstruating woman?  We learn that when the majority of a community is impure due to contact with a corpse, a priest who is ritually impure is excepted; he is allowed to perform rituals on behalf of the community.  However, a priest who is ritually pure is preferable.

The rabbis are concerned about how to function when a priest's patrilineal family all carries ritual impurity. They assert that in this case another family should be chosen to perform the required rituals. 

Before learning this material I watched a film called Purity directed by Anat Zuria.  It examines some of the effects of the practice of Taharat HaMishpacha, where women apply these concepts about women's ritual status to all parts of their lives in modern times.  While some of these ideas can create meaning and beauty, other ideas can become limiting and even traumatizing when put into practice.  How can we reconcile the intentions of our rabbis, alive 2000 years ago, with the traditions and laws that we live with today?  How can we ignore the fact that men, and only men, created these practices on behalf of G-d?  Is it not possible that they got it wrong?

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Yoma 5 a, b

The High Priest must undertake a number of rituals before Yom Kippur, our Day of Atonement.  The past dapim of Yoma have examined a number of these rituals, including the sequestering of the High Priest and the replacement of his wife in case his first wife dies and he is in need of another wife to pray for on Yom Kippur.  

Amud (a) encourages us to wonder about the power of a number of these rituals.  If the rituals are neglected, will the final atonement be valid?  And if some rituals are neglected but others are observed, is that enough to permit the atonement?

Keeping in mind the seriousness with which our Jewish ancestors understood these rituals, such questions are fascinating.  Why would a High Priest ever perform fewer than all of the required rituals?  Why would it be necessary to ask such a question - unless the rabbis understood that there was not a direct, causal relationship between the actions of the people and the will of G-d?

The rituals in question include sequestering the High Priest for at least seven days, waving the offering, sprinkling the blood of the offering, anointing the High Priest daily with oil while sequestered, and clothing the priest in multiple layers, each layer being removed between day eight and day one.  If the High priest is anointed on only one day but wears the clothing for all eight days, for example, will the atonement be permitted?

Amud (b) asks about the two sets of Torah passages that describe the inauguration of the High Priest, one from Exodus and the other from Leviticus.  The passages from Exodus validate the rabbis' concerns about endangering  the inauguration; what about the passages from Leviticus?  Instead of quoting simple proof texts, the rabbis admit that Leviticus poses a challenge.  They find justifications for some of the rituals surrounding the High Priest at Yom Kippur, but these are often less obvious, clear connections.  For example, the rabbis translate the word 'dibbur' as 'recreation' from: "... and this is the matter (dibbur) that G-d has commanded to be done," (Leviticus 8:5).  In this way they can prove that the ritual of reciting the Torah portion of the inauguration is required of the High Priest.  If the Torah portion is not recited, the atonement is not valid.

Our daf ends with another example.  Moses is said to have dressed Aaron and his sons, the priests, in their layers of clothing for the inauguration.  But in what order?  Was Aaron dressed first, was each priest dressed consecutively, or were all dressed simultaneously?  In Leviticus there are two sentences closely placed that suggest there may have been one belt or many belts as part of the priestly garb.  Rabbis can argue in either way, therefore, as the Torah provides more than one suggestion itself.

As a short note, we are told that Moses dressed Aaron in the past; however, he was also said to be dressing Aaron in the future - in the World-to-Come.  Narratives in the Talmud offer us the dislocation of time, just as the Torah is said to offer stories that might be out of chronological order.  These opportunities to see the past as if it were the future allow us to insert ourselves and our fantasies into the text.  We are allowed to imagine that we are reading into the future, a future that might involve our own participation.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Yoma 4 a, b

The High Priest must have had contact with menstrual blood - inadvertently, of course - in order to require both sequestering for at least seven days/nights and being in the Parhedrin chamber.  And that is how we begin daf 4.

