Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Sanhedrin 108: The Flood; Animals in the Ark

A very brief note on today's daf:

We begin today's daf with a conversation about another group of people who will not see the World-to-Come.  These are the people of Sodom.  It is argued that all of that community was barred from multiplying and having many descendants.  

The Gemara shifts its conversation to that of those animals and people who were on Noah's ark.  The rabbis ask about Noah's righteousness that he was permitted to live when all others were destined to die in the flood.  The rabbis discuss the animals on the ark as well.  They surmise that only those animals who mate with each other were taken onto the ark.  Other animals might have entered the ark on their own.  The raven plays a large role in today's deliberations, particularly regarding its lack of a mate.  The rabbis discuss the possibility of a sexual relationship between a person and a bird in order to ensure the bird's continued procreation.  This is forbidden, of course, but even the discussion is bizarre.

Speaking of bizarre, the rabbis consider the temperature of the flood waters.  They use proof texts to determine that the water was hot.  Other analogies lead them to believe that the water was hot like semen.  The discussion turns to one about the animals and people being forbidden from any sexual contact on the ark.  There are a few exceptions to this rule.  

I wonder if today's world is so incredibly prudish about sexual behaviour that we find the rabbis' seemingly effortless conversation about sex to be off-putting.  Then again, in some ways modern societies are very open about sex and sexuality.  But perhaps not in an honest way.  When sexuality is paraded and removed from any relational context, we cannot say that we are particularly 'open' about sex.  And we certainly do not speak freely about water being like semen or about bestiality.

Monday, 30 October 2017

Sanhedrin 107: David barred from the World-to-Come; Gechazi

A brief look at some of the more interesting points from today's daf:

  • we should not bring ourselves to temptation for David did so and failed
  • if one satiates an evil inclination, it craves more.  If one starves it, it is satisfied
  • David said that if he would be torn, his blood would not spill because it already drained when he was shamed
  • Perhaps one who shames another has no share in the World-to-Come
  • G-d forgave David, but only in his son's lifetime
  • Gechazi was not permitted into the World-to-Come when Elisha could not make him repent
  • A baraita teaches: one should repel with the left hand and pull close with the right hand, unlike Elisha who repelled Gechazi with both hands
  • Until Avraham there were no visible signs of old age, until Yaakov there was no weakness, until Elisha no-one recovered from weakness.  In all of those cases, G-d answered people's requests for help
We end with a new Mishna.  It teaches that the generation of the flood has no share in the World-to-Come, but they will not be judged.  Rama says that this is because they already received their punishment in the form of the flood.  The generation of the dispersion has no share in the World-to-Come, either.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Sanhedrin 106: Balaam, Doeg, Ahithophel

The Gemara continues its discussion of those who certainly will not have a share of the World-to-Come.  In their thoughts about Balaam, the rabbis share a number of stories.  For example, we learn that:
  • ·      one who hinders G-d by harming the Jewish people is like one who attempts to put a sheet between two lions as they are mating
  • ·      Balaam is said to have taught Balak how to anger G-d against the Jewish people. Jews buy linen clothing.  First lure them to buy linens by placing an old woman outside of an enclosed space offering a fair price.  When the Jew is enticed inside by the price, have a young woman offer a very cheap price.  Do this a few times and then have the young woman offer alcohol.  The Jew will drink and then the evil inclination will take hold.  He will ask for intercourse and she will insist that he worship her idol.  She will explain that it means nothing to him to defacate before the idol - and he will not know that he is honouring her god.  She will insist that she stay with him until he decry Judaism, and when they return to his land they will be shunned.

The Gemara turns to Doeg, another person barred from the World-to-Come.   First they examine the etymology of his name, which of course destine him to wickedness.  About Doeg, we learn an number of things, including:

  • ·      his Torah learning was weak and he did not engage in many mitzvot
  • ·      Rabbis, Sages and others argued about whether or not Doeg should be permitted to enter the World-to-Come
  • ·      one argument in favour of Doeg's favourable outcome is that his children and children's children will be permitted to learn Torah and eventually enter the World-to-Come as well
  • ·      The secret of the Lord is with those who fear him
  • ·      it is said that Doeg died when he had forgotten his Torah learning and when he had leprosy, suggesting that one who does not serve G-d is put away from the people
  • ·      Doeg is compared with Ahithophel, who also died before the age of 40, but in different generations thus they never met (Doeg lived at the time of Saul; Ahithophel lived at the end of David's life)

It is simple to read from these commentaries that the rabbis are eager to understand how to live our lives.  They determine through their interpretive skill that we must follow the mitzvot and learn Torah.  These last dapim that have been devoted to "what we should not do" seem to be transparent to that end.  The stories and interpretations are quite interesting, but difficult to grasp as 'truth'.  Some of the rabbis' interpretations are quite jarring.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Sanhedrin 105: Punishments; Balaam the Wicked

Continuing their conversation about who does not have a share in the World-to-Come, the Gemara considers a number of different ideas

