In the Thirtieth Year [of what?]

The Book of Ezekiel begins “in the thirtieth year.”

Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, in the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the river Chebar that the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God.

וַיְהִי בִּשְׁלֹשִׁים שָׁנָה, בָּרְבִיעִי בַּחֲמִשָּׁה לַחֹדֶשׁ,
וַאֲנִי בְתוֹךְ-הַגּוֹלָה, עַל-נְהַר-כְּבָר; נִפְתְּחוּ, הַשָּׁמַיִם, וָאֶרְאֶה, מַרְאוֹת אֱלֹהִים.

— Ezekiel, 1:1
— (“old”) JPS trans. (1917), borrowed from Mechon-Mamre

Continue reading In the Thirtieth Year [of what?]

Find a scroll? Read, or at least roll, it every 30 days

— Babylonian Talmud, Baba Metzia 29b

The Mishna passage goes on to include care of other found items: cloth, which must be shaken once every 30 days and aired out; silver and copper vessels, which are to be “used for their own benefit, but no [so much as to] wear them out”; and gold and glassware, which “may not be touched until Elijah comes.”

The Gemara then proceeds to discuss how to treat a borrowed Torah scroll:

  • Don’t re-lend it to another person.
  • It’s fine to open the scroll and read it, but don’t study a subject for the first time: studying a new topic would stress the scroll.
  • The scroll may not be read by more than one person, because that would lead to multiple readers tugging, even if unconsciously, on the scroll.
  • Someone holding a borrowed scroll “must roll it once every twelve months, and may open and read it, but if he opens it in his own interest, it is forbidden.”
  • Some teachers say that new a new scroll should be rolled every thirty days, older ones, every twelve months.

Continue reading Find a scroll? Read, or at least roll, it every 30 days

Thirty worthy of Divine Spirit, 30 worthy of stopping the sun, 30 repetitions of previous teachings

The number 30 appears thrice, as it happens, in a brief Talmudic discussion of the Rabbi Eliezer’s teaching style:

Our Rabbis have taught: It happened that R. Eliezer passed the Sabbath in Upper Galilee, and they asked him for thirty decisions in the laws of Sukkah. Of twelve of these he said, ‘I heard them [from my teachers]’; of eighteen he said, ‘I have not heard’…. They said to him, ‘Are all your words only reproductions of what you have heard?’ He answered them, ‘You wished to force me to say something which I have not heard from my teachers. During all my life [I may tell you] no man was earlier than myself in the college, I never slept or dozed in the college, nor did I ever leave a person in the college when I went out, nor did I ever utter profane speech, nor have I ever in my life said a thing which I did not hear from my teachers.’
— Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 28a

The passage goes on to describe a similar set of habits ascribed to Eliezer’s teacher, R. Johanan ben Zakkai, concluding: “…so did his disciple R. Eliezer.” This is followed by more background on Eliezer’s teacher:

Our Rabbis have taught: Hillel the Elder had eighty disciples, thirty of whom were worthy of the Divine Spirit resting upon them, as [it did upon] Moses our Master, thirty of whom were worthy that the sun should stand still for them [as it did for] Joshua the son of Nun [cf. Josh. 10:12ff], and twenty were ordinary. The greatest of them was Jonathan b. Uzziel, the smallest of them was Johanan b. Zakkai. They said of R. Johanan b. Zakkai… [see below]… And if the smallest of them was so great, how much more so was the greatest?

“They said of R. Johanan ben Zakkai” that he did not neglect the following areas of study:

  • Scripture,
  • Mishnah [teachings of the Rabbis],
  • Gemara [explanations of mishnah],
  • Halakhah [decisions of law],
  • Aggada [homilies, legends, etc],
  • details of the Torah,
  • details of the Scribes,
  • inferences a minori ad majus,*
  • analogies,*
  • calendrical computations,
  • gematrias [teachings based on numerical equivalents of words],
  • the speech of the Ministering Angels,
  • the speech of spirits,
  • the speech of palm-trees,**
  • fullers’ parables***
  • and fox fables.****

This eclectic list includes additional mystical and exegetical areas (a very similar list appears in Baba Bathra 134a.)

It is interesting to compare Rabbi Eliezer’s extreme conservatism — refusing to teach anything not received directly from his teacher — with the description of his teacher’s varied background. In particular, several forms of exegesis are within R. Johanan’s expertise, while R. Eliezer refuses to engage in his own decision-making, in the passage above and elsewhere in the Talmud.

It’s noteworthy, too, that “Our Rabbis” are recalling these teachers, presumably from some distance. Rabbi Louis Jacobs suggests that generations after R. Eliezer viewed him with some suspicion, noting Eliezer’s famous excommunication as a result of his failure to abide by majority decision.

See also: The essay on Wikipedia about Talmudic Hermeneutics and this additional note on R. Eliezer.
Continue reading Thirty worthy of Divine Spirit, 30 worthy of stopping the sun, 30 repetitions of previous teachings

Blessings and Distance

R. Joshua b. Levi said: One who sees a friend after a lapse of thirty days says: Blessed is He who has kept us alive and preserved us and brought us to this season.* If after a lapse of twelve months he says: Blessed is He who revives the dead.**
— Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 58b

*Shehecheyanu,” for short [full blessing text]
** Kolel: The Adult Centre for Adult Jewish Learning presents both blessings as outlined in Berakhot 58b and another option for blessing upon seeing a long-lost friend.
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30 Days to Obligation for a Town’s Poor

An individual who resides in a town for 30 days is “liable for contributing to the soup kitchen [התמחוי, tamhui], three months to the charity box [קופה, kuppah], six months for the clothing fund, nine months of the burial fund, and twelve months for contributing to the repair of town walls.”
— Babylonian Talmud, Baba Bathra 8a

Alternatively, it is 30 days to the charity box obligation and three months to the soup kitchen. This is the way Mishneh Torah [12th Century CE compilation by Moses Maimonides] records the obligation.

This set of questions from the American Jewish World Service probes the themes behind this ruling. Additional pages discuss “the universe of obligation.”
Continue reading 30 Days to Obligation for a Town’s Poor