Our Sages continue their comparisons between the High Priest before Yom Kippur and the behaviour of Moses and Aaron with the Mishkan and on Sinai.  An example is the sprinkling of blood and the sprinkling of water.  Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish share contradictory and also possibly connected baraitot.  The Gemara contrasts slight differences in grammar to help us understand the rituals of the High Priest.  At the end of amid (b), we learn that Rabbi Yochanan is credited with a halacha regarding the High Priest: the High Priest must perform all duties as required in the inauguration lest all of the related rituals be void.

Amud (b) begins with further comparisons between Moses on Sinai and the High Priest sequestered in the Temple.  Rav Adda bar Mattana shares a commentary on why one would experience joy and trembling at the same time (Psalms 2:11).  Without validating the experience of speaking in tongues or quaking or shaking, he suggests a Jewish interpretation: when we feel joy at fulfilling a mitzvah, we tremble at the presence of Heaven that opens to us in that moment.

The Gemara shares an argument between Rabbi Yosei HaGelili and Rabbi Akiva.  Rabbi HaGelili believes that the revelation of the ten commandments occurred on the seventh day, after Moses had been on Sinai under a cloud for six days.  Rabbi Akiva agrees with this interpretation, adding that Moses spent forty days on the mountain - 24 days of Sivan and 17 days of Tammuz, which is the date that he smashed the tablets upon witnessing G-d's people worshipping the golden calf.  Rabbi Yosei HaGelili disputes this last point, suggesting that Moses' first six clouded days were included in his time on the mountain on Sivan, and that in fact the Tablets were not broken until the 23rd of Tammuz.

Other rabbis argue about Moses.  Did G-d speak exclusively to Moses or did all Jewish people hear G-d's words at Sinai?  Did Moses enter the mystical clouds on his own or did G-d pull him into those clouds?  The rabbis look at specific parts of speech to analyze and better understand the words of the Torah as they describe these incidents.

The concept of lashon hare is suggested as we learn about interpretations of Leviticus 1:1, "and the Lord spoke to him from within the Tent of Meeting, saying..." The word saying, l'emor, could be a contraction of 'lo emor', do not say.  From this the rabbis understand that we should not speak until spoken to (Rabbi Musya the Great).  Further, we should not repeat what we have been told unless the speaker has told us explicitly to 'go and tell others'.

It never ceases to surprise me, these incredible seeds of wisdom in fields of halacha.  We learn to simply practice halacha; it does not matter whether or not we understand why we are doing these things.  For people like me, it was never possible to trust that someone or something else understood better than me what were the right things to do.  So when I read the fields with regard to the High Priest's ritual, for example, I am not expecting the golden seed regarding speaking opening about what someone has told us.

One of the amazing things about Talmud is that it offers me the opportunity to step into another world; one that is so tremendously different from my own - and yet, one that has significant offerings of wisdom and brilliance to share.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Yoma 3 a, b

Today's daf continues the rabbis' conversations about when, why and how we sequester the High Priest.  Questions abound regarding the requirement of sequestering: what are the clues found in the Torah that teach us the proper ways to prepare for Yom Kippur?

Much energy is spent on differentiating the rituals for different Festivals and comparing these with Yom Kippur rituals.  Debates about related rituals abound - like whether one or two rams are slaughtered on different days, for example.  All of these arguments seem to be leading us toward one argument: that Yom Kippur is set apart from Rosh HaShana and other Festivals.  As important as these other holy days are, we are learning that the rabbis are more concerned with the sanctity of Yom Kippur.  And, in particular, they are concerned about the practice of atonement.

The rabbis seem to agree that we are examining two separate rituals surrounding Yom Kippur.  They analyze the phrases "to do" and "to make" to better understand these rituals.  Our Sages even look at G-d's conversations with Moses to help them figure this out.  Sequestering the High Priest toward offering the parah adumah is what we do in our rituals of preparation.  Our rabbis have created a clear distinction between these rituals and the role of atonement on Yom Kippur.