  • Shmuel explains that the person who transgresses is often at fault, just as the Jewish people are often at fault for G-d's punishments
  • David and Nebuchadnezzar were both described as my slave: a slave ultimately belongs to his/her master, who in this case is G-d
  • The evil inclination is ultimately instructed by G-d; we are able to control our lives if we choose to do so
  • Four commoners, Balaam, Doeg, Ahithophel and Gehazi have no share in the World-to-Come
  • Balaam transgressed in many ways:
    • his name might mean 'without a nation', 'wore down the Jewish people', or son of Beor thus one who engaged in bestiality
    • wicked Jews are turned back to the netherworld, but Gentiles who forgot G-d are turned away
    • two dogs fought against each other but together attacked and killed a wolf
    • Balaam hosted the princes of Moab against the will of G-d
    • Balaam was disabled in one leg, as he limped
    • Balaam is said to have had sex with his donkey, based on Numbers (24:29) and Judges (5:27) where sexual connotation is attributed to the word "fallen".  
    • Balaam as above is said to be a diviner with his penis
    • a similar reference is applied to the words, "am I not your donkey" "upon which you have ridden" "your whole life until this day" (Numbers (21:30)
    • Balaam critiqued G-d's anger
    • "Punishment, even for the rihteous, is not good.  Even with regard to heretics, a righteous person should not state a curse to punish them".
    • G-d becomes angry when the sun rises and kings put on their crowns and bow to the sun
    • Rabbi Yehuda said that Rav said that a person should always study Torah and do mitzvot for their own sake but if not, they should continue to do them, for eventually they will do them for their own sake like Balak and his 42 offerings
    • was it an angel (Rabbi Elazar) or a hook (Rabbi Yonatan) placed in Balaam's mouth by G-d?
    • Balaam's wickedness was replaced by blessings
    • Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmani said that Rabbi Yochanan said that better is the curse that Ahijal the Shilonite cursed the Jewish people than the blessing that Balaam the wicked blessed them

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Sanhedrin 103: Intentional Transgression and the World-to-Come

What is the point of repentance if we cannot earn our way back into the World-to-Come?  Rabbi Yochanan in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai speaks of one creating an opening in himself through prayer.  That opening creates a different type of opening in Heaven so that he could be accepted there in repentance.  Rabbi Yochanan argues that when sentences are irreversible through repentance, there might be a clandestine way to enter Heaven.

Rabbi Yochanan repeats another adage of Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai: If a wise man contends with a foolish man, whether he is angry or laughs, there is no rest".  Again we are told of a battle where the idols of the losing people are taken and worshipped by the so-called Jewish community.  

The rabbis interpret a number of verses from Psalms and Job.  Each word or phrase is said to refer to a specific part of a story - the story of Ahaz, of Manasseh, of Amon, of Yehoyakim.  An example (without a specific story reference): "No evil shall befall you nor shall any plague come near your tent" (Psalms 91:10) might mean that the evil inclination will not overcome them.  Also that one will never find his wife in a state of uncertainty regarding her halachic status of 'menstruating woman' when you return from a journey.  Or, it could mean that you will not be fearful of bad dreams nor evil thoughts.  And that you will not have a child or student who overcooks his food in public - meaning one who sins in public and causes others to sin, like Jesus the Nazarene.*

We end with information about Solomon and his father David informed by Psalms.  Until this point in the psalm, Solomon was blessed by David with blessings appropriate from father to son.  From then on, Solomon's mother blessed him with blessings appropriate to a mother blessing a son. From (91:11-13) forward, Solomon is blessed by G-d in Heaven, for G-d is spoken of in the first person.

Amud (b) continues to discuss the sins of different leaders.  Many of these involve inappropriate sexual behaviour with forbidden relatives - mothers or sisters.  Interestingly, it is not only the behaviour that is examined.  We are told that these leaders transgressed not because they took pleasure in their actions, but as a conscious affront to G-d.

The notion of sinning purposefully is a familiar narrative.  I remember being 14 years old, depressed, and desperate to spread that feeling of hurt.  I still have the diary that holds my words cursing G-d.  That was my way to truly express my upset.  It felt as if I had done the worst thing a person could do.  My world cracked a little bit with those words. Intentionally transgressing one of the most basic mitzvot was the most powerful statement that I could make about my well-being.  

But if G-d has any actual awareness of that transgression, I am sure that G-d was able to dismiss my words.  The rabbis consider the role of repentance.  I was remorseful as soon as I had written down my frustration.  Would that be enough to warrant an entrance to the World-to-Come?
*The rabbis note that this is not Jesus of Nazareth.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Sanhedrin 102: Learning of the World-to-Come Through Psalms, Kings, Chronicles, Job, and more

We are told stories from Kings II.  These teach us about Yarovam's Torah learning, which was excellent.  Why did that learning not protect him from his other sinful behaviour?  The rabbis decide that for Torah learning to be protective, it must be done for its own sake, Torah lishma.  We are told a number of connected stories from I Kings and II Chronicles that teach how critical it is, even for kings and people who do great things, to always remember the presence of G-d.  The rabbis debate: did King Ahab and Manasseh enter the World-to-Come or not?  Different deeds suggest to the rabbis that they may or may not have been rewarded at the end of their lives.

What is the point of repentance if we cannot earn our way back into the World-to-Come?  Rabbi Yochanan in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai speaks of one creating an opening in himself through prayer.  That opening creates a different type of opening in Heaven so that he could be accepted there in repentance.  Rabbi Yochanan argues that when sentences are irreversible through repentance, there might be a clandestine way to enter Heaven.

Rabbi Yochanan repeats another adage of Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai: If a wise man contends with a foolish man, whether he is angry or laughs, there is no rest".  Again we are told of a battle where the idols of the losing people are taken and worshipped by the so-called Jewish community.  

The rabbis interpret a number of verses from Psalms and Job.  Each word or phrase is said to refer to a specific part of a story - the story of Ahaz, of Manasseh, of Amon, of Yehoyakim.  An example (without a specific story reference): "No evil shall befall you nor shall any plague come near your tent" (Psalms 91:10) might mean that the evil inclination will not overcome them.  Also that one will never find his wife in a state of uncertainty regarding her halachic status of 'menstruating woman' when you return from a journey.  Or, it could mean that you will not be fearful of bad dreams nor evil thoughts.  And that you will not have a child or student who overcooks his food in public - meaning one who sins in public and causes others to sin, like Jesus the Nazarene.*

We end with information about Solomon and his father David informed by Psalms.  Until this point in the psalm, Solomon was blessed by David with blessings appropriate from father to son.  From then on, Solomon's mother blessed him with blessings appropriate to a mother blessing a son. From (91:11-13) forward, Solomon is blessed by G-d in Heaven, for G-d is spoken of in the first person.

