Thursday, August 27, 2015

Nazir 4b: The anti-Narcissus

A brayta cited on Nazir 4b reminded me of Narcissus:
אמר שמעון הצדיק מימי לא אכלתי אשם נזיר טמא חוץ מאדם אחד שבא אלי מן הדרום יפה עינים וטוב רואי וקווצותיו סדורות לו תלתלים אמרתי לו בני מה ראית לשחת שער נאה זה אמר לי רועה הייתי לאבי בעירי והלכתי לשאוב מים מן המעיין ונסתכלתי בבבואה שלי ופחז יצרי עלי וביקש לטורדני מן העולם אמרתי לו ריקה מפני מה אתה מתגאה בעולם שאינו שלך שסופך להיות רמה ותולע' העבודה שאגלחך לשמי' עמדתי ונשקתיו על ראשו אמרתי לו כמותך ירבו נזירים בישראל עליך הכתוב אומר (במדבר ו, ב) איש כי יפליא לנדור נדר נזיר להזיר לה'
 Simon the Just17 said: In the whole of my life, I ate of the guilt-offering of a defiled nazirite [only once].18 This man who came to me from the South country, had beauteous eyes and handsome features with his locks heaped into curls. I asked him: ‘Why, my son, didst thou resolve to destroy such wonderful hair?’ He answered: ‘In my native town. I was my father's shepherd, and, on going down to draw water from the well, I used to gaze at my reflection [in its waters]. Then my evil inclination assailed me, seeking to compass my ruin,19 and so I said to it, "Base wretch! Why dost thou plume thyself on a world that is not thine own, for thy latter end is with worms and maggots. I swear20 I shall shear these locks to the glory of Heaven!"’ Then I rose, and kissed him upon his head. and said to him: ‘Like unto thee, may there be many nazirites in Israel. Of such as thou art, does the verse say, When a man shall clearly utter a vow, the vow of a nazirite to consecrate himself unto the Lord.’21

Compare this with Narcissus, who was described by Ovid as follows, in Book 3 of Metamorphosis. Note in particular the third paragraph ("Flat on the ground"), which describes his eyes, handsome features, and hair fit for Bacchus or Apollo:
 As Narcissus had scorned her, so he had scorned the other nymphs of the rivers and mountains, so he had scorned the companies of young men. Then one of those who had been mocked, lifting hands to the skies, said ‘So may he himself love, and so may he fail to command what he loves!’ 
There was an unclouded fountain, with silver-bright water, which neither shepherds nor goats grazing the hills, nor other flocks, touched, that no animal or bird disturbed not even a branch falling from a tree. Grass was around it, fed by the moisture nearby, and a grove of trees that prevented the sun from warming the place. Here, the boy, tired by the heat and his enthusiasm for the chase, lies down, drawn to it by its look and by the fountain. While he desires to quench his thirst, a different thirst is created. While he drinks he is seized by the vision of his reflected form. He loves a bodiless dream. He thinks that a body, which is only a shadow. He is astonished by himself, and hangs there motionless, with a fixed expression, like a statue carved from Parian marble.
Flat on the ground, he contemplates two stars, his eyes, and his hair, fit for Bacchus, fit for Apollo, his youthful cheeks and ivory neck, the beauty of his face, the rose-flush mingled in the whiteness of snow, admiring everything for which he is himself admired. Unknowingly he desires himself, and the one who praises is himself praised, and, while he courts, is courted, so that, equally, he inflames and burns. How often he gave his lips in vain to the deceptive pool, how often, trying to embrace the neck he could see, he plunged his arms into the water, but could not catch himself within them! What he has seen he does not understand, but what he sees he is on fire for, and the same error both seduces and deceives his eyes.
Fool, why try to catch a fleeting image, in vain? What you search for is nowhere: turning away, what you love is lost! What you perceive is the shadow of reflected form: nothing of you is in it. It comes and stays with you, and leaves with you, if you can leave!
The nazir realizes that this beauty and path would be his downfall - וביקש לטורדני מן העולם. Narcissus doesn't realize this and, unable to leave his reflection, drowns.

Nazir 2a -- What sort of language is Paziach?

The Mishna on Nazir 2a:

מתני' כל כינויי נזירות כנזירות האומר אהא הרי זה נזיר או אהא נאה נזיר נזיק נזיח פזיח הרי זה נזיר הריני כזה הריני מסלסל הריני מכלכל הרי עלי לשלח פרע הרי זה נזיר הרי עלי ציפורים ר"מ אומר נזיר וחכמים אומרים אינו נזיר:
Examples of kinuyim are נזיר נזיק נזיח פזיח.

1) What are these names? They sound like corruptions of Nazir, based on sound (rather than orthography as the mefaresh, which is questionably assigned to Rashi, asserts
אי משום דכי מחקת לרגל דקוף דנזיק ודופן דח' דנזיח וגגו דפ"א דפזיח ודופן ח' שבו משווית ליה נזיר:
). That is, the resh is a quasi-guttural, which is why is doesn't take a dagesh chazak, and so the chet as a switch-off is close. And the resh is pronounced to the back, which is like the kuf. A psilos (a Greek word indicating someone who has difficulty pronouncing letters) would say nazik instead of nazir. As in Yerushalmi Nazir 1b :

אמר ר' יוסי נראין דברים במקומות אחרים אבל במקום שקוראין לנזיר נזיק אנו אומרים נזיר פסילים אינו נזיר?

And swapping in the peh is a further switch-off from existing kinuyim.

2) Tosafot brings a machlokes from Nedarim 10a between Rabbi Yochanan and Resh Lakish as to the identity of these kinuyim. Tosafot writes:

נזיר נזיק נזיח פזיח הרי זה נזיר. לפי שרצה לפרש כל הכנויין פתח ואומר נזיר וכו' כלומר נזיר הוא עיקר השם הכתוב בתורה שעל ידי לשון זה חל עליו שם נזירות וה"ה אם אמר בלשון הכנויין כמו נזיק נזיח פזיח ורישא דמתניתין אתא לפרושי דקתני כל כינויי נזירות כנזירות ובכינויין נחלקו אמוראים בפ"ק דנדרים (דף י.) ר' יוחנן אומר לשון אומות הם פירוש שלש לשונות אלו משבעים לשונות הם ואם תאמר ולרבי יוחנן מאי איריא הנך ג' לשונות בכל ע' לשונות נמי אם קבל עליו נזירות באחד מהנך הלשונות חייל עליה הנזירות וי"ל דאה"נ דגם בשאר לשונות אם מכירם ומבינם ומתכוין לקבל עליו נזירות הוי נזיר אבל מהני לישני דמתניתין כי אמר נזרו באחד מן שלש לשונות הללו חייל עליה נזירות (נהי) נמי כי אין מתכוין משום דדמי טפי ללשון תורה מלשונות אחרים ור"ל פליג התם ואמר לשון שבדו חכמים מלבם והתם פריך אמאי בדינהו ותקינהו רבנן לשון כנויין והשיב דזימנין דבעי למימר לה' קרבן ואמר לה' גרידא ומפיק שם שמים לבטלה ולכך תקנו כנויין שלא הורגל הלשון לומר לה' קונם וא"ת ולר"ל איך יביא קרבן על ידי לשון שבדו חכמים הא קמייתי חולין בעזרה ויש לומר כיון דמתכוין לנדור בנזיר ויודע שלשון זה בדו חכמים לנדור בהם בנזיר קבלה גמורה היא כאילו אמר בלשון הכתוב בתורה והר"ר יחיאל פירש דר"ל לאו לענין קרבן קאמר אלא לענין מלקות דלקי אם עבר על נזירותו שקבל בלשון שבדו חכמים:
To take from the middle:
"... Rabbi Yochanan says that they are leshon umot [the language of the nations] -- to explain, these three alternative languages [words] are of from the seventy languages [of the nations]. And if you say, according to Rabbi Yochanan, why specifically these three languages? In any of the seventy
languages as well, if he accepted nezirut upon himself with one of these leshonot, the nezirut would apply to him. And one might answer that indeed it is so, that in other languages as well, if he recognizes and understands them, and intends to accept upon himself nezirut, he is a nazir. But with these leshonot of the mishna, when he says his nazir-ship with one of these three leshonot, the nezirut applies to him even if he doesn't intend, because it is more similar to the language of the Torah than other leshonot.
And Resh Lakish argues there and says that it is a language which the Chachamim invented..."
It is difficult to accept Rabbi Yochanan's explanation of kinuyim, as explained by Tosafot. The Mishna and gemara in question in Nedarim reads as follows:

