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The Talmud Paints a Vivid Picture of Jewish Family Life in This Week’s Daf Yomi

Daf Yomi: Our literary critic discovers more rules on male authority, Shabbat meals, and how the rabbis thought about wealth

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(Photoillustration Tablet Magazine; original photo Swedish National Heritage Board/Flickr)
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Literary critic Adam Kirsch is reading a page of Talmud a day, along with Jews around the world.

After a week off for Memorial Day, we return to the Talmud this week with Chapter 8 of Tractate Eruvin. This is one of those miscellaneous catch-all chapters, in which the Talmud addresses a group of minor issues branching off from the main discussion. The central subject of Eruvin so far has been the rules for legal mergers (eruv means merger) that allow Jews to extend the area in which they may move around and carry objects on Shabbat. But who, the rabbis ask in this week’s Daf Yomi reading, has the power to enter into such a merger? Who is legally competent to create an eruv?

The answer, we learn in Eruvin 82b, is that a male head of household has the power to create an eruv on behalf of his dependents—specifically, his minor children and his non-Jewish servants, who are have no standing of their own in Jewish law. In the Talmud’s words, “his hand is as their hand.” However, the rabbis exempt from this category a man’s wife and his adult children, in a way that sets Talmudic law at odds with standard practice in the Roman Empire at the time. Rome, which gave us the word “paterfamilias,” assigned the father of a family absolute control over his wife and children. The Talmud, on the other hand, declares that “a person may not make an eruv for his adult son or daughter, nor for his Jewish manservant or maidservant, nor for his wife, except with their consent.”

That consent, however, does not have to be explicit. “What does ‘except with their consent’ mean?” the Gemara asks and replies, “That they were quiet.” In other words, if a husband enters into an eruv, it will bind his wife as well, unless she specifically raises an objection to it. If, however, she makes an eruv of her own, she can keep it and does not have to defer to her husband’s.

What’s more, when it comes to very young children, the mother’s eruv actually prevails over the father’s. Say that a child’s “father made an eruv for him to the north,” extending his range 2,000 amot in that direction, while “his mother made an eruv for him to the south.” In this case, the child automatically belongs within its mother’s eruv, on the principle that “even a child in his sixth year prefers the company of his mother.”

Indeed, the Talmud has a touching and pragmatic rule for determining whether a child qualifies as “very young” and thus continues to be a legal dependent of its mother. If a child wakes up crying “Mother,” Rabbi Simon ben Lakish holds, he is considered to be “very young.” But wait, the Gemara objects, surely even an older child still sometimes wakes up needing his mother? Better to modify the rule: Only a child who wakes up crying not just “ima” but “ima, ima”—that is, who keeps calling his mother until she comes—is considered very young. In this way, a fairly dry legal discussion manages to include a vivid picture of Jewish family life and a tender understanding of children’s needs.

The next item on the agenda is how much food is required to make an eruv. As we’ve seen earlier, to legally shift one’s Shabbat residence, and thus shift the area in which one can walk on Shabbat, one must deposit a certain amount of food at the site where the residence is to take effect. As a rule of thumb, this is “food for two meals for each and every person” who participates in the eruv. Immediately, the Mishnah sees a complication: Does this mean the amount you would eat in two weekday meals, or in two Shabbat meals? Rabbi Meir holds that a Jew eats more on Shabbat than during the week, because the food is generally better. On the other hand, Rabbi Yehudah holds the opposite, that a Jew eats less on Shabbat, because he wants to preserve his appetite for the third Shabbat meal.

Either way, the Mishnah decides, “both intend to rule leniently”: One must deposit two small meals’ worth, whether one believes the small meal comes during the week or on Shabbat. The rabbis go on to translate this vague description into concrete quantities, using a rather bewildering variety of Talmud-era measurements of both money and volume, e.g., “The quantity of bread necessary for an eruv is a loaf that is purchased for a pundyon when four se’ah of grain are purchased for a sela.”

Later in the chapter, the rabbis turn to another dilemma. What happens when there are two adjoining courtyards or chatzeirot that have failed to create an eruv, and there is an area in between them—say, a yard or gallery? The common area can’t be used by both courtyards, since they have not merged; so how do we decide which courtyard gets control of it? The answer, as so often in the Talmud, is a pragmatic one: Whichever courtyard has easier access to the common area gets to use it. The Gemara runs through a long list of possible cases, considering what happens if an area is accessible by a door or by dropping or throwing things onto it (as with a roof or balcony).