*The rabbis note that this is not Jesus of Nazareth.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Sanhedrin 101: Who Else is Barred from the World-to-Come? Rabbi Eliezer's Deathbed

More words of wisdom:

  • "all the days of the poor are terrible" including the Festivals, for the change of diet causes intestinal upset
  • one who uses words from the Song of Songs or the Torah in a secular song introduces evil to the world
  • we should read texts at their appropriate times and when we eat, we can read other suggested texts
Who may not enter the World-to-Come?  There are more:
  • one who spits into or whispers an incantation into a wound
  • Exclusions: on Shabbat, one who eases intestinal pain by rubbing an oil into the stomach differently than during the week, one who recites an incantation over a snake or scorpion bite, one who moves a cool vessel (which is permissible to move) to place on an eye infection
  • one who consorts with demons on Shabbat or at any time
We also learn that Rav Yitzchak bar Yosef consorted with a demon and was swallowed into a tree. Witchcraft was used to open the tree and expel him.

The rabbis speak freely about the dangers of looking to demons for help.  They assert that whispering an incantation into a vessel of oil is permitted, but doing the same over oil in one's hand is forbidden. This is due to safety: boils can develop in one's hand from this action.  A story is told of one who created boils on his face in this way.  They were healed by the incantation of a woman who saw him in the street.  She either saw the evil spirit of Chamat on his face, or she saw the witch Chamat on his face.  We are then reminded that the Jewish people do not need healing for they are protected by G-d.

We are told of Rabbi Eliezer falling ill.  His students cried at his bedside watching him suffer, but Rabbi Akiva laughed.  When asked why, Akiva responded that Rabbi Eliezer has incredible privilege in this world - his fields, honey, home, etc. - and he might have already been rewarded for his mitzvot in this world.  But now that he is suffering, Rabbi Akiva stated, it is clear that he is being punished for some small wrongdoing.  That means that Rabbi Eliezer will be rewarded in the World-to-Come.

Four rabbis visited Rabbi Eliezer.  Rabbi Tarfon said that his teacher is better for the Jewish people than a drop of rain, which only benefits us in this world.  Rabbi Eliezer benefits us in the World-To-Come, as well.  Rabbi Yehoshua stated that Rabbi Eliezer was greater for the Jewish people than the sphere of the sun, which only benefits us in this world while Rabbi Eliezer benefits us in this world and in the World-to-Come.  Rabbi Eleazar ben Azarya stated that Rabbi Eliezer was better for the Jewish people than a father and mother who only benefit us in this world, while Rabbi Eliezer benefits us in the World-to-Come as well.  Finally, Rabbi Akiva stated that afflictions are cherished. Rabbi Eliezer had to be helped to sit up in his bed to hear this twice more.  Akiva explains the story of Menasseh as described in Kings, Proverbs and Chronicles.  Only afflictions lead him to honour the Lord.

The rabbis return to the question of who will be barred from the World-to-Come.  They discuss the one who says the correct pronunciation of G-d's name aloud.  Then the Gemara shares the deeds of four kings and three commoners who are said to have been disallowed into the World-to-Come.  Most of these people commit the crime of causing strive within the Jewish community.  

Mostly these are said to be people who looked but could not see.  Nebat saw fire coming from his penis and thought he would rule.  Instead, his grandson Yerovam would rule.  Achitopel saw leprosy glowing on his penis and thought he would rule, but his granddaughter Bathsheba had Solomon who ruled.  The Pharaoh's astrologers thought that the signs and wonders meant that Pharaoh would rule, when they meant that Moses and the Jewish people would be victorious.

Our daf ends with a discussion of Yerovam's arrogance which barred him from the World-to-Come.

Monday, 23 October 2017

Sanhedrin 100: The World-to-Come, Ben Sira

The rabbis extend their definition of an epikoros, an apostate.  Not only is one an epikoros if s/he denies the authority of G-d.  As well, for example, one is also an epikoros if s/he declares that the scroll of Esther needs no mantle because it is not as worthy as the other scrolls.  A story is told of Rabbi Yochanan, Rabbi Yirmeya and Rabbi Ziera and a vision of a river that will flow from the Holy of Holies with medicinal plants growing.  When a student tells Rabbi Yochanan that he is behaving like an epikoros, Rabbi Yochanan "directed his eyes toward him in anger and rendered him a pile of bones".  Even the accusation that one might be an epikoros is powerful and potentially dangerous.  Thus extending the definition of an epikoros is significant.

The rabbis wonder how tall people will be in the World-to-Come.  Based on a vague prooftext in Leviticus (26:13), "And I made you go upright", Rabbi Meir says that people will be twice Adam's height: 200 cubits tall.   Rabbi Yehuda says that we will be 100 cubits tall, like the height of the Sanctuary and its walls, based on Psalms (144:12).  But how will such massive people go through the gates that are 20 cubits tall?  The rabbis find reason by extending that proof text to include windows and other architecture that will accommodate people's height.

What about that river, wonder the rabbis.  What was the medicinal leaf used for? Based on its description, the rabbis surmise that it opened the mouth.  This could mean that it helps one who is 'mute' to speak.  It could mean that it helps a woman who is 'barren' to open her 'mouth' and have children.  It could help the Sages to speak wise words of Torah.

