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)

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Shabbat 80 – Cosmetic Consequences

The Mishnah we are still discussing (from page 78b) lists minimum amounts which constitute illegal “carrying” on Shabbat.

Two items are among those discussed on this page:

Kachol – (enough) to paint one eye
Lime – (enough) to smear the smallest of girls

Kachol is an eye makeup. Perhaps Stibium (the mineral Antimony [Sb if you must know]) which was used as mascara in the ancient world. And yet, it is curious that the minimum should be sufficient to paint only one eye? Don’t most women have two? And the minimums which have been presented have had to do with usefulness. What use is mascara for only one eye?

Ah, says R. Huna: “Because modest women paint [only] one eye.” That is, they are usually veiled with only one eye revealed. And made up.

Or another solution – perhaps it was used for medicinal purposes, in which case one eye would be a reasonable minimum. And if as makeup, the minimum would be sufficient for two eyes.

Or yet another explanation:

Hillel son of R. Samuel b. Nahmani explained it: This was taught in reference to villagers.

Presumably women living in the small towns were safer from prowling men and could afford to have both eyes revealed. (!)

As to Lime (CaO if you must know) – it was used as a depilatory. But best to let the rabbis speak for themselves:

Rab Judah said in Rab's name: When maidens of Israel attain puberty before the proper age: poor maidens plaster it [the unwanted hair] with lime; rich maidens plaster it with fine flour; whilst royal princesses plaster it with oil of myrrh, as it is said, “six months with oil of myrrh.” (Esth. 2:12)

After a tragic story about the dangerous overuse of such materials, the text continues:

As for R. Bibi who drank strong liquor, his daughter required pasting over; [but] as for us, who do not drink strong liquor, our daughters do not require such treatment.

So. . .don’t drink too much, or you will have hairy daughters! But if you do, their's always cosmetics.

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