The Story and the Reasons: Daf Yomi #2

Continuing to notice what kind of sources are included in the Talmud and what use the rabbis make of them: today’s daf includes Rabbi Yosei [Jose ben Halafta] relating how he met, conversed with, and learned from the prophet Elijah:

תַּנְיָא, אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹסֵי
It was taught [in material outside the Mishnah] that Rabbi Yosei said
פַּעַם אַחַת הָיִיתִי מְהַלֵּךְ בַּדֶּרֶךְ
וְנִכְנַסְתִּי לְחוּרְבָּה אַחַת מֵחוּרְבוֹת יְרוּשָׁלַיִם לְהִתְפַּלֵּל
Once I was walking along the road
and I entered a ruined site among the ruins of Jerusalem to pray.
בָּא אֵלִיָּהוּ זָכוּר לַטּוֹב
Elijah, his memory for good, came
…לְאַחַר שֶׁסִּייַּמְתִּי תְּפִלָּתִי אָמַר לִי …
…When I finished praying, he said to me…
— B. Ber 3a

Rabbi Yosei (Jewish Encyclopedia; Sefaria) is recognized as a very important teacher of the 2nd Century CE, during the period of the Tanaaim. Steinsaltz says “one of the greatest of the tannai’m…the imprint of his teachings is evident throughout tanaitic literature” (Koren Talmud Bavli, Berakhot p.14 “personalities”).

This story includes Rabbi Yosei’s declaration that he learned three things — about when, where, and how to prayer the Amidah when traveling — from this incident:

  • one may not enter a ruin,
  • one may pray along the road,
  • one who prays on the road uses an abbreviated prayer.

The story goes on to tell of heavenly voices Rabbi Yosei heard and of Elijah’s addition of God’s perspective on those voices. The Gemara does not appear to judge the story or its narrator or dispute its conclusions. Neither does it adopt as given what Rabbi Yosei learned from Elijah. Instead, discussion moves on to provide separate reasoning for Elijah’s first teaching about not entering ruins.

So, I believe we can add folklore and personal experiences of teachers to yesterday’s list of sources that inform decision-making discussion, noting along the way:

  • there is no Talmudic objection to Rabbi Yosei changing his own practice based on his encounter with Elijah;
  • there is no Talmudic suggestion that any one else take another teacher’s private experience as proof, on its own, for new practice; and
  • the Talmud includes many forms of thinking and expression as part of its methodology.



PS — I won’t quote in depth again from “Harvey,” but I cannot help note that I personally have learned a lot from Elwood P. Dowd telling us about his encounters with a teacher, whom few can see and whom Elwood happened to come across while walking on the street alone.

Photo by Josiah Lewis

More on Daf Yomi

The Day Clears Away: Daf Yomi #1

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The day clears away, [as people say], The sun has set and the day has cleared away.
— B. Talmud Berakhot 2b

‘The evening wore on’ — that’s a very nice expression, isn’t it? With your permission I’ll say it again: ‘The evening wore on.’
— Elwood P. Dowd, “Harvey” (1950)

Some thoughts on Berakhot 2B, as Daf Yomi (page/day study of the Babylonian Talmud in 7-1/2 years) begins anew, Jan 5, 2020.

NOTE: This blog was updated with additional references on 1/6/20.

The Day Clears Away

“The day clears away” is an expression used in several translations of today’s page. The rabbis are discussing when evening occurs, in the context of determining “from what time one recites the Shema in the evening.” In the process, Lev. 22:6-7 is cited as an example in the Torah of evening’s onset: When a priest has come in contact with certain types of ritual impurity, he is ritually unclean until evening…

וּבָ֥א הַשֶּׁ֖מֶשׁ וְטָהֵ֑ר
and when sunset comes, v’taheir [he/it shall be clean]
— Lev. 22:7

In the Leviticus verse, “וְטָהֵ֑ר v’taheir” is generally translated as “he [the priest] is clean” or “he will become clean.” Taheir can also mean “to be cleared away” or “to be gone,” however, and a bit of grammatical minutia suggests that perhaps the DAY clears away.

That English expression caught my attention for its sheer, if ambiguous, beauty. A few Hebrew/Aramaic notes appear below. Meanwhile, some thoughts prompted by the expression itself and its repetition in the discussion.

The Evening Wore On

At one point in the 1950 movie, “Harvey,” Jimmy Stewart’s character pauses to savor and repeat another evening-focused phrase:

At first, Dr. Chumley seemed a little frightened of Harvey, but that gave way to admiration as the evening wore on…’the evening wore on’ — that’s a very nice expression, isn’t it? With your permission I’ll say it again [Dowd pauses, as if actually tasting the words]: ‘The evening wore on.’
— Elwood P. Dowd to Dr. Chumley’s co-workers
— 1:00 mark in this clip from Turner Classic Movies; more on “Harvey,”

Evening Wore On

from “Harvey” (1950): “…the evening wore on.”

This may seem far afield from the Berakhot page, but Dowd’s love of language and the images it conveys strikes me as not unlike the Talmud’s love of Torah and the possibilities of its language. The comparison also highlights the fluidity of the Middle English participle describing a process, the “coming on of even,” a period of becoming dark — something like the rabbis’ complex and fluid experience of evening. In addition, Ber 2b includes its own bit of popular culture.

Sources of “Evening”

In “How to Read the Talmud,” Rabbi Benay Lappe writes that the Rabbis of the Talmud hoped we would hear them urging us:

“…Use our methodology. Be courageous and bold, like we were, and know that what you are doing may seem radical, but is deeply Jewish — and deeply traditional.”
— “How to Read the Talmud: Why this classic work of law, stories and wisdom isn’t really about any of those things”

Rabbi Lappe teaches us to explore HOW the rabbis made decisions as much as the decisions themselves. In this spirit, it is interesting that we see on the first page of the Talmud such a variety of sources:

  • Natural: ‘evening’ is sometime between the sun’s setting and the appearance of stars;
  • Practical: ‘evening’ is the end of the work day, or the chance to rest;
  • Torah: ‘evening’ is as mentioned in instructions around the priesthood;
  • Historical: ‘evening’ is when the priests actually used to immerse and then eat;
  • Linguistic: perhaps ‘evening’ is when ritual impurity “clears” with the end of the day, or maybe how the day itself “clears”;
  • Reasoning: ‘evening’ is defined in a logical compromise encompassing several avenues of thought and tradition
  • People say: ‘evening’ is as popular understanding has it, when the “day is past” or “cleared away.”

As we attempt to learn, and eventually learn to implement, rabbinic methodology, it seems noteworthy that what “people say” appears as a source for understanding and decision-making on the very first page of this project.


Notes

B. Berakhot 2b:

מַאי ״וְטָהֵר״ — טְהַר יוֹמָא, כִּדְאָמְרִי אִינָשֵׁי: ״אִיעֲרַב שִׁמְשָׁא וְאִדַּכִּי יוֹמָא״
What is the meaning of we-taher [v’taheir]? The day clears away, conformably to the common expression, The sun has set and the day has cleared away.
— Soncino translation

Conformably. Soncino has this phrase, while others use the more straightforward “as people say.” Frank‘s Practical Talmud Dictionary notes that “כִּדְאָמְרִי אִינָשֵׁי” means “people say” and “is used to introduce a popular saying.”

Cleared away. Jastrow Jackpot for דְּכִי:

2) to be cleared away, be removed, be gone. Ber 2b: אִדַּכִּי יוֹמָא the day is past v. טְהַר
— Jastrow, p. 307 left, under Ithpa


BACK


REFERENCES
In recognition that the movie version of “Harvey” is now 70 years old and that maybe not everyone has most of it memorized, an IMDB link, a Wikipage, and a few words of background:

Harvey is an invisible, magical, 6′ 3.5″ rabbit who spends a great deal of time with his friend, Elwood P. Dowd. Elwood seems to have no lack of financial means, enjoys many a drink at local watering holes and makes many friends. He sums up his situation at one point:

Years ago my mother used to say to me, she’d say, ‘In this world, Elwood, you must be’ – she always called me Elwood – ‘In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.’ Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.

Elwood’s family believes his odd ways threaten his niece’s chance for a good match and try to have him committed. But the asylum director, Dr. Chumley, leaves with Harvey, leading to the “evening wears on” scene in this clip.

More on Harvey and Elwood in a drash given on Yom Kippur 5775.


RETURN to evening


Frank, Rabbi Yitzhak. The Practical Talmud Dictionary. Jerusalem: Koren, 1991. Third edition Maggid (Koren imprint), 2016.