The rabbis go on to share a number of statements about the World-to-Come, including:

  • one who works and blackens his face with the study of Torah will shine brightly in the World-to-Com
  • one who starves himself studying Torah will be satisfied in the World-to-Come
  • each person will receive his handful
  • each righteous person will be given 310 worlds
  • one who gives a pauper his handful in this world will be given His handful in the World-to-Come
The origin and context of each of these and other statements are explored.  The rabbis both debate and prove the voracity of each expression.

Who else is excluded from the World-to-Come?
  • one who reads external literature, like the writing of 'heretics'
  • one who reads the book of ben Sira, because of a debated passage about how to eat fish (leaving the skin on and roasting the fish whole) or despite its advice for men not to have 'atypical intercourse' with their wives because it causes her discomfort*
Ben Sira writes about how daughters are false treasures for their fathers who don't sleep at night for fear: as a child that she will be seduced, as a young woman that she will be licentious, at the age of majority that she will not marry, once married that she will not have children, and as an old woman that she will practice witchcraft.

The Sages say something similar.  The world requires both male and female children; however, happy are those who have male children and woe to those who have girls. 

Ben Sira also teaches us not to take anxiety into our hearts at it has killed mighty men.  Solomon and then two other rabbis said the same, though they advised people to either put it out of their minds or to speak with someone about that anxiety which will lessen its effects.  

Other statement from Ben Sira and other sources are suggested as reasons behind the upset with ben Sira's text:
  • do not bring too many friends into your home (said by others as well)
  • a sparse bearded man is clever; a thick bearded man is a fool
  • one who blows on his cup is not thirsty
  • take the bread away from a person who asks, "with what shall I eat bread?"
  • one who has a passage (two colours, ex. white and black) in his beard cannot be overcome by the entire world
  • a good wife is a good gift; she will be given into the bosom of a G-d-fearing man
  • a bad wife is leprosy to her husband; the cure is to chase her from the home
  • a beautiful wife: happy is her husband; the number of his days is doubled
  • avert your eyes from a woman of grace; you will be trapped in her snare
  • do not turn to her husband for strong drink or wine; many have been corrupted by her beauty and mighty are her fatalities
  • many are the wounds of a peddler (referring to forbidden sexual relationships)
  • let many be those who greet you; tell your secrets to one in one thousand
  • from she who lies in your bosom protect the openings of your mouth (referring to sharing secrets with one's wife)
  • do not grieve about tomorrow's troubles, for tomorrow might bring anything including the end of your time here, and the worry will have been about a world that is not his/hers
  • adding to Provers, all the days of the poor are terrible and for the good-hearted it is always a feast, Ben Sira says that all of the nights are terrible as well (regarding worries about the water from rain damaging the roof and the vineyard, both of which are poor quality)
This "poor" is interpreted by the rabbis as the Talmud scholars, for they work so hard at learning Talmud but are faced with questions and problems.  The good-hearted are those who study Mishna, for these provide answers.  Or perhaps the "poor" are those  who have bad wives, and the good-hearted are those who have good wives.   Or this is looking at those who are sensitive and those who are broad-minded.  Or, finally, those who are compassionate and those who are cruel and indifferent to the suffering in the world.  

It is wonderful to see how many interpretations of these words of wisdom can be preserved and even celebrated.  

* note Deuteronomy (20:19) is referenced here, where we learn not to destroy trees or fish skin arbitrarily: "You shall not destroy its trees"

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Sanhedrin 99: Messianic Era, Barred from the World-to-Come, Timna, Torah Lishma

The rabbis begin with questions about the larger circumstances surrounding the coming of moshiach, the messiah.  Will the messianic era be 40 years?  Or will it be 7000 years, based on a proof text that teaches that the bridegroom rejoices over the bride for seven days - and each day to us is one thousand years to G-d?

We learn about some of the differences between prophesies about the messianic era and the World-to-Come.  First, prophesies about the World-to-Come are fraudulent, for we learn from texts that only G-d can see the World-to-Come: "No eye has seen it G-d, aside from You". 

The Gemara tells us who is excluded from experiencing the World-to-Come.  The basic proof text is Numbers (15:31), where it is written that "They despised the word of the Lord and has breached His commandments; his soul shall be excised ..." These people include:

  • one who is not circumcized
  • one who teaches parts of the Torah that are not in accordance with halacha
  • one who humiliates another in public
  • one who studies Torah but does not teach Torah
  • one who could study Torah but does not do so
  • one who worships idols
  • one who speaks of G-d or Moses on Sinai with contempt
  • one who treats a Torah scholar with contempt
  • one who teaches their own interpretations of Torah rather than teaching halacha
Rabbi Akiva teaches us to "Sing every day, sing every day".  Review Torah like song so that we will remember what we have learned.

Proverbs teaches that a man who commits adultery is a man who lacks understanding.  Reish Lakish interprets this to be about learning Torah intermittently, which is like turning away from one's wife and toward another woman.  

Others are critiqued as well, including those who act high-handedly.  In this light, we are told the story of Timna, the daughter of Esau and sister of Lotan who becomes Eliphaz's concubine when the rabbis refuse to allow her to convert.  The rabbis teach that it was a mistake to disallow her conversion; that mistake led to her giving birth to Amalek,a great enemy of Israel.

The rabbis note that one who learns Torah for its own sake, Torah lishma, can be a righteous person.  Weren't all Sages doing this?  

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Sanhedrin 98: Moshiach/Messiah

Amud (a) focuses on Moshiach, the messiah.  How will we know when the messiah has arrived?  What will it take for the messiah to arrive?  How might we hasten that coming?  The rabbis share their ideas, all with prooftexts, of course.  They have numerous thoughts about when the messiah will come, including when the vast majority of Jews are not interested in halacha any longer, or when all of the Jewish community is naive and innocent.  The rabbis take for granted that the messiah will be of the line of King David.  They wonder if he might enter the community from the main gates in Rome.  They also suggest that he might sit with other paupers on the steps of Rome, bandaging his feet differently from others because he will be working toward healing so many people for the remainder of the day.  

