Monday, 23 December 2013

Yoma 46 a, b

Amud (a) explores the hierarchy of ritual.  What trumps what?  Burning disqualified limbs on a valid fire?  But what about on Shabbat?  And what about the beginning of the burning ritual vs. its end -- might a mitzvah be valid at certain points but not at others?  With specific examples using the arguments of a number of rabbis, we learn about which mitzvot might override which halachot and vice versa.

Amud (b) applies this conversation to the limitations around fire.  Is it permitted to move a piece of coal from the fire beneath the Altar?  What if that coal is moved after the rituals are completed?  What if the coal is moved away from the fire, where it is not actually a part of the fire but a separate entity?  What if the coal is moved to a spot above the Altar, where it might be thought of as part of the fire?  What if the coal is taken in order to light the menorah which must always be lit?  And if these actions are not permitted, are they punishable by lashes? or worse?

I have put aside the details of these arguments, which are debated and supported by a number of rabbis.  Certainly I have missed much of the subtlety (and perhaps much of the substance) of today's daf.  Still, these arguments continue to be significant in our modern lives.  If we are not performing all of the mitzvot - whether by choice or because something conspires against our practice - how do we choose which mitzvot to practice?  Which of our halachot are so important that we must not avoid their observance; which mitzvot are incorporated into the practice of other mitzvot?

Again, the material of the Talmud is remote to me, but the process and the underlying questions guiding its arguments are gripping.

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