Discussion on the Daf - Pesachim
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Post Fri, Jan 08 2021, 1:23 pm
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Post Fri, Jan 08 2021, 1:23 pm
While this all seems logical and even idyllic, Rabbi Akiva, a Tanna known for his strong emotional intelligence, reminds us that there are actually quite a few variables to consider:

Rabbi Akiva says: Not all women, not all wood, and not all ovens are the same, this is the principle: (if the dough begins to) rise, she (should spread) cold (water to stop the leavening process).

People work at different speeds, dough rises at different rates, and ovens do not all heat up to the same temperature. Any single rule or procedure cannot be one-size-fits-all when the variables in the equation are unpredictable. Rather, Rabbi Akiva reasons, it is best to bear in mind the salient principle: the dough should not rise before it is baked. Each woman must keep watch over the dough she is holding in her hand and if she senses that it is beginning to rise she should spread the cold water onto it to stop the leavening process. Instead of giving people a procedure, however beautiful and harmonious, that will not always work, Rabbi Akiva educates them about the foundational principle and how to uphold it.
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Post Sun, Jan 10 2021, 9:52 am
Pesachim 50

s this new chapter begins, the mishnah opens with a question about working on Erev Passover. While you might think, from the mishnah, that we are headed for a deep dive into what constitutes work, Erev Passover, and local custom, the conversation is even more nuanced. From this mishnah, we’ll get to questions of fair compensation, laziness and industriousness, and even a topic near and dear to the heart of the modern non-profit staffer: the value of work beyond money.

As the rabbis ease into that conversation — working “for love of the game” — they circle back to a theme that we find throughout the Talmud: the tension, or perhaps the relationship, between intention and action. Does fulfilling a mitzvah still “count,” the rabbis ponder, if you have an ulterior motive — like financial gain?

And here, (Psalms 57:11) it is referring to a case where one performs a mitzvah not for its own sake. As Rav Yehuda said that Rav said: A person should always engage in Torah study and performance of mitzvot, even if he does so not for their own sake, as through the performance of mitzvot not for their own sake one gains understanding and comes to perform them for their own sake.

For Rava, even if your performance of the mitzvah is not purely for the sake of the commandment, it still “counts.” But more than that, Rav (via Rava) suggests, the more you fulfill mitzvot for the self-interested “wrong” reasons, the more you will learn about them, and the more inspired you will become to follow the commandments for their own sake. A classic win/win.

But what about the other end of the spectrum? What happens when fulfilling a mitzvah is part of your job description — and therefore you always have a monetary motive for fulfilling it? The Gemara brings the example of scribes (sofrim): men (and today also women) who have the skill and authority to write Torah scrolls, mezuzot and the parchments inside tefillin. Does the fact that they make their living by performing God’s holy work corrupt the beauty of that work? The answer is that it doesn’t, as long as they don’t make too much money. Here’s the Gemara again:

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: The members of the Great Assembly observed 24 fasts, for scribes who write Torah scrolls, tefillin, and mezuzot, so that they will not become wealthy from their craft, for were they to become wealthy, they would no longer write these sacred items.

Similarly, the sages taught: Scribes who write scrolls, tefillin, and mezuzot; and their merchants and their merchants’ merchants and all those engaged in the work of Heaven as a profession which includes those who sell the sky-blue dye for ritual fringes, never see a sign of blessing from their labor. But if they engage in these activities for their own sake, they do see blessing from their labor.

Overworked, underpaid and committed to their mission — it seems that the scribes are the nonprofit staff of Talmudic times. Engaging in the work of Heaven, the rabbis seem to understand, is a reward unto itself, but money, as it does so often, threatens to complicate and corrupt the work. Further, unlike regular folk, who earn their reward regardless of how or why they fulfill the mitzvah, those whose employment is fulfilling mitzvot only receive a reward for the “pure” fulfillment of the commandment — unsullied by ulterior motives or financial compensation.

I recently saw a comic strip about nonprofit compensation: “Benjamins? We are paid in children’s laughter.” Or, it would seem, in the service of Heaven itself.
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Post Sun, Jan 10 2021, 10:43 pm
Those women of Mechoza seem to have it great.
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Post Sun, Jan 10 2021, 11:44 pm
imorethanamother wrote:
Those women of Mechoza seem to have it great.

Not my kind of great. I’m eternally grateful not to have lived in those times.
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Post Mon, Jan 11 2021, 8:12 pm
Pesachim 51

Yesterday’s mishnah stated as follows:

In a place where the people were accustomed to perform labor on Passover eve until midday, one may do so. In a place where the people were accustomed not to perform labor, one may not do so … the sages impose upon him the stringencies of both the place from which he left and the stringencies of the place to which he went … And a person may not deviate from the local custom, due to potential dispute.

