Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 22a

Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 22a

Jul 25, 2009 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Text Study

Abbaye (a mid-fourth-century Sage from Babylonia) reports that his teacher and adoptive father, Rabba bar Nachmani, usually followed the rulings of the early-third-century figure Rav. Here, Abbaye also provides us with three areas in which his master departed from Rav’s approach, favoring instead that of Rav’s contemporary, Shemuel. In all three cases, Rabba bar Nachmani, Abbaye reports, followed Shemuel’s more lenient approach. Let us focus on the last of these three, the case of dragging a bench over open ground on Shabbat.

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Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 20b

Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 20b

Jul 18, 2009 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Text Study

Spoken words are central to Jewish thought, religion, and practice. Our Sages believed that the world was created with divine utterances and their Torah was transmitted from mouth to ear. The word mishnah probably means recited teaching. The Mishnah was almost certainly imported to Babylonia in an entirely oral form. But what would happen if the meaning of an obscure Hebrew word in the Mishnah was forgotten? This is exactly the situation that motivates Rabin and Abbaye’s Aramaic dialog in the above conversation.

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Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 18a

Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 18a

Jul 11, 2009 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Text Study

My selection this week begins with an ellipsis. Preceding this source are a range of regulations allowing passive forms of labor that begin before the commencement of Shabbat to continue throughout Shabbat. For instance, the Talmud allows us to place clothing into a solution of dye or set nets to catch fish just before Shabbat begins and then to reap the rewards of our labors after Shabbat, even though the clothes took the dye and the fish were caught (without human action) on Shabbat. Our source (most likely a second-century text from Eretz Yisra’el) presents an exception to this general rule: One may not place unmilled wheat under the stones prior to Shabbat and allow the water or wind to grind them over Shabbat. The question is why should this be prohibited, when the dye and traps are permitted.

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Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 17b

Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 17b

Jul 4, 2009 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Text Study

The Sages inherited a system of Shabbat observance that proscribed carrying any item of significance from one domain to another. Money is obviously of great material significance in our lives, and we are to leave it safely at home as we travel on Shabbat. But what if, through no fault of our own, we are still on the road with money in our pockets when Shabbat begins. We have seen the solution before: Mishnah Shabbat 24:1 allows us to place the money with a non-Jewish companion for the duration of the sabbath. In our source above, Ula gives us more information about the origins of this solution.

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Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 44a

Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 44a

Jun 27, 2009 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Text Study

One of my first memories of Shabbat is a vision of the beauty of the Shabbat candles. Accompanying this memory is the first Shabbat restriction that I recall learning: “We don’t touch the Shabbat candles or move them.” As I noted in an earlier piece, for our Sages, the Shabbat lights are a way of ensuringshalom bayit—household harmony. 

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Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 128b

Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 128b

Jun 20, 2009 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Text Study

As we move into the summer months, I wanted to revisit this source that we saw earlier in the year. As we mentioned the last time we saw it, this source limns the boundaries of our responsibility to protect our animals on Shabbat. According to this source, one may violate a Rabbinic commandment to preserve an animal from suffering on Shabbat. Here we see that the destruction of the blankets and pillows (usually forbidden on Shabbat) is legitimate if the purpose is to preserve the animal from harm.

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Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 12a

Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 12a

Jun 13, 2009 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Text Study

The two first-century schools of Rabbinic thought, Beit Shamai and Beit Hillel, crop up quite often in the Talmud. Here Rabbi Shimon b. Elazar, an early third-century Sage, quotes their positions. This dispute between the two schools goes to the heart of what the experience of Shabbat should encompass. On the one hand, as I mentioned last week, there is the principle that Shabbat is a time that should be free from worry.

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Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 12a-b

Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 12a-b

Jun 6, 2009 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Text Study

Shabbat and prayer are deeply connected in the mind of the contemporary Jew. Shabbat is the time when many of us engage in public prayer each week. Though most Conservative synagogues have a weekday minyan, usually its attendance is much smaller than that of the Shabbat service. So it is surprising when we discover that our Sages frowned on the practice of making personal requests of God on Shabbat. 

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Babylonian Talmud Eruvin 20a

Babylonian Talmud Eruvin 20a

May 30, 2009 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Text Study

We’ve seen the idea that carrying from one domain to another is prohibited on Shabbat. This idea is usually (though not always) expressed as “carrying from a public to a private domain” or vice versa. Here we see an additional question rising out of this basic law: What if one stands in one domain and imbibes water from another domain? Is one’s body another domain? Is it part of the domain that one’s feet are in? Is it part of the domain that one’s head is in? Perhaps the Shabbat domains end altogether at one’s lips? And what is the spiritual message about the Shabbat and the body that we are supposed to take away from this?

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Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 86b

Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 86b

May 23, 2009 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Text Study

On Shavu’ot we recreate the revelation of Torah. Though we see in the Torah that revelation occurs over a long period, and in many places in the wanderings of the Israelites, nonetheless, the ultimate revelatory model in the Bible is the giving of Torah at Mount Sinai / Horeb in Exodus 20. It is this revelation we seek to commemorate on Shavu’ot. However, there are two unexpected things about this festival. It has no fixed date in the Torah—instead it is linked with the barley harvest; and second, the Torah never explicitly connects it with the Sinai event—though when we calculate the dates given in Exodus 19, the revelation at Sinai (or at least the surrounding events) must have coincided with the regular dates of the festival, early in the month of Sivan, at the time of the barley harvest.

