Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Beitza 25 a, b

Our Sages want to understand the specific details that permit us to take and/or prepare an undomesticated animal on a Festival.  They discuss fish that were caught before the Festival, birds that have found homes in peoples' gardens, birds that are marked -- and their mothers, birds that are shaken to affirm and prove their status among other things.  It continues to startle me when the rabbis make statements reminding me of their very different world.  I would assume that these halachot are designed to address issues of cruelty to animals.  However, I read things like, "... and those [birds] that were shaken [prior to the Festival to designate their preparedness]", I remember that animals were considered to be tools for people, period.

We learn a new Mishna that the rabbis want to discourage people from slaughtering an animal that is already in danger of dying.  The slaughter must be done in time to eat an olive bulk of roasted meat.  Rabbi Akiva suggests that one needs only enough time to eat an olive bulk of raw meat from the neck of the animal (where it was slaughtered).  Notes by Steinsaltz echo my own questions: how could people be asked to eat raw, unsalted, bloody meat? And yet the statement stands.  The end of the Mishna teaches that we must collect a slaughtered animal differently on Festivals than on weekdays: by hand, limb by limb, rather than with poles and extra people to help.

The Gemara discusses the presumptive prohibited status of a slaughtered animal and different opinions regarding whether or not the animal should be examined after the slaughter.  We do not assume that this animal is a tereifa, going to die within twelve months.  The rabbis also discuss from where in the animal the raw meat should be taken: perhaps it is the intestine rather than the neck, as this is the 'place' where the animal itself slaughters others.

Amud (b) begins with a lesson in etiquette. We should not rush to skin an animal - and we should not rush to drink our cup of wine in one gulp.  Two is preferred; three seems haughty.  On the topic of good manners, we should eat garlic and onions from the sides/leaves and not from the bulbs to present ourselves politely.  And we should act like the sea squill and keep our roots (feet) in our own yards.

Other gruesome ideas that suggest our feet might get cut off in the world to come: "young trees will cut off the feet of butchers and those who have relations with women who are menstruating".  This refers to a number of prohibitions: eating fruit from a tree younger than three years whose roots/feet have not spread; preparing meat quickly without removing blood.  These connections are obscure and yet they help us remember the seriousness of seemingly unrelated prohibitions.

After speaking about the lupine, a plant, that will cut off the feet of the Jewish people, we are told about our impudence and forcefulness as a people.  Perhaps this is why we were given the Torah, says Rabbi Meir, as Deuteronomy teaches that "from His right hand went a fiery law for them" (33:2).  Rabbi Yishmael's school taught that we Jews have fiery natures requireng a fiery law.  Others suggested that we were given the Torah to mitigate our wrath, for no nation could withstand us without the observance and study required by Torah law.

Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish teaches about those who are impudent: Jews among the nations, dogs among the animals, roosters among the bird - and others add: goats among small cattle, and caper bushes among trees.

We then learn about a number of restrictions on Festivals: walking with canes/poles unless absolutely necessary, going out on a chair on poles held by four others -- unless, of course, s/he is required by the people. In that case we are permitted to be carried out in our chair.  This is debated by rabbis who travel to the Ladder of Tyre to visit Rabbi Ya'akov bar Idi.  Wasn't Rav Nachman's wife, Yalta, carried on such a chair? But perhaps she was afraid - either of falling or of the pushing of the crowd. And perhaps she was required by the community.  Two rabbis were also carried on Festivals to their honoured spots. Were they also scared of the pushing crowds?  

Our daf ends with a new Mishna: We know that firstborn cows, sheep and goats are consecrated to G-d.  They cannot develop blemishes.  If one of these firstborn animal falls into a cistern, an expert is permitted to climb in to examine the animal for blemishes.  If the blemish is permanent, the animal should be raised out and then slaughtered.  Rabbi Shimon says that even when the blemish is not perceptible in the daylight on the day before a Festival, the animal cannot be prepared for slaughter on the altar.   

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