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)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Shabbat 49 – Counting Categories

It will not be until much later (page 73a) that we will read the Mishnah about the categories of labor. But we have an early mention here – and a discussion of their source.

The Torah, of course, forbids “work” on Shabbat but does not define the term. The Mishnah (Shabbat 7:2) lists 39 categories (“forty less one” is the classic designation) which are considered “work.”

Our page asks the question – where did this number come from?

Two theories are advanced:
The first is that these 39 represent actions required to build the Tabernacle. This connection comes from the juxtaposition of two commands in the Torah: Exodus 35: 1-3 has Moses give the law of Shabbat. This is immediately followed by the commandments to build the tabernacle (verse 4 and further) in some detail. The idea is that it begins with the restriction of Shabbat so you should know what not to do, then the work of the Tabernacle which has the added function of defining “work” ! Clever.
The second theory as to why specifically 39 categories, is that the word “work” in various forms occurs 39 times in the Torah. But is than an accurate count?

They did not stir thence until they brought a Scroll of the Torah and counted them.”
An argument then ensues about whether specific examples count or not.

The Tabernacle argument wins and is the traditional explanation. But I like having a contentious second option – one that involves looking and counting words, long before there was a concordance or a search engine. Score one for research!

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