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.

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