The Gemara shares the story of Rabba bar bar Hana who travels from the Land of Israel to Babylonia where he enjoys what I’d like us to imagine is his favorite childhood delicacy: fat from the straight part of an animal’s stomach. Yum! Perhaps its smell and texture conjures the warm memory of home and family. Who hasn’t traveled and craved a taste of the familiar?

Yet, while this treat is eaten in the Land of Israel, in Babylonia it is not. Rabba bar bar Hanna engages in a culinary familiarity but violates a local custom. So the Gemara wonders if he knows our mishnah, that one accepts the stringencies of the place he left and the place he goes and does not deviate from local custom?

Abaye explains Rabba bar bar Hana’s behavior: Our mishnah applies when one travels from one place in Babylonia to another place in Babylonia, or from one place in the Land of Israel to another place in the Land of Israel, or even from Babylonia to Land of Israel. However, it does not apply to one who travels from the Land of Israel to Babylonia. In Abaye’s view, the residents of Babylonia are subordinate to those of the Land of Israel in terms of halakhah, so a resident of the Land of Israel is not required to follow the Babylonian custom when they visit. Hence, Rabba bar bar Hana is free to nosh away at his beloved fat from the straight part of an animal’s stomach!

Rav Ashi said: Even if you say that when one travels from the Land of Israel to Babylonia he is required to act stringently in accordance with the local custom this applies only when his intent is not to return.

For Rav Ashi, it is not an issue of the superiority of one place or another, but a matter of the traveler’s individual intention. If the traveler aims to return home, he maintains his own practices. But if he seeks to transform from a traveler to dweller, he must respectfully do as the locals do.

Eating can be a private thing. What about when the practice happens in the public sphere? Now we return to the mishnah’s discussion of labor on Passover eve: what happens if your tradition says work is acceptable, but in the place you go it is forbidden?

For the rabbis, it is now a matter of creating a disruption: you should desist from working out of fear that it might cause dispute. And if your tradition forbids you from you working, you should maintain that practice as it too ensures that there will not be a dispute.

Travel allows us to see ourselves from a new perspective — and the Gemara encourages us to see the world, but always with respect to both who we are and how others live.
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Post Mon, Jan 11 2021, 8:20 pm
Some things I'm learning as I'm doing the daf:

1) I have a flexible job, and I should really try to stop work at midday on Friday. It's not always easy, though. And does this include actually cooking for shabbos?

2) Mayim Shelanu: Rabbi Lebowitz said that the reason for the little "joke" in the text is not to tell us amusing stories about people misinterpreting words. It's to tell us that even when klal yisroel learned something that logically, sounds ridiculous (only HIS water is good enough to make matzah with?), the klal took it at face value and didn't question it. They showed up the next day asking for the Rav's water.

3) I have a question regarding Am Ha'aretz and Yehuda. If you're not supposed to marry the daughter of an Am Ha'aretz, and it says specifically that Yehuda did not marry a half sister, but the daughter of a merchant, then how could he do that? Where did Tamar come from? In general, the marrying habits of the shevatim are confusing to me.
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Post Tue, Jan 12 2021, 1:11 am
Pesachim 52

today’s page, the rabbis continue to grapple with laws governing travelers as we turn from the question of whether one may work on the eve of Passover to observing the laws of shmita, the sabbatical year.

According to the Bible, just as Jews rest one in seven days on Shabbat, the land is entitled to rest one in seven crop cycles. In a shmita year, the

the land is not farmed, though people may glean what grows on its own.

Arguably, the sabbatical year is a test of faith, not dissimilar from the one performed each year on Passover. Just as on Passover Jews destroy their hametz, including their sourdough starters, and hold faith that God will restore their ability to bake beautiful fluffy loaves, in the sabbatical year the land lies fallow and the people rely on God (and their storehouses) to provide sustenance.

Like most things in the Talmud, the laws of shmita become more complex in the hands of the rabbis. For today, what you need to know is that one is allowed to glean food the land produces spontaneously — grapes that grow on their own, for instance. But if you make wine from those grapes, you can only own the wine so long as there are ripe grapes still on the vine in the field. Once those grapes wither, you must declare the wine ownerless and make it publicly available.

On today’s page, the shmita produce (called shevi’it, from the Hebrew word for “seven”) goes traveling. What if your shmita wine comes to a location where that particular grape species is no longer available in the field, but you know it still is back home? Or conversely, you know it is no longer available back home but it is still in the fields in your new location? When must you remove it from your possession? Can you relocate so as to hold on to the shmita wine? When you travel and the time comes to give up your shmita wine, must you go home to declare it ownerless or can you do it where you are? The sages disagree on all of these matters, including the last, which is the subject of a quick story:

Rav Safra is carrying some shmita wine out of the Land of Israel and the time has come for the wine to leave his possession. But does he need to take it all the way back home to declare it ownerless, as Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar maintains? He turns to his two companions for advice: Rav Kahana says yes, while Rav Huna says no. Perhaps relieved there is an option that allows him to stay put, Rav Kahana immediately accepts Rav Huna’s more lenient opinion. He’s so satisfied with this answer that he perhaps lays it on a bit thick when he adds:

Zing! In context, Hosea poetically describes the people taking direction from a staff or rod (maklo) rather than God. (Rashi understands this to be some sort of idolatry.) But Rav Yosef wryly puns on the verse, substituting the word for rod (maklo) with the word for leniency (mekel) to take a snarky jab at Rav Safra, who too eagerly jumps at a lenient ruling.

