Thursday, 30 July 2015

Nedarim 68: One Na'ara, One Father, One Husband, Two Olives

Again, the rabbis consider the specific rules that apply to nullification of the vows of a na'ara, a young woman who has shown signs of puberty and has been betrothed.  Must her husband and her father both nullify her vows for those vows to become ineffectual?  Will she be flogged for doing something that has been forbidden to her because she believes the vow nullified when only her father or only her husband has nullified that vow?  Or will she be only punished as transgressing a prohibition, which does not require flogging as its consequence?

And the larger question: why would the rabbis spend so much time and attention to the nullification of these specific vows?  My guess is that while these particular situations might have been rare, the determination of who held authority over a na'ara was frequently required.  Who owns this young woman?  Or in more genteel terms, who has legal authority over this young woman?

The Gemara considers the death of the betrothed or the father before the completion of their nullifications/ratifications of a young woman's vows.  They consider the importance of the concept of a partnership between the husband and the father.  Twice we learn that if a betrothed man ratified the vow and then died that day - or if he heard the vow and remained silent and then died the following day, the father cannot nullify the vow on his own.  Similarly, if the father died after his daughter was betrothed and he and the betrothed man heard her vow -- and the betrothed nullified it but the father said nothing -- the vow cannot be nullified.  IT is as if there are two portions of the vow, and both portions - the father's and the husband's - must be nullified together.    However, if the betrothed man dies, future vows can be nullified by the father.

One question I find fascinating is based on the example of a vow regarding two olives.  If a na'ara vows not to derive benefit from two olives and her husband nullifies her vow, may she eat one of the olives?  The rabbis question whether the nullification of her vow by one of these men severs or only weakens her vow.  But how is eating one of two olives actually breaking one half of her vow?  Perhaps she would raise both olives and touch them to her mouth - might that be breaking one half of her vow?  Or perhaps she could prepare both olives for eating; place them on a plate with a fork and knife ready to go.  Might that be a better example of breaking one half of her vow?

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Nedarim 67: Betrothed Women: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Perek X introduces a new Mishna which seems simple enough:  Regarding a betrothed young woman, her father and her husband both nullify her vows.  If her father nullifies but her husband does not, her vows are not nullified.  If her husband nullifies but her father does not, her vows are not nullified.  And if one of them ratified her vows, they are not nullified.

The Gemara asks many questions about this Mishna.  Why the repetition?  Aren't some of these points obvious?  Who has authority over a betrothed young woman?  How is a betrothed woman different from a married woman when it comes to nullification of her vows?  Can a vow be nullified retroactively by more than a day?  Can a vow be nullified in advance?

The Gemara discusses and states answers to these and other questions.  However, our notes (Steinsaltz) tell us that the rabbis have some difficulty with this Gemara.  There are a number of places where the commentators question why the Gemara went in specific directions and suggested certain conclusions.  

Underlying this Mishna is the teaching (Numbers 30) that women's vows can be nullified by their fathers and husbands.  Upon learning of the vows of their daughters and wives, fathers and husbands can either ratify or nullify those vows but only on the same day that they hear of them.  

This assertion of authority over women's promises are meant, of course, to strengthen the bond between father and daughter, husband and wife.  The man is thought to be better able to protect the woman's interest than she herself might be able to protect herself.  However, as we know, men might not always be magnanimous in their dealings with the women in their lives.  In fact, if a woman's vow might cause a man inconvenience, wouldn't he be likely to nullify that vow?  And the issue of women's agency and self-determination is not even up for discussion here, as we understand that women were meant to be either the property of their fathers or their husbands.  I have a feeling that I am in for quite the Perek.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Nedarim 66: Laughing at the Expense of Women

A new Mishna teaches that when a person vows without specifying dates, the rabbis may ask if the vow includes Shabbatot and Festivals.  But should the vow be dissolved if the person wishes to add that caveat?  Rabbi Akiva argued that if part of a vow is dissolved, the vow is dissolved in its entirety.  The Mishna goes on to note other cases where vows are only partially dissolved.  Commenting on how to partially dissolve a vow, the Gemara focuses on which part of the vow is said in which order.  We are given examples of onions and health.  We are also told about wine being vowed as konam because it is thought to be bad for the intestines - while aged wine might be either fine or actually healthy for the drinker (and vower).

Another new Mishna teaches about dissolving a vow to enhance the honour of the person making the vow or his family.  The example of someone vowing that an "ugly woman" is konam for him when in fact she is beautiful - or that she is black when she is white, or short when she is tall, is repeated from an earlier daf.  Another example - this one of a woman who is 'beautified'.  The man who named her as konam to him is confronted by Rabbi Yishmael who helps him realize that this beautified woman should in fact be permitted to him - and his vow is dissolved.

