Thursday, April 28, 2005

Dreaming of Signs

I realize this post is two days late, but I felt it necessary to post something, albeit brief, about the dream sugiyot.
One persistent theme I found almost throughout is the connection between dreams and the importance of language and signs (apologies to all you semioticians out there who don't distinguish between the two).
Some schools of thought believe that thought comes before language. Meaning, people have thoughts and think of images, and language is a pale reflection of those thoughts. In the past few decades, theorists have come to believe that thoughts are framed by language, and there is thus no point in trying to get behind one's language and culture in viewing one's "true" thoughts, because ha beha taliya, one's ideas cannot be separated from language and context.
Our sages in the sugya on dreams seem to take this second view of signs and language. Frequently in the sugya, images are interpreted using verses in the Bible, suggesting that both donkeys and biblical texts are interchangeble. Both are signs, and thus the image of the ox can easily be interpreted using another verse that mentions oxen.
Similarly, interpretations of dream can be interpreted not only based on the object itself, but also the Hebrew name for the image. In fact, in one spot, we are told that when one views a can in a dream, its interpretation can depend on whether one pronounces its Aramaic form as Shinra or Shunra. Language and image become intertwined.
On 55b, R. Yonatan states that a person is only shown products of his/her own thoughts. Rava proves this by noting that people never see a palm tree of gold in their dreams because they never think about such images. These passages suggest that even if dreams are divinely influenced, they can never be detached from language and culture.
I think the most apt metaphor for a dream in rabbinic thought would be a text. Dreams, like texts, can be interpreted in different ways, and their meanings end up following their interpretations, rather than having an "objective meaning. Even the image guide mentioned later in the sugeya (like about someone who dreams about barley, etc.) can be seen as instructions about how to view a dream positively. (This would explain why that passage even views a death as a positive dream.) As in Torah sheba'al peh, the mouth ends up as the prime interpreter of the text, which explains the literal meaning of the statement that dreams follow the "mouth."
Like texts, dreams can be interpreted differently based on the different intertexts (parallel texts) that they are compared to. This explains why, towards the beginning of the dream sugeyot, the Gemara gives advice for what one should do after seeing various images in a dream. For example, if one sees a river in a dream, he/she should recite (notice the verbal aspect) a verse with a positive mention of a river before he/she thinks of a verse with a negative mention of a river. One must interpret the dream positively by relating it to a positive intertext, pushing the dream in a positive direction.
This comparison would explain why meanings of a dream can be flexible, even if they can be prophetic. Heaven gives us the text, it is our job to interpret it and make the best of it.
Hag Sameah.

Dream correspondences

On Berakhoth 57a-b (among the דפים in the Bavli that are highest in word-density per page), there is a long list of dream-correspondences. If you see X, this means X' (“X-prime”). If you see Y, this means Y'. If you see Z, this means Z', but Rabbi A says that it means Z'' (“Z double-prime”).

To us people who are doing סוּפֶּר־בְּקִיאוּת (or should I spell that as סוּפֶּר־בְּקִיאוּס, in order to make the sound clear to non-speakers of Ashkenazzis?), this section is quite tedious. It merely consists of apodictic statement after apodictic statment, with almost no שַׁקְלָא וְטַרְיָא, and almost no connection between one statement and the next. (For those of you who don't know, apodictic is the term used by מַרָּנָא וְרַבָּנָא דָּוִד חִוָּרָא-- who is known in Hebrew as מוֹרֵנוּ וְרַבֵּנוּ דָּוִד הַלִּבְנִי, and in English as our teacher and master David Weiss-- to refer to short, assertative statements, which do not involve פֵּירוּשׁ or שַׁקְלָא וְטַרְיָא.)