But honestly, when it’s a matter of having to make an arduous trip just to give away some perfectly good wine, who can blame him?
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Post Wed, Jan 13 2021, 12:40 pm
Pesachim 53

n the Talmud we mostly encounter rabbis living in the Land of Israel and Babylonia because that is where the two major rabbinic centers lay. But the Jewish community of late antiquity extended far beyond these two regions — including all the way to Rome, where (as we learn on today’s daf) the Jewish community had many of its own unique customs.

By the time of the Talmud, Jews had been living in Rome for hundreds of years. Today’s daf introduces us to one of their leaders: Todos (Theodosius) of Rome. Don’t be fooled by his Latin name; Theodosius is a Jewish leader deeply engaged in Jewish law and Torah.

After the destruction of the Temple, when offering a paschal lamb was no longer possible, the rabbis ordered that people cease eating lamb altogether on Passover so as not to give the appearance of eating sacred meat when it was not possible to properly sacrifice the lamb. But, as we learn in a mishnah on today’s page, some communities continued to enjoy roasted meat on Passover.

Theodosius of Rome apparently took it a step further and “instituted the custom for the Roman Jews to eat lambs roasted whole with their entrails over their heads on the evenings of Passover.” (You might not want to picture that too carefully; because of the entrails hanging around the head of the lamb, this delicacy was called “helmeted lamb.”) In other words, Theodosius instructed his community to eat something that was meant to explicitly mimic the paschal lamb served in ancient Jerusalem, directly contradicting the rabbinic prohibition on eating roasted lamb on Passover in the post-Temple world.

Not surprisingly, the rabbis were not pleased:

The sages sent a message to him: If you were not Todos (I.e. an important person) we would have decreed ostracism upon you, as it appears as if you are feeding Israel consecrated food outside the permitted area.
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Post Wed, Jan 13 2021, 12:41 pm
So although it was against their principles, because of his status the rabbis allow Theodosius’s ruling to stand in Rome. Perhaps they felt they could not exert enough authority or influence to overturn him. Or perhaps they valued preserving local Jewish customs (as today’s mishnah hints).

The incident leads the Talmud’s redactors to ask whether we should understand Todos as righteous or evil. To answer that question, it recounts another of his teachings:

Come and hear: This was also taught by Todos of Rome: What did Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah see that led them to deliver themselves to the fiery furnace for sanctification of the name (I.e. to martyr themselves)? They drew a kal v’chomer inference on their own from the plague of frogs in Egypt. With regard to frogs, which are not commanded concerning the sanctification of the name of God, it is written: And the river shall swarm with frogs, which shall go up and come into your house, and into your bedchamber, and onto your bed, and into the houses of your servants, and upon your people, and into their ovens and kneading bowls. (Exodus 7:28) When are kneading bowls found near the oven? You must say that it is when the oven is hot. If in fulfilling the command to harass the Egyptians, the frogs entered burning ovens, kal v’chomer (all the more so) we, who are commanded concerning the sanctification of the name of God, should deliver ourselves to be killed in the fiery furnace for that purpose.

Todos uses the kal v’chomer method of rabbinic argument (we explained it here) to offer a profound Torah insight. He shows that the biblical Daniel’s three companions learned they must enter the fiery furnace and face certain death for God’s sake from the frogs sent as a plague upon Egypt who themselves willingly entered ovens to do God’s bidding. Theodosius’s teaching is also deeply relevant to his own diaspora community, focusing as it does on how Daniel’s three friends acted when living in exile at the center of a sometimes hostile Babylonian empire. Quoting such a teaching in his name suggests the rabbis viewed him as righteous.

Rabbi Yosei bar Avin agrees with this assessment. He states that:

Theodosius was one who cast the profits from merchandise into the purse of Torah scholars (financially supported them) as Rabbi Yohanan said: Anyone who casts merchandise into the purse of Torah scholars is rewarded and sits in the heavenly academy, as it is stated: For in the shadow of wisdom, is the shadow of money. (Ecclesiastes 7:12)

For Rabbi Yosei bar Avin too, Theodosius certainly sounds like a righteous man, even meriting to sit in the yeshiva shel ma’alah, the heavenly beit midrash.