I found today's daf difficult in an interesting way.  The material itself was not terribly challenging, nor were the concepts foreign or complex.  However, the rituals and ideas to which the rabbis frequently referred; the references made in detail or in passing, these were challenging.  Either I had to reread the words to clarify the meaning or I had to look up secondary sources to have any grasp at all on these related materials.

It seems that one of the difficulties of learning Gemara as an outsider, as a beginner late in life, is that the referential knowledge is missing.  Without understanding how everything is connected to everything else, it is almost impossible to truly understand any isolated concept.  But I'm not giving up yet...

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Yoma 2 a, b

Today we begin Masechet Yoma, which teaches us about the rituals of Yom Kippur. Before opening the masechet, I was looking forward to learning about rituals that are somewhat familiar to me, like some of what I learned in Pesachim.  However, our first Mishnah introduces us to the preparation of the High Priest.  As we have had no High Priest for about 2000 years, I was a little bit off in my expectations.

The High Priest is sequestered for one week before Yom Kippur.  Another person replaces him for that time.  Even his wife's status is changed somewhat as he takes another wife in case the first wife should die, leaving the prayer for the priest's family be in vain.

A discussion of the High Priest's ritual status introduces some of the tensions between the rabbis and Sadducees (who did not follow the Oral Law).  Our Sages go out of their way to induce a particular state of ritual impurity upon the High Priest while he is sequestered in the north east corner of the Temple.  He was to immerse only after the parah adumah was made impure through contact with an impure vessel.  This ritual is itself a refutation of the Sadducee assertion that the High Priest must be clear of all impurity throughout all of this ritual, as suggested by Torah law (Numbers 19:9).  

The fact that we now trust rabbinic law as 'gospel', so to speak, is an interesting development.  Not a recent development, of course, but interesting. We learn Judaism now as though there were never another way of understanding Torah; that the Oral law is necessary.  And ritually speaking, it is necessary if we are to continue to carry on the traditions of the larger Jewish community. But the rabbis not only disagreed with each other, they disagreed with other Jewish thinkers of their time.  The question of how to interpret without losing our traditions is both our ancient history and our current dilemma.

Just like the parah adumah is set aside before its ritual, the High Priest is 'set aside' before facilitating this ritual.  Underlying these words exists the weighty importance of states of purity. As Jewish ritual is often marking transitions from one state to another (the havdalah service, niddah rituals, and rituals of kashering, for example), the parah adumah seems to represent a culmination of a change from ritually impure to ritually pure.

The rabbis consider verbal analogies between Moses being 'commanded' at Sinai and other uses and forms of that same word.  With great enthusiasm, our Sages debate grammar.  Bringing their conversation back to the question at hand, they look at the idea of 'sequestering'.  Is it truly the same thing to sequester a cow and a Kohen?  They wonder about the possibility of scheduling priests and/or their families to perform specific rituals over the course of a year.

Using the same analysis of grammar, the rabbis debate this special requirement of sequestering on Yom Kippur.  Why would we sequester the High Priest before Yom Kippur but not before each of the three Festivals?  To explain, the rabbis look at the concepts of one versus three, of the ordering of the mitzvot, of whether or not we are considering a matter before which there is sanctity, and of where we are given specific directions that are not generalizable (Leviticus 8:34).

Yoma begins without the gory details found at the end of Shekalim; however, these are hinted at as we learn the first rituals relating to the parah adumah.  Our focus for today is on the Kohanim; in particular, the High Priest.   Immediately I wonder about novels or movies that could be created about these very unusual ancient rituals.  It is easy to imagine the possible intrigue that would result from the High Priest, sequestered away, while another High Priest sits in his place - and another wife is provided should the sequestered man's wife die.  Who would we cast as the High Priest locked in the Temple?  Maybe Mandy Patinkin?

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Shekalim 21 a, b

As an aside at the start of today's daf, we learn very much in passing that the ashes of the parah adumah are taken by people for medicinal use.  Fences are built around the laws surrounding the parah adumah to discourage this practice.  But what are those medicinal purposes, I wonder?  If the ashes were placed on wounds, would they cause the wound to heal for some scientific reason?  Or were the ashes dangerous to wounds and the rabbis were either consciously or inadvertently saving the people from further suffering?