Yet I think that there is a fair amount of literary structure in this סוּגְיָא (if, indeed, it merits the name סוּגְיָא). I don't have time to analyze the literary structure right now, because we are doing סוּפֶּר־בְּקִיאוּת (also known as Daf Yomi), and 57 was already two days ago. Let me just point out the following points:

1) At least two items on the list are related to holidays: shofar (two-thirds of the way down on 56b) and lulav (two-thirds of the way down on 57a); we also have שְׂעוֹרִים (barley, related to Nisan 16, יוֹם הֶנֶף, the day when ספירת העומר starts), and חִטִּים (wheat, related to the שְׁתֵּי הַלֶּחֶם offered on Shavu`oth, the day when ספירת העומר ends), and each of these two species can be made into מַצָּה, a food that is related to the festivals of פֶּסַח and חַג הַמַּצּוֹת. And olive oil (שֶׁמֶן זַיִת) is related to Hanukka. Is there any literary connection between the symbolism associated with these various holidays?

I find it interesting that if one sees barley in one's dream, it means that one's sins are forgiven. Isn't barley considered by the rabbis to be מַאֲכַל בְּהֵמָה? I am reminded of the famous derasha that on Passover, we are like animals, who have just been taken out of captivity. Therefore, we offer barley on Nisan 16. Our sins are forgiven at this point. Yet we must still go through the refining process of ספירת העומר, during which we better ourselves, and God feeds us with manna (מָן), until we can become true human beings. Then, when the refinement process is over, we become human beings, and we offer the שְׁתֵּי הַלֶּחֶם, made of wheat-- wheat made into hametz, no less-- on Shavu`oth. At this point, we receive the Torah. And the Torah is associated with שלום, so perhaps it is appropriate that wheat in dreams symbolizes שלום.

וְיָשֵׂם-- וְיָשֵׂם
לְךָ-- לְךָ
שָׁלוֹם-- אַיי יַי יַי יַי יַי יַי יַי יַי יַי שָׁלוֹם

(And if you had a disturbing dream last night, you can say the special רבונו של עולם prayer, found on 55b, during the aye yay yay yay yay. But I couldn't do that this morning, because I was the שליח צבור, leading the priest in the ritual. Why did we dukhen at Shtein this morning? Because we followed the pesaq that one should dukhen on חול המועד.)

Kalmin on Rav Shesheth

Pieces of notes from Prof. Kalmin's שיעור, in which he dealt with the story of Rav Shesheth and the מין.

Yonah Fraenkel. “Bible Verses in the Tales of the Sages”, Scripta Hierosolymitana 22 (1971). pp. 80 ff.

I. Thesis: Quotations from Scripture placed in the mouths of aggadic figures are in­trinsic parts of the story, and they show “that the sages perform all their work with absolute confidence, that all their endeavors are directed toward truth, and that the source of the spiritual power of their actions derives from the Bible. (99)

IV. Rav Shesheth and the min (Berakhoth 58a):
a. Conspicuous external phenomena do not accompany the king, because he derives his sovereignty from God; therefore, the king’s arrival will be like God’s arrival.
b. How do we know the manner of God’s arrival? From Scripture, of course: צא ועמדת בהר לפני ה' והנה ה' עובר ורוח גדולה וחזק מפרק הרים ומשבר סלעים לפני ה' לא ברוח ה' ואחר הרוח רעש לא ברעש ה' ואחר הרעש אש לא באש ה' ואחר האש קול דממה דקה (I Kings 19:11 f.).
c. The min denies the connection between the heavenly and earthly worlds. His punishment is that he is annihilated.

What does this story mean?
•The correct reading in this story is not מינא, but מינא בר־בי־רב (certainly not צדוקי!) The expression "מינא בר־בי־רב" is unparalleled, and seems to mean something like “a heretic Rabbi”.
•Rav Shesheth is the archetypical Babylonian blind sage. What is he doing talking with a min? We never elsewhere find a Babylonian Amora speaking to a min. (In one place, we find a sage named רבא speaking with a min, but רבא could be a Palestinian רבי אבא.)
•Because this story involves a min, and because it uses the expression "גל של עצמות", Kalmin argues that it was originally a Palestinian story. When it reached Babylonia, Babylonians plugged in the name of Rav Shesheth, the archetypical Babylonian sage. However, it was strange for a Babylonian sage to be talking to a min, so the min became a "מינא בר־בי־רב" (“heretic / rabbi”).
•Kalmin says: This story, too expresses rabbinic anxiety. The issue around which this story revolves is who has the ability to interpret reality? The min has the senses of sight and hearing, whereas the rabbi has only the sense of hearing. However, the rabbi has scripture, which the min does not, so only the rabbi has the ability to interpret reality.
•Kalmin reads this story as an allegory: The rabbi, who is blind, represents the Jews, who are physically powerless. The min, who has sight, represents the gentiles, who have power. However, only the Jews have scripture, which gives them the ability to perceive the king, who represents either הקדוש־ברוך־הוא or the Messiah. (If the king represents the Messiah, then the story could be an anti-Christian polemic. The Christians say: “Look, the king has come already.” The Jews respond: “No, we know more than you, because we have scripture. The king is not here yet.”)