Though Romans famously thought that Rome was the center of the world — the proverbial meeting point of all roads — for the rabbis it was the distant representative of an oppressive empire. And yet, here we have a peripheral Jewish communal leader, with a non-Jewish name, instituting rules that are troubling to the rabbis, whom they nonetheless uphold, along with his teachings, as righteous. The rabbinic world turns out to have been bigger than we might have imagined. And in fact, even today Roman and Italian Jews maintain their own nusach, or liturgical rite, among other distinctive traditions.
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Post Thu, Jan 14 2021, 9:50 pm
Pesachim 54

things were created in heaven on Shabbat eve during twilight. They were: Miriam’s well, and the manna that fell in the desert, and the rainbow, writing, and the writing instrument, and the tablets of the Ten Commandments, and the grave of Moses, and the cave in which Moses and Elijah stood, the opening of the mouth of Balaam’s donkey, and the opening of the earth’s mouth to swallow the wicked in the incident involving Korach.

What do these ten things — which the rabbis say were created at the 11th hour, the very end of the sixth day of creation right before God finished making the world — have in common? They are all miraculous, standing outside of the natural order, that testifies to God’s continued involvement in the life of the people of Israel.

Here’s the thing: exceptional, miraculous events are profoundly powerful, and sometimes scary. The natural order of things has rules, it is predictable. A donkey suddenly speaking, or the earth opening up and swallowing sinners — these are outside the rules, the height of unpredictability. And yet, in this short beraita, the rabbis subsume these miraculous phenomena to a divine plan, making them part of the natural order of things instituted in the seven days of creation in Genesis 1. Rather than thinking of miracles as “rule-breaking,” then, the rabbis depict them as evidence of God’s omniscient and omnipotent planning.

This neat tannaitic (early rabbinic) list of ten remarkable, even miraculous things inspires the later rabbis of the Talmud, the Amoraim, to speculate about other things that might be on this list, and here the focus is on the rare and exceptional:

Rabbi Yoshiya said in the name of his father: Even the ram slaughtered by Abraham in place of Isaac, and the shamir used to shape the stones for the altar, were created at that time …

But while some rabbis focus on the explicitly miraculous and one-of-a-kind, other rabbis suggest that God used this time to create some more practical phenomena as well:

Rabbi Nehemya said in the name of his father: Even the fire and the mule.

Rabbi Yehuda says: Even the tongs were created at this time. He would say: Tongs can be fashioned only with other tongs, but who fashioned the first tongs? Indeed, the first pair of tongs was fashioned at the hand of Heaven.

There’s something particularly charming in thinking about God creating the first set of tongs as the sun sets on the first Friday. These last three items — fire, tongs, the mule — are not outside the natural order; instead they are crucial tools that allow humans to interact with the mundane world. Most people in the rabbis’ world probably interacted with at least one of these three things every single day.

While this final set of phenomena is not explicitly outside of nature, Rabbi Nehemya and Rabbi Yehuda’s teachings encourage us to see the miraculous in the mundane. Taken as a whole, today’s daf encourages us to understand the exceptional in the every day, and the mundane as part of a miraculous world planned out and created by God.
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Post Fri, Jan 15 2021, 4:15 pm
Pesachim 55

pages now, the Talmud has been discussing laws that vary by local custom. It began with a conversation about which communities work on Erev Passover and which do not. Likewise, yesterday we learned in a mishnah that some communities work on Tisha B’Av (the day on which Jews fast and mourn the destruction of the First and Second Temples) and some do not. The mishnah continues:

In all places Torah scholars are idle.
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Post Sat, Jan 16 2021, 11:22 pm
Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel says: A person should always conduct themselves as a Torah scholar.

Regardless of the local custom, says the mishnah, Torah scholars do not perform labor on Tisha B’Av, allowing them to mourn for the loss of the Temple without distraction. Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel (also known by his acronym Rashbag) universalizes that notion, however, suggesting that we should all act like Torah scholars and refrain from labor, regardless of local custom.

In one mishnah, we’ve been given three ways of thinking about this rule. Is working on Tisha B’Av a matter of local custom? Educational and religious status (I.e. whether or not one is a rabbi)? Or a universal no-no?

As we have so often seen, the Gemara doesn’t seek to simply know the answer, but to understand the reasoning behind each position. Why does Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel (Rashbag) disagree with the rabbis? The Gemara begins to intuit an answer:

Is that to say that Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel holds that we are not concerned about presumptuousness when a person conducts himself like a Torah scholar? And conversely, do the rabbis hold that we are concerned about presumptuousness?

Here, the Gemara suggests that the debate is not about who should refrain from working, but rather what it looks like for a person to do so: The rabbis are concerned that adopting the practice of a Torah scholar looks presumptuous; Rashbag encourages everyone to refrain from working during the fast, without concern for how it looks.

This is a typical example of how the Gemara reframes a difference of opinion in the mishnah as a disagreement about the principles that underlie the respective positions. One might now expect the Gemara to bring test cases that will now help determine if presumptuousness is a relevant concern. Except that is not where it goes.

