Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 103a

Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 103a

Mar 7, 2009 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Text Study

I have mentioned previously that the thirty-nine Torah-prohibited categories of labor (the avot melakhot) assume their meaning based on conventional definitions of the act they describe. For example, though cooking is prohibited as one of these thirty-nine categories, frying an egg on the hood of a car on a hot summer day would not be a Torah-prohibited act, since people do not conventionally define this as an act of cooking.

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Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 113a

Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 113a

Feb 28, 2009 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Text Study

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 prohibition, termed by the Talmud, Issur Tilltul (the prohibition on moving an object), eventually 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.

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Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 102b

Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 102b

Feb 21, 2009 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Text Study

Of the thirty-nine categories of prohibited labor that the Mishnah lists, one of the most puzzling is “the hammer blow.” Often this category is invoked to demonstrate that the final act of production of an object is an act forbidden in its own right—in other words, it is the final hammer blow that this category prohibits. But in this text we see quite a different understanding of this prohibition. Here the act of knapping away at a piece of marble is seen as violating the category of the hammer blow. This is likely because the act is literally taking blows at a chisel with hammer, even though no actual blow of the hammer finishes the marble sculpture: the smoothing and sanding process does that.

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Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 106a

Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 106a

Feb 14, 2009 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Text Study

Among the thirty-nine Torah-prohibited labors of Shabbat is trapping an animal. One violates this prohibition whether one captures the animal with one’s hands and body, or with a net or corral. Here the Mishnah describes a case in which an animal has gone into a doorway and one blocks the door with one’s body to keep the animal trapped. In such a case, one is accounted as having violated Shabbat—he has trapped the animal using his body. However, if one merely sat in the doorway to rest, partially blocking the animal’s way out, one has not violated the prohibition. Only a second person, sitting and thereby fully blocking the door would be liable.

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Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 41b

Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 41b

Feb 7, 2009 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Text Study

As we have seen, cooking is one of the thirty-nine Torah-prohibited Shabbat labors (avot melakha). It seems clear to us that bringing water to a boil is cooking. But there’s a gray area. Under what circumstances may we put cold water into a container of water that has already been brought to boiling? 

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Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 73a

Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 73a

Jan 31, 2009 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Text Study

One who performs any of the forbidden labors on Shabbat is held criminally liable. If one, however, does so inadvertently (either because one forgot that it was Shabbat, or because one did not know that the act was forbidden), the Torah requires a sacrifice for each violation.

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Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 12b

Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 12b

Jan 24, 2009 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Text Study

The light from an oil lamp flickers when the fuel begins to run low. At this point, normally, the reader would tip the lamp to move the viscous oil to the wick in order to extend the time the lamp can burn on its first filling of oil. This act is forbidden on Shabbat. On Shabbat, the lighting of a fire, or extending, or shortening its combustion is prohibited by Torah. Reading by the light of an oil lamp is prohibited by our Sages on Shabbat, lest one tip the lamp out of habit, in a momentary mental lapse. All of this background is encoded in the Mishnah’s terse statement: “Nor should he read by the light of an oil lamp.”

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Babylonian Talmud, Betza 3a

Babylonian Talmud, Betza 3a

Jan 17, 2009 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Text Study

In the past few weeks, we have seen that there are two different types of prohibitions on Shabbat: Torah prohibitions and Rabbinic prohibitions. We have seen that there are a number of reasons why our Sages instituted prohibitions beyond those of the Torah. For instance, they prohibited a number of activities which are similar or could be confused with Torah prohibitions, acts which could lead to violations of Torah prohibitions, and acts which they deemed not in consonance with the “spirit of Shabbat.” But sometimes, as is the case in our passage, there will be a disagreement in the Talmud about whether a particular prohibition devolved from the Torah or was instituted by our Sages.

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Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 146b

Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 146b

Jan 10, 2009 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Text Study

There is another type of prohibition that applies not only to the rules of Shabbat, but to all other areas of Jewish living as well. Marit ayin—literally in sight of eye—is a principle that demands not only that our actions accord with what is right, but that the appearance of all those actions be above suspicion. The Mishnah, in tractate Sheqalim (3:2), explains, “One must fulfill human expectations, just as one does Divine.” Our Sages understood that religious communities are human communities. We believe that living in a human community requires that we take other people’s needs and concerns into account.

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Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Shabbat 24:13

Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Shabbat 24:13

Jan 3, 2009 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Text Study

Often the Talmud will offer a range of related laws without expressing the coherent goal standing behind them. We have seen an example of this phenomenon over the last several weeks. We have studied a range of sources from the Talmud propounding Rabbinic expansions on Shabbat rest. We have not encountered, however, a single statement that distills the major concern standing behind these non-Torah prohibitions.