We learn that Rabbi Yishmael was thought to be a defender of the women of Israel.  He said that The daughters of Israel are beautiful, but poverty makes them ugly.  This comment is fascinating in its wisdom about beauty as a product of care and adornment.  However, it does not challenge the system that values the beauty of women over almost all else - and certainly over all else when it comes to marriage (as we have learned a number of times that being ugly, being 'black, not white', and being short and not tall are used as reasons to stop a marriage).  Note my comments on racism in recent blogs.

The Gemara restates these qualifiers of beauty.  Another example is shared regarding the perception of beauty: a woman had a false tooth (we learn that it was likely made of wood and thus rotten and 'ugly') replaced by a gold tooth made by Rabbi Yishmael, thus dissolving the vow and allowing her to marry.

Other stories are told of men who declare their wives as konam and then dissolving those vows.  An example of a man who told his wife that benefitting from him was konam to her until she spat on Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel.  She did so and explained why.  Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel was not humiliated, for she was doing the will of her husband which was the sign of a good wife.  I will not bother to comment on that at this point.

Another incident is quite disturbing.  A man told his wife that benefiting from him was konam for her until she showed some beautiful part of herself to Rabbi Yishmael, son of Rabbi Yosei.  He told his students  that her head was round, her hair was like stalks of flax, her eyes were narrow, her ears were double-sized, her nose was stubby, her lips were this, her neck was low, her stomach was swollen, her legs were wide as a goose's her name, Lichlichit was fitting, as she was dirty (same root) and covered with blemishes, and so she could benefit from her husband - her name was beautiful as it fit the rest of her.

This story was likely meant to be a joke for the men learning all of the laws of Masechet Nedarim.  It is not funny to women, however, to think of each part of their bodies potentially being judged harshly by great thinkers and leaders.  Women already had such little power in their world; this might have been funny if it had poked fun at the looks of a Torah scholar; however, it is mean-spirited to pick on those who cannot defend themselves as they were not even permitted to learn Talmud.

A final story tells us of a woman who takes her husband's cooking directions too literally, making two lentils instead of a bowl and then making se'a for him instead of a bowl.  Finally her husband, angry with her, told her to break two lamps the bava, the gate, but she broke them on Bava ben Buta's head. Instead of being angry with her, he said that she fulfilled her husband's desire, and she should be given two sons as a gift by G-d.

Certainly she shouldn't be given two daughters, who would be ridiculed and laughed at like their mother.   While these stories of ignorance and of undesirability might have helped our rabbis lighten their moods, they laughed at the expense of women, which has contributed to generations of scholars justifying their insubordination of women based on our looks and our perceived intelligence.

Nedarim 65: Dissolving Vows in a Variety of Circumstances & Nebuchadnezzar's Rabbit

A story is told of King Zedkiah who found King Nebuchadnezzar eating a live rabbit.  Nebuchadnezzar  had King Zedkiah swear an oath, shavuah, that he would not tell anyone of this transgression.  Later, when he was physically suffering, Zedkiah asked the judges of the Sanhedrin to dissolve his oath, and they did so, allowing Zedkiah to share what he saw.  Nebuchadnezzar learned that people were treating him with less respect and he demanded to know why Zedkiah was permitted to dissolve his oath without the subject of the oath in his presence.  Realizing their errors, the judges all moved from sitting on cushions to sitting on the floor, demonstrating acknowledgement of their halachic breach.

The rabbis take from this story that a vow, which is consequenced similarly to an oath, must be dissolved in the presence of the people concerned. 

A new Mishna reminds us that a change in the conditions put on a vow does not mean that we are facing a new situation (and the halachot that apply to new situations).  For example, a man may vow that he will not set foot in another person's home because the father there is evil.  What happens when the father dies?  The rabbis agree that when the father dies, the vow dissolves automatically - without the assistance of a halachic authority.  

Rabbi Akiva notes that a man might say that a woman is konam to him for marriage because she is ugly, when in fact he realized later that she is beautiful.  In such cases, his vow can be dissolved.  It is telling and disturbing that the other examples used are black when she is white or short when she is tall.  It seems that the values of antiquity were similar to those of today: women should be beautiful, fair-skinned, and tall.  Racism - or shadism - seems to have played a part in one's choice of partners and thus in the general social structure of our ancestors.

Another new Mishna teaches that our vows are dissolved if we make those vows against a Torah law - whether that might regard feeding the poor, avoiding vengeful behaviours, or other charitable acts.  

A final new Mishna discusses the involvement of halachic authorities when a man vows that his wife will not benefit from him but he owes her 400 dinars for her ketuba.  We are told that this man had only 800 dinars and half were given to his brother.  He would be left with nothing if he were to pay her ketuba.  Thus he requested that he pay her only 200 dinars for the divorce.  The rabbis decided instead that he should be permitted to dissolve his vow and allow her to benefit from him. 

Rabbi Akiva tells him that even if he sells all of the hair on his head, his wife must get the 400 dinars.  The commentary focuses on whether 'movable property' (anything other than land) can be mortgaged in order to pay a ketuba.  My personal focus is on Rabbi Akiva's apparent understanding that the payment of a ketuba is more important than any other financial obligation.  