It turns out, the Gemara has a bigger problem to tackle because there is another mishnah (on Berakhot 16b) in which the positions of the rabbis and the Rashbag actually appear to be reversed:

With regard to the recitation of Shema on one’s wedding night, the rabbis said that if a groom wishes to recite Shema on the first night despite his exemption, he may do so. Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel says: Not everyone who wishes to assume the reputation of a God-fearing person may assume it, and consequently not everyone who wishes to recite Shema on his wedding night may do so.

In general, the rabbis presumed that one’s wedding night is likely to be pretty (ahem) busy and therefore generally grant an exemption from the requirement to say morning Shema — though as Torah scholars and leaders, they still take that obligation upon themselves. But in this particular mishnah, we see that the rabbis move to universalize that custom of saying Shema on one’s wedding night, while it is now Rashbag who appears concerned about people acting presumptuously. The two parties have effectively reversed their positions.

Luckily, Rav Sheisha the son of Rav Idi offers an explanation that makes sense of all this. With regard to the position of the rabbis in both mishnahs, he notes that the cases are not actually fully parallel. On Tisha B’Av, the question of performing labor is a matter of local custom and because many other people are refraining from labor, visibly doing so is a way of truly distinguishing oneself in a manner that might be seen as ostentatious. But in the case of Shema, there is no variance in local custom — everyone is reciting Shema, so the groom who chooses to do so on his wedding night is not singling himself against others who do not.

Similarly, Rav Sheisha is able to resolve the tension in Rashbag’s two statements as well. To Rashbag, choosing to recite Shema in the midst of an evening that requires a great deal of (ahem again) concentration appears presumptuous (“as if announcing: I am able to concentrate although others in my situation are not”) while refraining from labor on Tisha B’Av does not appear presumptuous because people will just assume the person has no work to do that day.

Rav Sheisha’s explanation not only resolves the tension between these two mishnahs, but helps us understand the underlying thinking of both the rabbis and Rashbag. He explains everything through the notion of presumptuousness — and, in particular, the appearance of presumptuousness. Each permits a presumptuous act, if it will be discrete, they simply disagree about the situation in which discretion is possible.
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Post Sat, Jan 16 2021, 11:35 pm
Pesachim 56

, when a biblical paragraph is incorporated into the liturgy, it is read straight through without interruption. A notable exception is the first paragraph of the Shema which is comprised of Deuteronomy 6:4-9 with the words, “Blessed be the name of God’s glorious kingdom for ever and ever” inserted between verses four and five.

The addition of these words reflects an ancient practice. When the leader recited the first line of the Shema, which invokes the divine name, the congregation would reply with the response that was used whenever God’s name was uttered in the Temple. As Rabbi Reuven Hammer, a scholar of Jewish liturgy, explains: “When this [liturgical] practice ceased, possibly the result of Roman interdiction of the recitation of the Sh’ma, this response seemed out of place. There was no need for a response to something one said to oneself. Furthermore it seemed inappropriate to interrupt the biblical text. Therefore, although the words are retained, they are said silently and, in printed texts, appear in smaller type.” This historical explanation is that we retain an ancient practice but modify it to reflect a new reality.

That is one explanation. On today’s daf, we encounter another — a midrashic one:

Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish said that it is written: And Jacob called his sons and said, “Gather around and I will tell you what will occur to you in the end of days” (Genesis 49:1). Jacob wanted to reveal to his sons when the complete redemption would arrive at the end of days, but the Divine Presence abandoned him, rendering him unable to prophesy. He said: Perhaps the Divine Presence has abandoned me because, Heaven forfend, one of my descendants is unfit, as was the case with my grandfather Abraham, from whom Ishmael emerged, and like my father Isaac, from whom Esau emerged.

In response to Jacob’s distress about their being unfit for inclusion in the covenant with God, his children seek to buoy him with the ancient liturgical words that are the familiar first line of the Shema:

Hear Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.

Here, the midrash places the first line of the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4 — in that context spoken by Moses to the entire assembly of Israel) in the mouths of the children of Jacob, also known of course as Israel, as they address their father on his deathbed. By speaking these words, the midrash explains, they remind their father that God is in their hearts, and comfort him.

With their declaration, the midrash reports that Jacob was indeed comforted and responded:

Blessed be the name of God’s glorious kingdom for ever and ever.

This gorgeous midrashic explanation of the interposed line leads the Gemara into a dilemma. On the one hand, the extra line (“Blessed be the name of God’s glorious kingdom for ever and ever”) is not part of the text spoken by Moses as reported in Deuteronomy, and so should not be part of the liturgy. But on the other hand, it was (according to this midrash) spoken by the patriarch Jacob — so how can we not say it? The Gemara explains that the rabbis chose a compromise: reciting the line in a whisper.