משנה

  • האומר (לחבירו): "קונם", "קונח", "קונס", הרי אלו כינויין לקרבן.
"חרק", "חרך", "חרף", הרי אלו כינויין לחרם.
"נזיק", "נזיח", "פזיח", הרי אלו כינויין לנזירות.
"שבותה", "שקוקה", נודר במוהי, הרי אלו כינויין לשבועה:

גמרא

  • איתמר, כינויין. רבי יוחנן אמר: לשון אומות הן.
רבי שמעון בן לקיש אמר: לשון שבדו להם חכמים להיות נודר בו, וכן הוא אומר: "בחדש אשר בדא מלבו".

(a) These kinuyin are just so similar, in three or four categories, to their Hebrew equivalents. Perhaps we are talking about close Semitic languages, but I'd like to be able to identify the languages in question.
(b) Why would other languages have a word for Nazir, which is entirely a Biblical creation, with its own unique Biblical law?

I'd rather see this dispute between Rabbi Yochanan and Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish as:

Rabbi Yochanan: these wordings being organic, natural linguistic development by the people.
Resh Lakish: these wordings being jargon deliberately fabricated by Chazal.

How can leshon umot mean this? I would suggest that it is not leshon umot with a shuruk, but leshon omot with a cholam.

Look in Jastrow, page 27:


It is an "oath language". And in context, as a kinuy language for vows, oaths, charamim, and nezirut, it seems applicable. Sometimes people swap out words for similar words when making vows, because of the severity of it. Think e.g. Gosh instead of God.

A case I learned from Shir Hashirim 2:7:

ז  הִשְׁבַּעְתִּי אֶתְכֶם בְּנוֹת יְרוּשָׁלִַם, בִּצְבָאוֹת, אוֹ, בְּאַיְלוֹת הַשָּׂדֶה:  אִם-תָּעִירוּ וְאִם-תְּעוֹרְרוּ אֶת-הָאַהֲבָה, עַד שֶׁתֶּחְפָּץ.  {ס}7 'I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles, and by the hinds of the field, that ye awaken not, nor stir up love, until it please.' {S}

I swear by Tzevaot [Gazelles? Or Hashem Tzevakot?] or by the Aylot HaSadeh [Kel Shakkai].

3) It is interesting to note the parallel in Yerushalmi Nazir, 1b:
נזיק נזיח פזיק א"ר יוחנן לשונות שביררו להן ראשונים אין רשות לבירייה להוסיף עליהן והא תני ר' חייה רזיח הזיח א"ר שילא לשונות שביררו להן משניות אין רשות לבירייה להוסיף עליהן


Note how Rabbi Yochanan and Rabbi Shela both say ביררו, whose, rather than בדו, invented. One seems like the slip of the pen of the other.

Also, Rabbi Yochanan indicates that Rishonim [earlier generations] chose them, rather than this being the language of the Umot [nations]. And this is perhaps in contrast to the the language of the Mishnayot, as put forth by Rabbi Shela, and which might correspond to the position of Resh Lakish.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Geonic input into Maseches Nazir