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Nedarim 64: Extenuations

Perek IX begins with a new Mishna regarding extenuations.  The rabbis debate about whether or not a person can avoid having his/her vow dissolved by a halachic authority by stating that the vow dishonours one's parents or G-d.  Certainly, the rabbis argue, one would not say such a thing after the fact.  They also discuss one who tries to dissolve a vow by saying, "had I known that all of my windows would be broken, i would not have vowed not to benefit from the glazier.  

The Gemara looks at proof texts regarding extenuations, including situations where Moses's word carried more weight than usual.  Out of this discussion have come interesting quotations regarding new situations including death.  We learn about texts claiming that having no children leaves one as if s/he is dead.  It will be interesting to see where the Gemara goes with this particular.

Again, the rabbis are helping us to dissolve our vows.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Nedarim 63: Helping Us to Limit Our Vows

The Rabbis actually tell us when rain is going to fall.  Not just the month but the actual dates of the rainfall.  This information is not used as prediction, however - it is used to suggest when vows should expire if one has vowed "until the rainfall".  The rabbis have set up a system to ensure that vows end at reasonable times, even if the rain does not cooperate.

A new Mishna teaches us about unusual years.  If a person makes a vow that ends at the end of the year and it is a leap-year,  the second month of Adar is included in his/her vow.  If that person specifies Adar, then vows end at the end of the first month of Adar.  Again we learn that the rabbis demand specificity when we are making vows.

A note teaches us about the intercalation of the Jewish calendar.  Elements of the solar and lunar calendar are combined to ensure that the Festivals fall at their intended times of year.  It seems that before the fourth century, when the calendar was set, the Sanhedrin would meet and set the calendar each year based on their observations of the calendar, the harvests, and the needs of the community.  It is hard to imagine the debate that would be required to evaluate that data and then accurately set the calendar.  Another indication of the genius of our rabbis.

Another new Mishna clarifies a number of limitations on vows:

  • wine is konam until Pesach means until the eve of Pesach
  • meat is konam until Yom Kippur means until the last meal before Yom Kippur
  • garlic is konam until Shabbat means until erev Shabbat
  • if one refuses to benefit from another unless he accepts a gift, the vow can be dissolved by referring to one's honour
  • if one refuses to benefit from another unless he gives a gift, the vow can be dissolved by saying that the gift has already been received
  • if one vows that a woman cannot benefit from him forever because he is avoiding pressure to marry her, she is able to benefit from him in some ways
  • if one vows that eating or drinking cold water is konam when being invited into one's home, the vow is limited to meals; snacks and drinks are permitted
In these instances we wee that the rabbis are attempting to help us limit our vows.  Even when our intentions are good, we might overshoot.  We are offered opportunities to turn back.  As well, the rabbis assume that we are intending to eat are regular times in regular ways when we make vows to deprive ourselves from food or drink.  They do not wish for us to sacrifice ourselves, but to keep our promises.

Nedarim 62: Rabbi Tarfon and the Crown of Torah

As today's daf was studied on erev Shabbat, I did not blog on my learning.  Some fascinating stories regarding Rabbi Tarfon were shared.  Rabbi Tarfon did not wish to make use of the crown of Torah - to use his status as a Torah scholar to his own advantage.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Nedarim 61: Ending Vows; Signs of Summer

Through a discussion about how to determine when vows will end, the rabbis clarify other important issues.  For example, the rabbis consider whether or not yovel, the Jubilee Year, is included in the first fifty years of the fifty-year cycle (seven cycles of seven years followed by one yovel, Jubilee year) or whether it counts as 'year one' of the upcoming fifty years.  A number of verses from Leviticus 25 are quoted as proofs.  A note shares the halacha: yovel stands on its own.  Thus the last seven-year cycle ends with shemita, which is the 49th year and the Sabbatical year.  Shemita is followed by yovel, the fiftieth year, which is then followed by year one - also thought of as the fifty-first year.

When examining the Mishna's statement about vowing that something is konam until the Passover year, the rabbis consider whether or not it is advisable (or allowed) to put oneself in a state of uncertainty.   A story from Kiddushin 64(b) is used to illustrate this question: a man has two groups of two daughters, one from his deceased wife and one set from his current wife.  He says that he betrothed his older daughter to someone but he does not know which daughter he betrothed - it could be any of the older three, who are each an 'older daughter'.  Rabbi Meir rules that those three daughters are forbidden to marry anyone else due to this uncertainty.

Rabbi Meir believes that a vow lasts until the specified ending event is over.  Rabbi Yosei says that the vow is in effect until that event arrives.  

A new Mishna tells of a vow that forbids something to a person until the grain harvest, or until the grape harvest, or until the olive harvest, the vow is in effect until that date arrives.  The principle is that a time-fixed event ends a vow upon its arrival.    However, if a person vows that s/he is forbidden from something "until it will be [the grain or the grape or the olive harvest]", that vow is valid until the event ends.  And if an event has no fixed time associated with it, then the vow is in effect only until the occasion arrives.