Today, when Jews say the Shema and include that quiet, murmured phrase, “Blessed be the name of God’s glorious kingdom for ever and ever,” they are doing two things. They are both responding to God’s name as was the practice in the Temple and reenacting a tender moment between a parent and children, transferring the covenant from one generation to the next. The historical explanation helps us understand the origin of the practice; the midrashic one adds to its meaning.
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Post Mon, Jan 18 2021, 11:34 pm
Pesahim 57

The priests were entitled to the hides of these flayed animals, but they were required to share them with everyone from the priestly family who was serving in the Temple that week. In order to respond to some powerful priests who hoarded the hides, the Talmud imagines, the rabbis decreed that they would distribute them each Shabbat eve at the changeover of the watch. The hope was that when two families were together in the moment when one family left duty and the next came on, the increased surveillance and social pressure would stop people from strong-arming more than their share.

Unfortunately, the Gemara goes on to say, this move didn’t work, and the corruption continued until finally the people had to take things into their own hands:

When they realized that there was no equitable distribution, the owners (of the sacrifices) arose and consecrated the hides to Heaven.

Consecrating the hides to God would have meant that the priests couldn’t take them, or even use them, for personal gain! This story criticizes the priests for two misdeeds: the initial corruption, and the systemic failure to fix it. When the leadership fail to resolve the problem, the everyday people find an ingenious solution, taking the hides out of priestly circulation entirely.

As the daf progresses, the Talmud’s criticism of corrupt priests becomes even more direct, until we arrive at a passage in which Abba Shaul calls out specific priestly families, by name, for their violence, rumor-mongering and nepotism. It’s a very long list.

Reading this, it might be hard to remember that by the time the Talmud was edited and finalized, the Temple had been destroyed for almost five hundred years! No priestly families had illicitly seized consecrated hides in all that time. So why call it out?

Scholars have noted that the destruction of the Temple created a leadership vacuum in the Jewish community. Where the Torah describes biblical Israel being led by kings, prophets, and priests, the first centuries CE saw a Jewish world where each of these roles was in flux. Rabbis and priests may have both sought to fill this vacuum, with distinct visions of what Jewish community and Jewish leadership should look like. This document may testify to this early competition, with the rabbis working to discredit a model of leadership depending on heredity and ancient connections to the Temple in Jerusalem.

But even if this was its original historical context, the Talmud offers models for our continued education and inspiration. In their discussion of corrupt priests, the rabbis also emphasize the qualities that a good leader should have: peacefulness and fairness, personal merit, and a commitment to continuing to learn and grow in response to the people’s feedback.
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Post Thu, Jan 21 2021, 11:48 am
Pes 58

ntil now, we’ve been studying aspects of Passover, like the prohibition against hametz and the mitzvah of matzah, that are largely applicable to contemporary Jewish observance of the holiday. Today, we begin chapter five and delve into the details of a ritual practice that is more distant from modern Jewish life: the paschal sacrifice.

If this shift feels a bit abrupt, that’s because originally this was two tractates. At one time, the Talmud had Tractate Pesach Rishon (First Passover), with chapters that explore laws of Passover that are not connected to Temple rituals—laws that continued after the destruction. And then there was Tractate Pesach Sheni (Second Passover), which includes chapters about the sacrificial offerings. Scholars believe that these two tractates were merged during the 11th century, hence the tractate’s name “Pesachim,” which is in the plural.

In the talmudic exploration of the Passover sacrifices which will now occupy us for well over a month, we will encounter material that may feel foreign or even, at times, repugnant. (We will of course face this challenge again when we get to entire tractates that deal with laws of Temple service and sacrificial worship.) How can we respond to this challenge? In a number of ways: We can view these pages as material that we have to get through as part of the Daf Yomi cycle. It may seem boring or irrelevant, but in the spirit of Nike, we’ll “Just Do It.” A second approach would be to adopt an anthropological curiosity, approaching the text with the intention of learning about the theology or culture of Temple worship. Or, third, we can embrace the task of finding meaning, despite the difficult or uninspiring nature of the subject matter. Ultimately, we may come to find meaning in the content itself, or we may derive meaning from the fact and process of our study. As you read on, feel free to lean into multiple lenses.

Ready? Let’s take a look at the mishnah that opens the chapter, at the top of today’s daf:

But if Passover eve coincides with Shabbat eve, the daily offering is slaughtered at six and a half hours and sacrificed at seven and a half hours, and the paschal lamb is offered thereafter.

This mishnah, like many opening mishnahs we have seen before, is concerned with timing. In this case, how the timing of the daily afternoon sacrifice (the tamid, made every day when the Temple stood!) is moved up earlier in the day to accommodate the once-yearly paschal sacrifice that also must be offered by sundown (and which is then roasted and eaten). On Erev Shabbat, it is moved up extra early; because cooking is prohibited on Shabbat, the Passover sacrifice must be both offered and roasted before Shabbat starts.