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Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 21b

Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 21b

Dec 27, 2008 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Text Study

We have seen that our Sages forbade a range of acts that have the potential to lead to Torah-level violations of Shabbat. Among these is a prohibition on lighting oil lamps, just prior to Shabbat, with fuels that do not provide adequate, clear, and clean light. Oil lamps were the primary form of artificial illumination in the time of the Talmud.

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Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 113a-b

Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 113a-b

Dec 20, 2008 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Text Study

A third type of Rabbinic prohibition on Shabbat is designed to prevent behaviors that interfere with the spirit of the day. The Torah, the Prophets, the Elders of the Writings, and our Talmudic Sages all had an aesthetic religious vision of what Shabbat should properly be. They all felt that the day should have an utterly different character than the other days of the week. The most eloquent description of this idea is contained in the book of Isaiah, in the passage quoted above. The prophet presents a powerful conception of the religious experience of Shabbat. It is to be a day when mundane human concerns of business, transport, and even the idle gossip of daily life are put to the side.

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Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 148a

Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 148a

Dec 12, 2008 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Text Study

Another type of behavior that our Sages proscribed on Shabbat includes acts that may lead to Torah prohibitions. For example, we have seen that writing two letters (or a single word) is seen by the Mishnah as a Torah prohibition. Our Sages inherited a non-Torah prohibition on transacting business over Shabbat, lest one record the transaction in a ledger. (The prohibition on business can already be found in the Prophets and Writings. See for example, Isaiah 58:13, Amos 8:5, and Nehemiah 10:32.) However, our Sages remained aware that this prohibition was not of the same magnitude as Torah prohibitions and treated it with leniency.

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Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 38b

Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 38b

Dec 7, 2008 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Text Study

Last time, we mentioned that our Sages inherited prohibitions on a number of activities that are permitted by the Torah, but not in consonance with the spirit of Shabbat. Our Sages knew that prohibiting all everyday activities on Shabbat would not only be impossible, but also make Shabbat overly burdensome. Shabbat is a day of sanctified rest as an offering to Heaven, but it is also a day of earthly pleasures. As a result, the Sages limited these protective “Rabbinic prohibitions” on Shabbat to a small number of categories.

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Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 150a

Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 150a

Nov 29, 2008 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Text Study

In the above passage we move beyond the thirty-nine primary forbidden categories of labor. Each of those labors, now quite familiar to you from Mishnah Shabbat 7:2, was termed melakhah and is considered by our Sages to be prohibited by Torah. Here we introduce a new category: shevut. This is labor permitted by Torah but prohibited by Rabbinic tradition. 

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Babylonian Talmud Bava Kamma 2a

Babylonian Talmud Bava Kamma 2a

Nov 21, 2008 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Text Study

Regarding Shabbat, we learned: “The primary prohibited acts (avot melakhah) are forty less one” (Mishnah Shabbat 7:2). “Primary prohibited acts” implies that there must be secondary prohibited acts (toldot). The secondary acts are the same as [the primary ones]; there is no difference between a primary and a secondary [prohibited act] . . .

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Mishnah Shabbat 7:2

Mishnah Shabbat 7:2

Nov 15, 2008 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Text Study

We have already seen part of the list of thirty-nine forbidden labors of Shabbat contained here in Mishnah Shabbat 7:2. Here is the list in full. At first it looks as if the list is just a compendium of labors commonly performed in the ancient world. On closer inspection, we see that the list falls nicely into four categories of labor. We have already seen that the Talmud (Shabbat 74b) refers to the first of these groupings as sidura d’pat, the order of making bread. We see here that the mishnah also views the labors leading up to the production of clothing (group two), those used in producing scrolls (group three), and those needed to construct shelter (group four), as prohibited by Torah.

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Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 3a, 107a

Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 3a, 107a

Nov 8, 2008 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Text Study

We are able to understand clearly wrong acts and clearly right acts with ease. Robbing the local grocery is readily categorized as bad behavior in our minds. Helping a less able person across the street is just as readily categorized as good behavior. Many acts, however, fall into a gray area. Is stealing to feed one’s family a bad act? What about exceeding the speed limit to arrive on time at a child’s piano recital or soccer game? There are many acts we can think of that we would describe as technically forbidden, but mitigated by the circumstances.

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Mishnah Shabbat 7:2

Mishnah Shabbat 7:2

Nov 1, 2008 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Text Study

These three sources provide us with a window into the spiritual and aesthetic experience that the observance of Shabbat is supposed to create. 

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Babylonian Talmud Hulin 5a

Babylonian Talmud Hulin 5a

Oct 20, 2008 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Text Study

These two talmudic texts are really two sides of the same coin. Shabbat is often called yesod ha-emuna (the foundation of our faith). The Bible repeatedly refers to it as an eternal sign of the covenant between God and the people Israel, weekly proclaiming both the Divine authorship of all Creation and the exodus from Egypt. One can readily understand the Jerusalem Talmud tractate Nedarim’s claim that Scripture values Shabbat as much as all the other mitzvot combined.

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