We started Maseches Nazir two days ago. Here is a link to a Daf Yomi shiur from Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz. I'll quote him from the 2:30 mark until the 2:56 mark:
The Rishonim already point out that the leshonos of the gemara in maseches Nazir are different from the leshonos of gemaras throughout the rest of Shas. That there are a lot of places in Nazir where things seem to be abbreviated; they seem to be formulated differently that they are in the rest of Shas; and it seems to be that the reason is that in the time of the Geonim, they didn't learn maseches Nazir in yeshivos, and any sefer that wasn't learned that much, a lot of mistakes crept in because there wasn't that much learning of it going on, where they were able to correct the mistakes. You'll find a lot of girsaos that were changed, nuschaos there were changed, by some of the later Acharonim, because it wasn't really taken care of in the earlier generations, since maseches Nazir wasn't really learned so much.
In fact, in the Tiferes Yisrael, in Pirkei Avos, in the second perek of Pirkei Avos, he writes, ודרך אפשר, that it could be that Rav Ashi, when he was mesader the Talmud, didn't get to produce a Mahadura Shniyah [second, revised edition] of Maseches Nazir, that for each of the other masechtas, he wrote a Mahadura Kamma, a first edition, and then he corrected it and made a Mahadura Shniyah. Maseches Nazir, what he have, is a Mahadura Kamma. This is what Shas would have looked like if Rav Ashi didn't have the time to review all the other masechtos. That is what the Tiferes Yisrael suggests, at least as a ודרך אפש. 
The first paragraph indicates, from Rishonim, that there was general Geonim input into our masechtos, something less present or absent in Nazir, which accounts for the difference in style. Is this just entropy -- errors that crept in during the copying process that were not corrected? What then with the abbreviations, or different formulations? The Tiferes Yisrael, meanwhile, seems to be suggesting that there was less of a work-over by the Setama DeGemara, but since he assumes an entire closing of the Talmudic canon [chasimas haTalmud] by Ravina and Rav Ashi, he puts this as a lack of a Mahadura Shniya.

Another way of looking at it (though I don't know what they say particularly about Nazir) is as many modern academic scholars say, that the editing of Talmud, in terms of expansive or simplifying language, or even whole sections of Setama DeGamara, extended into the times of the Geonim. If so, lack of Savoraic and Geonic attention to the masechta, or focus of different Savoraim and Geonim, could lead to a very different style.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Shabbat daf 55: The value of learning Ktav Ivri

Shabbat daf 55 has a lengthy exposition of the tav set on people's foreheads, as described in sefer Yechezkel:
R. Zera said to R. Simeon, Let the Master rebuke the members of the Resh Galutha's suite. They will not accept it from me, was his reply. Though they will not accept its returned he, yet you should rebuke them. For R. Aha b. R. Hanina said: Never did a favourable word7  go forth from the mouth of the Holy One, blessed be He, of which He retracted for evil, save the following, where it is written, And the Lord said unto him, Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark [taw] upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof, etc.8  The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Gabriel,9  Go and set a taw10  of ink upon the foreheads of the righteous, that the destroying angels may have no power over them; and a taw of blood upon the foreheads of the wicked, that the destroying angels may have power over them. Said the Attribute of Justice11  before the Holy One, blessed be He, 'Sovereign of the Universe! Wherein are these different from those?' 'Those are completely righteous men, while these are completely wicked,' replied He. 'Sovereign of the Universe!' it continued, 'they had the power to protest but did not.' 'It was fully known12  to them that had they protested they would not have heeded them.'13  'Sovereign of the Universe!' said he, 'If it was revealed to Thee, was it revealed to them?' Hence it is written, [Slay utterly] the old man, the young and the maiden, and little children and women; but come not near any man upon whom is the mark; and begin at my Sanctuary [mikdashi]. Then they began at the elders which were before the house.14  R. Joseph recited: Read not mikdashi but mekuddashay [my sanctified ones]: this refers to the people who fulfilled the Torah from alef to taw.15  And straightway, And behold, six men came from the way of the upper gate, which lieth toward the north, every man with his slaughter weapon in his hand; and one man in the midst of them clothed in linen, with a writer's inkhorn by his side. And they went in, and stood beside the brazen altar.16  Was then the brazen altar [still] in existence?17  — The Holy One, blessed be He, spake thus to them; Commence [destruction] from the place where song is uttered before Me.18  And who were the six men? — Said R. Hisda: Indignation [Kezef], Anger [Af], Wrath [Hemah], Destroyer [Mashhith] Breaker [Meshabber] and Annihilator [Mekaleh]. And why taw? — Said Rab: Taw [stands for] tihyeh [thou shalt live], taw [stands for] tamuth [thou shalt die]. Samuel said: The taw denotes, the merit of the Patriarchs is exhausted [tamah].19  R. Johanan said: The merit of the Patriarchs will confer grace [tahon].20  While Resh Lakish said: Taw is the end of the seal of the Holy One, blessed be He. For R. Hanina said: The seal of the Holy One, blessed be He, is emeth [truth]. R. Samuel b. Nahmani said: It denotes the people who fulfilled the Torah from alef to taw.21
In a rather old parshablog post, I wrote the following:


Apropos Missisipi Fred Macdowell's question whether there is any value of non-academic types knowing Ktav Ivri (Paleo-Hebrew), I would say yes. The more familiar one is with realia, the better one can understand gemara and Tanach as it was intended.

There is a discussion of how in the Ten Commandments, engraved through and through on two tablets, the samach and mem sofit were miraculous, in that the middle portion had to have floated (Shabbat 104a and Megilla 2b-3a). How to understand the Yerushalmi that has instead "ayin and tes?" You need to know Ktav Ivri (in which these two letters are circular - the ayin looks like a samach, and the tes looks like an X inside an O, in what seems a modification of the letter tav) - to really understand this - and it is clear that Chazal knew Ktav Ivri.

Also, to understand Yechezkel 9:4 and 9:6 about the "mark," the "tav" made on people's foreheads. Does this mean a random mark? Does this mean something that looks like the Ktav Ashuri ת? It makes a lot more sense when you know the Ktav Ivri Tav looks like an X.

You never know when arcane knowledge can be useful.
I would suspect, given the Yerushalmi, that the Babylonian Amoraim in our gemara were also familiar with the Paleo-Hebrew tav, such that the mark made on the forehead was either simply a mark, or an X. In which case they understood their own remarks to be midrash.

It is always useful to understand peshat in the pesukim alongside the midrashic explanation.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Shabbat 94-95: Is plaiting building? And a fundamental definition of melacha

On Shabbat 94b-95a:
אלא א"ר אבהו לדידי מפרשא לי מיניה דר' יוסי בר' חנינא כוחלת משום צובעת גודלת ופוקסת משום בונה וכי דרך בנין בכך אין כדדרש רבי שמעון בן מנסיא(בראשית ב, כב) ויבן ה' אלהים את הצלע מלמד שקילעה הקב"ה לחוה והביאה אצל אדם שכן בכרכי הים קורין לקלעיתא בניתא
Or, in English:
Rather said R. Abbahu: R. Jose son of R. Hanina's [statement] was explained to me [thus]: She who paints [is culpable] on the score of dyeing; she who plaits and rouges, on the score of building. Is this then the manner of building? — Even so, as R. Simeon b. Menassia expounded: And the Lord God builded the rib [… into a woman]:1  this teaches that the Holy One, blessed be He, plaited Eve['s hair] and brought her to Adam, for in the sea-towns plaiting is called 'building'.
This proof that plaiting is halachically considered the manner of building (boneh) is troubling, for a number of reasons. For one, this is a midrash aggadah, and it is atypical (though not unknown) for halacha to be derived from such a midrash aggadah. For another the statement was that "she who plaits and rouges" was building, while the evidence is only for plaiting.

