What is Talmud Tweets?

What is Talmud Tweets? A short, personal take on a page of Talmud - every day!

For several years now, I have been following the tradition of "Daf Yomi" - reading a set page of Talmud daily. With the start of a new 7 1/2 year cycle, I thought I would share a taste of what the Talmud offers, with a bit of personal commentary included. The idea is not to give a scholarly explanation. Rather, it is for those new to Talmud to give a little taste - a tweet, as it were - of the richness of this text and dialogue it contains. The Talmud is a window into a style of thinking as well as the world as it changed over the centuries of its compilation.

These are not literal "tweets" - I don't limit myself to 140 characters. Rather, these are intended to be short, quick takes - focusing in on one part of a much richer discussion. Hopefully, I will pique your interest. As Hillel says: "Go and study it!" (Shabbat 31a)

Monday, August 20, 2012

Berachot 19 - Does Dignity Win?

A saying of the rabbis: ‘Great is human dignity, since it overrides a negative precept of the Torah’. (Shabbat 81b) To respect someone's dignity - especially a scholar - a negative commandment (thou shalt not) can be suspended. The classic case, found elsewhere in the Talmud (Menachot 37b) is of a scholar who discovers while walking down the street that his clothes have mixed materials (ie linen and wool). Normally one should remove the garment immediately even in public. But for the sake of dignity the requirement would be suspended.

This might feel obvious to us - but it is not. How does one have the right to suspend a Torah commandment? After all it says in the Bible "No wisdom, no prudence, and no counsel can prevail against the Lord" (Proverbs 21:39) which seems to require a strict interpretation of the law. However rabbinic permission for interpretation is given by the Torah command "you shall act in accordance with the instruction given you and the ruling handed down to you. . .(Deut. 17:11). So it is within rabbinic power to make exceptions.

This argument of strict law verses sympathy based on human need continues to this day. I argue for human dignity.

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