Monday, 20 January 2014

Yoma 74 a, b

The rabbis are speaking about the prohibition to eat on Yom Kippur.  They have asked if a person might eat less than a date-bulk of food without punishment.  To understand this better, they compare the oath of 'not eating' to an oath taken in court.  Who does not have to testify in court?  A king is exempt, out of respect.  A person who plays with dice - or perhaps someone who gambles - is exempt, as he may be a thief.  One who cannot testify is not able to testify, of course.  But if a person makes an oath of testimony not to eat and then s/he eats, s/he would be liable whether s/he ate one small bite or an entire date-bulk.

And what about the violations of Yom Kippur that are punishable by karet?  Are they automatically prohibited?  We know that prohibited actions are not automatically punishable by karet.  The Gemara teaches that a number of prohibitions, all based on the mitzvah of "afflicting our souls" (Leviticus 16:29) and on prohibited labour.  Of those, only eating, drinking and performing prohibited labour are punishable by karet.  The others: bathing, smearing oneself with oil, wearing shoes, and having sexual intercourse.

Rabbi Yochanan states that it is prohibited to eat a half-measure of food.  Why?  A person could eat two half-measures and not be liable for eating the prohibited amount of food on Yom Kippur.  Reish Lakish disagrees.  According to his logic, G-d commands us to eat and we have defined eating as ingesting at least one olive-bulk of food.  Thus anything less than one olive-bulk of food does not count as eating, even on Yom Kippur.

The rabbis argue about their sources for Reish Lakish's assertion.  The Torah is not supposed to state uncertain halachot, and yet these verses are uncertain.  They compare this to the Torah's use of the animal known as a koy.  It is unclear what this animal is - is it a separate species?  A sub-species?  What might this uncertainty teach us about other verses that are uncertain?   The rabbis may be forced to accept Reish Lakish's arguments.  This makes sense, as Eiruvin 4 referred to the rabbis eating less than a date-bulk of food on Yom Kippur.

What does it mean to afflict our souls?  It would seem to make sense that we sit in the hot sun, for example, and feel uncomfortable.  But the prohibition on work suggests that we are to sit and do nothing.  And just like when we labour we do not distinguish between different tasks, we should not distinguish between different states of 'doing nothing'.   Afflicting our souls means that we take things away; that we experience loss.

The Gemara introduces a baraita that discusses what should be included in the process of afflicting our souls through fasting.  We watch as rabbis decide whether including food that is piggul, notar, untithed produce, unslaughtered animal carcass, teruma, or otherwise sacred changes this prohibition.  In a note, we are reminded that consumption of these foods might be punishable by lashes in addition to karet.  Certainly eating less than an olive-bulk of these forbidden foods on Yom Kippur would be punishable on their own.

In an attempt to understand the meaning of the word affliction, inui, the school of Rabbi Yishmael teaches that affliction refers to hunger based on Deuteronomy 8:3, "And He afflicted you and caused you hunger."  The Gemara notes that Laban warns Jacob not to "afflict my daughters" (Genesis 31:50), referring to sexual interference rather than hunger.  And on the public occasion of Yom Kippur, do we derive our affliction from the public?   This would discount the affliction spoken about by Laban, as that affliction happens to an individual.

Further, the Gemara wonders about our affliction in Egypt (Deuteronomy 26:7) , which referred to abstinence from sexual intercourse as was imposed by Pharaoh on the Jews.   This affliction was derived by G-d and directly enacted by G-d, as opposed to being imposed by people.   And further, teh Gemara notes that the people were afflicted by manna (Deuteronomy 8:3)!  Rabbi Ami steps in to assert that "there is no comparison between one who has bread in his basket and one who does not have bread in his basket.  The people worried that the manna would cease.  In addition, the manna could not be seen, which changed its taste and was an experience of affliction for the people.

The daf ends with bizarre commentary by Rav Yosef,  Rabbi Zeira and Reish Lakish regarding the importance of sight.  Blind people aren't satisfied with their food, asserts Rav Yosef.  We should always eat during the day.  Rabbi Zeira quotes Ecclesiastes 6:9: Better is the seeing of the eyes than the wandering of desire".  To which Reish Lakish says, "The sight of a woman is better that the actual act (of sexual intercourse)".  Sight is clearly a powerful experience for our Sages.  I have no doubt that some of the Sages were blind; I wonder if they agreed with these ideas.

It is helpful to understand why we fast; how our ancestors understood the experience of affliction.

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