*The religious polemics with gentiles with regard to how to interpret reality were a great source of anxiety for the rabbis.
•If we emphasize the fact that the min is a מינא בר־בי־רב, the story represents the power (or lack thereof) of rabbis over other people in the rabbinic movement. This, too, was very anxiety-provoking.

rtd/cd siyyum on brachot?

rabosai, how about a rtd/cd siyyum in my apartment (roommates permitting)?

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Bibliography on Dreams

We daffers are currently in the middle of what Prof. Avraham Weiss ז"ל called "מסכת החלומות". The equivalent passage in the Yerushalmi is in מעשר שני, פרק ד הלכה ו. Perhaps some ReclaimingTheDaffers would be interested in reading some of the articles that modern חוֹקְרִים have written on the topic of these “dream-books”.

A quick search on RAMBI for “Talmud AND dreams” yielded the following results. I have not had a chance to actually see any of these articles, so I cannot vouch for their quality. However, I have heard Prof. Richard Kalmin (author of article #3 on the list) lecture on the topic, and I can assure you that his lecture was interesting.
(Kalmin argued that in ארץ ישראל, the land of the Yerushalmi, it was acceptable for rabbis to interpret dreams, whereas in Babylonia, this was not considered appropriate. This is why the Bavli hates Bar Haddaya so much. Part of the reason that the Babylonian rabbis, both Amoraim and Stammaim, wrote so many dream “translations” into this מסכת חלומות was that they wanted to put people like Bar Haddaya out of business.)


1. Alexander, Philip S. Bavli. “Berakhot 55a-57b; the talmudic dreambook in context.” Journal of Jewish Studies 46 (1995). 230-248

2. Spero, Moshe Halevi. “Dream psychology in talmudic thought.” PAOJS 3-4 (1976). 123-132

3. Kalmin, Richard Lee. “Dreams and dream interpreters.” Sages, Stories, Authors, and Editors in Rabbinic Babylonia (1994). 61-80

4. Neusner, Jacob. “In the view of rabbinic Judaism, what, exactly, ended with prophecy?” Mediators of the Divine (1998). 45-60

5. Koet, Bart Jan. “ ‘Sag lieber, dass er diesen Traum positiv deuten soll’; über die Traumdeutung nach einem rabbinischen Traumbuch (Babylonischer Talmud Berachot 55-57).” Kirche und Israel 17,2 (2002). 133-149

6. Ulmer, Rivka. “The semiotics of the dream sequence in Talmud Yerushalmi Ma`aser Sheni.” Henoch 23,2-3 (2001). 305-323

Greater the one who answers than the one who blesses:

On 53b, we have the following:

והתניא, רבי יוסי אומר: גדול העונה אמן יותר מן המברך! אמר ליה רבי נהוראי: השמים! כן הוא; תדע, שהרי גוליירין יורדין ומתגרין במלחמה וגבורים יורדין ומנצחין.
One who answers a blessing is comparing to a seasoned warrior who gets the credit for the victory. Knowing that there is שומע כעונה, that one says a ברכה for the whole, I wonder about the one who is the person saying the ברכה. Shouldn’t that one person be praised for being the one taking the lead?

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

sweet dreams are made of this...

daf dream interpretation is just not doing it for me.