Saturday, 19 April 2014

Beitza 21 a, b

Shabbat halachot are consider with greater stringency by the rabbis than halachot of the Festivals.  So the rabbis ask questions to better understand these specific, Festival halachot.  

Are we permitted to offer an animal - or dough - that is owned jointly by a Jew and a Gentile?  Are we permitted to bake for military troops (not Jews) on a Festival?  We walk through a number of stories to illuminate the rabbis' thinking.  These include a number of rabbis, but Rav Huna is the central leader in these examples.  

Rav Huna may even misdirect the great Rabbi Avya the Elder when he answers his question with, "look, a raven flies through the sky".  The rabbis wonder about this evasion - was it intentional, based on exhaustion?  Was it a metaphor?  Was it a mystical reference?  Rav Huna teaches us that troops intent on looting a Jewish village were appeased when a rabbi prepared food for them.  But if that animal was fit for Jewish consumption, was it permitted to the Gentiles?  And if the animal was not allowed to Jews, were Jews permitted to prepare it on a Festival?  

Rav Chisda and Rabba disagree about whether or not a person is flogged for improperly preparing or serving loaves of bread that are fit for dogs and for people.  These rabbis bring up the principle of ho'il, or 'since'.  Interestingly, one of the explanations for Rav Chisda's argument involves ho'il, but we learn that Rav Chisda did not himself subscribe to that principle!

The rabbis use their logic to prove an opinion about whether "for you" is referring to Jews and not Gentiles or Jews and not animals.  But in addition to their proof, a wonderful interpretation of a baraita is elucidated.   We learn the baraita says, "only that which every soul must eat, that shall be done for you."  Further, in Leviticus 24:18, we learn that "and he that kills the soul of an animal shall pay it."  The rabbis understand this to mean that every being, animals included, has a soul.  How can we separate the human nefesh from the animal nefesh?  How should we understand that the Torah tells us that animals are created for our human use if each animal and each person has a nefesh?

Following their (and not my) line of reasoning, the rabbis look to understand when and how we can give food to dogs on Festivals. If a date pit, for example, is unfit for human consumption, it should be muktze, set aside. We are not allowed to derive any benefit at all, even for our dogs, from things that are muktze.  How could we give the pit to a dog? Or even carry it or throw it to the fire?  

The rabbis ask about inviting Gentiles to Shabbat and Festival meals.  Shabbat meals are permitted, as ruled by Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi.  But Festival meals are not.  We cannot prepare extra food for a Gentile - though we can send food to his or her home on a Festival.   These rulings seem to rest on the mitzvot - the obligations of Jews.  We are obliged to do certain things including eating specific foods, lighting candles, etc. as part of these meals.  If we gear our meals toward the inclusion of Gentiles, we are not focusing on our obligations; our fulfilling of the mitzvot.  Somehow this rings hollow to me, but the reasoning might be sound for people in particular cultures/places/times.

The rabbis had looked at how we might carry date pits by placing them on bread.  They now wonder about moving other items that are muktze, from cups to chamber pots.  The rabbis want to understand how these things might affect whether or not we share our sacred meals with Gentiles.  A wonderful idea is posed by Mareimar and Mar Zutre.  They would tell a visiting non-Jew, if you enjoy your meal with us, that is good.  If not, we will not be able to go to any extra trouble on your account.  Honesty might be the way to maintain good relationships - and to educate people who might otherwise have reason to become anti-semitic!

A new Mishna teaches about an argument between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel. The former tell us that water cannot be heated to wash our feet on a Festival unless it is also fit for drinking.  Beit Hillel tell us that we can light a fire for washing on a Festival - in fact, we can even light a fire to warm ourselves.

And another Mishna just as our daf concludes.  It teaches us about the three things that Rav Gamliel is stringent about when considering Beit Shammai's opinions.  First, one does not heat anything to insulate food on a Festival ab initio.  Second, one does not right a fallen metal menorah on a Festival.  Third, one does take the time and effort to bake thick loaves and instead bakes thin loaves on a Festival.

The Gemara questions whether or not we are considering this heated food as an eiruv tavshilin, or a connector between domains.  That conversation has just begun as our daf ends.

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