Thursday, August 23, 2012

Berachot 23b: Davening with a knife, a plate, a loaf, money

Related to this topic, and an interested item in general, is this short halachic discussion by Rabbi Chaim Eisenstein about davening with an iPhone.

The discussion in this post is reworked, in large part, from this earlier parshablog post:

The gemara on Berachot 23b reads:
Our Rabbis taught: A man should not hold tefillin in his hand or a scroll of the Law in his arm while saying the Tefillah,2  nor should he make water while wearing them, nor sleep in them, whether a regular sleep or a short snatch. Samuel says: A knife, money, a dish and a loaf of bread are on the same footing as tefillin.3
Now, the brayta speaks of several cases - that you may not hold a sefer Torah or tefillin during:
  1. prayer
  2. urination
  3. different types of sleep
Shmuel says that the law is the same in terms of money, a knife, a plate, and a loaf of bread. In terms of which case? Prayer? Urination? Sleep?

Rashi explicitly links Shmuel's statement only to the first case - prayer. He does not link it to the other cases. Thus, we see that is is easy to hold that Shmuel's statement is only applicable to a single case in the brayta, to the exclusion of the others. Thus, Rashi writes:

הרי אלו כיוצא בהן - לענין תפלה שדואג עליהן שלא תפול הסכין ותזיקנו והקערה תשפך והמעות יאבדו והככר יטנף:

However, I would argue as follows. The context of the gemara is things related to the privy. It is in that context that the brayta was brought. Therefore, it is only logical that Shmuel's statement, which follows, also relates to the privy - that is, what one may urinate while holding.

Let us dwell on why holding a sefer Torah or tefillin would be problematic.

Rashi says that his mind will not be on the prayer because he is afraid of dropping them. The same would then apply to Shmuel's statement - he would be afraid of dropping them.

What about urination? It is not kavod.

What about sleep? Rashi says - lest one pass gas.

I would agree more or less in all these cases. There is an halachic obligation to treat tefillin and a sefer Torah with a certain respect. I would say the presence of mind required while holding tefillin and a sefer Torah would preclude focusing on prayers. Urination is not kavod. And sleep, one is not having the appropriate presence of mind. (So I argue a bit, but not in terms of anything that would make a difference.)

Now let us turn to Shmuel. Do all three cases (prayer, urination, sleep) make sense?

In terms of prayer, Rashi says: since one worries about dripping them - the knife, lest it drop and injure him; the bread lest it get ruined; the money lest is become lost; and the plate, lest it spill its contents.

These are all plausible explanations, should one want to tie Shmuel's statement to the first case of the brayta. It is not necesssary though.

In terms of urination, I would say: the knife, lest he injure himself; the bread, for it is not respectful to bread, plus the bread may become soiled; the money, for it may become dirty, and he is going to purchase things with this money, such that others will handle it, and thus it is not appropriate; and the plate, since food goes on it, it is not appropriate.

In terms of sleep, it is hard to find justification. The knife is understandable as a precaution lest he injure himself in his sleep. The bread, he may soil, so perhaps you can argue Bal Taschis. The money and plate - if someone wants to risk it, what cause can you have to prohibit him halachically from doing so?

I think it is for this reason that Rashi saw fit to apply it only to the case of prayer, since the last case, of sleep, is hard to justify.

However, as pointed out, the simplest understanding of the gemara recognizes that the brayta was brought in in terms of urination, and so it makes sense that Shmuel's statement which follows is also specifically as regards urination, and not sleep, and not prayer.

Further, one should not say that Shmuel's examples are just that - examples - and one should include other things of the type, in terms of prayer. After all, we really do not understand the reasoning behind Shmuel's statement - if it even applies to prayer, and the reason it should - such that we should extend it to still other cases.

