Thursday, August 21, 2014

Moed Katan 10 – More work prohibitions

Many types of work are prohibited on the holiday weekdays (chol hamoed), unless they are for the purpose of the holiday, and even then they should be done in an unprofessional manner. However, building an oven or a stove is permitted. Even though doing this is a few steps removed from the food preparation for the holidays, this is an exception, because of the importance of enjoying the holiday.

Rava permitted a few thing on the holiday weekday, but depending upon intentions. For example, if one levels the mounds of rocks and earth in his field, then, if he is doing it to prepare a threshing floor – it is permitted (because it is for a festival need), but if he is doing it to prepare for cultivation (and he won't be able to enjoy the fruit of his labor this holiday), it is forbidden. How do we know what he has in mind? By the size of the mound that he leaves over.

Another example: one is cutting branches from a palm tree. If it is to feed his animals – it is allowed, but if it is to promote the growth of the tree – then it is forbidden. How do we know? – If he cuts from one side only – it is for the animals. But if he is careful to cut if from all sides – he is doing this for the tree.

Art: Interior with a Stove by Carl Holsoe

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Moed Katan 9 – What work not to do on the holiday weekdays?

One should not get married on the holiday weekday (chol hamoed), because it is a source of joy. Why would joy be a problem? – Precisely because the Festivals are already joyful occasions, and one should not mix one joy with another. Some say – because in order to make his wedding a joyful occasion he will exert himself too much. Yet others explain that if marriages were allowed on the Festivals, then people might postpone their weddings until the Festivals, in order to save on preparations, and would thus delay the commandment to be fruitful and multiply.

If one has to mend or make his clothing for the sake of the Holiday, and he is not a professional tailor, he can sew in a regular way. However, if he is a professional, then he should take care to sew with irregular stitches. This distinction between unskilled worker and a professional applies to other works on the holiday weekdays.

Art: Portrait of a Young Married Couple by Jacob Jordaens

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Moed Katan 5 – Marking the graves

Although – as we have mentioned – many labors are restricted on the holiday weekdays, nevertheless the works that are needed by the public are permitted. For example, one can repair the roads and mark the graves.

It was customary to mark graves with lime, so that those who are eating the priestly portion (terumah) would stay away and not become ritually impure. One of the hints for this custom is in the words of Ezekiel, “When one sees a human bone, he will make a marker near it.” (Ezekiel was talking about the soldiers of the army of Gog). The Talmud quotes many other allusions to this custom.

The markers were made at some distance from the grave, so that passers by do not step on the place of ritual impurity but are warned beforehand. They are not placed too far though, so as not to take away from the land where one can travel safely. Cemeteries need not be marked, because that is obvious, however, alleys leading to them might be marked, since occasionally people will be on the way to bury their dead, run out of time, due either to nightfall or to the approach of Shabbat, and bury the dead in such an alley.

Art: The Jewish Cemetery At Oudekerk On The Amstel by Jacob Van Ruisdael

Friday, August 15, 2014

Moed Katan 4 – How much water is enough

On holiday weekdays (days that are surrounded by Holidays) one is prohibited from doing work that requires exertion. For instance, one cannot draw water for his field, neither from water wells nor from pools of rainwater.

Now, we understand that drawing water from a well, using a pail, requires exertion. However, what's the problem with the pool of rainwater? It should be pretty easy to trace a path for the water with one's foot, and let the water flow from the pool into the field. – The Sages simply prohibited both together, so that people would not make the wrong deduction. Others say, the pool of rainwater may eventually dry out and require a pail. The argue about whether water may or may not dry out.

There is one exception for the above rules: one may bring up (water with a pail) for the vegetables, in order to eat them on the Holidays. Ravina and Rabbah were traveling along the road on a certain holiday weekday, and they saw a man who was drawing water with a pail and watering his vegetable patch. Rabbah said to Ravina, “Let's excommunicate him for violating the law!” Ravina answered, “but we may draw up for vegetables in order to eat them.” Rabbah counters, “Is that how you understand 'bring up'? No! - This means, thinning out the vegetables, by 'bringing up' the extra ones, which don't let the others to grow.” Ravina showed him an example where “bringing up” meant bringing up water, and Rabbah said, “I agree with your proof and retract my opinion.”

Art: Still Life With Cabbages, Asparagus, A Basket Of Chestnuts by Giacomo Legi

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Moed Katan 2 – Limiting the work

The week of Passover and the week of Sukkot have two Holidays, one in the beginning and another one at the end. On a Holiday (Yom Tov) work is completely prohibited. The five intermediate days, between the first and the last Yom Tov are called "holiday weekdays". On these days work is permitted, but it is limited - thus adding to the enjoyment of the holidays.

What are these limitations, and what kind of work should not be done on holiday weekdays? In general, only work which, if not done, leads to losses – only such work is allowed. Moreover, even when saving his crop from ruin, one cannot do work which required exertion.

Take, for example, a field. If this field is normally irrigated by rains, then one should not water it during the holiday weekdays. The crop in this field can survive without his additional water, so watering it would only lead to additional growth, and that is not reason enough to work. On the other hand, if his field is high up in the mountains, and it depends on his watering of it, and without this his crop would be ruined, he is permitted to water it.

Even so, one cannot work too hard. He can use a spring and divert its water to his field. He cannot, however, draw water from a well, because this requires much more exertion.

The two additional limitations are the view of Rabbi Yehudah. There are, however, other views, which take away both of the "preventing loss" and "not working too much" limitations for the holiday weekdays - and that is the view of Rabbi Meir.

Art: The Old Well by Elihu Vedder

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Megillah 32 – After reading the Torah

After they have read the Torah in the synagogue – which was done by calling multiple people – they call another person to raise the Torah scroll, for all to see, and then to “dress it up” – that it, to put the cover on it. This person takes away the reward of all the previous ones. How could it be? – The Talmud likes to emphasize things. Rather, his reward is equal to all of the previous ones combined.

With all that we said about the Torah on the previous pages, how could God say, “I, too, will give you laws that are not good?” Rabbi Yochanan says that it is talking about someone who is learning, but does not express his joy of learning in singing. However Abaye asked about this, “Just because someone does not know how to sing nicely, he deserves the bad words?” Rather, it is talking about two Sages who live in the same city but not discuss Torah between them.

Finally, the phrase “And Moses told the laws of the Holidays to all Israel” teaches that he established a custom to learn the laws of each Festival on or before its time. It is customary to connect the end of a Tractate with its beginning – and here we can remember that the beginning of this Tractate discussed when the people should read the Megillah – which obviously requires study in advance.

Art: Two gentlemen discussing business by Fritz Wagner

Megillah 30 – What happens when Purim is on Friday?

If Purim happens on a Friday, when are we to read the Torah portion of “Remember Amalek and what he did to you?” There is a direct connection between the two: on Purim they destroy Amalek (since Haman was a descendant of this archenemy of the Jews), and on Shabbat when they read about it, the people recall this commandment. Logically, one should read about Amalek first, and only then go to fight him. Therefore, they should read about Amalek on the Shabbat before Purim – and that is what Rav says. Shmuel, however, holds that they should read about Amalek in its proper time as it falls out. As far as events being out of order: first do, and then be commanded – Shmuel answers that since there are walled cities, who would celebrate Purim on the fifteenth of the month, for them at least it will come at the same time.

The Talmud continues with the discussion of the multiple possible occurrences of calendar days and Shabbat, Holidays, and the Torah portions read on these occasions. Today, when the calendar is fixed and is not determined by the Court, many of these coincidental occurrences can not happen.

Art: Punishment of Haman (detail) by Michelangelo Buonarroti