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, July 7, 2013

Pesachim 17 – Priests and Rabbis and Prophets

Continuing in a discussion of the transmission of impurity, the Talmud presents an examination of the priest by the rabbis in a dispute on minutiae on the law. This comes from the prophetic book of Haggai:
Thus says the Lord of hosts; Ask now the priests concerning the Torah, saying, If one carries consecrated meat in the skirt of his garment, and with his skirt touches bread, or pottage, or wine, or oil, or any food, shall it become consecrated? And the priests answered and said, No. (Hag. 2:11-12)

Sorry, wrong answer – as least as far as some see it:

Rab said: The priests erred; but Samuel maintained, The priests did not err.

The test continues:

Then said Haggai, If one that is unclean by a dead body touch any of these, shall it be unclean? And the priests answered and said, It shall be unclean. (ibid, 13)

The rabbis agree with that answer.

 As for Samuel, it is well: since they did not err here, they did not err there [either]; but according to Rab, why did they err here yet did not err there? —
Said R. Nahman in Rabbah b. Abbuha's name: They were well-versed in the uncleanness of a corpse, but not well-versed in the uncleanness of a sherez (creeping things which defile).

Ah, but what does the prophet say:

Then answered Haggai and said, So is this people, and so is this nation before me, saith the Lord: and so is every work of their hands: and that which they offer there is unclean. (ibid. 14)

As for Rab, it is well: hence ‘unclean’ is written. But according to Samuel, why was it unclean? — He indeed wondered. But it is written, and so is every work of their hands? — Said Mar Zutra, others state, R. Ashi: Because they perverted their actions the Writ stigmatizes them as though they offered up [sacrifices] in uncleanness.

See, it is not just the technicalities. The person who performs the ritual is as important as the ritual itself.

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