Beyond the practicalities, this mishnah raises a host of more interesting theoretical questions: How are the obligations of my daily religious practice impacted by the start of a festival that brings with it its own set of ritual duties? What is the relationship between the ‘everyday’ (represented by the tamid), and the ‘special’ (represented by the Passover sacrifice)? How does the sanctity of Shabbat relate to the sanctity of Passover? Is there a hierarchy of ritual, or a hierarchy of time, that is suggested by this mishnah, and what might I learn from that?
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Post Sat, Jan 23 2021, 9:28 pm
I’m so enjoying revisiting Zevachim (which I learned with Daf Yomi - last round). Hope others are enjoying it too. Smile
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Post Sun, Jan 24 2021, 9:24 pm
Pes 59

Today’s daf continues the conversation about what to do when the first day of Passover coincides with Shabbat, and addresses a number of technical and complex matters about the timing of, and differences between, the daily offering and those connected to Passover.

In thinking about today’s talmudic conversation, however, it may be just as interesting to reflect on what’s not on the page as to analyze what is; namely, the rabbis do not attempt to interpret the biblical text in a way that would allow the Passover sacrifice to supersede the daily sacrifice. Passover — even Passover plus Shabbat — is not an excuse to skip the regular daily sacrifice. Though the Shabbat and Passover commandments might to us instinctually feel more “special” than a mundane daily sacrifice, for the rabbis they are not more significant. All commandments, after all, come from God.

In the introduction to his 16th century compilation of the aggadic (non-legal) material from the Babylonian Talmud, Ein Yaakov, Rabbi Yaakov Ben Haviv refers to a debate amongst the rabbis about the most central verse in the Torah. He quotes a text not from the Talmud but from another work composed by the rabbis, an extended set of midrashim on the book of Leviticus called the Sifra (specifically, he is quoting Sifra Kedoshim 4:12, though his version is a little different from the one we have in the printed edition of the Sifra):

Ben Zoma says: We have found a more inclusive verse and it is: Hear O Israel, the Lord is Your God, the Lord is one… (Deuteronomy 6:4, the first line of the Shema)

Ben Nanas says we have found a more inclusive verse than that and it is: Love your fellow as yourself. (Leviticus 19:18)

Shimon Ben Pazi says we have found a more inclusive verse than that and it is: The first lamb you shall sacrifice in the morning and the second lamb you shall sacrifice in the evening. (Exodus 29:39 and Numbers 28:4)

Rabbi Ploni stood up and said that the halakhah is in accordance with Ben Pazi.

These are some great candidates for most significant verse in the whole Torah! You may not be surprised that Ben Azai selects a verse that declares humans are made in God’s image, or that Ben Zoma chooses the Shema, which has been described as the Jewish creed. Ben Nanas and Rabbi Akiva’s candidate, loving one’s neighbor as oneself, also makes sense.

The more surprising selection is that of Shimon ben Pazi who chooses a dictum that commands the people to offer a tamid sacrifice twice daily, once in the morning and once in the evening. But it is this choice, a mundane dictum about a sacrifice that was already in his day long defunct, that is marked as the best.

Perhaps Ben Pazi is teaching us an important lesson about the need for routine in one’s religious life. To build and sustain a relationship with God, we need to show up consistently. Spiritual depth and transformation doesn’t come from the lofty vision of loving all human beings, seeing the divine in all of humanity, or declaring the oneness of God — though those are all certainly important! Rather, it is the day-in-day-out commitment to ritual, as embodied in the twice daily tamid, that is central to building a spiritual life. The Talmud seems to instinctively know this, and never once considers sidelining the tamid, but finds ways to weave the mundane and the special together.
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Post Wed, Jan 27 2021, 5:54 pm
Pes 60

utside of Jewish settings where it neutrally refers to the rabbinic literature, the adjective talmudic means something like “obsessively detailed,” “hair-splitting,” or “esoteric.” It is the kind of word that might be used to describe an atrocious legal brief or a convoluted statute. In such cases, it is not a compliment.

The reason for this has everything to do with the complicated history of Jews and Christians, particularly the doctrine of supersessionism and the Christian critique of Judaism as legalistic. And while it is the conceit of our entire Daily Dose series that the Talmud is actually full of surprise, wit and wisdom, pages like the one we encounter today can give us some sympathy for those who use talmudic to mean “frustrating” and “arcane.”

Unless you know a great deal about the rabbinic understanding of Temple sacrifice, this likely sounds like so much gibberish — and we haven’t even gotten to the Gemara yet. So let’s demystify it. The rabbis understood sacrifice to have four steps:

Slaughtering: the animal is killed

Receiving: the blood is drained from the animal

Carrying: the blood is conveyed to the altar

Sprinkling: the blood is applied to the altar

Furthermore, the rabbis understood that all of these steps must be done with proper intention. To slaughter a paschal lamb correctly, you must know that you are slaughtering a paschal lamb and not believe it is some other kind of offering. This is at least in part because there is very little difference between the paschal sacrifice and some other kinds of sacrifices except for the timing and intention.

