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, February 8, 2013

Shabbat 128 – Cruelty to Animals

As we had seen earlier (Shabbat 117b) if an animal falls into a pit on Shabbat, one carries food for it and throws it down in the pit, so that the animal does not starve to death. This clearly not an issue just of economic loss, but motivated by the commandment of tzar baali chayyim – (concern for) the suffering of animals.

Our text here goes further:

Rab Judah said in Rab's name: If an animal falls into a dyke, one brings pillows and bedding and places [them] under it, and if it ascends it ascends.

That is, in instances where it is not possible to bring food, we construct an ad hoc ramp out of pillows and bedding. But this presents another problem – since the bedding materials cannot then be pulled out until after the Shabbat ends, they are deprived of their use which is also forbidden on Shabbat!

But, the text continues:

[The avoidance of] suffering of dumb animals is a Biblical [law] (d’orita), so the Biblical law comes and supersedes the [interdict] of the Rabbis

This is quite remarkable, actually. Tzar baali chayyim is implied, but not expressed outright in the Torah. Yet the rabbis set it as a higher value than their own enactments.

At a time when the prevention of cruelty to animals was likely quite an uncommon consideration, the rabbis set it as a Divine command!

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