Sunday, March 3, 2024

Shabbat 5 - Airspace, is it the same as resting on the ground?

So, after all, why is the poor man liable for violating Shabbat when he brings an object from the street into the hand of the householder inside? Complete Shabbat violation includes taking an object from a significant area of four by four cubits; a hand is much smaller.

The Talmud tries to ascribe this rule to Rabbi Akiva, who considers being in the airspace the same as resting on the ground. By extension, an object in the hand is resting on the ground. But it considers such attribution too tenuous. 

Then, it tries to say that it is the opinion of Rabbi Yehudah the Prince, who seemingly did not require the area of four by four. That does not work either because Rabbi Yehudah only talked about an area with a roof, and we have no roof in the street.

It tries to change the ruling, saying it should be "basket in his hand." The problem is that the rule needs to mention a basket, and it does not.

Finally, the Talmud concludes that because the hand can grasp things, it is considered by the person as if it were four by four "arms" (amot) - and that is why the poor man is liable.

Art: Breton Woman with a Basket by John Singer Sargent

Monday, February 5, 2024

Shabbat 4 - Do not confuse a scholar

Rav asked Rabbi Yehudah the Prince (his uncle) a question: if someone loaded a person with food and drink, and then this person carried his load into the street on Shabbat, what is the law? Since this person did not pick up the food, he did not perform the complete carrying on Shabbat, which requires both picking up and then putting it down. Or when he started moving his body, it was akin to picking up, and the person is liable.

Rabbi Yehudah replied, "He is liable." He added, "It is not the same as a hand." Rabbi Yehudah was anticipating a question of why putting it in his hand does not make him liable, but putting it on his shoulder does."

Rabbi Chiya (son of Rabbi Yehudah) addressed himself to Rav, "Son of scholars! When Rabbi Yehudah is teaching another area of law, do not distract him with questions about Shabbat. What if he does answer right? It might prove an embarrassment. Here, however, he answered correctly." His hand, unlike his body, is not at rest. So, it never performs the start of the first part of the Shabbat violation.

Friday, January 19, 2024

Shabbat 3 - Two that are four

On the previous page, we discussed two ways to break Shabbat, which are really four. Thus, there are four ways for one outside and four more for one inside, with a total of eight cases.

However, in another place in the Talmud where the idea of "two that are four" is discussed, only four cases of Shabbat violations are mentioned, and not eight. Here is what it says there. There are two kinds of oaths to violate: to do something in the future or not to do it. These are really four - adding oaths that he did or did not do something in the past. The list continues - two ways to remember that one was ritually impure when he went to the Temple, which is four. Two ways the spiritual leprosy (tzaraat) can look, which is four. So it is four or eight?

The Talmud answers: here in tractate Shabbat, it describes all the variations and details; thus, there are eight. But in another list, where the subject is oaths and Shabbat is only incidental, only the four major categories are discussed.

Art: Shabbat by Marc Chagall

Monday, November 20, 2023

Brachot 63 - When to Nullify the Torah and When to Uphold It - (Blessings)

There are times when one must nullify the Torah. The key is in the phrase, "Time to act for God; they have nullified Your law." It should be understood as thus: the righteous nullified the Law! Why? Because the time has come to act for God.

The classic example is Elijah bringing a sacrifice on Mount Carmel while it is prohibited outside the Temple. Another example is writing down the Talmud. Initially, it was forbidden to commit Talmud to writing. But when people's memory weakened, the Sages permitted it based on the same rule.

In general, learning the Torah is the source of strength and also of pleasure. But to understand and remember it, one must die for it. It says, "This is the Torah of a man who dies in a tent." On the surface, it talks about the purity laws for a corpse. But the Torah gives many lessons, and this one can be obtained by analyzing the phrase and seeing a different meaning in it.

One who wants to become wise should study monetary judgments because they require patience and exact knowledge of the Law. One should never be ashamed to ask even stupid questions.

Art: The Sacrifice of Elijah by Aert Jansz. Marienhof

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Brachot 61 - All that God does is for the good (Blessings)

A person should accustom himself to saying, "All that God goes is for the good," like in the following story.

Rabbi Akiva was once traveling. He reached a city where no one would provide lodging for him. He said, "All that God does is for the good." He went to sleep in the fields. He had a rooster, a donkey, and a lamp. The wind came and blew out the lamp; a cat came and ate the rooster; a lion came and ate the donkey. At night, the army came and captured the city. He told his students, "Didn't I tell you, all that God does is for good."

Once, the Roman Empire decreed that Jews should not engage in Torah study. Pappus came and found Rabbi Akiva publicly teaching the Torah. Pappus said, "Akiva, are you not afraid of the regime?" Akiva answered with a parable. A fox saw schools of fish looking for a refuge. It said, "Why are you running away?" The fish replied, "From the people spreading their nets." The fox said, "Come live with me on dry land." The fish replied, "If we are in danger in water, how much more so would be on land!" 

If now, when we study the Torah, which says, "For it is your life and the length of your days," we are in danger, if we stop studying, how much more so!?

Art: A Scholar in His Study by the School of Rembrandt

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Bava Kamma 108 - Unpaid custodian (Torts)

When one entrusts an item to his fellow, the fellow becomes an unpaid custodian. If one then comes to retrieve the object and his fellow says, "It is lost," the fellow is not obligated to pay since he was doing a favor. But if one insists and asks his fellow to swear and the fellow accepts an oath, things become more complex.

If witnesses come and testify that the custodian consumed the deposit himself, he is obligated to pay for it double what he stole. If the custodian repents and confesses his false oath, he must pay the total amount, plus one-fifth of the value, and bring a guilt offering to the Temple.

What if one robs his father and swears to him that he did not do it, the father dies, and the son then repents his false oath? The son pays the principal plus one-fifth to his father's heirs (his brothers and uncles.) If he does not have the money to repay, he can borrow from others and give it to his brothers; his creditors will come and collect from his portion of the inheritance.

Art: The Last Moments of Christopher Columbus by Claude Jacquand

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Bava Kamma 105 - Flaky Humans (Torts)

We remember that one who robs his fellow of money, either by stealing, robbing, or not returning something deposited with him - and swears that he did not do it - but then repents, needs to fix it in a special way. He has to find the victim, restore what he stole, add one-fifth, and bring a guilt offering to the Temple.

What if he returned the principal but not the fifth and now swears that he returned the fifth? If he then confesses that he again took a false oath, he must restore the amount, add one-fifth, and bring another guilt sacrifice. This process can continue until the principal amount is reduced to less than a prutah (about five cents.)

Art: Train Robbery by Frederick Morris