Friday, April 15, 2005


Responding to Mar Gavriel's question: I don't say changing our practice as "getting rid of" the halakhah. Rather, I see it as a different interpretation that we hold due to changes in how we view women. The assumption made by the Stam is that women are only (at best) two-thirds of a man (it's a little too tempting to recall the three-fifths compromise). In our day, when we assume that women are equal to men (in what way, I'll leave to a machloket between second and third wave feminism), women have an obligation to make a mezumenet.
Robert Cover, in his article "Nomos and Narrative," argues that law cannot be divorced from assumptions, hopes dreams, philosophies, etc. which we refers to as "narrative." I therefore find it difficult interpret the halakhah as zimun only being a reshut for women when Tosafot's reading is premised upon the belief that women are only two-thirds of a man.
I'd like to hear from anyone else who has read the Robert Cover article how they would apply it to our case.

Women, Zimmun, and Minyan

Women, Zimmun, and Minyan

(the title of this posting almost rhymes: wimmin, zimmin, and minyin)

Yesterday, we saw a whole discussion in the סתם concerning whether or not two people (presumably men) may do זִמּוּן as a רְשׁוּת (non-obligatory action). One of the pieces of evidence adduced was the following בָּרַיְיתָא:

נשים מזמנות לעצמן ועבדים מזמנות לעצמן; נשים ועבדים וקטנים אם רצו לזמן אין מזמנין

The assumption is that this proves that a group of two men may perdorm זִמּוּן, because, as the Stam explains,

והא מאה נשי כתרי גברי דמיין
One hundred women are equivalent to two men.

What does this mean-- equivalent in what way? Surely, I would not say that in terms of intellectual potential, potential for חסד, potential earning power, or any other potential, any two men are as “good” as one hundred women.

Let’s look at Rishonic explanations. Rashi comments:

דאפילו מאה כתרי דמיין לענין חובה, דאין חייבות לזמן, ואם רצו מזמנין

Rashi explains this in terms of obligation. Women are not obligated to do זימון, and therefore, 100 women have the same level of obligation to do זימון as two men do. Nevertheless, just as 100 women may choose to do זימון, so may two men.

(Remember, this is all within the הוה אמינא. The Gemara rejects the idea that two men may choose to do זימון, because שאני התם דאיכא דעות, the case of three women is different from that of two men, because when three women are present, there are three different דֵּעוֹת, independent personalities.)

Yet Rashi seems to be ignoring (or perhaps rejecting) the סוגיא in Tractate ערכין, which says that women are מחוייבות בזימון. I have not actually seen this other סוגיא, but I have seen it alluded to in Tosafos, and I have heard friends talk about it. If, in fact, the two סוּגְיֵי are not mutually contradictory, what can the statement מאה כתרי דמיין in our סוגיא mean?

Tosofos write:
והא מאה נשי כתרי גברי דמיין לענין קבוץ תפילה ולענין כל דבר שבעשרה, ואפילו הכי חשבינן להו כשלשה , והוא הדין לשנים.
In other words, even 100 women count only as two men in terms of a מנין for prayer. (So, does that mean that if ten men can form a מנין, five hundred women can do so, as well? I'm not being tongue-in-cheek. Perhaps this is a real possibility.)

But whence do the Tosafists derive this idea that women can't count in a מנין? Does anyone know where in the Bavli the idea of דברים שבעשרה is discussed in depth? I seem to remember that there is something about it in Tractate מגילה, but I haven't looked at that tractate in many years.

How does this fit into lia’s (or was it mivami’s) idea of getting rid of מנהגים or הלכות that don’t fit with our current conceptions of what is right?

גּוּט שַׁבָּת לְכֻלְּכוֹן,
Mar Gavriel

Thursday, April 14, 2005

You Are What You Eat

Responding to Bryan's question: Even if current nutritional science proves Hazal's advice incorrect, we can still derive an important message for our own day. I read their statement about meat restoring life and other similar statements as telling us that we are and become what we eat. Berakhot has taught us so far that eating is not just something we do to satiate ourselves, but rather affects how we live the rest of our lives. The nutrition advice from Berakhot is an imaginative function of this belief, but still a true one in its own way.

“Woe to the house that has vegetables passing through it”

Disclaimer: My reading of the text is not a personal attack on anyone’s particular eating habits. I am just reporting some of my musings on an aspect of yesterday’s דף.