The Mishna goes on to say that if a person says "until the summer (kayitz)", or "until it will be summer" regarding the end of his/her vow, that vow is honoured until the people begin to bring fruit into their homes in baskets.  If s/he says, "Until the summer has passed", however, the vow stays in effect until people put away the knives that cut harvested figs.  Thus a custom helps the rabbis to determine when the summer begins and ends; when a vow begins and ends.

The Gemara argues about figs - how are they actually cut down?  Aren't our fingers enough? And do grapes in the same 'summer fruit' category as figs, or not?  They are also plucked by hand when they are fully ripened.  The Gemara's last comment teaches that most people set aside their fig-cutting knives at the end of summer, though some people do not.

It is amazing that so much of halacha is based on the actual practices of people.  Since we know that this is true, why would we believe that the practices used in antiquity should dictate halacha that applies today, when customs (based on technological, social and physical changes) have altered so dramatically over the years?

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Nedarim 60: When Does a Time-Limited Vow Actually End?

Perek VIII begins with a new Mishna that states the following rules:

  • if one vows that wine is as if it were an offering, konam, to me and I will not taste it today, it is prohibited until that same day at nightfall
  • If the vow is not to drink wine this week, it is forbidden until the end of Shabbat of that week, as Shabbat counts as part of the week that passed
  • If the vow is not to drink wine this month, wine is forbidden until the New Moon of the following month has passed
  • If the vow is not to drink wine this year, wine is forbidden until the beginning of the upcoming Rosh Hashana, for Rosh Hashana is considered to be part of the upcoming year - thus one can drink wine again on Rosh Hashana
  • if the vow is not to drink wine during this seven-year cycle, wine if forbidden until the end of the current seven-year cycle and thus wine is forbidden through the upcoming Sabbatical year
  • If instead of saying that "wine is konam to me and I will not taste it" the vow is that "wine is forbidden to me" for one day, one week, one month, one year or one seven-year cycle, wine is forbidden until the same day/time of the vow
  • If one vows that wine is forbidden until Pesach, it is forbidden until Pesach arrives.  
  • If the vow is that wine is forbidden until it will be Passover, it is ford den until Pesach ends
  • If one vows that wine is forbidden until before Passover, Rabbi Meir says that wine is forbidden until Passover arrives.  Rabbi Yosei says that wine is forbidden until Passover ends.
In the Gemara, Rabbi Yirmeya teaches that one requires a halachic authority to dissolve the vow if one vows to abstain from wine for one day.  This is to ensure that people do not confuse their vows to abstain from wine "for today", where it is allowed at nightfall, and "for one day", where it is permitted the next day at the same time the vow was made.  The rabbis argue this point back and forth.

Ravina brings up an interesting point.  He says that Mareimar told him that his (Ravina's) father said in the name of Rav Yosef and Rav Yirmeya bar Abba in accordance with the opinion of Rabbi Natan as he taught in a baraita: Anyone who vows, it is as if he has built a personal altar - which is forbidden for people must bring their offerings to the Temple.  Those who fulfills their vows has sinned as if they burned meat at their personal altars.  Thus after fulfilling a vow, a halachic authority should be asked to annul the vow completely; make it as thought the vow never happened.

The Gemara continues to provide proofs for the Mishna's statements.  For example, why is Rosh Chodesh, the New Moon, considered part of the next month?  The Gemara asks: Isn't this obvious? We needed this ruling to clarify what should be done in the case where month has 29 days and Rosh Chodesh is celebrated over two days.

A note reminds us that personal altars were used before building the First Temple.  Even after the Temple was built, it was difficult to convince people to bring their offerings to the Temple.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Nedarim 59: Davar Sh'Yesh Lo Matirin

If a person vows that certain vegetables are konam, s/he is forbidden to benefit from any earnings through the trade of that vegetable and anything that grows from that vegetable.  However, if the vow is simple and non-specific, s/he will be permitted to benefit from anything that grows from that vegetable, as long as the seed/bulb eventually rots.  

A principle is stated: konamot are considered to be "davar sh'yesh lo matirin", an item that can become permitted with the permission of a rabbi.  Teruma does not fall into this category.  The rabbis discuss what should be done if an item is both konam, and can become permitted, and teruma, which cannot become permitted.

In this discussion, the rabbis also consider the role of timing in making and keeping vows.  Once an action has been completed regarding one's vow, the vow cannot be revoked.  And thus if one gives teruma to a priest, the vow that allowed the produce to be consecrated cannot be undone.

The rabbis return to the onion discussed in yesterday's daf.  If an onion bulb planted in the sixth year and it was rained on until its leaves turned black, it is forbidden.   Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel teaches that the part of the onion that grew during the sixth year is permitted while the part that grew during shemita is forbidden.  They go on to explain other circumstances that growth of a plant determines whether or not it is permitted.

