Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Yoma 41 a, b

We continue to learn about the scapegoat sent to Azazel and the sin-offering sacrificed for G-d.  In amud (a) the rabbis attempt to understand the meaning of a baraita that has informed us about how to designate an offering as a sin-offering - when that happens, who makes that declaration, what is said, etc.  The rabbis consider a number of different options: when the owner selects the offerings; when the sacrifice happens; when the lottery is performed.

Rav Chisda, who introduced this baraita's ruling, faces another challenge regarding the sanctification of offerings if the owner is impure and poor at the time that the offerings are selected.  Related to this we learn a halacha: a wealthy person who brings the offering required of a poor person does not fulfil his obligation.

Daf 41 begins with the question, "Who is the anonymous writer of the Sifra?".  Steinsaltz offers some clarification in his note.  In the Mishna, the writings of the Talmud, anonymous writings are attributed to Rabbi Meir.  The Sifra is a collection of halachic midrash based on the book of Leviticus, thought to be authored by Rabbi Yehuda.  The Sifrei are halachic midrash about the books of Numbers and Deuteronomy, understood as the writings of Rabbi Shimon.  Together, these collections of writings were edited at the time of the amoraim.  Halachic midrash from this grouping of writings are usually referred to as baraitot.

With my limited background in Talmudic thought and Judaic history, it is tremendously helpful to be provided with notes like these.

A new Mishna tells us that a strip of crimson is tied on the scapegoat's head.  The scapegoat is then positioned in the place from which it will walk to Azazel, and the sin-offering is placed in the place where it will be sacrificed.  We are told that the High Priest will then place his hands on the bull's head and speak a confession on behalf of his community, his family, and himself.  After reciting these words (again, which sound like the words of Kol Nidre), the community responds: Baruch shem kavod malchuto l'olam va'ed, "Blessed  is the name of His holy kingdom forever and ever".

The rabbis explain (with help from our notes) that the crimson strip is made of dyed wool that looks like a tongue.  They discuss whether or not both goats wear this ribbon, reasons for the ribbon (including the sanctified goats becoming interspersed with others, the weight of the strips, how the strip might be burned, and the relationship between these markers and markers for lepers.

Again the rabbis choose to focus on determining the precise differences between one goat and another, between sanctified and non-sanctified goats, between different species, between ritual purity and impurity.  I wonder why I react with such negativity to this foundational method of Jewish thought.  Of course I have ideas as to why this method does not suit my ideological approach to life.  But I continue to study this material; I continue to react to what I find arbitrary and potentially harmful.

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