Amud (b) shows the rabbis wondering about the pain that will come before and after the messiah arrives.  Will it be like labour pains?  Each rabbi shares his thoughts about who might be the messiah.  The students of each rabbi are certain that their teacher is the one who will be the messiah in the end. One rabbi, Rav Nachman, states that the messiah would be person like himself, where the messiah to come at the time of their conversation.  Again, prooftext are provided for all assertions.   

When people in a certain era focus on the coming of the messiah, it suggests that things are not going well.  When things are going well, generally we do not wish for life to change.  But when many people speak about what it will take to bring on the end of the world - so that we can eventually live on in the World-to-Come - we can assume that life is difficult. 

What a relief it is to think about a messiah.  Especially a messiah in our own lifetime!  But if a messiah were to come when our people are without connection to Torah and halacha, well, now would be the time.  And if a messiah were to come when our people are vulnerable or naive, well, what time was better than the holocaust?  Why wouldn't that warrant the change that the messiah would herald?  So it is though to believe that a messiah is coming any time soon. And I would love to be able to hang onto that luxurious thought.  But I just can't.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Sanhedrin 96: Tales of War and G-d's Will

Some basic thoughts about today's daf:

  • stories describe Sennacherib's defeats
  • G-d is said to be behind each humiliation
  • Sennacherib and Nebuchadnezzar are compared, including the fact that their descendants taught Torah to many
  • G-d played with time:  when Achav died, there were only two hours in the day and when Chizkiyah recovered from his illness, ten hours were returned to the world
  • Warnings are given, including:
    • the city of Dan is where people served idols and where Nebuchadnezzar became strong again
    • the veins of a bird must be cut carefully for birds are roasted and not salted
    • children of ignoramuses who then grow to teach Torah should be honoured
  • When one does a small deed they will be rewarded; all the more so were our ancestors rewarded for their great deeds
  • The story of Nebuchadnezzar's entry to Jerusalem is recounted:
    • hundreds of tools were broken while trying to open the gate
    • one axe was found and Nebuchadnezzar used it to enter the city
    • Nebuchadnezzar on his own slaughtered hundreds of thousands
    • a heavenly voice explained that Nebuchadnezzar was only 'winning' because it was decreed by G-d
    • the blood of people would not stop flowing; it flowed differently from different people
    • Nebuchadnezzar called to Zechariah to stop the blood from flowing
  • We also learn that Nebuchadnezzar feared G-d's return and vengeance
The descriptions of war and bloodshed speak volumes about ancient Israel.  People faced continual fears of torture and death.  There was no expectation of a United Nations or a set of laws that would stop people from attacking each other.  Instead, the Torah was understood as legal and historical guidelines.  If everyone was killed, it was because that was G-d's will.  And G-d would always save Israel eventually.  That type of faith continues to be useful today.  Unfortunately we do not seem to be able to curb horrendous violence regardless of what we believe.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Sanhedrin 94: Chezkiya, Sennacherib and the Longing for Moshiach

Some basic points from today's daf:

  • if a person is afraid and does not know why, it is because his/her angel has seen something to be scared of
  • we might jump four amos, say the shema, or recite a charm: "the goat at the butchery is fatter than I am" to address the threat
  • Chizkiya might have been the moshiach; miracles were performed for him but he did not sing songs of gratitude
  • People longed for moshiach and wondered what would be required for moshiach to finally come
  • King Sennacherib is described in some detail as either good or evil, having exiled the ten tribes of Israel
  • King Sennacherib's fall is detailed
These stories are filled with action, intrigue and confusion.  It is difficult for me to follow many of the details. Particularly when I am looking for a larger, 'big picture' view, it is tough to separate the details from the themes.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Sanhedrin 93: The Power of Righteousness and the Continual Search for Answers

A brief set of thoughts about today's daf:

The rabbis speak further about the three children of Ruth who survive Nebuchadnezzar's furnace.  These are Chananya, Mishael, and Azariya.  They are held up as representatives of the Jewish people; how could we worship idols if these three were saved from flames?  In addition, they are used as an example of strength in numbers. When Yehoshua, the Kohen Gadol, enters the furnace later, his clothing is singed.  This is thought to be proof that he is not as righteous as the three Sages together.  

One story after another teaches us about the brutality of the time.  Who will survive being burned alive?  How do we harm pigs to ensure that they will not breed?  Does righteousness guarantee our protection from harm?  Will there always be a Nebuchadnezzar?  The Kohen Gadol permitted his children to marry women forbidden to kohanim.  Is this his punishment?  Is sexual immorality the most upsetting transgression to G-d?  

We are told about Bar Koziva, knows by many different names, claimed for the two and a half years of his rule that he the Moshiach.  He was tested - the Moshiach is supposed to be able to judge only using the sense of smell - and he failed.  Will there always be false moshiachs; those who claim to be more righteous than they are?  Should these people be tested?  Or ignored; isolated?  

We like to thing of ourselves as more sophisticated than our ancestors; our cell phones and technology shielding and and serving us.  In truth, we live in times just as brutal, just as driven by fundamentalism and desperate questioning.  