אוי לו לבית שהלפת עוברת בתוכו. איני? והא אמר ליה רבא לשמעיה: כי חזית לפתא בשוקא - לא תימא לי: במאי כרכת ריפתא! אמר אביי: מבלי בשר; ורבא אמר: מבלי יין. איתמר, רב אמר: מבלי בשר; ושמואל אמר: מבלי עצים; ורבי יוחנן אמר: מבלי יין.
On :ברכות מ"ד, the סתם expounds on a series of warnings about food consumption. Among the list is the idea that a house with vegetables passing through should be concerned. When I first looked at this text, I felt the סתם was presenting the culmination of some form of warning against vegetarianism. There is discussion of the ill effects of eating raw vegetables and not completely grown foods. Furthermore, the גמרא also discusses the positive powers of eating meat and fish. The גמרא sees a sympathetic effect of eating נפש providing a renewed vitality in a person. The discussion then leads into this last piece, where people are warned about having a house without alternatives to vegetables, be it meat, wine or even a better cooking system.

I leave this open to debate as another situation, ala the תלמיד חכם, of a difficult non-halachic statement from the גמרא. Can we figure out if there is any means of including statements of this nature in our lives? Or should we say, ‘that’s an interesting perspective… lets move on?”

The Nose Knows

In yesterday's daf, 43b, discusses the blessing we make on aromas. The proof for the necessity of making a berakhah on aromas comes from kol haneshamah tehalel kah, every soul shall praise God. R. Zutra's proof from this verse is: what is something that soul but not the body derives benefit from? We must say that it refers to the sense of smell. This proof assumes that the sense of smell connects to the soul more than any of the other five senses.
I was bothered by why the sense of smell should be considered any less physical than the other senses. Even if the nose does not perceive anything tangible, I was still perplexed as to why an aroma should be considered any less physical than soundwaves, which are also intangible.
I was thinking that the difference might lie in how difficult it is to create aroma vs. sound. Sound can be created through mere speech. Sound can therefore be converted more easily than smell. It is easier to change the sound that one makes than to change one's odor. The smell of an object reflects more about the inherent nature of something than the sound it makes. Therefore, we can say that smelling something connects someone to its intangible essence, which can therefore only be done by the soul.
This might also be expressed in the continuation of the sugeya, which says that in the future the young men of Israel will smell like the Lebanon forest, suggesting that their pleasant smell will reflect their beautiful natures.
Unfortunately, I don't have Maharal's Hiddushei Aggadah in the house, so I can't check to see if the Maharal says anything like this. If anyone can check that would be great.
Any alternative readings of these passages would be appreciated.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

May a talmid hakham speak with a woman in public?

In yesterday’s daf, 43b, we read that there are six activities that are disgraceful (גנאי) for a תלמיד חכם. One of them was ואל יספר עם האשה בשוק. How should we deal with this in terms of הלכה למעשה (or possibly מוסר למעשה) today? Note that in order to simplify the issue, I am leaving out of consideration the fact that we have female תלמידות חכמים and even תלמידות חכמות today; if any of you has thoughts from an angle that considers this fact, please put up a comment on this posting.

1) My first thought for a קולא was that perhaps the verb לספר refers only to flirting. However, even if this is a correct interpretation of the original ברייתא, we cannot use this as הלכה למעשה, because Rav Hisda (supported by the possibly fictitious ברייתא) says that this applies even to one’s sister, daughter, or wife, with whom one cerainly would not be flirting.

2) My second thought was that גנאי לו does not imply an actual prohibition. Rather, this is merely a list of behaviors that חז"ל (sorry to be so vague) considered inappropriate, in their social context, for the dignity of a תלמיד חכם. Perhaps, we can learn from this that תלמידי חכמים today should not perform behaviors that are undignified in their own social contexts. In a chareidi social context, for example, a תלמיד חכם should probably not speak with a woman on the street (nor should he surf the internet, lest he be perceived as looking at pornography). What would be the corresponding inappropriate actions for תלמידי חכמים in “our” society?

[I put “our” in quotation marks, because this site is meant for people who are in many different societies. Yet as far as I know, all the people who are currently posting on this site are from the same Liberal Orthodox or Highly Traditional Conservative Jewish society, which [at least up here on the UWS] are largely the same society.

