Saturday, 18 January 2014

Yoma 72 a, b

Note: I did not write about Yoma 71 (on Shabbat).  I'm returning to relay a few interesting comments regarding women and my response.  

First,  Rabbi Berekhya tells us that in one instance, ishim, men, actually refers to a similar word, isha, woman.  He tells us that Torah scholars are similar to women: they stay inside most of the time, they are physically weaker than regular men, and they are engaged in different activities than regular men.  As well, the same verse would suggest that Torah scholars are like fire on the Altar.  Finally, Rabbi Berekhya also teaches that if a person sees that Torah scholarship is lacking in his sons, he should marry the daughter of a Torah scholar.  "Through its root will grow old in the earth, and its trunk will die in the ground, from the scent of water it will blossom and put forth branches like a plant". (Job 14 8:9). The first wife's children are like old rotten roots, but through the right second wife, Torah will make his children flourish like blossoming branches.  Is he suggesting than men take on second or third wives?  Or should they divorce their wives and marry again?  I wonder about Rabbi Berekhya's relationships with women; he has much to say that would affect their lives.

And back to daf 71, which primarily focuses upon the High Priest's clothing in greater detail.  We learn about the ephod, worn over the outer tunic, and the breastplate.  The rabbis argue, of course, over interpretation.  This time they attempt to understand what desecration of these garments is punishable and what is simply discouraged.  

The rabbis want to know the meaning of a serad garment, as is described in Exodus 35:19.  Perhaps this is something plaited?  Or perhaps serad is related to sarid, a remnant, suggesting that not even a remnant of the Jewish people would survive without this sacred clothing. Another option offered by Rabbi Shmuel bar Hachmani as taught by the school of Rabbi Shimon: serad garments might be woven in their completed form on the loom, rather than sewing the remnants, masridin.  The Gemara critiques this possibility, as considerable sewing completes the garment.  

We move on to other points of our last Mishna.  Regading the three arks, we learn that perhaps wood of the acadia tree was used as it would "stand" forever (Exodus 26:15).   The rabbis wonder how these three arks would fit together.  They consider measurements and distances.   Rabbi Yochanan introduces the three crowns - of the altar, the Ark and the table.  Symbolizing "power and authority", one of these crowns was taken by Aaron and another by David, both deservingly.  The last crown - well, perhaps it waits for the third King.

Rabbi Yochanan raises a number of contradictions.  One interesting point is that the 'crown' of Exodus 25:11 should be pronounced 'zar', strange, but is vocalized as 'zeir', crown.  He suggests that one deserving of a crown is one who performs mitzvot.  However, if one is not deserving of the crown, "the Torah will be a stranger, 'zara', to him and he will forget his studies".   Regarding the wooden Ark, Rabbi Yochanan suggests that the people of the town were to support this work.  Similarly, the Jewish people should support the Torah scholars in their towns, allowing them to study.

A good portion of amud (b) reminds us that Torah scholars should be devoted to G-d - the love of G-d and the fear of G-d - in their thoughts and not only in their actions. To learn without feeling is "loathsome and foul; man who drinks iniquity like water" (Job 15:16).  Rava is quoted as saying that "for those who are skillful, studying Torah is a portion of life; for one who is not skillful, the Torah is a portion of death".   We are told that learning Torah refines us as human beings.  Does this mean that we should learn Torah even without 'belief', as we will become bettered through the process of learning?  Reish Lakish is clear: "For one who is deserving, the Torah refines him for life.  One who is not deserving is refined for death."  

What does this mean for someone like me?  I am a woman studying Talmud from a critical perspective. I question my belief in anything and everything.  I do not use my learning to deepen my practice, though I do maintain a practice that would be thought of as heretical to these ancient rabbis. Am I poisoning my future, both here in this lifetime and in the world-to-come?  Or will the study of Talmud refine me?  Sometimes I feel badly for doing something that would be disapproved of by so many.  Then again, Judaism is my inheritance, too, and I should have equal say into how to make meaning of these traditions.

Rabbi Chanina tells us that when we study Torah in purity, it stays with us for life.  But purity here does not refer to belief, fear or love.  It refers to sexual conduct: one should marry and then become a Torah scholar so that he is not preoccupied with sin.  I suppose that it is permitted to think of one's wife in a 'preoccupied' manner.  Or perhaps the rabbis believe that one would not become preoccupied with the notion of sex with his wife?  I could say more about this but I'll choose to just let it go.

At the end of the daf, we return to the sanctified fabrics made for the Temple.  The rabbis wonder why we are told that an embroiderer and then a designer created the covers for the Tabernacle. what was woven and what was sewn as needlework?  Finally, the rabbis bring us back to the Mishna where we learn that Aaron passes on his garments to his sons.  Is this meant as sons, literally, or as the next highest ranking priest?  Our next daf will begin with a contradiction.

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