Nedarim 58: On Tithing and Shemita

The conversation regarding Sabbatical year produce - and other items that change status over time, like teruma.  How will the rabbis help us determine whether or not an item is truly permitted?  For example, a sixth year onion might not sprout until shemita.  Is it permitted, as it was growth of the sixth year, or is it forbidden, as it is current growth?

We learn that these particular plants are called chayasot, plants with bulbs like arum, garlic and onions.  The rabbis consider many factors, from colour of leaves to easily uprooted bulbs, which might 'neutralize the prohibition' that forbids the consumption of sixth year produce.  Similar questions are asked about the eighth year; growth that one might benefit from on the year following shemita when nothing is intentionally planted.  In their questioning, the rabbis consider Samaritans who weed with Jews and Jews who are already suspect regarding their observance of shemita.

A note tells us that Jews and Samaritans rarely interacted, but a possible scenario could arise where a Jew worked for a Samaritan and the meal in question was permitted, untithed by a Samaritan, because it would be a casual meal.  Further, the Jew might be paid via this produce.

Our daf ends with a deeper discussion of weeding, the ground as prohibited versus the fruit as prohibited, and tithing when a litra of tithe (not separated from the teruma of the tithe) has been sown until it has grown to ten litra.  

The intricacy of the laws of teruma and tithing is so finely woven that I can imagine hours and hours being spent on assessing the exact amounts required.  How exhausting, knowing that G-d's goodwill depends upon one's efforts to perfect this gift.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Nedarim 57: Time Based Vows, Questions About Produce

A new Mishna teaches us about a number of items that are considered konam after a vow.  Each of the three 'sections' includes a number of different cases.  In all cases, the vows regard the concept of time.  How can one make a vow about something - an item, an action, a date - that does not yet exist, though it will exist in the future? 

One of these regards a wife's handicraft, which is used to describe any item that is produced by her hands.  The Mishna suggests that the husband should vow upon her hands and what they create.  Because her hands exist, the vow is valid.  This is compared with vows about produce that are annuals versus produce that are perennials.  The Mishna reminds us to be very specific with our vows; without the particulars, one should assume that the vow applies very generally.  This applies to a husband's vow regarding benefiting from his wife's prepared food until a certain time.  We are reminded that without being specific, a husband can forbid himself from eating his wife's food for a very long time.  Our Mishna also discusses vows that block one's wife from 'visiting her father's house' during a specific time period.  The Mishna ends with a discussion about who should be punished, the husband or the wife, regarding a husband's vow that specifically stipulates her action or inaction.  Has she caused him to profane (Numbers 30:3)?

The Gemara questions the idea of benefiting from an onion that was uprooted during the Sabbatical year, Shemita, but was not replanted until the eighth year.  What if it were an onion of teruma, sanctified for the priests, that was replanted in the eighth year? The rabbis consider the onion's growth: it is permitted only if it's growth exceeds its original state.  

The rabbis ask the same question regarding a tree branch that is orla, within its first three years, that is grafted onto an older vine.  Even if the new growth produces excessive fruit, any fruit that grew prior to the grafting is forbidden.  

I find it fascinating to learn that sibcha, grafted trees produce permitted fruit.  In an orchard and even in clothing, one is not to mix different kinds.  Why would it be that the grafting of two different trees and the production of new varieties of fruits might be permitted?  This is one of those teachings that remind me of the rabbis' strict adherence to Torah text beyond all else.  If there is not Torah law forbidding a practice, it is up for grabs (at least in Talmudic times).

Our daf ends with a discussion of those very rules just mentioned.  If an onion is planted in a vineyard and the vineyard and onion are uprooted, the onion remains forbidden.  The rabbis question how new growth from replanted onions might neutralize the prohibition of the first, forbidden onion.  Is this due to a ruling about a stringency? 

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Nedarim 56: Vows About Houses; Vows about Cities

A new Mishna questions whether a house includes both the upper storey and the ground floor.  The rabbis discuss what should happen if a person vows that s/he is forbidden entry into a house.  Does that refer to the entire house or only one storey?  The word "aliyya" is used to describe the second storey.  However, the rabbis wonder if "aliyya" might refer to whatever is the best part of the house. And a house within a house might refer to the upper storey of the house, but a note teaches us that the halacha disagrees.  Instead, a "house within a house" refers to any house - even the smallest - that one owns.   

Part of what we learn from this Mishna is that valuables were kept on the upper floors of a house, perhaps because they would be hidden more effectively.

A second Mishna teaches us Rabbi Meir's opinion: that one is permitted to sleep in a dargash when one vows that s/he cannot sleep in a bed.  The rabbis disagree - a dargash is included in the vow.  The rabbis are not clear about what a dargash is.   They suggest possible meanings, including a stretcher, a good luck 'charm', and the seat where the king reclines during meals.  They also refute all of these possibilities with counter-arguments.  Ultimately the rabbis decide that a dargash or a bed with two posts need not be turned over in times of mourning.