3) How far do we take this idea of changing social expectations. We would probably agree that we can apply it to statements of מוסר made by חז"ל, but can we apply it to statements of הלכה made by חז"ל. Or statements of מוסר or הלכה made by the Torah itself? At JTS, there is a raging debate about the permissibility (or not) of משכב זכר.

From the halakhic comments that I have made on this blog so far, I think that most of you know where I stand in terms of the continued binding nature of halakha. But not everyone has the same opinions that I do.

And in any event, it is often very difficult to determine whether a particular line is הלכה or מוסר? Did חז"ל even have a concept that they were different? Did the Torah?

Discussion, anyone?

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Excuses, Excuses

רב פפא איקלע לבי רב הונא בריה דרב איקא, אייתו לקמייהו שמן והדס, שקל רב פפא בריך אהדס ברישא והדר בריך אשמן. אמר ליה: לא סבר לה מר הלכה כדברי המכריע? - אמר ליה, הכי אמר רבא: הלכה כבית הלל. ולא היא, לאשתמוטי נפשיה הוא דעבד

On :ברכות מ"ג, the גמרא mentions an encounter between רב פפא and רב הונא the son of רב איקא. After proving that one follows the opinion of בית שמאי regarding the order of ברכות for smelling oil and myrtle brought to the table at the same time, the סתם relates that רב פפא does not follow the opinion of בית שמאי and blesses the הדס before the שמן. The גמרא then says that רב פפא responded by quoting רבא who says we follow the opinion of בית הלל. The סתם then concludes that רב פפא was merely making an excuse for his actions.

What I find striking is that to get out of the problem of which opinion to follow, the final statement of the סתם is to do away with the quotation of רבא instead of further grappling with the problem. Furthermore, I would be surprised that רב פפא would have been so flippant and made such a statement unless he thought it to be true. In other words, perhaps רב פפא has an explanation for following בית הלל that we don’t know about and the סתם doesn’t want us to know about for whatever reason.

Should everyone recite Birkath Hammazon?

In the story that spills over from the bottom of yesterday’s daf, 42b, onto today’s daf, 43a, we find that when Rav’s students were returning from the burial of their master (לא עלינו), they did not know whether the invitation to eat bread, ניזיל וניכול לחמא בדוכתא פלניתא, without reclining, counted as קביעת סעודה. As I read the story (and I may be over-reading), they were unwilling to bentsh until they could find out whether one person should bentsh for all of them, or each man (sorry, but I’m pretty sure that they were all men) should bentsh for himself. Rav Adda bar Ahava tore his garment, already rent because of the death of Rav, as a sign of mourning for the forgetting of הלכה. Finally, an old man told them that ניזיל וניכול לחמא בדוך פלן does count as קביעת סעודה.

Clearly, this issue was of great importance to the students of Rav, which is what leads me to think that they were unwilling to bentsh until resolving this issue. This suggests that it is not merely an option for one person to bentsh out loud and all the other guests to listen and respond אָמֵן; it may very well be a חיוב גמור. Thus, the way we Ashenazzi Manhattanites bentsh may be opposed to הלכה. (I recognize that there may be people on this list who do not live in Manhattan, but what do they know? As to non-Ashkenazzim, I would be happy for them to report how they perform the ritual of ברכת המזון in the presence of company. Are there any non-Ashkenazzim out there on Reclaiming the Daf?)

I should see what גאונים and ראשונים say about this topic. Perhaps significantly, תוספות, who point out that “we” (in 12th-13th century Tzorefas) do not have הסבה, do not saying anything implying that “we” do not sit quietly and listen to one person bentsh.

Have a happy 3rd of Nisan. The tribal chieftain who offered his קרבן today was אליאב בן חילן, and I think that the first פרה אֲדֻמָּה was prepared today. (It might have been yesterday.) Of course, I do not believe in these dates as having any kind of historical reality, but they are true-- truer than true-- in the beautiful rabbinic system that we call Yiddishkeit.

Borei Nefashoth

I see that there has been a slim turnout of posters today. (As far as I can tell, I am the only one who has posted in the past 24 hours.)

