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)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Shabbat 154 - Donkey Work

But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, . . . nor your cattle (Ex. 20:10)
Rami b. Hama said: If one leads a laden ass on the Sabbath unwittingly, he is liable to a sin-offering; if deliberately, he is liable to stoning.
Now, how does he reason that deliberately leading a burdened donkey on Shabbat is punishable with the death penalty? Rabbah reasons that under the stricture of Ex. 20:10, "your cattle" is equal to "you." That is, the punishments of working an animal on Shabbat are the same as working oneself. If unintentional, it is a sin-offering, if intentional: death.

We should stop and note that the death penalty for breaking Shabbat laws was probably never imposed - only a theoretical extreme.

Raba counters that only actions the individual performs himself make him liable. This is based on another text, this one dealing with idolatry:
You shall have one Torah for him who sins through ignorance. . . But the soul who does anything presumptuously . . .that soul shall be cut off from among his people. (Num. 15:29-30)
Now since idolatry can only be performed by the person himself (not, for example, by an animal) one cannot be guilty of leading a laden donkey.

This is all from the previous page and it is debated in some detail on this page. The argument concludes with a question:

Why does the Torah not say:
you shall not do any work . . .nor your cattle
Instead of:
you shall not do any work, you, . . . nor your cattle
That is, why the extra "you"?
 [To teach:] only [when] he personally [works] is he liable, but [if] his animal works, he is not liable.
Now, that is not to say that it is permissible - only that the punishment is not death!

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