Monday, September 1, 2014

Moed Katan 17 – The power of the Sages

There was a particular Torah scholar who was reported to meet privately with unmarried young women. Rav Yehudah discussed with his colleagues, “What are we to do? Excommunicate him? - But he is a teacher of many students. Not to excommunicate? Covering up on him is a desecration of God's name!” Rabbah told him in the name of Rabbi Yochanan, “Teacher should be like an angel, and if not – do not study from him.” Based on that, they excommunicated him.

A while later Rav Yehudah was sick, and the Sages came to visit him. When Rav Yehudah saw the excommunicated scholar with them, he laughed. The scholar said, “Not only you excommunicated me, but you also taunt me!” Rav Yehudah replied, “I am not laughing at you, but at the thought that when I die, I will be congratulated on not flattering even such a great man as you.”

After Rav Yehudah's death, the man came to rescind the excommunication. However, Rav Shmuel bar Nachmani, who for years has not visited the assembly, happened to come on this day and said, “How can we do it, seeing that Rav Yehudah did not make peace with him? Why, even a maidservant of Rabbi Yehudah the Prince – when she excommunicated someone, the Sages observed this for three years!” The excommunicated man left the study hall, and a bee bit him on his male organ and he died. The burial cave of the pious did not accept him, but that of the judges – did. Why did it? – Because he would change his dress and go to far away places when transgressing, so that people would not see him behave badly openly.

And what was the story of Rabbi Yehudah's maidservant? – When she saw a man beating his grown-up son, she excommunicated him. By provoking his son to retaliate and violate the mitzvah of honoring the father, he was “putting a stumbling block in front of a blind man.”


Sunday, August 31, 2014

Moed Katan 16 – Bans and excommunications

Having discussed the three similar categories of people: mourner, excommunicated one and metzorah (spiritual leper), the Talmud discusses specifically the laws of one who is excommunicated. Here is one example.

Rabbi Yehudah the Prince once decreed that Torah should not be taught in public. What was his source? – The Song of Songs, which said, “Your hidden thighs are like jewel, the work of a master's hand.” He then reasoned: just as the thigh is kept private, so the words of the Torah, the masterwork of God, should be only taught in private.

However, Rabbi Chiya, his nephew, taught Torah in public, to two great relatives of his: Rav and Rabbah bar bar Chanah. Rabbi Yehudah heard and was upset. Rabbi Chiya went to visit him, and Rabbi Yehudah said, “Iya, who is calling you outside?” This was a derogatory name, and Rabbi Chiya understood that his uncle was upset, so he conducted himself as if he were excommunicated, for thirty days.

On the thirtieth day Rabbi Yehudah called for his nephew. Then he changed his mind and told him not to come. Why did he do that? At first, he thought to apply the rule, “Part of the day is like the whole day,” and thus the period of excommunicated was up, but then he changed his mind. In any case, Rabbi Chiya came. Rabbi Yehudah asked “Why did you come, seeing that I sent the second messenger for you not to come?” Rabbi Chiya said that did not meet the second messenger. Rabbi Yehudah applied to him the verse, “When God favors a man's ways, even his foes make peace with him.”

Then he asked, “Why did you teach Torah in public?” Rabbi Chiya replied that his source was “Wisdom sings in the streets.” Rabbi Yehudah said, “You never learned it properly! It means that even if a person learns in private, his wisdom is proclaimed in public.” Even though Rabbi Chiya had a supporting phrase, how did he explain the “hidden thighs” - the source used by Rabbi Yehudah? – He thought this teaches that charity and good deeds should be in private, but not Torah study.

Art: Woman With A Mourning Shawl by Vincent Van Gogh

Friday, August 29, 2014

Moed Katan 15 – No tefillin

A mourner should not wear tefillin on the day of burial. How do we know that? – When the wife of Ezekiel died, God told him “Put on tefillin, which is your glory.” We understand from here that ordinarily a mourner is prohibited from wearing a tefillin.

Two classes of people who are similar to a mourner are those excommunicated by the court and those who are a metzorah (spiritual leper). Can an excommunicated person wear tefillin? – The Talmud does not know the answer.

Can a metzorah wear them? Since his head should be “disheveled,” Rabbi Eliezer understands this as simply “no haircut.” However, Rabbi Akiva says that the same word, “disheveled,” is said about his garments, so here it must mean that his head is lacking a garment. Should we say that this means the removal of tefillin? -- Not necessarily, perhaps it means the removal of a hat or a turban. Thus, in both cases we don't know the answer.

Mourner is also not supposed to greet others, learn Torah, launder, do work and wear shoes. Do these laws apply to an excommunicated person and a metzorah? The Talmud investigates each situation and finds answers in many cases; for example, in contrast to a mourner, the other two categories are allowed to study Torah and teach it to others.

Art: A Jerusalemite Shepherd Winding the Phylacteries for the Hand by Carl Haag

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Moed Katan 14 – Connection between joy and mourning

In general, one is not permitted to cut his hair during the holiday weekdays (chol hamoed). Why is this? By prohibiting to cut hair on the intermediate days of the festival, the Sages made sure that people come to the first day of Holidays completely prepared and with a haircut done.

