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, June 19, 2013

Eruvin 103 – Busted String

I was always taught that playing a guitar on Shabbat was forbidden, not because of a problem with playing music, but because one might inadvertently tune or fix a broken string. The Mishnah on the previous page refers to just such an instance with a musical instrument:


This needs some unpacking, which the rabbis do continuing on our page. The string referred to is that of a harp played by the Levites during the sacrificial service. This music was played in the Jerusalem Temple on Shabbat. Many of the Shabbat rules enforcing Shabbat prohibitions “in the country” were relaxed in the Temple in Jerusalem because they were necessary for the performance of the sacrificial service. The Levites slaughtered and carried the sacrifices. Instrumental and vocal music was performed by the Levitical choir.

Now, if a string on the harp should break on Shabbat – what’s a Levite to do? The Mishnah suggests it can be retied – but a new one cannot be reinserted. This, however disagrees with a berita on the subject:

                If the string of a harp was broken one would not tie it up but secure it with a loop

The difference is ascribed to a debate between the Rabbis and Rabbi Eliezer. The latter believed that the “preliminary requirements of a precept” override the Shabbat restrictions. Since the music – which is for the Temple service – cannot be performed without the string, one can even insert a new one.

The Rabbis disagree. However tying the string or looping it is insufficient:

Neither the one nor the other would produce a tone; one should rather unwind the string from the lower pin and wind it round the upper one or unwind it from the upper pin and wind it round the lower one.

Which works so long as the break is at the end! If it is in the middle – what to do?

the Master (of the berita) holds that a preventive measure is enacted, while the Masters (of the Mishnah) hold that no preventive measure is to be enacted.

The prohibition against tying a loop in the middle – while technically permissible – is forbidden in this view in order to prevent one from tying a loop at the end; an unnecessary action, since one could in the latter case loosen and retighten the shortened string.

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