An additional interesting point is that if we apply this to all three instances in the brayta, including sleep, then we could extend it to babies as well, as the sources Gil cites extend it in terms of prayer. This would prohibit co-sleeping with your infant, which I do not think the gemara would do (see the gemaras about sleeping with your child {in the nude, as was the general sleeping practice back then} until a specific age, though see also the case Shlomo HaMelech needed to adjudicate, in which he pretended that he would split the babe in two, which started from a co-sleeping tragedy.)

Now, there is a gemara in Succah 41a which also has this brayta and statement of Shmuel. And the context there makes it about prayer, rather than entering into a bathroom. Thus, the gemara in Succah reads:

א"ל מר בר אמימר לרב אשי אבא צלויי קא מצלי ביה
מיתיבי לא יאחז אדם תפילין בידו וספר תורה בחיקו ויתפלל ולא ישתין בהן מים
ולא יישן בהן לא שינת קבע ולא שינת עראי
ואמר שמואל סכין וקערה ככר ומעות הרי אלו כיוצא בהן
התם לאו מצוה נינהו וטריד בהו הכא מצוה נינהו ולא טריד בהו
תניא רבי אלעזר בר צדוק אומר
כך היה מנהגן של אנשי ירושלים אדם יוצא מביתו ולולבו בידו הולך לבית הכנסת לולבו בידו קורא קריאת שמע ומתפלל ולולבו בידו קורא בתורה ונושא את כפיו מניחו על גבי קרקע הולך לבקר חולים ולנחם אבלים לולבו בידו נכנס לבית המדרש משגר לולבו ביד בנו וביד עבדו וביד שלוחו
מאי קמ"ל
להודיעך כמה היו זריזין במצות
Mar the son of Amemar said to Rav Ashi: Father used to pray with it {=the lulav}.
A contradiction!
{The brayta stated:} A man should not grab his tefillin in his hand and his Torah scroll in his embrace and pray, nor should he urinate with them, nor should he sleep with them, not a temporary nor a sustained sleep.
And Shmuel said: A knife, a plate, a loaf, and money are like them.
{The answer:} There, they are not a mitzvah and he is bothered with them. Here, it {=lulav} is a mitzvah and he is not bothered with them.

They learnt {in a brayta}: Rabbi Eleazar bar Tzadok says:
This was the custom of the men of Jerusalem: A man would leave his house with his lulav in hand. He went to the synagogue with his lulav in hand. He would read Shema and pray {Shemoneh Esrei} with his lulav in hand. He would read from the Torah and lift up his hands {to bless}, he would place it on the floor. He would go to visit the sick, to console mourners with his lulav in hand. He would enter the study hall and would give over his lulav to his son's hand, his servant's hand, or his agent's hand.
What is this {brayta} coming to tell us?
To inform us how zealous they were in performance of mitzvot.
In the context of this gemara, Shmuel's statement must perforce be about prayer and not about urination. Further, from the answer of this gemara, we see that the problem Shmuel had with these items is that a man would be tarud with them. This directly produces Rashi's explanation of the gemara in Brachot, and it would seem it could be no other way.

However, we are faced with two parallel gemaras, and when this happens, we should determine which was the original and which was the copy. In this instance, it seems fairly obvious that Berachot contains the original. The brayta and Shmuel's statement are brought in straightforwardly in series of statements about the privy. This is where we would expect the brayta to be brought. Shmuel's statement is said benichuta - calmly, on the brayta.

Meanwhile, the gemara in Succah is about the laws of lulav, and we have two statements about holding lulav all day. One is Mar bar Amemer relating his father's practice, and the other is the brayta relating the practice of the men of Jerusalem. This practice was troubling in light of another source, from a different field entirely, so the gemara says meitvei - I have an objection! Then, another sugya is copied in its entirety and brought for the contrast - here is a source stating one cannot hold things during prayer! They thus cite the sugya in its entirety - both brayta and Shmuel's statement, as part of the objection. This sub-sugya, of brayta grouped with Shmuel, in coming from somewhere. In truth it does - it comes from Berachot.