I just wanted to point out what many of you might have noticed or sensed, but been to scared to admit: we have been studying the laws of ברכות הנהנין for almost a week now, and all along, the assumption in the תלמוד has been that whenever one does not follow a food with the full Grace After Meals (שלש ברכות) or the abbreviated Grace (מעין שלש), one says no blessing after it. The only mention of the blessing בורא נפשות רבות was in a הוה אמינא of the Stam a few days ago, in explaining how a certain מימרא, which said that a certain sage said a blessing after a certain food, did not necessarily mean that the said sage had said שלש ברכות or מעין שלש.

Certainly, it seems that recitation of בורא נפשות after food is, at the earliest, from the very end of the Talmudic period. Is it possible that its general application to all "minor" foods entirely post-Talmudic? Are we Jews so scared of not reciting a ברכה after certain foods that we must say בורא נפשות? Or is it a positive thing: we have so much יראת שמים that we feel that we must praise the almighty המקום at every possible opportunity?

Monday, April 11, 2005


Perhaps the following post is inappropriate for this forum, because it is of a more personal nature, and is not directly relevant to the דף. If you find this posting to be irrelevant and inappropriate for this site, comment on it thus, and I shall try to write no more posts of this kind.

And now, for the body of this e-mail: over the last few days, I have started to learn some תוספות with the דף of the day. (Until that point, I had not even been trying to learn any תוספות with the דף.) To my suprise, I have for the first time come to really love learning תוספות. Whether or not I would want to pasken like them, I find great enjoyment in learning them, and recognize their importance not only in the history of interpretation, but in the history, and interpretational sources, of הלכה.

I believe that the reason that I have come to like תוספות now is because I am understanding them much better than before. It is strange that the סוּפֶּר־בְּקִיאוּת (super-beki'us) of דף יומי could improve my skills in reading תוספות. Perhaps, it is because when I do תוספות with דף יומי, I read far more blocks of תוספות per day, even though I am spending much less time on each individual block of תוספות. (Blocks of תוספות are what Yeshivish people call “tosfosin”. I find this Yeshivish word rather silly.)

Maybe I shouldn’t spend שבת with my anti-תוספות friend who is a Rabbi in סְפָרָא אֲרִיכָא. He might divert me from the direction in which I am tending.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Mother knows best

We have our second text quoting the mother of an אמורא. This time, we find the סתם using a personal account of a home-made remedy as proof for an Amoraic statement.

אמר רבי חמא ברבי חנינא: הרגיל בקצח אינו בא לידי כאב לב. מיתיבי, רבי שמעון בן גמליאל אומר: קצח - אחד מששים סמני המות הוא, והישן למזרח גרנו - דמו בראשו! לא קשיא: הא בריחו, הא בטעמו. אימיה דרבי ירמיה אפיא ליה ריפתא, ומדבקא ליה ומקלפא ליה
רבי ירמיה’s mother was careful that her son would not consume the poisonous black cumin (קצח) and would only have its taste, which seems to have helped with the pains of the heart.

Hi Everyone

It's FS, here to say that we're nearing the omer count on daf days. I can't believe I've made it this far.

Benjamin the Shepherd

Hey, virtual friends:

In a comment that I just made on DKP’s post “sheásani yisrael”, I promised that I would write a post on the theologico-social (or socio-theological) implication of the discussion of Benjamin the Shepherd’s bentshing.

First, a note that is probably boring to most of you. Who knows, one of you might find it interesting, so I am including it: the variant text quoted by בית יוסף in its note on אורח חיים קסז:י calls our protagonist מנימין רעיא, rather than בנימין רעיא. This is a common switch between the labials b and m, and I believe that the Talmudic name מניומי is related to the name מנימין / בנימין.

Now, I point out that our story deals with the liturgy of an untutored man. Presumably, Benjamin the Shepherd has composed this text himself. Right after we have quoted a line saying that we must say ברכות in exactly the מטבע that the Sages formulated, we find a statement quoted in which Rav says that Benjamin’s blessing is valid. (Of course, the Stam has to come along and ruin this beautiful pluralistic openness, and tell us that Benjamin hadn’t really fulfilled the obligation of the full ברכת המזון, but only the obligation of the first ברכה. What, should he then recite versions of the other three blessings, even though he has probably never heard of them? I have seen Sephardic prayerbooks that include a special abbreviated version of the four שלש ברכות, meant for women, in which the first ברכה is Benjamin’s blessing, in Aramaic, and the other three are abbreviated versions, in Hebrew, of the Sages’ blessings. What does this accomplish?)

