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:
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.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Shabbat 89-90: In defense of Rav Kahana and Rav Yehuda

Shabbat 89a-b:
Rav Kahana tries to darshen the name Har Sinai, and appears to fail miserably:
One of the Rabbis asked R. Kahana: Hast thou heard what the mountain of Sinai [connotes]? The mountain whereon miracles [nissim] were performed for Israel, he replied. Then it should be called Mount Nisai? But [it means] the mountain whereon a happy augury [siman] took place for Israel. Then it should be called, Mount Simanai? Said he to him, Why dost thou not frequent [the academy of] R. Papa and R. Huna the son of R. Joshua, who make a study of aggadah. For R. Hisda and Rabbah the son of R. Huna both said, What is [the meaning of] Mount Sinai? The mountain whereon there descended hostility [sin'ah] toward idolaters.24  And thus R. Jose son of R. Hanina said: It has five names: The Wilderness of Zin, [meaning] that Israel were given commandments there;25  the Wilderness of Kadesh, where the Israelites were sanctified [kadosh], the Wilderness of Kedemoth, because a priority [kedumah] was conferred there;26  the Wilderness of Paran, because Israel was fruitful [paru] and multiplied there; and the Wilderness of Sinai, because hostility toward idolaters descended thereon. Whilst what was its [real] name? Its name was Horeb. Now they disagree with R. Abbahu, For R. Abbahu said: its name was Mount Sinai, and why was it called Mount Horeb? Because desolation [hurbah] to idolaters descended thereon.
But is Rav Kahana's suggestion, 'The mountain whereon miracles [nissim] were performed for Israel', really so terrible? After all, the rejection was based on that this requires a transposition, Nisai as opposed to Sinai. Yet, in support of the eventual derasha, Sinai as Sinah, hatred, Rabbi Yossi b' Rabbi Chanina interpreted Midbar Tzin as the place shenitztavu Yisrael, that the Israelites were commanded. It appears that this derivation requires a transposition, of Nitz for Tzin.

Shabbat 90a:
LYE [BORITH]. Rab Judah said: That is sand. But it was taught: Borith and sand? Rather what is Borith? Sulphur. An objection is raised: To these were added halbezin6  and le'enn7  and borith and ahol.8  But if you maintain that it is sulphur, is then sulphur subject to shebi'ith? Surely it was taught: This is the general rule: Whatever as a root is subject to shebi'ith, but that which has no root is not subject to shebi'ith? But what is borith? Ahala.9  But it was taught: And borith and ahala?10  — There are two kinds of ahala.
Note that the rejection to Rav Yehuda, that there is a brayta that uses both chol and borit, can now fall away. For the gemara questioned the identification of borit with ahala, since a brayta put them together, such that they must be different. And the gemara concluded that they were two different shades of ahala. Once you can say this, you can also simply say that there are two different shades of chol, the typical chol and borit, specialized sand used for cleansing.

More than this, neither Rav Yehuda (as well as the eventual suggester in the gemara of ahala) knew full well of these braytot which listed both together. Indeed, rather than a rejection of their view, I suspect that this was the very basis of their view. Since items are listed in proximity in a brayta, it stands to reason that it is another shade of the same.