However, there are exceptions. These include, for example, one who arrived from overseas on the holiday weekdays and who therefore could not take a haircut on a trip, one who was released from prison, one who was excommunicated and whose ban was now released.

Likewise, mourners are forbidden to cut their hair, but in the special situations listed above they are allowed to do it. What is the connection between joy and mourning, and why are their laws so similar? – From the phrase “You changed our joy to mourning” we see that this change is easy, and it must be that the two states share similarities. Others say that a person who is over-joyful should be reminded that he, too, will die.

One is allowed to cut infant's hair on a holiday weekday. Since this child was previously unable to do so, being in his mother's tummy – “there is no prison more than that” rule applies.

Art: Haircut day By Hugh Carter

Moed Katan 13 – Working in private

During holiday weekdays, when work is limited, one can still do things to prevent loss. For example, if he is afraid that his fruit may be stolen, he can bring them into his house. He should, however, do it privately, away from the public eye.

Rav Yosef had some large heavy beams, which could not be left outdoors, and he brought them in during the day. Abaya asked him, “But we learned 'do it privately'!?” Rav Yosef answered: “This is considered private, since at night I would have to hire more people and torches, so it would be even more public.”

Also, one should not plan the work for the holiday weekdays, using this permission as a loophole. What happens if he planned to do it on holiday weekdays but died – is his son also penalized and prohibited to do the work? The Talmud tries to find the answer by comparing this to other cases when a father did something wrong, and died, and the son could not use the results of the father's transgression. However, these laws do not have the same strength, and the son after all would be allowed to finish the work, even if his father planned it for holiday weekdays and died.

One should not buy homes or animals, unless they are for the needs of the Holiday. However, if there is a sale, and if he misses that, he will have to pay more later – then he is allowed to avail himself of the opportunity.

Art: Grapes, pears and other fruit in a bowl, with a mouse eating a hazlenut on a ledge and By Johann Amandus Wink

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Moed Katan 12 – Can one lie?

Generally, a mourner is prohibited to do work, unless he has nothing to eat. Even then, the community should provide for him. However, if he has contracted to do work before he became a mourner, and the work cannot be postponed (such as a harvest), he can ask others to do it for him. Moreover, in cases where he cannot ask others, he himself can do the work. Take, for example, a donkey driver with his animal who was hired for a month of work, and if he stops the work, he will loose the complete pay, and also cause a loss to his employer. Since his contract allows for no substitution, he cannot ask others to do the work and therefore he can do it himself.

During the holiday weekdays one can only do work for the Holidays. For example, he can brew beer, but only for the upcoming Holidays. However, he can make fresh beer, even if he has old one, and then change his mind and drink old beer, so that the new one will remain for after the Holidays. Some say that this kind of lie, or subterfuge, is forbidden.

It once happened that they reaped Rav's harvest on the holiday weekdays. When Shmuel heard about it, he was upset. Why? The prevailing law is that one is permitted to harvest if it is going to spoil! – This was wheat, and it would not spoil. Then why did Rav permit it? – Because Rav had otherwise nothing to eat. If so, why was Shmuel upset? – Because he did not know that Rav had nothing to eat. Some say, Shmuel knew that, but he considered it more proper for Rav to borrow and later repay.

Art: Still hungry by Thomas Driver

Monday, August 25, 2014

Moed Katan 11 – Mourning and joy

As we learned before, on festival weekdays one is prohibited to do many types of work, unless neglecting them leads to a loss, and even when he does perform this work, it should often be one in an unusual, or non-professional manner.

The laws of a mourner are similar: he is likewise prohibited from working, unless it leads to a loss. For example, if one softened his olives, preparing them for pressing for oil, then he must press them immediately, or else they will spoil. Therefore, if now mourning befell him, he is still allowed to load his olives and press them – but only the first pressing. This extracts most of the oil, and if the remaining olives spoil – so be it. This, however, is the opinion of Rabbi Yehudah. Rabbi Yose says that he can continue pressing his olives until all oil is collected: since he is permitted to do the first pressing, he is now permitted to do the rest.

If this happens in the middle of a festival, on holiday weekdays (chol ha moed), the law is similar. Some say that the laws or a mourner are stricter: since they are only decrees by the Sages, and not the Torah law, the Sages gave it even more severity, so that the people should not treat mourning lightly. Others, however, maintain just the opposite and say that the decrees of the Sages (mourning) cannot be stricter than the laws of the Torah (festivals).

Mar the son of Rav Acha was mourning. Not only he stopped working, but he also stopped his ox from working. However, this caused loss to his partner. Rav Ashi said, “How could a great man like this do it? Being that he is a partner with another, he should not cause loss to his partner!” And what was Mar's logic? – Since people look up to him, he distanced himself even from the appearance of work.

Art: Still Life with a Bottle of Olives by Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin