Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sefer Ha-Bloggadah: week 40

This week we finish Book Two!!! The other four books of Sefer Ha-Aggadah are not chronological, but thematic. Book Three is about Israel (the land and the people), and begins this week with Israel the nation.

  • Monday - 2:1:780-787 (The Sages of the Land of Israel and the Sages of Babylonia)
  • Tuesday - 2:1:788-791 (Sages at Their Going In and Their Coming Out of the House of Study)
  • Wednesday - 2:1:792-795 (The Death of Sages and Their Eulogies)
  • Thursday - 3:1:1-16 (God's Love for Israel)
  • Friday - 3:1:17-25 (Between Israel and the Nations)
  • Saturday/Sunday - 3:1:26-34 (Between Israel and the Nations)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sefer Ha-Bloggadah: week 39

The end is near! We complete the individual amoraim with Rav Ashi (traditionally, one of the redactors of the Babylonian Talmud), and then move on to general topics to conclude Book II, which we will finish next week. This week's schedule is partially abbreviated due to Shavuot.

  • Monday - 2:1:721-734 (R. Papa)
  • Tuesday - 2:1:735-747 (R. Ashi)
  • Wednesday - 2:1:748-764 (Patriarch and Exilarch)
  • Thursday/Friday - 2:1:765-771 (The Merit of the Sages)
  • Saturday/Sunday - 2:1:772-779 (The Former and the Latter Generations)

Justice, Justice Shalt Thou Pursue

Section 709 Rava said: May the merit of what I used to do stand by me. Whenever a disciple of the wise came before me in a lawsuit, I did not lay my head on the pillow [to sleep] before I considered what might be said in his favor.

This is self serving junk. The Torah is clear that judges should not show favoritism. Connected with much of the material we have read about the Rabbis, it shows very extreme elitism.

Section 706 Thieves broke in and stole a few rams owned by Rava. Presently the thieves returned the rams, but he refused to accept them, saying, "Rav has ruled: If a thief breaks into a house, steals some items, and gets away, he is exempt from punishment. Why? Because he acquired them with his blood."

This is a strong statement, It makes me wonder about the amount of violence in that country. Would this mean that in states with no gun laws, theft should never be punished?

Also, did they keep their rams in the house or did this mean the courtyard?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Dressing to Kill at Services

Section 699 [As a mark of humility], Rava used to remove his [costly] upper cloak, clasp his hands, and pray, explaining what he did: [I pray] like a slave in the presence of his master.
So much for getting dressed up for services. What a lovely idea. We don't try to show off for G!d, we act contrite and like G!d's slaves.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Touchy Aren't We

I fell a little behind in my reading and as I caught up, I kept noticing stories about hurt feelings and how the Sage whose feelings were hurt got even. Often, by excommunicating the offender. It is a clear pattern. Since most of the stories were after the destruction, I thought of the Bar Kamma story as the reason for the destruction of Jerusalem. Getting even for being embarrassed destroyed so much. But the stories we have don't seem to be critical of this attitude, even though being forgiving is shown as a virtue in some cases.

What is the purpose for telling all these stories?

R. Huna: Rich or Poor?

Section 593 R. Huna once came before Rav with reed grass tied around his waist. Rav: "What is the meaning of this attire?" R. Huna: "I had no wine for Kiddush. So I pledged my girdle, and with the money got wine for Kiddush."

Section 602 Once four hundred jars of wine belonging to R. Huna turned sour.

I find it interesting that there are no stories about how R. Huna became rich. Even the wine which turned to vinegar did not result in any financial losses.

Torah Study

Section 627 [During the reading of Scripture], R. Sheshet used to turn his back to the reader and, reviewing [interpretations of the text], would say: We are busy with ours [advanced study], while they are busy with theirs [cursory perusal].
This is a third case where the Rabbis seem to be going against what we consider Halachah today. Many tend to think that Judaism is all a fully established tradition and anything that suggests change is dangerous and bad for Judaism. Did the pre-code Rabbis have the same position?

Lighting Shabbos Candles

Section 597 R. Huna frequently passed the door of R. Avin The Carpenter. Seeing that R. Avin was scrupulous in kindling [Sabbath] lights, he said, "Two great men will issue from this household." And indeed, R. Idda bar Avin and R. Hiyya bar Avin did issue from there.
Interesting, it is a man who is being praised for lighting the Shabbos candles. Is this an indication that it became a women's mitzvah at a later time?

Prayer vs. Study (Sect. 590)

R. Jeremiah was seated before R. Zera, and both were engaged in Halakhah. Evening drew near, the time for prayer arrived, and R. Jeremiah insisted on reciting it. R. Zera then applied to him the verse "He that turneth away his ear from hearing Torah, even his prayer is an abomination" (Prov. 28:9).
Does this indicate that the requirement for prayer was late in developing?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sefer Ha-Bloggadah: week 38

The debates of Rava and Abbaye, fourth-generation Babylonian amoraim, span the whole Talmud. Now we get to see their personal sides.

  • Monday - 2:1:652-668 (R. Joseph)
  • Tuesday - 2:1:669-680 (Abbaye)
  • Wednesday - 2:1:681-691 (Abbaye)
  • Thursday - 2:1:692-705 (Rava)
  • Friday - 2:1:706-714 (Rava)
  • Saturday/Sunday - 2:1:715-720 (Rava)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Sefer Ha-Bloggadah: week 37

An assortment of second- and third-generation Babylonian amoraim. We'll finish the amoraim right around Shavuot!

  • Monday - 2:1:585-592 (R. Jeremiah)
  • Tuesday - 2:1:593-606 (R. Huna)
  • Wednesday - 2:1:607-624 (R. Hisda)
  • Thursday - 2:1:625-634 (R. Sheshet)
  • Friday - 2:1:635-640 (R. Nahman)
  • Saturday - 2:1:641-651 (Rabbah)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Communications after death

Then Samuel asked his father, "Where is the orphans' money?" He replied, "You will find it in the rack of millstones. The money on the upper and lower millstones is ours; that on the middle one is the orphans'." Samuel: "Why did you put the orphans' money on the middle millstone?" He replied, "So that if thieves got at it [from the top], ours would be stolen; and if the earth eroded it [from below] ours would be eroded."
This provides a very practical lesson. Unless you expect to be able to communicate with this world after death, make sure someone knows about your finances. Even more so with the finances of other people who depend on you.

Of course, we would not have this problem we could leave the money with a trustworthy person, e.g. Mr. Madoff, and everything would be fine.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Sefer Ha-Bloggadah: week 36

We've moved east, and we're covering the early Babylonian amoraim.

  • Monday - 2:1:540-549 (Rav)
  • Tuesday - 2:1:550-556 (Samuel)
  • Wednesday - 2:1:557-566 (Samuel)
  • Thursday - 2:1:567-572 (R. Judah)
  • Friday - 2:1:573-578 (R. Judah)
  • Saturday/Sunday - 2:1:579-584 (R. Judah)

Friday, May 1, 2009

I've been AWOL for several weeks. As I try to resume my reading and writing, I was very much struck by the stories of R' Zeira, and came to think that this was a sage that I would have liked to know.

He could hear a (possibly fatuous) aggadic midrash on a verse and respond that exactly the opposite interpretation was equally plausible. (text 496)

He combined great humility and great intensity -- when he made aliya from Babylonia, he crossed the river at the flood rather than await a fordable shallows, lest he commit some sin in the interim that would deprive him of the merit needed to make aliya. (text 502)

Upon making aliya, he consciously obliterated from his mind the Torah of Babylonia and re-educated himself in the Torah of Eretz Yisrael. (text 504). Was this because he thought the latter inherently superior? If so, wouldn't he have opted for the latter even while still in Babylonia? Perhaps it was rather that he perceived that a system or approach to Torah must depend to some extent on the circumstances, and the Torah of Eretz Yisrael was somehow more appropriate to living in that place. Still, the commitment to a re-programming is impressive. (Something of a piece with this is his willingness to reverse his position, as shown in text 495 on running to hear the sermon on Shabbat.)

Another incident showing his impressive ability and willingness to reverse course, and the nimbleness of his mind, as well as his humility and intensity, is the story (text 506) that he first said he wished his parents were still alive so that he could honor them, and that he then expressed relief that they were no longer alive, because he was convinced that he could not honor them as much as he should.

I'm inclined to think that he was too dismissive of aggada and too trusting in the solidity of halacha (texts 496-497), but there's something to be said for the groundedness that comes when decisions have to be put into actual practice. Still, this was an intriguing guy.