Jastrow, Prof. Marcus. Dictionary of Talmud Babli, Yerushalmi, Midrashic Literature and Targumim. New York: Pardes Publishing House, 1950. (originally published, 1903)
RETURN to NOTES

More on Daf Yomi

Gathering Sources: Vayechi

Some thoughts and resources for exploring the Torah portion Vayechi — also spelled Vaychi and Vayhi — Genesis 47:28 – 50:26, the final reading in the book of Genesis. This is part of a series of weekly “gathering sources” posts, collecting previous material on the weekly Torah portion, most originally part of a 2010 series called “Opening the Book.”

A Path to Follow: Vows, Oaths, and Testament
Language and Translation: Pakod Yifkod
Something to Notice: Blessings and harsh words

See also: Flour and Torah
Leaving Genesis: Departing Women
Getting Exodus Right
Amichai, Zelda, and the Pit

Vayechi is next read in the Diaspora, minchah Jan 4 through Shabbat Jan 11.

blue and brown egyptian coffin

“And they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt” –Gen 50:26.  Egyptian coffin photo by Miguel u00c1. Padriu00f1u00e1n on Pexels.com

 

 

Gathering Sources: Vayigash

Some thoughts and resources for exploring the Torah portion Vayigash, Gen 44:18 – 47:27. This is part of a series of weekly “gathering sources” posts, collecting previous material on the weekly Torah portion, most originally part of a 2009-10 series called “Opening the Book.”

A Path to Follow: Serah, daughter of Asher

Something to Notice: Dinah

Great Source(s): Joseph in Medieval poetry

Language and Translation: Souls in Suspense

Vayigash is next read in the Diaspora, minchah Dec 28 through Shabbat Jan 4.

Image is in public domain, from Owen Jones’ Old Book Art, details.

Gathering Sources: Mikeitz

Some thoughts and resources for exploring the Torah portion Mikeitz (sometimes spelled Miketz), Gen 41:1-44:17. Mikeitz is next read in the Diaspora minchah 12/21 through Shabbat 12/28.

This is part of a series of weekly “gathering sources” posts, collecting previous material on the weekly Torah portion, most originally part of a 2009-10 series called “Opening the Book.”

Great Source(s)): the blame forever

Language and Translation: forgetting and fruitfulness

A Path to Follow: dreams in the Talmud and later

Something to Notice: women and the Joseph story

See Also

Leaving Genesis: Departing Women

Chanukah and the Five Powers

The Pits and the Lights

Gathering Sources: Vayeishev

Some thoughts and resources for exploring the Torah portion Vayeishev — also spelled Vayeshev or Vayesheb — Gen 37:1 – 40:23. Vayeishev is next read in the Diaspora minchah 12/14 through Shabbat 12/21.

This is part of a series of weekly “gathering sources” posts, collecting previous material on the weekly Torah portion, most originally part of a 2009-2010 series called “Opening the Book.”

A Path to Follow: Tamar/Judah and Joseph

Language and Translation: Lie with Me

Great Source(s): Two sets of twins

Something to Notice: Was and Was Not

See also:
Power, Language and Settling: Questions from Joseph’s Story

Dick Gregory and Rabbis Under Rome

Gathering Sources: Vayishlach

Some thoughts and resources for exploring the Torah portion Vayishlach (sometimes “Vayishlah”), Genesis 32:4-36:43. This is part of a series of weekly “gathering sources” posts, collecting previous material on the weekly Torah portion, most originally part of a 2009-10 series called “Opening the Book.” Vayishlach is next read in the Diaspora minchah December 7 through Shabbat December 14.

Something to Notice: God-Wrestling and Fabrangen

A Path to Follow: Jacob and Yisrael

Language and Translation: What Dinah and Hamor Experienced

Great Source(s): The Biography of Ancient Israel

See also:
Leaving Genesis: Departing Women

The Babylon Road. The biblical Rachel’s life and death link her to the Babylon of the past and future and to the precarious nature of Israel’s future on the land.

Babylon and Rachel’s Offering. This midrash offers lessons for people struggling to function with integrity and flexibility in a diverse, often contradictory, world.

Gathering Sources: Vayeitzei

Some thoughts on the Torah portion Vayeitzei — also spelled Vayetzei or Vayetze — Gen 28:10-32:3. This is part of a series of weekly “gathering sources” posts, collecting previous material on the weekly Torah portion, most originally part of a 2009-10 series called “Opening the Book.” Vayeitzei is next read in the Diaspora, minchah on November 30 through December 7.

