Updated August 23, 2021
Gittin 55a states that an individual who experienced the theft of a beam, which was then built into a large structure, must receive the value of the beam as reparation. This ruling is מפני תקנת השבים, due to or because of…
outside (standard) translation of takanat ha-sh’vim:* a phrase meaning “[Rabbinic] Law of Penitence”
inside (word-by-word) translation: a phrase with roots תקנ “repair” [tiken] and שׁוב “return” [shuv] — something like the “repair of the returning” or the “remedy of reparation” (“Inside” translations don’t sound like smooth English.)
This is far-fetched grammar-wise, but it captures an important aspect of what’s on my mind regarding this text. Shifting focus, however grammatically fanciful: might we read בים [bim] as related to בימה “stage, platform, bima“?
…The modern Hebrew verb, “to stage” בים, biyem, was created from בימה. The Klein dictionary (c. 1983 CE) says בימה was originally a Greek loan word, but Jastrow (c. 1883) says specifically that this is NOT so, arguing that the Greek word βῆμα would be spelled with an aleph in Hebrew, rather than a hey. Either way, though, the examples Jastrow gives for בימה are all about holding forth, making announcements, hearing from distinguished speakers, etc. So, it doesn’t seem like a big leap to bima-ing as a verb meaning to hold forth from a raised position (metaphorically and physically)….
The result would be something like, “remedy of that which is bima-ed,” suggesting that those who experienced theft are entitled to reparation from a bima, for all that was taught, from positions of power, over the centuries, continuing to build up a bigger and stronger bira [large structure] of systemic racism.
How much bima-ing has continued to raise up many laudable-sounding ideas while failing to note:
- that we sit on unceded, stolen land;
- that our country was historically built with stolen labor;
- that today stolen labor continues in our prisons and other inequitable systems;
- that some among us experience relative security built at the cost of well-being, freedom, and sometimes the very lives of others, including Black, Indigenous, queer, and other people whose human rights have long been a stolen beam still built into a structure that benefits others; and
- that Jews have often been complacently “bima-ed” around these topics for a long time?
Heading into the Days of Awe this year, I wonder about the need to take more responsibility, from the pew, for what goes on from the bima:
If our Jewish communities are not hearing from those who teach Torah, in its many forms, about our obligations in regard to stolen beams, then do we, from the pews, have a responsibility to “remedy that which is bima‘ed”?
How do we do that?
What if we cannot (immediately) change the bima-ing? Then what?
What, exactly, is our responsibility — individually and collectively — when it comes to learning and what we are taught to act on as a community?
This is a musing prompted by this year’s Elul learning through SVARA: The Traditionally Radical Yeshiva. For a different musing, prompted by last year’s studies, see “About that stolen beam…“
takanat ha-sh’vim: This is a transliteration of the phrase as worked out in Beit Midrash [House of Study] of SVARA: The Traditionally Radical Yeshiva. The Talmud gives us no vowels, and the work of the Beit Midrash is to explore possible meanings before settling on one or more. Deciding how to vocalize, or transliterating too soon, prematurely limits the meaning….but I’m including this, and other transliterations, here for convenience.BACK
Image descriptions and credits:
Beam illustration: Stone Lintel Beam.jpg from Wikimedia Commons (4.0 Attribution-Share Alike), adapted annotations
Image description: simple drawing of a brick wall with an opening and lintel beam. Added notations read: “Stolen? Beam” and “Built into a large structure”
Bima Image: Synagogue of Villa Dominguez (Argentina): The Torah Ark and the Bimah
123- Villa Dominguez – Synagogue.JPG — Wikimedia Commons 4.0 Attribution-Share Alike.
Image description: Inclined smooth wooden reading table, covered in cloth, facing ornate wooden ark in a synagogue empty of people.