The purpose of this mishnah is to explain which wrong intention at which step disqualifies the offering. The first part of the mishnah groups the four steps into two categories: step 1 (slaughtering) and steps 2–4 (receiving, carrying, sprinkling). The first two clauses of the mishnah tell us that if any of these steps are done without proper intention, the sacrifice is disqualified. The third clause tells us that if step 1 is done with the proper intention but steps 2–4 are not, the sacrifice is disqualified. And the final clause tells us that the reverse is also true — if step 1 was done with the wrong intention, but steps 2–4 were done with the right intention, the sacrifice is disqualified. In short, whether the intention was screwed up in step 1 or in steps 2–4, the paschal offering is disqualified.

Now the mishnah moves on to give an example of the kind of wrong intention one might have:

How does one perform these rites “for its own purpose and not for its own purpose”? This is when the one who sacrifices does it for the purpose of the paschal lamb and for the purpose of a peace-offering.

And how does one perform these rites “not for its own purpose and for its own purpose”? The one who sacrifices does it for the purpose of a peace-offering and for the purpose of a paschal lamb.

Here, the mishnah suggests that one way you can have wrong intention is by slaughtering a paschal lamb thinking it is a peace offering. But in trying to clarify its meaning, the mishnah now raises another possibility — that someone intended the sacrifice as both a paschal lamb and a peace offering. This is where the Gemara gets started:

Rav Pappa raised a dilemma: Did we learn this about one rite (I.e., he stated both intentions while slaughtering) or, did we learn it about two rites (I.e., during one rite he said that it was for its own purpose and in another he said that it was not for its own purpose)?

From here, the rabbis work hard to determine exactly what this difficult mishna had in mindd

Its beyond the scope of this pithy post

Resesrch it in depth if you can
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Post Thu, Jan 28 2021, 9:37 pm
Pes 61

Having an all or nothing mentality is not productive — and our rabbis knew it. Let me explain.

A running theme throughout the Talmud is that intention matters. We’ve covered it many times in this series. The mishnah on today’s daf is also concerned with intent. In this case, what matters is that the paschal lamb should be properly assigned to a party of people who intend to consume it that very evening. Furthermore, it must be slaughtered for people who are qualified to eat it:

Circumcision (for men) and a state of ritual purity are both preconditions for eating the paschal lamb. If the lamb is slaughtered for people who do not meet these basic criteria, not only are they not allowed to eat it, but the sacrifice itself is invalid — it can’t be eaten by anyone.

This is true for a group that are all disqualified from eating the offering. But would one or two disqualified members spoil a sacrifice for an entire group of otherwise qualified eaters? The mishnah addresses this next:

If one slaughtered it for those who can eat it and for those who cannot eat it; for those who have registered for it and for those who have not registered for it; for the circumcised and for the uncircumcised; for the ritually impure and for the ritually pure, it is valid.

, one rotten apple doesn’t spoil the bunch. If a person slaughters a paschal lamb for a mixed group of some people that are not allowed to eat it and some that are, then the paschal lamb is not disqualified and can be used (though it still may not be eaten by those who are not qualified to do so).

As we read further in the mishnah, we see an even more nuanced approach to this sacrifice:

If one slaughtered the paschal lamb before midday it is disqualified, as it is stated: And the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall slaughter it in the afternoon. (Exodus 12:6)

If he slaughtered it before the daily afternoon offering (tamid) it is valid, as long as another person stirs its blood (to prevent it from congealing) until the blood of the daily offering is sprinkled. And even if the blood of the paschal lamb is sprinkled before the blood of the daily offering, it is nonetheless valid.

Exodus clearly states that the paschal lamb must be offered in the afternoon — no points are scored for accomplishing it earlier in the day (in fact, doing so invalidates it). The rabbis took this to mean that the paschal offering should technically be made after the afternoon tamid, the daily afternoon sacrifice. (On Pesachim 58, we learned that they sacrificed the tamid earlier in the day on Erev Passover to accommodate the paschal offerings.) However, there is quite a bit of latitude here. If the paschal lamb is slaughtered before the tamid, it is not considered invalid, one simply must keep stirring the collected blood (which is to be offered on the altar) to keep it from congealing, and then throw it on the altar after the tamid has been offered so that at least the offerings (if not the slaughterings) take place in the right order. But, the mishnah also states, even if everything happens out of order and the paschal offering is slaughtered and offered before the tamid, as long as the paschal offering was made after noon it is still valid.

As we can see in this mishnah, there is a progression toward ever more nuance and leniency. Yes, in the minds of the rabbis, there is a right way to do things. But sometimes that isn’t possible or realistic, and the mishnah does not wish to make the perfect the enemy of the good. Especially in an age such as ours in which too many see disagreements as a matter of “all or nothing,” nuance and leniency are necessary or we’ll all end up screaming into the void with no one to listen.
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