Sunday, 26 January 2014

Yoma 80 a, b

As they debate how much food might be permitted on Yom Kippur, the rabbis look at differences between date-buks and egg-bulks.  This time, they focus on the egg-bulk.  Why this particular amount of food, the amount of an egg-bulk?  Is it connected to how much food can be held in the throat at one time?  And how big is an egg-bulk, anyhow?  Which kind of egg are we thinking of - that of a chicken, or another bird which might be much larger or much smaller?  Why not an olive bulk, which is used much more commonly?  After discussing these measurements for some time, the Gemara notes that in the past, people had ignored the measurements altogether, leading to a reinstitution of the system.

The Gemara refocuses on the larger question of measurements and punishments.  Rabbi Elazar wonders whether we should write down our measurement-based transgressions in case a court in the future will change the required punishment.  The rabbis speak about intentional and unintentional transgressions; they speak of measurements and punishments as Torah law: they were given to Moses directly at Mount Sinai and are not subject to change (Rabbi Yochanan).  Then again, though Leviticus 27:34 stands as a proof text for Rabbi Yochanan's assertion, other rabbis believe that the measurements and punishments were forgotten, leading the court of Jabez to reestablish these halachot.

A cheekful of wine is liable on Yom Kippur - even just one cheek.  The rabbis disagree as to whether a half-bulk is liable, a full measure is liable, or any food or liquid at all is liable.  According to our notes (Steinsaltz), the punishment for a half-bulk would involve repentance rather than an offering.  This is an interesting question regarding punishment in general: is it enough to repent?  Why might it be reasonable simply to repent some of our transgressions but give offerings to account for others?  And while the Torah and then rabbinical law offers clear (well, as clear as possible) rules regarding punishments, how can we apply that information in our modern lives?

So a cheekful of wine is liable - says Beit Hillel.  But Beit Shammai say that a half-log, more than two cheekfuls, is where wine consumption becomes liable.  And many rabbis have other opinions. The Gemara now focuses on the fact that this is one of the only times where Hillel's opinion is more stringent than Shammai's.  So why is this particular debate not included in Masechet Eduyyot, with other rogue opinions?

And here's where it gets fun.  Hillel and Shammai were not discussing any old cheekful.  They were discussing Og, the giant, whose cheekful was greater than a half-log of wine.  So there!  Which brings us back to the foundational idea: settling the mind.  The mind should be afflicted, as affliction is one of our mitzvot for Yom Kippur.  And so the Gemara shares a discussion about what would afflict Og's mind.  There is a side-step toward ritual impurity (where we learn among other things that consuming ritually impure food or drink creates ritual impurity of the second degree which does not spread to others but does require immersion).  The refocusing on affliction, however, is important.

We end the daf with other ideas about eating on Yom Kippur.  We already know that food and drinks are counted separately; their measurements cannot be combined.  But any liquid or item that does not count as food (like salt) that is used to prepare a food is counted as part of the food rather than as a separate liquid.   The rabbis also discuss people who eat excessively, whether they eat past the point of fullness (ie. they are satisfied by their erev Yom Kippur meal but continue to eat) or whether they eat to harm themselves.  I would have guessed that these people are liable for eating more than an egg-bulk on Yom Kippur - but I would have been wrong, according to this beginning conversation.   Just like a priest who transgresses regarding teruma consumption does not pay the extra 1/5 penalty, people who eat excessively are not seen as having eaten at all - they are simply pushing food in without pleasure, and this is not punishable on Yom Kippur.

And so the end of today's daf is all about that concept of affliction.  If a person is harming her/himself with food, s/he has not broken the mitzvot of Yom Kippur.  S/he is afflicting her/himself, which complies with the theme of begging repentance with afflicting one's soul.

I recongnize that tomorrow's daf might turn today's arguments around, but I love this particular line of thought.  Affliction is presented as something beyond what can be measured.  It is also a personal, subjective experience.  We have carved out a little space for leniency - not regarding the keva, but the kavannah of Yom Kippur.  Meaning can be created in that little space.

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