Chapter 8 brings with it a new Mishnah focused on spit, but within the context of found objects.  I have read about this before, I believe in Eiruvin and possibly also in Pesachim.  I find it disgusting to read about spit in detail.  The rabbis are attempting to understand the status of spit inside Jerusalem and then within certain parts of Jerusalem.  They assume that most people in Jerusalem are not zavim or zavot, and thus most spit can be considered pure if it is found in certain places.  I wonder if the rabbis used this kind of 'gentle nature' argument that I am putting forward to justify women's exclusion from Talmud study.  By admitting my distaste, I'm not doing myself any favours!

The Mishna also speaks of found items, like utensils and graveyard tools.  It considers whether or not these found items are considered to be im/pure when they are found in Jerusalem.

Much of the rabbis' considerations revolve around the Festivals.  If thousands of people are pouring into the city with sins and related offerings, we should assume that many are zavim/zavot and thus found items are considered to be impure at those times.  I'll hold my commentary on this for now.  During the rest of the year, we learn that zavim/zavot walk in the middle of the street without restriction.  Those who are afraid of contracting ritual impurity walk on the sides of the road, calling out to "keep away."  Amazing that we have continued this norm of condoned bullying until so recently; those who are marginalized are bullied even as they walk down the street.

The rabbis take some time to discuss the status of animals.  They compare the blood of a neveilah, a non-kosher or not ritually slaughtered animal, with that of a sheretz (a creeping animal).  It would seem that there is more than one type of ritual impurity.  I am confused by the complexity here and I look forward - with only mild trepidation - to the masechtot that will explain this more fully.

Halacha 2 is introduced at the end of amud (b).  The Mishnah looks at found objects that are impure and whether there are ever times that these can be brought.  In particular, the parochet, the curtain separating the Holy from the Holy of Holies.  The laws are said to pertain to all of the thirteen curtains in the Temple, however.

We learn that the parochet is immersed in the courtyard mikvah if it becomes tamei due to secondary contact with impurity.  If the parochet comes into contact with a creeping animal or a neveilah, however, it must be immersed outside of the Courtyard and then dried in one of two places (depending on whether or not it is new and thus should be displayed on a roof while drying).   Following this conversation, the Mishnah details the handiwork and beauty of the parochet.  The Gemara details the threads and strands and size of the parochet.  It shares some of the details of one particular, majestic curtain.

Halacha 3 ends our daf with a new Mishnah that looks at tamei meat and how it should be managed - Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel argue whether the  meat should be burned inside the Courtyard (except for that which has become tamei through secondary contamination, which would be burned outside of the Courtyard).  Beit Hillel argues the opposite.

We will learn more about this argument, of course, when we complete Masechet Shekalim tomorrow.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Shekalim 20 a, b

Stories are shared regarding found objects.  Some note that people must be able to identify their objects in order to retrieve them.  The rabbis share concerns that items have been been in some way disqualified because of contact with a non-Jew; a person who does not know or follow Jewish halacha. Although they share accounts of reuniting with lost objects, the rabbis in general reject this possibility for others.

Halacha 3 begins with a Mishna that outlines the laws and directives around found objects without a known origin.  Different potential offerings are often used as offerings.  We learn that originally, people were obliged to provide the wine offerings accompanying the found animal.  In order to get out of that obligation, people were leaving the found offerings altogether.  The Court then required the accompanying offerings come from the community.  This is the first of seven rules that were instituted by the Court:

  1. Offerings accompanying a found animal are provided by the community
  2. When a non-Jew sends an olah and money from overseas for offering, it is valid.  Without the money, the community will add the money for libations.
  3. When a convert dies leaving live offerings, the nesachim comes from his estate &/or the community
  4. When the Kohen Gadol dies, his mincha is offered from community funds
  5. Kohanim may personally benefit from offerings of salt and wood
  6. Ne'ilah many not be associated with using the ashes of the parah adumah
  7. Replacing disqualified bird pairs is funded by the community 