And most strongly, for another, consider that the prooftext from what sea-towns call plaiting is part of the unit of the midrash aggadah, rather than part of the local halachic gemara about boneh on Shabbat. For evidence of this, see how it is part of the derasha in Niddah 45b:

דאמר ריש לקיש משום ר"ש בן מנסיא ויבן ה' [אלהים] את הצלע אשר לקח מן האדם לאשה ויביאה אל האדם מלמד שקלעה הקב"ה לחוה והביאה אצל אדם הראשון שכן בכרכי הים קורין לקלעיתא בנייתא

When we carefully consider the derasha of vayiven / benayta, I do not think that the midrash is interpreting plaiting as building, or vayiven as building. Rather, it is taking the word ויבן away from its simple peshat sense and giving it the meaning from another language. Just as we see in this Rashi:

And Deborah, Rebecca's nurse, died, and she was buried beneath Beth el, beneath the plain; so he named it Allon Bachuth.ח. וַתָּמָת דְּבֹרָה מֵינֶקֶת רִבְקָה וַתִּקָּבֵר מִתַּחַת לְבֵית אֵל תַּחַת הָאַלּוֹן וַיִּקְרָא שְׁמוֹ אַלּוֹן בָּכוּת:

beneath the plain: [Onkelos renders:] at the bottom of the plain, for there was a plain above, on the incline of the mountain, and the grave was below, and the plain of Beth-el was called Allon. The Aggadah [tells us that] he was informed there of another mourning, for he was told about his mother, who died (Gen. Rabbah 81:5), and Allon in Greek means“another.” For the following reason, the day of her death was concealed, viz. so that people should not curse the womb whence Esau had emerged. Therefore, neither did Scripture publicize it.תחת האלון: בשפולי מישרא, שהיה מישור מלמעלה בשפוע ההר והקבורה מלמטה, ומישור של בית אל היו קורין לו אלון. ואגדה נתבשר שם באבל שני, שהוגד לו על אמו שמתה. ואלון בלשון יוני אחר. ולפי שהעלימו את יום מותה, שלא יקללו הבריות הכרס שיצא ממנו עשו, אף הכתוב לא פרסמו:

and just as we see derashot based on Arabic and other languages. These puns are not saying that the Hebrew word allon, "plain", also encompasses "another", such that an "another" is a type of "plain". Rather, the word is being interpreted away from its simple meaning.

So too here -- with all due respect to Soncino, who translates in accordance with the setama degemara's intent -- the point of the derasha is that ויבן does not mean 'and He built', but rather 'and He plaited'. Plaiting is not called building. Plaiting is called בניתא.

If so, this is not evidence that plaiting is called building, and that plaiting is therefore the manner of building. Indeed, it is evidence in the opposite direction, because ויבן is taken as a foreign word, rather than a simple application of building.

If this proof fails, it is not the end of the world. As we noted above, this was only an attempted proof for liability when she plaits. No proof was one who rouges.
Rather said R. Abbahu: R. Jose son of R. Hanina's [statement] was explained to me [thus]: She who paints [is culpable] on the score of dyeing; she who plaits and rouges, on the score of building.
Although I suppose that the theory in the setama degenara was that any beautification can then be called "building", just as Hashem beautified Chava. Why not encompass she who paints herself within this prohibition of building as well.

I would revert to the prior statement in the gemara, on 94b, and endorse it as plausible:
גודלת כוחלת ופוקסת משום מאי מחייבא אמר רבי אבין א"ר יוסי בר' חנינא גודלת משום אורגת כוחלת משום כותבת פוקסת משום טווה אמרו רבנן קמיה דרבי אבהו וכי דרך אריגה בכך וכי דרך כתיבה בכך וכי דרך טויה בכך
LIKEWISE IF [A WOMAN] PLAITS, etc. She who plaits, paints or rouges, on what score is she culpable? — R. Abin said in the name of R. Jose son of R. Hanina: She who plaits on the score of weaving; she who paints on the score of writing; she who rouges on account of spinning.25  Said the Rabbis before R. Abbahu: Are then weaving, writing, and spinning done in this way?
If the Rabbis objected about וכי דרך ____ בכך, one can understand why the setama degemara seized upon that objection. I don't have a satisfying answer, and would rather leave it as a question. (Though paints / dyeing is closer, and perhaps boneh is a catch all for all manner of building things up.)

Maybe indeed it is not derech ariga bekach, or derech boneh bekach, or derech ketiva bekach. These are not the normal way of performing these avot melachot.

