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, December 17, 2012

Shabbat 75 -Sorcerers and Scientists

"R. Zutra b. Tobiah said in Rab's name: He. . . who learns a single thing from a Magian is worthy of death"

The Magi (yes, the same ones from the New Testament) or Magians were Zorastrian priests of Persia and beyond. They were particularly hostile to the Jews and there are several references in the Tractate Sanhedrian which equate them with sorcerers - one of the categories of magic practitioners which the Hebrew Bible explicitly forbids.

In English, we call them Magicians.

Magians (Hebrew: Magush) practiced divination by signs in the sky: Astrology. However, R. Sutra goes on:

"and he who is able to calculate the cycles and planetary courses but does not, one may hold no conversation with him."

Observation and calculation were necessary to maintain the calendar. Since the Hebrew calendar is a modified lunar (as opposed to the strict lunar of Muslims) calculation of the date and the appropriate modifications to keep the holidays in their appropriate season were necessary. This complicated system required experts - and for one to deny that expertise to society was a waste of ability.

In other words, using the observation of the stars and planets for magical manipulation is forbidden. Using it for calculation for the good of the community is required.

Magic vs Science. Forbidden vs Venerated.

For Jews it is the Gift of the Scientist, not the Gift of the Magi.

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