Some of their conversation focuses on mourning practices, including overturning one's beds.  The rabbis describe how bed frames were fastened together with straps that either were tied around the bed frames or through the bed frames.  Ultimately the rabbis decide that a dargash or a bed with two posts need not be turned over in times of mourning but instead should rest on their sides, demonstrating a significant difference from ordinary times.  We also learn that wooden beds and cribs were finished when rubbed with the "skin of a fish" which was used like sandpaper.  Our note teach that the cowtail stingray might have been used for this purpose.

Our last MIshna of today's daf states that one who vows that an entire city is forbidden to him/her is permitted to enter the Shabbat boundary of the city (the 2000 cubit area around the city) and is forbidden from entering the outskirts, which are 70 cubits beyond that city limit.  In contrast, a person who vows not to enter a house cannot be on the doorstep or inward of that house.  

The Gemara considers Joshua's view of Jericho, Numbers 35:5 where we are taught about the 2000 cubit measure, and Torah teachings regarding the quarantine of a house due to leprosy.  After learning Masechet Eiruvin years ago when my study of daf yomi began, I was not eager to re-encounter these very particular and sometimes tedious conversations.  However, I realized how much simpler it was to learn these concepts for the second time.  

Friday, 17 July 2015

Nedarim 54: Types of Vegetables, Who does the Shopping, Foods Used after Bloodletting

Perek VII begins with a Mishnaic question: are gourds considered to be vegetables?  Abaye's opinions are argued throughout today's daf.  

There are a number of ways to determine whether or not gourds might be included in a vow that prohibits the consumption of vegetables.  First, are they purchased alongside other vegetables?  Next, are they in their own category of vegetables, like legumes?  Third, might their consumption depend on whether or not they are cooked, just like cowpeas which are considered to be vegetables when fresh but not vegetables when dry?

The Gemara attends to the vow itself: what is the person's intent when the vow is stated?  What are the words actually used?  They also discuss whether the conventional wisdom suggests that a vegetable is cooked in a pot, in which case vegetables cooked in pots are included in the parameters of the vow.  Some rabbis - but not Rabbi Akiva - understand that gourds should be classified as fruits and never included in vows regarding vegetables.  

Further on, the Gemara considers the actions of an agent.  Who will be at fault if an agent mistakenly breaks a vow; if an agent gives a gourd to one who has intended to include gourds in his/her vow prohibiting vegetables?  A note in Steinsaltz teaches that usually an agent alone is held responsible for "performing his mission improperly".  However, in the case of a consecrated item, the one who dispatched the agent is also held liable.

Let's throw meat into the mix.  Not literally, of course, especially if that meat is consecrated or included in one's vow.  If a person vows not to consume meat, what is included in his/her vow?  The rabbis discuss the innards of an animal, the flesh of a bird and the flesh of fish and even grasshoppers.    They agree that an agent must consult with his employer if there is a question about what might be included in the employer's (or his guest's) vow.  

What is usually understood to be meat?  Bird flesh?  Kidney? What about the innards of an animal, which we learn (noted by Steinsaltz) were used by the poor exclusively and were not known as meat?

Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel  says that one who vows off meat is permitted to eat meat of the head, feet, windpipe, liver, heart, and of birds, fish and grasshoppers.  In fact, he states that one is not a person if one consumes or even buys such crude animal parts.

One proof that the flesh of fish is included in a vow prohibiting meat comes from an agent's question to his employer: "If there is no meat available, should I purchase fish?"  If fish is a usual substitute for meat, perhaps it should be forbidden when meat is forbidden.

We then learn about medical practices of our ancient Jewish relatives.  It seemed to be common knowledge that many foods were unhealthy to eat after letting blood: fish, birds (unless fully boiled, says the Gemara), salted meat, milk, cheese, eggs, nor garden cress (a plant used for seasoning).  Bird meat was thought to make the heart fly like a bird.  Fish was up for grabs:  some said it was dangerous following bloodletting, but others like Shmuel thought fish to be medicine for one's eyes, particularly in later stages of an eye infection (or when served at the end of one's meal, according to Rabbi Yitzchak Tzafati).

Apparently this argument regarding the medicinal use of fish for one's eyes is used to prove that Rashi's student, and not Rashi himself, wrote the commentary for Nedarim.  In Masechet Me'ila, Rashi teaches that fish is medicinally useful for eye infections at the start but not the end of those infections.  However, here he teaches that fish is useful to heal the end but not the start of eye infections.  

Our notes teach that bloodletting, often done by leeches, was commonly practiced to maintain health. It was to be followed by large-enough meals, high in sugar, that digested quickly. Thus boiled bird meat was recommended while bird meat cooked differently was avoided.

It strikes me that once we have established that Rashi's student's commentaries have been used in Nedarim, we should know that all commentary is suspect.  How can we know that the rabbis' interpretations always matched up so flawlessly if even Rashi (yes, a later scholar, but still) could be misattributed?

