Thursday, 23 January 2014

Yoma 77 a, b

While discussing Daniel, the Gemara continues to tell stories from Daniel and also from Ezekiel.  The stories involve the angel Gabriel.  He notices the behaviour of others and he comments on what is just.  Often he is ignored.  Without a better background in Nevi'im and Ketuvim, I cannot assume that I understand what I have read.

Prooftexts help the rabbis to support their reasons of why refraining from bathing is considered an affliction.  Generally, they turn to texts that suggest 'weariness' as the result of not bathing.  As weariness is an affliction, we should not bathe on Yom Kippur.  They also discuss the importance of wearing shoes without patches.  But it is surprising to me that the rabbis decide that not bathing creates weariness.  Now, I'm certain that the rabbis knew far more about waiting to wash than me - I take a shower every day, something probably unheard of in the time of our Sages.  But wouldn't discomfort or odour (ie. community relationships) be more of a problem than weariness?

After using texts to prove that going barefoot is an affliction, the rabbis wonder about refraining from sex. Their first prooftext suggests that it is an affliction for women to be denied intercourse.  Further, is causes suffering to take on multiple "rival" wives - an affliction.  The rabbis even mention Genesis 41:2, where Shechem saw Dina, lay with her and afflicted her.  The Gemara explains that this affliction was because Shechem was unnatural in his relations with her.  Any woman reading this text would understand that sex is not pleasurable when it is forced.  Sex without consent is an affliction. But women's consent was an alien concept in the times of the Temple, thus 'unnatural acts' account for Dina's discomfort.

The Gemara then qualifies these afflictions.  Mud, blood and excrement can be washed from one's body as this act of bathing is not pleasurable.  Shammai was stringent and would not wash even one hand to prepare food for his children, which caused them to suffer.  After the rules were changed, he washed both hands and prepared food for his children.  Abaye mentions Shammai's fear of the spirit Shivta.  Shivta lives on hands that have not been washed in the mornings.

The rabbis' belief in superstition; in evil demons and other powerful creatures seems absolutely antithetical to our modern understandings of Judaism.  At the same time, their practice -- washing hands before preparing food or eating a meal -- is completely in line with our current beliefs.  Perhaps this is part of the reason that our texts continue to live: they keep us in balance between mystery and logic.

Further, oil can be smeared for medicinal purposes - not for pleasure.
A person can guard his field or greet someone older/wiser even if it requries walking up to one's neck in the water of a river.  As this is not swimming or bathing for pleasure, it is allowed.  Although the rabbis find proof that the water should only reach one's ankles or waist, Abaye steps in to assert that in still water where there is less risk of drowning, the water can be much higher.

The Gemara explains other verses from Ezekiel.  In the future, what kind of boat will carry him across the river? The rabbis look for proof to convince each other that their arguments are valid.  The daf ends with a new conversation regarding the water that flows under the Temple and its status in the future.  More on that tomorrow!

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