Tosafot, too, seems to acknowledge Berachot as the original. On Succah 41b, d"h ve`amar Shemuel, he asks why Shmuel's statement was brought along for the ride. He answers that if they only brought the brayta, I would think this was the law by tefilla only in terms of the tefillin and sefer Torah, since if they fell, there would be bizayon and he would therefore betarud with them. Therefore, Shmuel's statement is also brought, since he discusses secular items.

Now, if this were the original source in which the brayta was brought, Shmuel's statement would be necessary as commentary of the brayta, since otherwise we would not have his statement. (It would later be copied together with the brayta to Berachot.) Tosafot assumes that these statements are being brought from elsewhere to pose the contradiction. (Of course, this is not so, since Tosafot would not subscribe to the view that if two parallel sources exist, one is the original, and the other a copy. Rather, both were in the ether, and Ravina and Rav Ashi cited what they felt necessary in each instance, such that there is sometimes duplication.)

Digression: Here we see the first potential "out." Often, when the gemara cites a statement from elsewhere, they cite the entire sugya, even when the statement required is in the middle of the sugya. Not realizing this fact causes misunderstandings in later generations of what the question was and what the answer was, and such is reflected in the stama or in commentators. I could offer examples here from Horayot, Gittin, and elsewhere, but they are quite involved, and besides the point. One could then quite simply say that Tosafot was right and did not know it. The brayta was cited, and Shmuel's statement was cited agav the brayta, when they did the transfer from one sugya to the other. Indeed, only a sefer Torah and tefillin may not be held, because the possible bizayon to kitvei kodesh will cause him to be tarud. However, this does not mesh with the answer offered by the gemara. True, there is a mitzvah to hold a lulav, one which does not exist by tefillin and sefer Torah, but then, there is no issue of bizayon to kitvei kodesh if the lulav drops, so the question does not start. (Unless one speaks of bizayon to mitzvot, or else wants to argue against the gemara...) Besides, I don't believe this is the answer for a moment. End Digression.

However, once we assume the gemara in Berachot is the source sugya, then I would grant primacy to the best interpretation as found locally in that sugya, and that would be that Shmuel is speaking of urination. What then to make of the gemara in Succah, in which Shmuel must speak of prayer? I would say that Shmuel was taken out of context, and that this movement was a result of reinterpretation, and that the movement also causes Shmuel to be reinterpreted.

Who does this reinterpretation of Shmuel, and who does this movement of brayta and Shmuel from one sugya to another? It is the stama digemara, which speaks in Aramaic and typically tries to harmonize differing sugyot.

For this is introduced by מיתיבי, not by a statement by an Amora. And it does not seem to be Rav Ashi, the sof horaah and redactor of Bavli, for he was told this by Mar bar Amemar, and could have replied directly. The analysis in the gemara takes a sugya involving the Amora Rav Ashi, and a sugya involving the Amora Shmuel, which were already complete by themselves, and transfers the existing sugya of Shmuel to contrast and offer a harmonization. This seems stamaitic.

(Further, Amemer has a brayta to back him up, whereas Shmuel only has his own statement and interpretation of a brayta. Ask on Shmuel rather than Amemer, who is only equal the subsequent brayta! And look at the question, what the brayta is coming to teach us. It is coming to teach us their zealousness in mitzvot? It seems rather to teach us that one may hold the lulav during all of these activities, including Shema and Shemoneh Esrei, but not during duchening, an aliya, and learning. Or at least that one may hold the lulav during davening!)

I would posit that Shmuel's statement is not to be taken as the stama in Succah took it, as referring to prayer, but rather to urination. Therefore there is no problem with Amemar's actions, or with the actions of the men of Jerusalem. And thus it is not an issue of tirda by tefillin and sefer Torah, but rather the disrespect to these items by urinating with them, sleeping with them, or praying with them, which would entail not paying proper attention to them.

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