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Nedarim 53: When Foods Spill Into Each Other... Figuratively

Our first Mishna refers to specific food by-products, like date honey from dates or vinegar from late dates.  Our rabbis debate whether or not these by-products are included in vows forbidding a person from eating the primary food described in the vow.   Our next Mishna questions the inclusion of sweet apple wine when wine is stated, sesame oil when oil is stated, leeks when kaflutot  (a cabbage dish) is stated, and wild field vegetables when vegetables are stated.  It notes that at times a modifier is used to further describe vegetables and other items.

The Gemara looks at what is usually said in specific places.  For example, in a place where olive oil is the primary oil used, then sesame oil is permitted when one takes a vow forbidding oneself consumption of nonsepcified oil.  If both olive and sesame oils are used in that place, sesame oil is included in that same vow.  And if sesame oil is the primary oil used in that place, then olive oil is not included in one's vow.

As well, the Gemara considers vows made at unusual times, including shemita, the sabbatical year.  Because the rules are different that year, assumptions are different, too.  If a person vows not to eat vegetables, for example, then normally that refers to garden vegetables but not field vegetables.  The reverse is true during shemita, for garden vegetables cannot be used during the shemita year, and so field vegetables are assumed to be the main source of vegetable consumption.  The Gemara also wonders about whether our Mishna might be referring to differences that apply within and outside of Eretz Yisrael.

A final Mishna questions what is included when one vows to not to eat foods that are included in commonly eaten foods - pounded beans or garlic in stew, for example.  Although they argue about guidelines, the rabbis lean toward including ingredients that add substantively to the flavour of the dish.  Similarly, if the dish can be made without that ingredient, then the person who has vowed not to eat that ingredient is permitted to eat the full dish.  

Regarding permitting the use of foods in unusual ways, the Gemara suggests that chewing on raw beans should be allowed even if one has vowed not to eat beans.  This is because chewing on raw beans is so unusual that it would not have been an intended part of the vow.

Nedarim 52: Gravy, Spices, Grapes & Olives

If a person vows that s/he will not eat meat, s/he can't eat gravy, spices, or other foods that flavour the meat, either.  There is a difference between vowing that one will not drink wine and that one will not taste wine.  We have to be specific about our vows.

The rabbis continue to speak about vows about one food that might imply the use of another food. Are both foods prohibited?  We learn about ashishim, a dish made from lentils, though it is referred to as 'cakes' in the Song of Songs (says Rashi) and as 'cups' in Hosea.  It is significant whether or not people believe that a forbidden ingredient is included in a dish such as lentils in ashishim, or milk in whey.

Another Mishna teaches that wine is permitted to one who vows not to taste grapes.  Oil is permitted to a person who vows not to eat olives.  However, if a person says that olives and grapes are konam for him/her and thus it is forbidden to taste those items, they are also forbidden from tasting what emerges from the olives or grapes (oil and wine).  The Gemara questions how different factors might affect how one acts out his/her vow: intention, taste, actual words of the spoken vow, size, and others.

These conversations are very familiar; they remind me of conversations regarding kashrut.  If there is a trace of something non-kosher in a kosher dish, is that dish still kosher?  How do we determine when the status of one thing is 'contaminated' by another?

Monday, 13 July 2015

Nedarim 51: Bar Kappara's Lewd Humour

bar Kappara was able to make Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi laugh by putting tar on a basket and overturning it on his head.

Rabbi Yehuda valued his friendship with bar Kappara.  So much so that he condoned bar Kappara's sexually charged questions at the wedding of his son, Rabbi Shimon.  He spoke with Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi's daughter, married to Ben Elasa, in a somewhat flirtatious manner: "Tomorrow I will drink wine at your father's dancing and your mother's singing".  Women are not supposed to dance for even their husbands due to their modesty, but there was a suggestion of somewhat inappropriate interaction between HaNasi's wife and bar Kappara.

At that same wedding, bar Kappara taunted Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi about the meaning of the words to'eva (usually understood to be the 'abomination' of anal intercourse between men), tevel (usually known as perversion, where a woman has sexual intercourse with an animal), and zimma (usually translated as lewdness, when a man has intercourse with a woman and her daughter).  Each word was questioned with a cup of wine, followed by a traditional explanation given by Yehuda HaNasi and then a new interpretation shared by bar Kappara.  Eventually Ben Elasa could no longer tolerate the conversation and left the wedding with his wife.

After the significant number of discussions of modesty, it is telling to read of bar Kappara's conversation with Yehuda HaNasi at this wedding.  Perhaps this was such an anomalous situation that it made it into the Talmud.  Or, perhaps, many, many conversations such as these conversations took place among our rabbis - lewd conversations that questioned both the teachings of modesty and the conduct of Torah scholars.

Ben Elasa is then commented upon (teased?) regarding his expensive haircut, where either all hairs are cut short or the hair is cut in rows, in the style of a High Priest.

The Gemara continues its discussion of gourds, how they might be cooked, and how different gourds might be considered of diverse kinds.

