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)

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Pesachim 3 – Watch Your Language

It is a basic principle of the rabbinic reading of Torah that no word, or even letter, is extraneous. And even in non-scriptural text the rabbis prefer concise expressions. So when more words or letters are used than necessary, what is the reason?

Sometimes it is in order to avoid using crass language.

For R. Joshua b. Levi said: one should not utter a gross expression with his mouth, for lo! the Writ employs a circumlocution of eight letters rather than utter a gross expression, for it is said, of every clean beast . . . and of the beasts that are not clean. (Gen. 7:2)

Instead of using one word (tamei – “unclean”) the Torah bothers to use three words (asher lo tahorah he - “which are not clean”) using eight letter more. Why? In order to avoid using the word “unclean.”

Other examples are given in which the Torah uses nine, ten and even sixteen extra letters in order to avoid an unmentionable.

                The School of R. Ishmael taught: one should always discourse in decent language.

The proofs:

and it is said, and thou shalt choose the tongue of the subtle; (Job 15:5)

and it is said, and that which my lips know they shall speak purely. (Job 33:3)

Both texts from Job are brought in order to show that it is not only in sacred matters but at all times one should speak with dignity and refined language – avoiding cursing or crude words. Even if it takes a little longer.

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