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, July 12, 2013

Pesachim 22 – It’s the Little Things (and Lead Not to Temptation)

There is a general discussion on the principle that anything which is forbidden in the Torah is forbidden, even to derive benefit from – for example selling non-kosher items to a non-Jew. According to R. Judah (R. Meir disagrees) this derived from an implied limitation:

He deduces it from, [ye shall not eat any flesh that is torn of beasts in the field;] ye shall cast it to the dogs (Ex. 22:30). ‘It’ you may cast to dogs, but you may not cast to dogs all [other] things forbidden in the Torah.

The fact that this particular item (torn flesh) may be given to dogs implies (by virtue of the specifying word “it”) that only it may be given to dogs – and nothing else forbidden. And if none of these other forbidden things can be given to dog, the certainly no other benefit can be derived from them!

That’s a lot to ask of an “it.”

But that’s nothing. “It” is an actual word, with meaning. What about “et” ?

In Hebrew grammar, the word “et” is a preposition which indicates a direct object. It has no actual meaning by itself. And yet, perhaps, it is subject to interpretation as well – especially when it is in the Torah!

Simeon Imsoni — others state, Nehemiah Imsoni — interpreted every et in the Torah; [but] as soon as he came to, thou shalt fear [et] the Lord thy God, (Deut. 6:13) he desisted.

Because there can be no other to whom that fear would be extended, God being unique. Now, it would be perfectly reasonable to say – every et except this one is subject to interpretation. Instead, he throws out the whole project!

 Said his disciples to him, ‘Master, what is to happen with all the ets which you have interpreted?’ ‘Just as I received reward for interpreting them’, he replied, ‘so will I receive reward for retracting’.
Subsequently, R. Akiba came and taught: Thou shalt fear [et] the Lord thy God is to include scholars.

Akiba’s interpretation, extending the fear of God to the fear (awe, respect) for scholars comes and saves Simon’s work! And the power of the smallest of words. Even when they are not words.

A postscript. This page also continues an earlier reference to a “stumbling-block” – that is avoiding tempting another into sin:

R. Nathan said: How do we know that a man must not hold out a cup of wine to a nazirite or the limb of a living animal to a b’nai Noah? Because it is stated, thou shalt not put a stumbling-block before the blind. (Lev. 19:14)

B’nai Noah is a rabbinic term for the descendants of Noah – i.e. everyone! (The term is used to designate non-Jews). There are certain laws – seven to precise - which apply to non-Jews as well as Jews. These are the “Seven Laws of Noah.” Among them are not cutting the limb from a living animal (i.e. for meat).

The point here being, you cannot hold out a forbidden item (wine to a Nazirite, cut off limb to a b’nai Noah) because you are tempting them to sin.

No comments:

Post a Comment