A few quick Mishnayot follow.  Each is an attempt to define the limitations of a vow made with regard to forbidding oneself from consuming certain foods in certain ways.  The first Mishna considers food that enters stewpots and ovens. The second considers pickled foods and boiled foods.  The third considers roasted foods, salted foods, fish/fishes and tzachana (a combination of whole and chopped fish).  One of the definitive points taught is that the expression, "this food is forbidden to me" prohibits that type of food.  "This food is konam for me, and for that reason I will not taste it" prohibits the food named plus a variety of similar foods and foods prepared in a similar manner.

The Gemara on the last Mishna focuses on whether the size of a fish is considered.

We end our daf with another new Mishna, this time about whether or not whey and cheese might be forbidden from one who vows not to consume milk.   Similarly, gravy and sediments of boiled meat might be forbidden to one who vows not to consume meat.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Nedarim 50: Stories about Our Rabbis

We are told the story of Akiva's marriage to the daughter of Bal Kalba Savua.  This father was so upset about the marriage that he vowed his daughter would not benefit from his food should she go through with it.  They did marry and they did live in poverty.  Elijah visited them in the form of a peasant who did not even have straw to lie on; the straw that Akiva would place on his wife's head and wish it could be a crown, a Jerusalem of Gold.  Akiva spoke of how lucky they were to have straw.

She then encouraged Akiva to learn Talmud for 12 years.  On his return, he heard her speaking with a man who was chastising her as a widow whose father was right to push her away.  Akiva's wife retorted that if her husband listened to her, he would be gone another 12 years - and Akiva turned around and learned for 12 more years.

When he next returned, Akiva was with 24000 pairs of students.  His wife, in the clothes of a very poor woman, went to greet him, but was not recognized and was turned away.  She kept on, saying that "a righteous man regards the life of his beast" (Proverbs 12:10).  Akiva then saw her and said that what is my and your Torah is hers, acknowledging her influence.  When her father realized that Akiva, this celebrated man, was his son-in-law, he dissolved his vow.

We are then taught that Akiva went from abject poverty to extreme wealth for six reasons:

  1. money from Kalba Suava, his father in law
  2. money that he found in the abandoned ram of a ship
  3. money found in a log that sailors brought to him in place of a larger purchase
  4. money from a lady who lent him money with G-d as his guarantor and then found money a bag of jewellery in the sea, believing that this money was her investment back from G-d
  5. money from Turnus Rufus's wife, who converted to Judaism though her husband was ruler of Judea during the bar Kochba revolt and ultimately finished off the Temple and murdered Akiva
  6. money from Ketia bar Shalom, a Roman minister who fought with the Jews against the Romans

We are then told a number of stories of rabbis who came into wealth in different ways.

  • Rav Gamda paid sailors to bring him something of value and they returned with only a monkey - a monkey who escaped and hid over valuable pearls, which were all gathered and brought to Rav Gamda
  • Rabbi Yehuda bar Chananya was criticized by the emperor's daughter for being so ugly while knowing Torah so well.  He instructed her to keep her wine in silver instead of ceramic vessels. She did and the wine spoiled.  He told her that beauty impairs Torah study.  But what of handsome scholars?  They would be even more learned if they were ugly, he replied.  Our notes teach that good looks force us to think about our looks more than our studies. 
  • A woman was found guilty in Rav Yehuda of Nehardea's court, and she asked if Rav Shimon would have found her guilty.  Did you know him? What does his look like? he asked.  Short, potbellied, dark, and large-toothed. Rav Yehuda excommunicated her for this disrespectful description and once gone, her belly split open and she died for disparaging a Torah scholar.
We end our daf with information about treating stomach ailments.

  • Turemita eggs, eggs that are boiled and then place in hot and cold water 1000 times so that they shrink and become hardened, are exempt from vows forbidding one to benefit from another's food.
  • Lesions adhere to turemita eggs as they do not digest, and those lesions can be used to diagnose illness
  • Shimon used cabbage stalks to diagnose his ailments, though his family believed him to be dying as his distress from swallowing the stalks was so great
  • One strain of foods, such as a type of figs, cannot be eaten if one is working with a different strain of food, such as a different type of fig
  • A man took his friend to court after the slave he bough from his friend only taught him 800 and not 1000 recipes for fig compote.  Yehuda haNasi stated that we have forgotten prosperity (Lamentations 3:17) for we have not seen it with our own eyes.
  • Ben Kappara was not invited to Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi's son Shimon's wedding, though he wrote that 24000 myriad dinars were expended on the chupa.  He convinced HaNasi to invite him by saying that people who do not perform G-d's will will be rewarded in kind, but those who perform G-d's will will be rewarded.  After being invited, Ben Kappara said that if those who perform his will (are wealthy like you), how much more so will they  be rewarded in the world to come?!
Some of these stories offer morals that are beautiful and meaningful.  Others are more distasteful.  A wonderful daf to chew on!