However -- channeling Ibn Ezra here -- let us give a definition of Biblically prohibited labor on Shabbat.

The Torah prohibits melacha, but does not define what it is. It is up to the Rabbis to define a melacha, as they see fit, and as they understand the world. And al pi haTorah asher yorucha shall we follow, not diverting left or right. Just as the Jewish calendar, and thus the dates of the religious holidays, was placed in the Rabbis's hands, so was the definition of melacha.

The look towards the construction of the mishkan as a template, and these (according to one of three options listed on Shabbat 96b) are called avot. Activities which are similar to avot are included along with and under them and are called toladot.

But now say that it is up to Chazal to assess which activities are prohibited, and to group them as they see fit, either for justification or memorization (asmachta), under the related av. If so, the objection of the רבנן that וכי דרך אריגה בכך וכי דרך כתיבה בכך וכי דרך טויה בכך is not an objection that Rabbi Avin or Rabbi Yossi beRabbi Chanina would be bothered by. Indeed, it is not derech ketiva bekach! But firstly, who said it was the av of ketiva? It is the toldah of kochelet, and it is derech kochelet bekach! Or alternatively, we can now say that we do not really care that it is not דרך כתיבה בכך, because the point it to find a justification or an encompassing grouping for what Chazal have authentically determined is a prohibited melacha. (What they determine is a Biblical melacha, as a toladah, is on a higher level of prohibition than what they acknowledge is merely a shevut, Rabbinically prohibited activity.)

This idea is put forth in an explicit gemara, on the same daf, Shabbat 95a:
רב נחמן בר גוריא איקלע לנהרדעא בעו מיניה חולב משום מאי מיחייב אמר להו משום חולב מחבץ משום מאי מיחייב אמר להו משום מחבץ מגבן משום מאי חייב אמר להו משום מגבן אמרו ליה רבך קטיל קני באגמא הוה אתא שאיל בי מדרשא אמרו ליה חולב חייב משום מפרק מחבץ חייב משום בורר מגבן חייב משום בונה
R. Nahman b. Guria visited Nehardea. He was asked. If one milks, on what score is he culpable? On the score of milking, He replied. If one sets milk, or what score is he culpable? On the score of setting milk, he replied. If one makes cheese, on what score is he liable? On account of making cheese, he replied. Your teacher must have been a reed-cutter in a marsh, they jeered at him. [So] he went and asked in the Beth Hamidrash. Said they to him, He who milks is liable on account of unloading.5  He who sets milk is liable on account of selecting.6 He who makes cheese is liable on account of building.7
Rav Nachman bar Guriah was right, and his teacher was right! If he milks, cholev, he is culpable because of the Biblical melacha of cholev, milking. If he makes cheese, he is culpable because of the Biblical melacha of making cheese. Call it an av, or call it a tolada; it does not matter. In the Bet Hamidrash, they classify them as toladot under specific avot, which are similar, but not identical to them.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Shabbat 92-93: Many Leviim washing one kohen's hand

The Mishna on the bottom of Shabbat 92b:
MISHNAH. IF ONE CARRIES OUT A LOAF INTO THE STREET, HE IS CULPABLE; IF TWO CARRY IT OUT, THEY ARE NOT CULPABLE. IF ONE COULD NOT CARRY IT OUT AND TWO CARRY IT OUT, THEY ARE CULPABLE; BUT R. SIMEON EXEMPTS [THEM].17
In the gemara that follows, a distinction is made between where both are capable and where only one is capable. Where both are capable, the lack of culpability might arise from a special Scriptural derivation, which might not be extended to other cases. Where only one is capable and the other is merely helping, helping is considered no concrete act. And this extends to many different cases, in all fields of Jewish law.

So what of the Leviim washing the kohanim's hands, prior to duchening? In many shuls I've been, the Leviim greatly outnumber the kohanim, and so multiple hands lift the cup, or one pushes the elbow of the one who is pouring. Should this be considered a case when both are capable, or is "both are capable" dealing with a case where both are capable and are equally carrying the object, to the exclusion of both capable but one merely assisting? Can we extrapolate to our case from the gemara?

