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)

Friday, November 23, 2012

Shabbat 51 – Sabbath of Beasts

The Mishnah begins a new discussion on animals and Shabbat. Beasts of burden are mentioned first. Remember that the Torah explicitly indicates that the Shabbat laws apply to animals. See Ex. 20:8, for example.

The question is if beasts of burden can go out in public wearing the standard control devices (bits, nose rings, halters and chains). The Mishnah gives specific examples – a camel with bit, dromedary with nose ring, “Lybian ass with halter” (the Babylonian rabbis have to translate what is meant) and horse with chain. Then goes on to include all animals which wear chains.

This is interesting because of humans (that is Jewish humans) cannot carry in public on Shabbat. Is a control chain on a horse considered “carrying?” The Mishnah says no – it is allowed.

The rabbis in their commentary expand the discussion to include muzzles. Hananiah permits them. Others question it. Does a cat, for example, need a muzzle when a chord is enough? (And did they really walk their cats with a leash?). Hananiah says: “whatever is an additional guard is not considered a (forbidden) ‘burden.’” The law follows Hananiah.

A charming story is told:

Levi son of R. Huna b. Hiyya and Rabbah b. R. Huna were travelling on a road, when Levi's ass went ahead of Rabbah’s. Rabbah felt insulted (thinking that Levi did this on purpose and acting disrespectfully to his elder).

 Said he [Levi], I will say something to him, so that his mind may be appeased. Said he: “An ass of evil habits, such as this one: may it go forth wearing a halter on Shabbat?” “Thus did your father say in Samuel’s name,” [Rabbah] answered “The law is as Hananiah said.”

I love that the student, sensitive to the feelings of his elder, shows respect not by making excuses or acting defensively, but by asking a question and allowing his teacher to teach. 

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