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Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 113a

Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 113a

May 16, 2009 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Text Study

We have seen this source before. When last we saw it, I mentioned that some of our Sages felt that objects which could not be used on Shabbat in any permitted way should be utterly outlawed for the entire twenty-five-hour period of Shabbat. This is the prohibition that came to be known as muktzeh(things placed to the side). If an object has no use on Shabbat, it is in this category and, generally, may not be picked up and moved to another location on Shabbat. This is different than the prohibition on carrying from one domain to another, which we have been discussing the last few weeks. This later prohibition, termed hotza’ah (literally, carrying out), applies to all objects.

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Mishnah Eruvin 10:1

Mishnah Eruvin 10:1

May 9, 2009 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Text Study

Our Sages considered it proscribed labor to carry any burden of value from one domain to another on Shabbat. As we noted last time, it is not the weight of an item that constitutes its significance in the Rabbinic mind, but the value that people ascribe to it. Some items have value because of their utility (food, for example), while others have value due to their sacred nature. One such sacred item is a pair of tefillin. In this mishnah, we see that one is prohibited from carrying tefillin from one domain to another (here, from the outdoors to indoors) on Shabbat, even to protect them from harm. Rather, the mishnah suggests, put on the tefillin and walk indoors. In this way, one preserves the sacred object without violating Shabbat.

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Mishnah Shabbat 7:3

Mishnah Shabbat 7:3

May 2, 2009 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Text Study

I mentioned last week, in passing, that one violates the prohibition of carrying from domain to domain on Shabbat if one carries an object of value. How do we measure the value of objects?

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Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 153a

Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 153a

Apr 25, 2009 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Text Study

If I am traveling on Friday afternoon and am unable to reach my home before Shabbat begins, what am I to do with my burdens? I am not allowed to carry in a public domain on Shabbat, as we have seen previously. As far as the Talmud is concerned, carrying anything of value constitutes labor. So, should I lay my burdens down and lose all the valuables I was carrying when Shabbat began? Is this some kind of “punishment” for not having planned my trip more carefully? 

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Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 2b

Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 2b

Apr 18, 2009 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Text Study

The Tosefta above is an odd text. It tells us that there are four Shabbat domains. We are prohibited from carrying from one type of domain to another on Shabbat. For instance, we may not carry anything of significance from our house (a “private domain”) to a major street (a “public domain”) on Shabbat. So far, so good. The odd thing here is that the Tosefta seems to provide only two of its four domains. Are there not two more domains that the Tosefta omits?

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Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 133a

Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 133a

Apr 11, 2009 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Text Study

Some mitzvot require us to violate Shabbat and festivals. For instance, the Torah requires that brit milah, the covenant of circumcision, take place on the eighth day of an Israelite boy’s life. The eighth day is its required time, even though that day may fall on Shabbat or a festival. The same is true with regard to the mitzvah of bringing the Paschal sacrifice—our Israelite ancestors were required to slaughter their Paschal lambs and offer their blood upon the altar on the fourteenth of the Hebrew month of Nisan and eat them on the night of the fifteenth, no matter whether one of these days was Shabbat or not.

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Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 141a

Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 141a

Apr 4, 2009 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Text Study

We have learned that one is not allowed to carry from a private space (such as a home or synagogue) to a public space (such as a street or walkway) on Shabbat. A range of complex Torah and Rabbinic prohibitions and exceptions are wrapped up in this general mitzvah. Here, Rava presents his vision of one such exception. In his view, the Torah does not prohibit carrying children in and out of doors on Shabbat. However, one may not strap a diaper bag to the child and claim to merely be carrying the child, with the bag along for the ride. Carrying the bag in and out of doors is prohibited, says Rava, regardless of the child’s role. If one carries the child without the bag, one has not violated the Torah’s vision of Shabbat.

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Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 128b

Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 128b

Mar 28, 2009 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Text Study

As Jews, what are our responsibilities to our animals? The Torah requires that we preserve not only our own animals from pain, but our enemies’ animals as well (Exod. 23:5). Other obligations aside, we are not to pass by a struggling animal without giving assistance. What are the limits of this obligation to prevent animal suffering on Shabbat and festivals? We have seen that we may violate Shabbat for the sake of human life. May we do so for animal life as well?

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Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 122b

Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 122b

Mar 21, 2009 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Text Study

Shemuel visited Avin of Turan’s house. A non-Jewish [acquaintance of Avin’s] came and lit the lamp [on Shabbat]. Shemuel turned his face away [from the light]. When he saw that [the non-Jew] had brought a document and was reading it, [Shemuel] said, “He lit it for his own benefit!” So he turned his face back towards the lamp.

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Mishnah Yoma 8:5

Mishnah Yoma 8:5

Mar 14, 2009 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Text Study

This passage comes from Yoma, the tractate dealing with the laws of Yom Kippur. The prohibitions against work on Yom Kippur are very similar to the prohibitions against work on Shabbat. The forbidden labors for both of these days are divided into the thirty-nine Torah-prohibited categories we saw in Mishnah Shabbat 7:3 called אבות מלאכות (avot melakhot). Excavating a ruin would ordinarily be forbidden on Shabbat and Yom Kippur. The specific category under which it would be forbidden might vary, depending on the intent of the excavator (as we have seen in our discussions of intent). If one is actually doing the demolishing, it would fall under the category of soter (סותר or demolishing). If one were cleaning or leveling an already demolished building, it would fall under the category of boneh(בונה or building).

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