Monday, 16 October 2017

Sanhedrin 92: The World-to-Come and Reviving the Dead

The basics of today's daf:

  • There are rewards for teaching Torah, for example:
    • inheritance
    • merit to teach it in the World-to-Come
  • There are punishments for avoiding learning Torah, for example:
    • one is cursed by a fetus
    • one is punctured like a sieve
  • Eleazar's interpretations about the importance of Torah and G-d, for example
    • anyone with knowledge (of Torah and of the ways of the world) will grow wealthy
    • crumbs left on the table are like idolatry
    • a home should have sounds of Torah at night
    • one who is humble lives a long life
  • Wombs and graves are similar:
    • both have a place of entry (semen/grave) and exit (babies/grave - with the revival of the dead)
    • entry is covert but exit will be a tumult
  • How G-d will revive the dead and remake the world
    • flying people
    • Yechezkel is said to have died, revived, stood up, sang songs, and died again, though this may have been a parable
    • some rabbis say that we will not be revived
    • a story of Nebuchadnezzar who stole Yisraelim who were so glorious that the women bled just looking at them, even after Nebuchadnezzar had the young men killed
    • another story of Nebuchadnezzar who sent Sages to the furnace for refusing to bow, and they were said to be revived
    • Molten gold was poured down his throat 
    • The furnace floated
    • The plaster melted
    • The image to be bowed to fell on its face
    • the four kings who helped him were burned
    • Yechezkel revived the dead 
  • A Sage should not change his clothing even at a time of danger, to appear calm, and to remember that the Sages lost to Nebuchadnezzar's furnace walked in and out in their clothing

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Sanhedrin 91: World-to-Come, The Body and the Soul, Jews and Non-Jews

The daughter of the Emperor begins a conversation based on word games and wit.  While discussing bringing the dead to life, she notes that one who can sculpt from water can of course sculpt from clay.  In the same way, G-d can create people from "water" (perhaps from semen) and even more so G-d can create people from dust.  

From this point onward we are introduced to the wit of others, including Gaviha ben Pasisa.  After confronting a heretic with a counter-argument, Gaviha ben Pasisa is insulted by saying that he might be attacked and his hump would be flattened.  Gaviha responds by saying that doctors would want to learn from such a feat.  The heretics are described as a group of people, mostly Christians or non-Christian gnostics who would challenge Jewish biblical interpretations.

A baraita teaches about a nation that returns to Israel after having fled to Africa.  They debate with the Jews in front of Alexander Mukdon, one of the Emperors.  Gavin ben Pasisa convinces the Sages to allow him to argue.  He is able to find proof texts that discount their rights to Israel based on the fact that slaves do not have property, all belongs to their masters.  Further, Israel is owed the years of service taken from them when they left.  This particular story is disturbing given the tie to the displacement of a nation of people in Africa and the modern understandings of the slavery of people who are black.  G-d is said to have given them a gift, as well: witchcraft.

The Gemara discusses the connection between the guf, body, and the neshama, soul.  Each can say that it is exempt from judgement after death.  The body has sat in the ground without sinning.  The neshama has flown like a bird without sinning.  Rabbi tells of a king with a fig orchard guarded by a lame guard and a blind guard.  Together they manage to steal the figs.  The king figures out their crime and they are judged together, for together they can see and walk.

There is an interesting conversation between Antonius and Rebbi.  Antonius asks why the sun rises in the east and sets in the west - Rebbi says that if it were the opposite, he would ask why, too.  Antonius asks why it does not make a full circle and set where it started.  Rabbi says that the sun greets its maker - the Shechina is in the west based on a text.  Then why doesn't it go to the middle of the sky, bow and set in that place?  Rabbi answers that this would not help workers or travellers determine direction.  

Next, Antonius asks when the neshama is put into a person - from conception, as Rama believes, or from the moment when HaShem decides on the nature of the person that will result from a drop of semen, as Rashi believes.  Rabbi says that the neshama is set when the fetus is formed.  Antonius argues that unsalted meat cannot sit for three days and thus the neshama would rot if it did not enter semen immediately.  And what about the yetzer ha'ra?  Does it rule a person from the time a fetus is born or at birth?  Rebbi says that this happens when the fetus is formed.  Antonius argues that it would kick in the womb and force a miscarriage, thus it rules from birth.  Rabbi finds a proof text that agrees with Antonius.  

Reish Lakish quotes texts that teach that in olam ha'ba,  HaShem will gather and heal the exiles from their blemishes.    In which order? Are they blemished or healed?  We are told that death will end for Jews and life will last for a very long time for all others.  In fact, they will serve Jews in the World-to-Come.  Those who seemed bright will then seem dim near the radiance of the Tzadikim.  

Some rabbis suggest that people will be revived by HaShem as they died, and then He will heal them. Others believe that only babies will be given life; people who have died at G-d's hand certainly will not be revived.  Following a review of source texts,  Rev Yehoshua ben Levi notes that one who sings in this life will sing in the World-to-Come.  His proof text comes from a song that we continue to sing today,  Ashrei yoshvei Vetecha, od yehaleluha, happy are those who sit in Your house, until halleluha.  

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Sanhedrin 90: The World-to-Come

Due to the Chagim and Shabbat, there are no blog entries for dapim 87, 88 and 89.  Note that there is fascinating conversation in those dapim particularly related to women's menstrual blood versus women's blood from childbirth, and many other topics.

Today's daf hones in on the appropriate method of capital punishment for a false prophet.  The rabbis suggest that his punishment might be in accordance with the seriousness of his claim.  Is he teaching people to uproot a mitzvah, for example?  And is that mitzvah of great significance?  The rabbis also consider those who falsely convict the daughter of a Kohen.  We then end this Perek and begin the final Perek of Sanhedrin.

A new Mishna teaches that every Jew has a share in Olam Ha'Ba, the World-to-Come.  The only people who do not have are a share are those who:

  • say that the Torah does not teach there there is a World-to-Come, or that G-d did not give the Torah, or an apikoros, an apostate
  • read foreign books, says Rabbi Akiva
  • whisper that they themselves and not G-d are the healers of a wound
  • pronounce G-d's name as it is written
Further, the Mishna states that three kings - Yarav'am, Achav and Menashe - and four commoners - Bil'am, Do'eg, Achitofel and Gechazi - have no share in the World-to-Come.

The Gemara agrees that one who does not believe in a miracle should not benefit from that miracle.   As well, the Gemara wonders whether a person might be cursed by Elisha rather than being blessed.  

A longer conversation is documented regarding what proof texts point to the existence of a World-to-Come.   A number of proofs are shared and then debated.  For example, we learn that teruma is given to the Kohanim of Aaron the Kohen.  Except that the halachot of teruma was not established until after Aaron's death.  Thus we must assume that Aaron had access to teruma in another realm after death, like that of the World-to-Come.  That is not the final argument in this case example, but it helps us to understand the reasoning of the rabbis when they are searching for proof texts.  

Further conversations revolve around the notion of revival of the dead.  Some prophets are said to have been able to revive the dead.  Only G-d is understood to be able to see the future, though.  The rabbis are appreciating the complexity involved in the existence of a World-to-Come.  The rabbis wonder whether or not being punished with 'karet', ex-communication from one's community, is a permanent state.  Does this depend on whether or not a person has repented from his or her sin?  

Our daf ends with the question of whether or not those who return to life will return is a state of nakedness or dress.  The rabbis argue about this as well.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Sanhedrin 86: Kidnapping, Sale, Sages Who Rebel Against the Sanhedrin

Speaking further about kidnapping, the rabbis turn to arguing about the source of our last baraita.  They also discuss who else might be excluded from suspicion of kidnapping, including one's rabbi, one's slave, one's half-slave.  

The Gemara considers which verse might be the one that forbids kidnapping.  Rabbi Yishmael's thirteen methods of expounding are referenced, for one of those methods is to learn from the context. Thus because the previous mitzvot forbid murder and adultery, kidnapping should be assumed to be forbidden as well.  

A case is introduced by Chizkiya and answered by Rabbi Yochanan.  What should be done if two witnesses testify that a person was kidnapped and two other testify that he was sold?  Rabbi Yochanan suggests that those who are huzmu, a first set of conspiring witnesses proven to have been with a third set of witnesses, should be killed.  But is a half-testimony enough?  And what a about kidnapping without actually selling the victims - is this the same crime as kidnapping and selling?

The rabbis consider communication between those who have been kidnapped communication between witnesses, communication between slaves and their owners.  While the power dynamics within these relationships are not detailed in our text, they are implied.  These are the same dynamics that we discuss in today's deliberations regarding consent and capacity.  Who receives which messages from which other person - and how does that psychologically-based information help us understand a conflict and its solution? 

We end our daf with a new Mishna:  A zaken mamrei is one who rebels against the Great Sanhedrin.  One sits at the entrance in the Temple wall, one at the entrance to the Chamber of the Great Sanhedrin, and one at the entrance to the Azarah.  When a Sage opposed his city's beit din, they go to the Sanhedrin at the entrance in the Temple wall.  They say, "this is how I expounded and this is how he expounded.  This is how I learned and this is how they learned".  If the Sanhedrin can solve the question with a tradition that they know applying to this halacha, they do so.  Otherwise they approach the Sanhedrin at the entrance to the Azarah.  If they have no tradition, they all go to the Great Sanhedrin in the Chamber.  If the Sage returns to his city and continues learning as he did before, he is exempt.  If he rules for others to follow in his practice, he is liable.  Thus he is only liable if he teaches others to follow his interpretation.

If a student - one who is not qualified to rule - rules for others to follow, he is exempt.  His disqualification as a leader exempts him from punishment.  

These teachings are helpful for those of us who might have arguments with the rulings of our Sages.  While we have no Temple to approach; no Sanhedrin to which we can appeal for a ruling, we are permitted to ask.  We are even permitted to learn and practice differently from the Sanhedrin, but we must not teach others to practice as we do.  For me, this suggests that if enough people take issue with a halacha and work toward creating a meaningful, text-base change, we might even change our tradition.  The requirement to "not teach" ensures that societal change is very, very slow.  Still, each person (well, each Sage) has the opportunity to think for him or herself.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Sanhedrin 85: Strangers, Sons, Kutim, Jews... Who is Exempt and Who is Liable?

Yesterday we discussed the implications of  fathers, sons, honour, and legal rulings to punish by death.  Today the rabbis begin by asking whether a stranger should have more rights than a son when it comes to lashing a father.  Is it more important to honour G-d and punish those who have transgressed or to keep the halacha regarding hitting or cursing another Jew?  Or a parent?   These questions are applied to sons and strangers who hit and/or curse that son's parent.  We learn in the end that a child is not permitted to hurt his/her parents.

We learn Rav Sheshet's teaching: one is liable to be punished even if one curses or embarrasses another person while that person is sleeping and then dies.  There is no opportunity for this person to become embarrassed, so why is one liable?  Because the dead man's children might be embarrassed.  How much more so should we be careful not to embarrass someone who is able to hear us?

A new Mishna refers back to our last Mishna and the conditions for strangling as a punishment.  We learn that one who wounds his father or mother is not liable unless there is a wound.  However, this suggests that cursing is more dangerous than hitting.  One is liable for cursing one's parent after s/he has died.  One is not liable for wounding one's parent after death, however.  

As part of the Gemara's discussion, we learn that a baraita taught that one of the proofs for this reasoning is in the words, "Ish Ish".  While it might translate to "anyone" or "everyone", Rabbi Yoshiya claims that this includes a daughter, a tumtum (someone who's gender is indiscriminate), an androgynous (one who has more than one set of genitals).  If any of these people curse their parent, they are liable.  

This point is argued.  Perhaps it is a doubling of words, just like how people speak.  Interesting that the rabbis are able to justify the use of a double-word when it suits their interpretation.  This turns into a conversation about whether cursing or hitting is more stringent and whether the two actions might be interchangeable.  The rabbis note that Kutim, Samaritans, are not to be wounded or cursed.  Are they close to being Jews?  Are they held to the same laws and expectations?   Notes by Steinsaltz suggest that there was a debate about whether or not the Kutim were considered to be part of the larger Jewish community.  At this point in time, there are 700 Kutim people left, all in Israel, and they are respected as a separate religious group by the Jewish and Arab communities.  

A second new Mishna is introduced discussing one who kidnaps a Jew.  Is that person liable immediately, or not until he takes that person into his home?  Or until he makes the Jew work?  Or if he also kidnaps the person's son?  What about kidnapping a half-slave?  The rabbis consider the gender of the slave, the gender of the kidnapper, the value of one's work.  They also wonder about the status of a fetus sold while it is inside of its pregnant mother.  That fetus might be called to "work" by blocking the wind of one who sleeps beside the mother.  

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Sanhedrin 84: Strangulation, Hitting One's Parents

The rabbis wonder what amount of damage would render a priest ineligible to practice the Temple rites.  What if he is an acute mourner?  What if he is seated in the Temple? in  Leviticus 21:23 we learn that he cannot approach the alter its a blemish [because it would] desecrate G-d's sacred places. Like a priest who partakes of teruma when ritually impure, this is said to be punishable by death (both desecrate the Temple) at G-d's hand.  Or, if a different verbal analogy is used, by karet.  And then the rabbis apply a number of different possible readings that might result in a number of different punishments.

Perek X begins with a new Mishna. We learn that people who are strangled are those who:
  • hit their father or mother
  • abduct a Jew
  • are rebellious elder according to the court
  • are false prophets
  • prophesize in the name of idol worship
  • have intercourse with a married woman
  • conceding witnesses to testify against the sexual behaviour of the daughter of a priest
  • her paramour
The remainder of our daf focuses on the first of these situations, when one hits a parent.  The rabbis first consider which punishment is actually most appropriate.  They continue to argue about which is the most severe of the capital punishments available.  The Gemara also looks to similar cases: punishments for those who wound parents, those who wound animals, those who kill strangers.  We are reminded that there are exemptions from severe punishments by those who unintentionally harm people or animals, those who wound people or animals to heal them, and those who wound people or animals without causing bleeding.

Moving forward - or sideways - from this conversation the rabbis ask whether a son is permitted to perform bloodletting on his father. This is an act of healing or curing, but it also wounds one's father and causes bleeding.  If the father wants it, perhaps bloodletting should be permitted.  Cases are discussed to further elucidate and explain this question more fully.  Can a thorn be removed from one's father?  It might cause him to bleed.  What about on Shabbat?  Moving a small needle to remove a thorn on Shabbat may or may not be considered to be a destructive act.  Does it matter that the action may have nothing to do with tasks forbidden on Shabbat based on honouring the Mishkan?

Sanhedrin 83: Order of Operations and Consequences

A note:

In daf 80 and the start of daf 81, among many other things, we learn about how to speak respectfully to a parent who is wrong.

In daf 83, We learn in a Mishna that certain tasks preparing things for holiness must be done in certain places, times and contexts.  These include putting oil on a mincha, breaking it into pieces, salting an offering, waving it, and fixing the candles on a menorah.  In our Gemara, the rabbis argue about what is mentioned and what is not mentioned; what type of law is transgressed.

A baraita is said to teach that people who do a number of actions, including a Kohen who eats ritually impure teruma.  The rabbis argue about whether and how this might be true.  But how are such things punished?  The rabbis consider what the punishment might be for a zav who transgresses by eating teruma.  The also discuss what to do about one who wrongly takes part in religious practice.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Sanhedrin 79: Intentionality, Monetary Consequences, Murderers All of Them

Today's daf includes two Mishnayot and some relatively straightforward ideas.  I'll attempt to share all of these.

Our new Mishna teaches about liability when murder is intended for a person other than the one who is killed.  Case examples of liability include when:
  • one intends to kill an animal and kills a person
  • one intends to kill a Gentile and kills a Jew
  • one intends to kill a non-viable baby and kills a viable baby
  • one intends to hit someone on the leg which would not have killed him but hits someone on the chest with the same force and kills him
  • on intends to kill someone with a blow to the leg but he would not have been killed; instead he hits this person on the chest which does kill him
  • one intends to hit an adult but accidentally kills a minor
  • one who intended to hit a minor but hit an adult where the adult died for another reason
One is exempt from the death penalty when:
  • he intended to kill an adult but hit a minor with the same force, killing the minor, and
  • he intended to kill someone by a blow to the loins but the same blow to the heart was fatal
The rabbis discuss these cases as proof that intention is critical important when determining the liability of the aggressor.  

The Gemara turns to cases where monetary restitution is the appropriate consequence.  The case of a pregnant woman who loses her baby due to two men fighting near her and accidentally throwing her down.  The potential life lost cannot be replaced, and so the baby's father puts forward a price for the loss of that child, which is paid by the aggressor.  Further, the famous Exodus phrase, an eye for an eye, is discussed here.  The rabbis note that we do not take a physical eye for the loss of another eye.  Instead we take payment for the loss of that eye.

Before looking at a second Mishna, we learn that animals that are killed, accidentally or not, are consequenced monetarily.  Sometimes this is exempted, and we learn that the discussion takes place because the death penalty would have erased the possibility of a second, more lenient consequence.  

Our second Mishna teaches that when a murderer is next to a group of people and we cannot determine which person he is, then the entire group is held in a cell until they die.   Do we prefer to agree that all of these people are potentially murderers? Or that all of these people are potentially exempt?