This whole discussion raises interesting questions for us: How are we Talmudic Jews to view the untutored? Should we dumb down the Talmudic law, Artscrollize it into little books and pamphlets, and force it down the throats of the עמי ארצות (or amarotzim, in Yiddish)? Should we respect the personal prayers that they already say, and consider them to be valid alternatives to our prayers? Should we encourage them to say both their prayers and ours? In many communities, women said tkhines (תחינות), either out of their own heads or out of printed tkhines-books, in which they poured out their hearts and souls. Should we force them to give up their tkhines, and say the nineteen שמונה עשרה ברכות? Should we encourage them to continue saying only their tkhines? Should we encourage them to say both their tkhines AND our שמונה עשרה ברכות?

Certainly, we should not overburden such people with all sorts of unnecessary חוּמְרֵי (what you would call חוּמְרוֹת), which will be pointless and potentially harmful to them. Remember: nobody is obligated to say פסוקי דזמרא, or קדושתא דסדרא, or much else that is printed in our סִדּוּרִים. Half of the Jewish people (the women) are obligated to say only י"ח ברכות, and the other half (the men) is obligated to say three extra ברכות in the morning, and four extra ברכות in the evening. In addition, the men have an obligation to recite three scriptural passages (totalling no more than twenty פסוקים) in the morning and the evening.

On a personal note: today is the first day of ניסן, and therefore the first day to say the beautiful blessing on the first flowering of trees for the year. (I don't know whence Artscroll got its idea that they have to be fruit trees; this is found neither in the Bavli, nor in the Rambam, nor in the טור, nor in the שולחן ערוך. It is, however, in the Sepharadi Mahzor עוד יוסף חי for Pesah. Go figure.) This blessing is first quoted by Rav Yehuda on ברכות מ"ג, Tuesday's daf. At first, I thought: it would be cool to learn that daf in a park, and when arriving at the מימרא of Rav Yehuda, to go up to a tree and recite the מימרא, including the blessing, and to have כוונה to fulfill the blessing through the recitation of it in the learning. This would be like היה קורא בתורה והגיע זמן מקרא אם כוון לבו יצא. Then, I thought: Sure, that would be cool, but it would be making הלכה into a sort of a game. I love the beauty of the trees, and want to bless God, who created them, at the earliest possible moment. זריזין מקדימין למצוות. I called up DR (or, as DKP calls him, DLR), and we went out to Sakura Park, to say the ברכה together. Gevalt!

Sheásani Yisrael

In yesterday's daf, 40b, we find a shepherd making up his own berakhah in Aramaic instead of the traditional birkat hamazon. The Stam (the anonymous layer of the Talmud) defends the use of the benediction as a fulfillment of the first berakhah of birkat hamazon. The Stam tells us that the story of the shepherd comes to teach us that he fulfilled his duty even though he recited the blessing to God in another language. The Stam then questions the novelty of this innovation, since we have already learned this principle from the Mishnah Sotah which teaches us that, among other things, prayer and birkat hamazon can be recited in any language. The Stam concludes that, nonetheless, we might have thought that prayer, birkat hamazon, etc. must be recited as exact translations of the original Hebrew, without allowing for innovation. Therefore, the story of the shepherd comes to teach us that the he fulfilled his obligation through any formulation a berakhah because he used God's name and an expression of God's kingship. Notice as well that the use of the statement "kol hameshaneh mimatbeá she'tavu hakhamim bevrakhot lo yatsa yedei hovato" appears nowhere in this sugeya, suggesting that the Stam only meant this rule might only apply to berakhot on foods.
This leads us to the following halakhic conclusion: according to the Stam of this sugeya, we might be able to change some of the content of berakhot in the context of prayer as long as we use God's name, His/Her attribute of kingship, and the word Barukh. Therefore, forgetting about the apologetics defending the "shelo asani..." format of our morning berakhot, it still stands to reason that the formulation "sheásani yisrael" or "sheásani ben chorin" expresses these apologia in a more positive and less offensive manner than "shelo asani..." Although many might still want to still retain the traditional wording of these berakhot, those who do should not claim that those who say "sheásani yisrael" are not fullfilling their obligation.