Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Sotah 30 – Purity, Song at the Sea, and other sundry questions

We mentioned that one special day saw a number of novel interpretations from newly-admitted students. The list continues with Rabbi Akiva's rule of the degrees of ritual impurity.

Actually, a thing is either pure for Temple service or it is not. However, the Sages classified the impurity into six levels, from the dead body (called the grandfather of impurity), down to “father of impurity”, first level, second level, and all the way until fourth. For example, some say that if you have dough, from which the priest portion (challah) needs to be separated, then this dough has the same law as the challah itself and can becomes impure with the third degree of impurity. Others say that since the challah has not yet been separated, the dough can only become impure in the second degree, but not the third.

Another point that Rabbi Akiva explained was the way the Israelis sang the Song at the Red Sea. He said that Moses sang the phrase, and they repeated the summary. Others – that they repeated the phrase itself. For example, Moses said, “I will sing to God,” and they repeated "I will sing to God." Then Moses said, “Since He is exalted,” but they said, “I will sing to God.” Others say that they repeated “Since He is exalted.”


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Sotah 29 – Can you ask him?

Earlier we saw a difference in the laws of purity between humans whom you can ask about the situation, and inanimate objects that cannot be questioned. If a doubt about purity arises in a yard (or another private area), then if it is about human, who can be queried, he is declared impure. But if it is about a piece of meat, say, then it is declared pure. We learned this law from the purity of a suspected wife, but there is yet another source for it.

If sacrificial meat comes into touch with something impure, then it cannot be eaten, but otherwise a ritually clean person may eat it.” 

The beginning of the phrase says that impure meat is not eaten. So we understand that doubtfully impure meat can be eaten. But the end talks about pure meat that may be eaten. And we can derive that doubtfully pure meat cannot be eaten. So now we have two contradictory indications, whether one can eat doubtfully pure meat. You can only explain it if you say that the doubt is prohibited when it refers to a human, who can be asked, and allowed if it refers to meat itself, which obviously cannot be asked at all.

Art: A pottery bowl, cuts of meat and onions on a table by French School

Monday, November 23, 2015

Sotah 28 – Laws of purity

Laws of purity are learned from the laws of suspected wife. Here's how. The reason her purity is in doubt is because she went into a private hiding place with a certain man. But if she was talking with him in public, her purity would not be in doubt.

In the same way, if there is a doubt about some other purity, such as, for example, a man who might have touched a dead rat, and the question now is whether he is considered ritually impure – if this happened in the street, he is declared pure, and if in a cave, then he is impure. This is a special law that goes beyond the regular rule of “let's treat it as a doubt.” Here there is no doubt, and he is definitely pure in the street but impure in the cave.

Another law can be learned by noticing that a suspected wife is a human being who can be asked about her status. So with other situations, the distinction between happenings in the street and in a cave applies only to a human who can be asked. For example, he is not sure whether he touched a rat or no. Then the rule about the street or cave applies. But if he is sure that he touched the rat, and the doubt is about the rat itself, such as whether it was alive at this time or already dead – then he is always declared pure, because a rat cannot be asked.

Art: Two Rats by Vincent Van Gogh

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Sotah 27 – Just as she, so is he

We mentioned that the paramour of the suspected wife's does not go unpunished. What is the source for this statement? – In the phrase “The waters will go” the word “will go” is mentioned twice, once for her, and another time for him. So whatever happens to her in the Temple also happens to him - in whichever place he is.

The other word that is repeated is “became prohibited.” Why is that? The first time it tells us that after the husband warns his wife and she nevertheless hides away with a certain man, the husband cannot live with her any longer; he must either give her a divorce (Get), or take her to the Temple to be cleared of suspicions. The second repetition applies to the paramour – should he desire to marry the woman after the divorce, he cannot, because she is prohibited to him as well.

Rabbi Akiva derives the same law from an extra “and” (letter vav in Hebrew), that is “and the waters will go.” Many more laws were expounded Rabbi Akiva and others on that day. What is the story of “that day”? It is the day mentioned in tractate Brachot, when the Sages removed Rabban Gamliel from his control over the Sanhedrin and changed the policy of allowing only strictly selected students into the study hall. Now anybody who wanted could come in. As a result, many talented students could offer groundbreaking insights.

Art: Young lovers interrupted by Henry John Yeend King

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Sotah 22 – On falsehood

One who learned something about Torah but did not complete his education by learning the Talmud is called progressively an unlearned person, an ignoramus, one not trusted on any issue of kosher foods, and even an evil person. Why is all that? Because such people appear knowledgeable, but in reality their opinions are not based on true knowledge.

Also despised are those who pretend to be modest and turn their eyes away from women, and as a result they may bump into a wall or hit their foot against a stone, but it is all just a pretense. Bad are those who say, “Tell me how I can improve, and I will do it,” because this implies that they have already perfected themselves in their estimation.

King Yannai (who killed all members of the Sanhedrin) bequeathed this to his wife: not to be afraid of the Sages' vengeance, because they are righteous, and will not do wrong; and neither be afraid of the followers of King's Yannai sect, because they esteem her. She should only be afraid of those who are false, pretend to be righteous like Pinchas but their deeds are licentious as those of Zimri.


Monday, November 16, 2015

Sotah 20 – The importance of teaching one's daughter Torah

In order to exonerate the wife of a jealous husband, the Kohen prepared flour sacrifice and a drink as described before. He then copies the words of the Torah concerning this onto a separate scroll. If she refuses to drink before these words are erased into the drink, the flour is burned as invalid, and the drink is poured out. If she refuses to drink after the scroll is erased, they help her, presuming that she is blameless, as she maintains, just became scared.

If her lover and she actually committed adultery, then he dies in whatever place he is, and she dies in the Temple. However, if she has merit related to Torah, it will protect her for a year, two or three. Because of this Ben Azzai said that a man is required to teach his daughter Torah – so that this will protect her, even if she has a problem with her husband.

Rabbi Eliezer, on the contrary, says that teaching Torah to women is frivolous. Incidentally, Kabbalah maintains that eventually women will desire and get the opportunity to learn Torah. Baal Shem Tov founded a secret society for teaching Torah to women.

Art: Elegant Couples In Interiors by Pio Ricci

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Sotah 15 – The sacrifice of jealousy

A husband who suspects his wife brings a sacrifice that is different from all other sacrifices. Usual flour offering use wheat, but this one is made of barley. Usual offering have oil and frankincense added to them, but this one is brought without. Why is it he, and not the wife, who brings it? – Because one should not be his or her own accuser. But why does the husband deserve this inferior sacrifice? – The wife is unfaithful when the husband is unfaithful or otherwise gives a reason.

Proceeding, the Kohen brings an earthenware cup and puts in it water from the purifying water of the priests. This large vessels stands in the Temple courtyard, for the Kohanim to pour on their hands and feet before they start their service. It is made of copper mirrors used by Jewish women in Egypt in order to look beloved to their husbands.

How much water does he put in? Half a log, that is, about 5 ounces. Rabbi Yehudah says that he takes only a quarter of a log, or about 2.5 ounces. Parenthetically, Rabbi Yehudah will also require a shorter text to be erased into this water at a later stage of preparation, The Kohen then enters the Temple building, turns to the right, and finds a special stone with a ring on it. He lifts up the stone, gets the dust from under it, and makes the dust float on the water.

Art: The Mirror by William Merritt Chase