Something to Notice updated 2019: Bilhah and Zilpah and the Amidah

A Path to Follow: Rachel and Leah, competition or not

Great Source(s): Akedat Yitzchak

Language and Translation: Sulam [what the angels climb]

See also:
Seven Years or Seven Days

Legends of Luz

biblical tree

Jewish Women’s Archive. “Biblical Family Tree.” https://jwa.org/media/biblical-family-tree

Naboth’s Vineyard: Land, Power, and Violence

The story of Naboth the Jezreelite and his vineyard was brand new to me when I encountered it through a recent Hebrew class assignment. The class is designed to focus on land and labor, but a variety of circumstances drew my attention instead — or in addition — to the violence and uses of power in the story. (NOTE: Post slightly edited 11/22/19, 3 p.m. Eastern, shortly after initial publication.)

Ownership and Angst

The story opens with:

And it happened after these things
וַיְהִי, אַחַר הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה
va’y’hi achar ha-d’varim ha-eleh

Robert Alter notes: “As elsewhere, this vague temporal formula introduces a new narrative.” In Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg’s commentary on Genesis, however, this phrase carries important psychological tension, linking one story — in the text itself or in midrash — with what follows. Her view suggests an interesting comparison between Abraham’s story and this one.

“After these things,” Zornberg argues, twice signals resolution of an incident with worrying implications for Abraham regarding his covenant with God: the battle with the four Canaanite kings (Gen 15:1) and the Akedah (Gen 22:20); a third use, at the start of the Akedah (Gen 22:1), closes a midrash — a story between the lines — full of more existential/covenantal angst on the part of Abraham. In short, broad strokes: Abraham frets over God’s control of fates, family lines, and futures, but comes to greater faith in God’s promises and providence.

Prior to the vineyard story’s “after these things,” Ahab battles neighboring king Ben-Hadad, allowing the leader to escape, and then hearing from the Prophet Elijah: “Thus says YHVH: …therefore your life shall go for his life, and your people for his people” (1 Kings 20:42). Ahab returns home “סַר וְזָעֵף [sar v’zaaf] — translated as “sullen and morose” or “resentful and angry” — a phrase used only here (1 Kings 20:43) and then four verses later. In the second usage (1 Kings 21:4), Ahab, King of (Northern) Israel, is “sar v’zaaf” over a failed real estate proposition.

Naboth the Jezreelite refuses to sell the vineyard, a family inheritance abutting Ahab’s heichal [הֵיכַל, “palace” or maybe “fortress,” more literally “big house”] (21:3). Is he obsessing on what he lacks? Behaving “like a petulant adolescent” as Alter and others have it? Or is Ahab suffering an existential/covenantal crisis of his own — realizing that nearby land belongs ultimately to God and in perpetuity [לִצְמִתֻת litzmitut] to the assigned tribal owner (Lev. 25:23), limiting his kingship?

Perhaps Ahab is troubled by something akin to recognizing that Naboth will always be “milk in last,” as is the custom of those with fine china, while he, for all his might, cannot buy his way out of being “milk in first.” “Naboth,” for additional background, means “fruits,” and “Jezreel” means “sown of God,” emphasizing his connection to the property which he tells Ahab is family inheritance that he is forbidden to sell (Leviticus again). When Ahab announces his desire to use the vineyard as a vegetable garden, is he furthering a new land-use policy? or is he simply out of step with the Land? In short, broad strokes: Ahab’s relationship to the Land, the People he rules, the neighbors, and God seems so precarious that a random land-grab is of a piece with his whole story.

Varieties of Power

When her husband seems unable to act, Jezebel makes use of several forms of power, based in structural/state violence, to obtain the land:

  • political clout: Jezebel has no qualms about setting in writing a command to misuse the legal system, and scoundrels, elders and nobles alike immediately comply;
  • religious authority: Jezebel calls for a fast, a misuse of public religious ritual to create the impression of blasphemy on Naboth’s part;
  • local corruption and individual perfidy: Jezebel counts on individual scoundrels [“worthless fellows” — בְּנֵי-בְלִיַּעַל, bnei-bilyaal] to perjure themselves on demand and expects the larger process to ask no questions;
  • judicial authority: Jezebel arranges the judicial killing of Naboth (and, some commentators suggest, extrajudicial killing of his offspring);
  • religious and civil intimidation: Naboth is denied burial, his body desecrated, and his blood licked by dogs;
  • legal loophole: With Naboth and descendants gone, Jezebel convinces Ahab that it is his right to confiscate the land.

Ahab himself employs a range of more personal powers:

  • Ignorance: The king employs ignorance — real or feigned — of Jezebel’s schemes to his advantage;
  • Physicality: The king moves to physically occupy the land;
  • Personal ritual: The king performs acts of atonement, garnering a stay of retribution from God for himself but not for his descendants.

God, speaking through Elijah:

  • curses Ahab and descendants, after Ahab does not kill Ben-Hadad, calling for “your life instead of his” (1 Kings 20:42);
  • promises to “cut off every pisser against the wall of Ahab’s” (more politely: “every man-child” or “every last male,” 1 Kings 21:21);
  • consigns Ahab’s descendants and Jezebel to a fate similar to Naboth’s in terms of body desecration (1 Kings 21:22-24).

 

Violence in Jezreel

In the narrative of ancient Israel:

  • Jezreel was the site of Gideon’s victory over the Midianites, the Amalekites and the Kedemites, or “the children of the east” (Judges 6:3);
  • Jezreel was the site of Saul’s defeat by the Philistines and death in battle (1 Sam 29:1-6);
  • Jezreel becomes the site of Jehu’s coup against Joram, Joram’s ally Ahaziah, and against Jezebel (2 Kings 9), and the land sees desecration of the losers’ bodies.

It is worth noting that the bodies of Joram and Jezebel are “cast to the portion of the field of Naboth the Jezreelite.” That is, the property originally identified at Naboth’s vineyard, keeps that identity and does not bear Ahab’s name or that of the state.
 

Conclusion?

Not clear at all on what to make of this except to note that each player in this story has a sort of power to wield and does so. And to ask: Is the Land, or a specific piece of it —

  • an object of various power-plays?
  • a conduit for others’ power?
  • or does it wield its own?

shallow-focus-photography-of-purple-grapes-162672

NOTES

Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg. “Lekh Lekha: The Travails of Faith” and “Va-yera: Language and Silence.” Genesis: the Beginning of Desire. Philadelphia: JPS, 1995.
BACK

OBSESSION

Abalienatus et indignabundus; off the hooks,* as we say, and in a great discontent; his heart did more afflict and vex itself with greedy longing for that bit of earth, than the vast and spacious compass of a kingdom could counter comfort. So Haman could say, All this availeth me nothing, &c. And Alexander, the monarch of the world, was grievously troubled, because ivy would not grow in his gardens at Babylon. The devil of discontent, whomsoever it possesseth, it maketh his heart a little hell, saith one.
— John Trapp (1601-1669)**

* i.e., unhinged or disturbed, rather than contemporary “off the hooks” meanings

** English Anglican Bible commentator recommended to me for certain books of the Bible by Norman Shore
RETURN


CLASS
Elizabeth Currid-Halkett, The Sum of Small Things: A Theory of the Aspirational Class, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017.

See also Dr. Norma Franklin, Zinman Institute of Archaeology, Haifa University:

The Bible names the owner of the vineyard as Naboth the Jezreelite. The use of this gentilic implies that he resided somewhere else as well, otherwise he would not have required a qualifier. A person with a residence in one place and a vineyard in another is a wealthy person, and one might imagine that such a person lived in the capital city, Samaria. Whether or not the “Naboth the Jezreelite” is a historical character, whoever owned that plot of land and its vineyard was certainly well off and not a simple, poor farmer.
The Story of Naboth’s Vineyard and the Ancient Winery in Jezreel

More on the excavation at Biblical Archaeology and Jezreel Expedition.

RETURN

Gathering Sources: Toldot

Some thoughts and resources for exploring the Torah portion, Toldot, Gen. 25:19 – 28:9. This is part of a series of weekly “gathering sources” posts, collecting previous material on the weekly Torah portion, most originally part of a 2010 series called “Opening the Book.” Toldot is next read in the Diaspora, minchah on Nov 23 through Shabbat morning, Nov 30.

Something to Notice: The mother of two

Path to Follow: Say you’re my sister

Language and Translation: Simple and stew

Great Source: Fox on Toldot

See also:
Warring Nation, Sibling Tears

Babylon and Adventures in Bibleland

Babylon: Further Adventures in Bibleland

Regular weekly postings interrupted by fall holidays and just getting back on track.