The Gemara first focuses on found potential offerings that are either male or female; how do they determine the offering designated?  Whenever a rule is created whereby all animals in a group are designated as the same, we will run into issues - invariably, one of the male goats will be in fact female.  This strict line between male and female is prominent in ancient Jewish thought.  To be fair, there are hundreds of strict lines creating distinctions in almost all areas of Jewish thought.  However, the lines according to sex are some of the most difficult for me to understand.  Certainly people in ancient times were born intersex, and people were trans, and people fell between those binary categories.  Other than creating and then maintaining social control, I cannot understand the reasoning behind these particular distinctions.  If I believed that all Torah were the words of G-d, I would have great difficultly living with this particular ordering of difference.

The remainder of the Gemara captured on amud (b) continues to elaborate on the Mishna.  It looks at the 'what ifs...' of each of the seven rules. Given my comments above, I am looking for the passage that describes the "what if..." regarding sex and gender.  ie. What if a child is born with both male and female sex organs?  Or better, what if a boy insists that he is actually a girl?  Were these children operated on and punished and pushed into boxes?  or were they considered 'special'; treated with some degree of respect and compassion?  Somehow I assume that the former must have been true.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Shekalim 19 a, b

Halacha 1 of Chapter Seven looks at what we should do if coins have fallen between two collection chests.  The assumption is that we have 13 chests (though we are offered two alternatives at the start of today's daf).  We learn a general rule: when a coin lies closer to one chest, it is donated to that chest as a leniency.  However if it sits equidistant between two chests, a stringent ruling holds and the coin is put in the designated chest: Young olah birds, voluntary communal offerings, levonah.  In addition, a pile of coins between the regular coins and maaser sheni chest should be given to the maaser sheni.

Halacha 2 extends this idea to include other found items. These include coins, meat, and other things one might find lying in the Temple courtyard.  The rabbis agree that we make assumptions about to whom/what those found items belong based upon the time of year.  The adjacent religious festival can help us determine the proper designation of a found item.  Stringencies take effect here: for example, coins found on the ground are almost always assumed to be maaser sheni following a festival.  The reasoning?  People would not leave Jerusalem with their maaser sheni coins, as the money had to be used on food to be eaten in Jerusalem.  Thus the coins might have been dropped by either a pilgrim or by a merchant doing business with a visitor.

The rabbis pay special attention to the status of found meat, which seems bizarre.  For example, they discuss how a found 'limb' and found 'slices' should be categorized and then used.  Many different prohibitions are in competition here, but the rabbis continue to argue regarding the most pertinent halacha.  Notions of kashrut, 'fitness', ownership, burning, majority, etc. are at play.

We are told a story about a non-Jew eating flesh from his horse.  The story is told in a way that leads me to believe that the horse was alive, but that seems to be only my assumption.  Instead the story is told to illustrate the importance of how we understand that meat is kosher or not kosher based on the community in which it is found.

The rabbis share another story, this one about a Jewish butcher who refuses to sell meat to a Jew.  The Jew asks a Roman to buy meat from this butcher, who sells non-Kosher meat to this Roman. In the courts, the rabbis were made to decide what to do with this butcher who sold non-kosher meat in the Jewish marketplace, thus confusing our ideas about 'majority' - that we can assume that meat found in a Jewish market is kosher.

Shekalim allows us to witness the intersection of a number of principles of reasoning and categories of halacha.  We are dealing with halachot regarding money and exchange of goods, but we are also looking at halachot regarding ownership, designation, Festival offerings, eruvin, and so many others.  Some of what I am learning seems perfectly logical; other passages are steeped in philosophy and practice that is unfamiliar and disconcerting.  With only two more dapim before beginning a new masechet, I am sadly certain that I will not secure a more secure grasp on this material.