Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Beitza 32 a, b

Rabbi Shmuel does not agree with halachot of muktze; vessels and even shards of vessels may be used for one purpose even if they have been designated to another.  This holds on Shabbat and on Festivals. Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Nechamya adhere to laws of muktze.  Rabbi Nechemya is particularly stringent regarding what can be done on Shabbat and Festivals. I find this conversation particularly demonstrative of our historical tolerance of very different interpretations of halacha.

Our next Mishna extends this discussion of the use of vessels on Festivals.   It teaches:

  • we cannot create a candle by hollowing out clay [and placing oil and a wick inside] as it creates a vessel
  • we cannot create charcoal, even to use with food
  • we cannot cut the wick of a lamp
  • Rabbi Yehuda: we can trim a wick with fire but not with a knife
The Gemara explains that ritual impurity cannot be imparted until a substance - in this case, clay - has been formed into a vessel.  The rabbis discuss different types of earthenware pots and vessels; they discuss their opinions on how and when these pots are used.  Some of these 'villager pots' are only half formed. Without being fired and without lids, they might be of different status than other vessels.  

A note reminds us about the principle of a tent over a corpse.  Any structure that has a cavity of one cubic handbreadth or more that contains a corpse or part of a corpse is 'transformed' into a tent over a corpse.  Anything contained by this structure is ritually impure.  In addition, they impart primary ritual impurity to people and objects.  The vessel also acts as a barrier between the ritual impurity within and the ritual purity that is maintained outside. 

Charcoal cannot be created either because it is like creating vessels, because it is weekday work, because it involved the prohibited act of extinguishing, or because it does not directly have to do with our labour for sustenance.  We learn that charcoal is associated with washing, for it is used to heat the water in bath houses.  Considering when the hot water has been prepared, the rabbis argue about whether it is permitted to use a bath house for sweating on a Festival.

There are numerous laws regarding lamp wicks on Festivals (and other times, too).  The rabbis throw around a number of these halachot.  Some ideas stand out as foundational: cutting a wick with a knife is more similar to extinguishing a fire than burning a wick to trim it.  When trimming a wick, the rabbis are in fact speaking about using fire to separate two candles that are still attached by one wick.  We learn that machmir Ashkenazi custom allows flicking the end of a wick with one's finger, for that is not at all like 'extinguishing'.  

The daf digresses to discuss Rav Natan bar Abba, who speaks of the reasons that rich Jews from Babylonia will go to Gehenna.  They lack compassion; they did not support other needy Jews in their midst.  Lacking compassion, they must not be descendants of our forefathers who abounded in compassion.  There is an implication here of 'being from the mixed multitudes' and intermarriage, which seems slightly bizarre at this point in history.  He speaks of the emptiness of lives lived without compassion for others.

This ends with the Sages teaching that there are three lives that are not lives: one who looks to others' tables, one whose wife rules over him, one whose body is ruled by suffering, and some add one who has only one robe.  Steinsaltz shares a note that explains that when one's wife or one's suffering rules over him, he is unable to be ruled by G-d.  An interesting interpretation of something that seems simple: the man should be in charge; the body should not be in pain.  

A new Mishna, the last of today's daf, lists a number of things that we cannot do on a Festival:
  • break earthenware
  • cut paper to roast salted fish on it
  • sweep out an oven or stove - but we are allowed to press down the ashes/dust in the oven
  • draw two barrels together and place a pot on them and a fire beneath them to heat the pot
  • prop up an uneven pot with a piece of wood
  • same but with a door
  • lead an animal with a stick into the public domain - but Rabbi Shimon permits it
The Gemara teaches that breaking earthenware is actually preparing a vessel for use.  The rabbis discuss when it might be permitted to sweep out an oven. They consider different items that might fall into the oven and disrupt food preparation.  They also discuss different foods and their need for a clean oven.  Rabbi Chisda's wife was told when a brick fell into her oven that her husband required good-quality bread, suggesting to her that the brick be removed from the oven.  Rava did something similar with his attendant, asking that a duck not be singed in the oven - something that can only happen if the debris is removed from the bottom of the oven.  Rav Acha from Hutzal allows his attendants to use mud from the Euphrates river to line his oven before Shabbat, though that act of 'smoothing' could be problematic depending on the timing.

I have to wonder whether the rabbis had thought out their opinions on whether or not this labour of 'sweeping out' was permitted before they instructed others to remove the debris.  Sometimes it seems as though the rabbis are able to manipulate the halachot to their advantage.  How satisfying it would be to be the person who decides that a halacha is erroneous - especially compared with the person who is having to abide by those halachot until the rabbis tells her that she can make a change.

Regarding the two barrels, Rav Nachman believes that putting a pot on two barrels creates a tent over the fire, which is not permitted.  Thus it is permitted to move stones together to create a lavatory on a Festival.  The rabbis think about whether or not the structures created are permanent or temporary.  We learn in a note that the construction of temporary structures are prohibited, though temporary lavatories are permitted for the sake of human dignity.

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