Thursday, May 19, 2005


Today, my friend PUG and I were discussing the extent to which religion separates its adherents from those of other religions. PUG mentioned the possibility that a religion by nature separates its believers from others, since its practicies are socially distinctive from other religions (am I quoting you right, PUG?). PUG mentioned the example of Kashrut, the laws of which practically speaking are a major social barrier between us and non-Jews. (In fact, Kashrut ends up being a social barrier between Jews. For example, the issue of would A eat in B's house if B isn't observant of many of A's stringencies.) We discussed whether this effect is the goal of Kashrut in any way.
This discussion is relevant to today's daf, 17b, which touches on our sages' prohibitions on the oil, bread, wine, and cooking of non-Jews. The Gemara states clearly that the intent of these decrees was to separate us from the gentiles. While I'd like to think that our rituals in general have no such intent, I'd like to leave this question open.
As a side question, PUG also mentioned the possibility that even if separation is not the primary intention of a religion, maybe it should not really matter, as that oftentimes ends up as its effect anyway. I personally think that intent still matters at the end of the day, but I'd like to hear anyone's thoughts.
Shabbat Shalom

Use of proper language

On 15a, we have the following case:

ואידך, הלל אומר: מלא הין מים שאובים פוסלים את המקוה. שחייב אדם לומר בלשון רבו. שמאי אומר: תשעה קבין, וחכמים אומרים: לא כדברי זה ולא כדברי זה, עד שבאו שני גרדיים משער האשפה שבירושלים, והעידו משום שמעיה ואבטליון ששלשה לוגין מים שאובין פוסלים את המקוה, וקיימו חכמים את דבריהם.

The second case where הלל ושמאי disagree is regarding how much drawn water renders the מקוה unfit.

If we look at the מחלוקת, we see that they mention two different measurements, [1]הין and קב. As we continue with this piece, we see that שמעיה ואבטליון, הלל ושמאי’s teachers, also used the term לוגין. Therefore, the סתם (see bold) needs to insert the line that a person is obligated to speak in the language of his Rabbi. While הלל was using the same measurement system, it would therefore appear שמאי didn’t. However, the adage is all nice and good, but is its placement appropriate? Wouldn’t it be better at the end of the discussion, as perhaps a גופא type statement?

Ideas as to why this is needed here in this סוגיא and also as to why it is not written at the end but written right after הלל’s teaching?

[1] According to רש"י, a הין is 12 לוג.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005


The Bavli concludes that glass is a גזירה אטו כלי חרס, not a גזירה אטו כלי מתכות. This is Rav Asshi's opinion; the other, rejected, opinion seems to have been purely made up by the Stam, as an explanation for why Rav Asshi did not say גזירה משום כלי מתכות. (Note that no Amora is named in the whole Stammaitic part of the sugya.)

Why, then, are most people today מקפיד to toivel new glass utensils that they have bought from gentiles?

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Historical sense of the Stam

While I have not done a careful study of this issue, I have noticed that in general, our Sages do not seem to have been so concerned about the historical development of halakha. They may say that a particular law is דאורייתא or דרבנן, but they will usually not ask: "If, in fact, law X is דרבנן, what Sages instituted it, and when?" Therefore, it is interesting that here, we find Stammaim (but apparently not Amoraim) arguing about when the י"ח גזירות were, in fact, instituted.

Monday, May 16, 2005

תנא דבי אליהו

What is the meaning of the phrase תנא דבי אליהו on the bottom of 13a? I know that there is a work by this name, but we critical thinkers cannot possibly believe that this work was composed by אליהו הנביא himself. (And non-critical thinkers have no business pronouncing the name אליהו; they must say קֵלִיקָקוּ, qeyliqoqu.)

I wonder:
a) Did the ancients believe that these teachings indeed stemmed from Elijah the Prophet? If so, in what capacity could he have taught these teachings? Surely, he did not teach them in his earthly existence in the reign of King Ahab.
b) Does our story in fact appear in any of the recensions of the book תנא דבי אליהו (or סדר אליהו רבא וזוטא)?
c) There is no C, because איך ווייס נישט וואָס איז סי.

On Friday night, December 27, 2002, I had some friends over for Shabbath dinner. At this meal, this סוגיא was one of the סוגיי that we discussed. My friend NG (now Rabbi NG) pointed out: "Note Eliyyahu's not-so-great pastoral skills-- ברוך המקום שהרגו: borukh hashem that your husband died."

Visiting the Sick

For those keeping up, this past שבת we read daf 12 in שבת, talking about visiting the sick. There was one line which struck me as a difficult emotionally.

ואמר רבי חנינא: בקושי התירו לנחם אבלים ולבקר חולים בשבת.

According to רבי חנינא, it was only with great difficulty that the rabbis allowed the comforting of mourners and the visiting of sick on שבת. While I understand that when it comes to the sick, we don’t request that they be healed on שבת, but how can we say that having people visit should be a difficult thing to permit? And even if we argue that the visit is a method of healing, which removes the request aspect of ביקור חולים, so how can this be so difficult to permit?