If one can extrapolate from two capable actors to declare the act not valid, would that invalidate the hand-washing as not being the result of koach?

Is assisting is considered no concrete act, then is there any point in all these other Leviim crowding in? I suppose to show eagerness for the mitzvah.

No answers here, nor even off-line analysis. The answers are left as an exercise to the reader.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Shabbat 53b: Abaye as a classic rationalist

You might have noticed that I fell a bit behind. I'm catching up on missed material while at the same time keeping pace with current Daf Yomi.

On Shabbat 53b:
Our Rabbis taught: It once happened that a man's wife died and left a child to be suckled, and he could not afford to pay a wet-nurse, whereupon a miracle was performed for him and his teats opened like the two teats of a woman and he suckled his son. R. Joseph observed, Come and see how great was this man, that such a miracle was performed on his account! Said Abaye to him, On the contrary: how lowly was this man, that the order of the Creation24 was changed on his account!25
This contrast between Rav Yosef and his student Abaye parallels arguments elsewhere between Abaye and his teacher (either Rav Yosef or Rabba, he simply refers to him as Mar). See Chullin 105b for examples (English pulled from Point By Point Summary):
(Abaye): I used to think that we do not wash after the meal onto the ground due to the filth. My Rebbi (Rabah) taught that it is due to the evil spirit that rests on the water.
(Abaye): I used to think that the reason we do not take something from the table in front of someone who is drinking is lest he get angry. Rabah taught that it is due to the spirit of Tzarda (dazing spells).
(Abaye): I used to think that we gather crumbs for the sake of cleanliness. Rabah taught that it is to avoid poverty.
(Abaye): I used to think that the reason we do not drink froth (on top of a liquid that was poured) is because it is repulsive. Rabah taught that it is because it leads to Karsam (a nasal drip and inflammation);
(Abaye): I used to think that the reason we do not eat a vegetable straight from the bundle is because it appears gluttonous. Rabah taught that it makes one susceptible to witchcraft.
(Abaye): I used to think that the reason we do not eat a vegetable that fell on the tray is because it is repulsive. Rabah taught that it leads to mouth odor.
(Abaye): I used to think that the reason we don't sit under gutter pipes is due to the water that flows down. Rabah taught that Mazikim (Shedim, which are beings with similarities to people and to angels) frequent the area.
(Abaye): I used to think that the reason we spill water from the top of a barrel is due to chips of wood that float on top. Rabah taught that it is lest Mazikim drank from it.
Many of the commonsense reasons Abaye gives are superseded by what we might term superstitious, or else, mystically-inclined reasons, provided by his teacher.

Turning back to the gemara in Shabbos, each Amora is making sweeping homiletic statements based on this incident. Indeed, the gemara continues with two additional statements.

I would say that Abaye is not trying to simply be contrary, and to contradict Rav Yosef, when Abaye says:
On the contrary: how lowly was this man, that the order of the Creation24 was changed on his account!25
Rather, I think Abaye was one of the early Jewish rationalists. Look at the "rationalist" Rishonim. When they explain Divine miracles by "natural" means, it was not an effort to discount the wonder of the miracle, and to encourage disbelief. Rather, they viewed the perfection of Creation as evidence of Hashem's absolute perfection. God set the constellations on their courses, and they continue in their set paths, and perhaps have influence on human events.
אשר במאמרו ברא שחקים, וברוח פיו כל צבאם, חוק וזמן נתן להם שלא ישנו את תפקידם
A change in the natural order in order for Hashem to accomplish His design implies that there was a flaw in the original act of creation, and a perfect God does not make a flaw. That is why, according to Avos, even the mouth of the pit that swallowed Datan and Aviram, and the mouth of the donkey that spoke to Bilaam, were created at twilight at the tail-end of the act of Creation.

This would lead Abaye to regard a diversion from the natural order as sub-optimal.

Meanwhile, Rav Yosef would regard the diversion from the natural order as evidence of an engaged God, who can bend nature to His Will, for He created nature.