Monday, 21 April 2014

Beitza 23 a, b

We learn that on Festivals, ketura was permitted in an Exilarch's home.  But what is ketura?  Does it refer to the Aramaic root which would imply folding or creasing?  Or does it refer to the Hebrew root, which  implies smoke, as would happen when burning incense?  I cannot help but think of Kibbutz Ketura in the south of Israel, where I spent some time 20 years ago.  I wonder why the founders chose that particular name - and if they were aware of this conversation.

The rabbis refer to Theodosius, who may have been a Torah scholar, when they reconsider  Rabban Gamiliels' leniency of preparing a whole kid goat.  They are clear that the kid goat was not in fact in violation of halacha, but that the community might see this action as similar to Temple sacrifice.

We are taught four new Mishnayot in the remainder of today's daf.  The last of these begins Perek III.

First, we learn a Mishna parallel to our last: Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya permits three things that the Rabbis prohibit: a cow going out on Shabbat with a decorative strap between its horns which may or may not be considered a burden, combing an animal for ticks which may or may not wound or bruise the animal unintentionally, and grinding pepper in its own mill, which may or may not mimic weekday labour.  Rabbi Yehuda agrees with combing an animal with only a wooden comb, but the rabbis disallow this action.

The Gemara first notes that Rabban Elazar had many thousands of cows, and thus we are speaking of permission given to his neighbour to decorate her one cow.  The rabbis discuss the possible differences between combing and brushing; between unintentional and intentional acts.

Our second Mishna teaches that the pepper mill is prohibited because each of its three parts is susceptible to ritual impurity: the receptacle is a vessel, the middle section is a sieve that filters pepper, and the upper part that does the grinding is a metal vessel.

The next Mishna tells us that a child's wagon is susceptible to ritual impurity imparted by treading - it is sat upon.  It may be handled on Shabbat for it is considered to be a vessel, and it can be dragged on the grown d on Shabbat  only upon cloth, a stone pavement, or other similar surface, for it would otherwise create a furrow when dragged (and thus would be prohibited because plowing is not allowed).  Rabbi Yehuda teaches that the only vessel that can be dragged on the ground on Shabbat are wagons, for their wheels do not make furrows in the ground; they press the earth down.  Plowing requires that earth is moved from its place.

In the Gemara, Rabbi Shimon notes that it is permitted to drag beds, chairs or benches as long as there is no intention to create a furrow.  Further, Rabbi Yehuda was the person who put forward the argument that wagons create furrows and that was accepted by the rabbis.  He then goes against his own opinion when he states that the wagon's wheels do not in fact create furrows.  A note reminds us of the resulting halacha.  We cannot drag beds, etc., on Shabbat if they are so heavy that they will certainly create furrows - even if that is not our intention.

A couple of points - what a different time; we live on solid wooden and concrete floors; we create no furrows when we drag beds or chairs today in most of the developed world.  Further, how could the rabbis equate that type of furrow with plowing?  We are not in the fields, for heaven's sake.  Why did they not take context/location into account?  These 'fences' create restrictions that push many Jews away from halacha - when they are rabbinical in origin as well as illogical or unreasonable, it is difficult to accept their authority.   This begs a  much larger question regarding ow we regard authority in Jewish thought and in Jewish life, but not for tonight.

Finally, our first Mishna of Perek III, which regards limitations on fishing and hunting.  We are not allowed to trap fish on Festivals nor are we allowed to feed them.  This is too close to the prohibited action of hunting.  We are allowed to trap animals or birds from within enclosures, though, as they are considered to be trapped already and thus this is not hunting.  We can place food before them just as we do for other kept animals.  Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel goes on to explain that enclosures are not identical regarding hunting.  He teaches a principle: we are not allowed to trap an animal in an enclosure where that animal can evade us.  But if we can simply take the animal from the enclosure, this is not considered to be hunting and is allowed on Festivals.  

Notes remind us that we are only permitted to feed the animals that are not muktze, or set aside, lest we take them when we are not permitted.  We can feed the non-kosher animals.  We can feed fish that were taken and placed in a fishbowl before the Festival, and we can catch fish from small, clear ponds where the fish cannot escape us.

So much thought has gone into our treatment of animals.  And yet the thought is geared toward understanding how G-d intends those animals to be of use to us, with his halachot being the ultimate rule.  Today, in secular, ethically questioning segments of society, as much thought goes in to how we treat animals.  But the ultimate end is the welfare and experiences of the animals rather that our interpretation of G-d's will.  Thus to better our treatment of animals, Jewish, ethically-minded, observant thinkers must find ways of interpreting the Torah (and the Talmud, etc.) to creatively understand G-d's will when it comes to the treatment of animals. 

No comments:

Post a Comment