And what if there is a cistern or well between the two chatzeirot? Here the rabbis deliberately adopt a more lenient policy. It is permitted for each courtyard to draw water from the well if they install a notional divider—a strip of reeds that runs across the lip of the well or descends into the surface of the water. True, the water itself will still be able to mingle beneath the divider, so it’s possible that residents of one courtyard will draw water that technically belongs to the other courtyard. But, the Gemara explains, “this is a special leniency which the Sages allowed in regard to water.” Probably the rabbis were aware that, if they did not make it easy for people to get water on Shabbat, they would just use the well anyway; and as we have seen before, the rabbis are anxious not to give Jews occasions to sin. Discretion is the better part of valor where the laws are concerned.

Finally, this week’s reading contained an interesting example of how the rabbis thought about wealth and material prosperity. On one occasion, we learn in Eruvin 85b, a rich man named Boonyas ben Boonyas came to visit Rebbi, who greeted him with the words, “Make room for the man of a hundred maneh.” (A maneh is a sum of money equal to 10,000 zuz—in other words, Boonyas was worth a bundle.) Then a second visitor came, who was much better dressed than Boonyas, and Rebbi greeted him with the words, “Make room for the man of two hundred maneh.”

When someone objected that, in fact, Boonyas was by far the wealthier of the two—“this man’s father owns a thousand ships at sea and … a thousand cities on land”—Rebbi responded that, in that case, Boonyas should dress the part: “Do not send him before me wearing these clothes.” A rich person, the rabbis believed, should conduct himself accordingly, since wealth deserved respect: “Akiva would show respect to wealthy people.” But riches only mattered, the Gemara goes on to explain, because they enabled the rich to help care for the poor: “When there are kindness and ample provisions [for the poor], this preserves the world.” Clearly, the Jewish admiration for philanthropy goes back a long way.


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Michael says:

Shocking the shtuyot you are writing about. Was I the only sane person reading it and NOT sneering? Look, women are equal to men in every respect, sages schmages and Mishnah schmishnah your foot.

    Facebook User says:

    Did you even read the article? Where do you see in it any suggestion of non-equality?

      Michael says:

      Yes, I read that while woman needs to care about food for the entire family, for two meals some time, her yoyo hubby needs to merely set the eruv in place. Only for very young children does mother’s eruv have some meaning. Come on, you know how insignificant is the woman made by schmalmud.

        Facebook User says:

        Then you’ve read a different article than I have; there is not the slightest suggestion in it, or anywhere else, that the two meals in question have to be prepared by the mother.

        But evidently you prefer to look at things through mud-spattered glasses, and then complain how everything looks gray and disgusting.

        Tell me: if you care so little for what the Talmud says, who is forcing you to read these articles and to comment? Do you think your sneering is going to convince anyone other than yourself?

          Michael says:

          I read what others think and I do care to set your head straight, even when you prefer to keep it buried in the sand. As you ride the bus in the back along with your cohorts, think about that.
          PS: Bimbos are forcing me to comment!
          PPS: Maybe yoyo hubbies are preparing two meals after their sabbath prayers? Where does it say not so?

          Grigalem says:

          You’re really weird.

          dantheman08822 says:

          I see Michael’s point perfectly. If one wants to comment negatively on Jewish law, and if one believes it’s mostly a bunch of BS (as I do myself), it makes sense for one to learn about it first.
          Otherwise, one is just blowing smoke out of one’s rear end.

          Grigalem says:

          And it is your impression that Michael understands the Talmud’s logic, purposes, conversations-over-centuries, problem-framing, and “yoyo hubbies”?

          dantheman08822 says:

          You don’t have to be a Talmudic expert to know, for example, that the entire purpose of an eruv is to self-segregate religious Jews from non-religious Jews and from others. Nor do you have to be a great moralist to know this is wrong.

          Grigalem says:

          No one else on Earth thinks that’s what the purpose of an eruv is.

          Not then, not now.

          See if you can do a word-search for lenient / leniency in your copy of the Talmud. See if you can derive a different purpose for an eruv than your made-up one.

          PS — it hurts my head to try to figure out how expanding the places a Jew may carry things on Shabbat would segregate said Jew from non-religious Jews.

          Especially difficult to figure out how that would work at a time when “non-religious Jews” were subject to rather harsh penalties up to and including death. Maybe they all lived in the same valley in Babylon.

          You need to know more before you say more. You have failed to straighten out anyone’s head here, IMHO.

          dantheman08822 says:

          Ok, Grigeleh, let’s start with this:

          Why do secular Jews (not so much non-Jews) have an issue with a yellow wire Strung up between telephone poles? There have been lawsuits in Westhampton, LI and other places over this.

          The answer is quite simple: An eruv denotes a boundary beyond which a hyperobservant Jew cannot venture on Shabbot. Originally, there was no such thing, and such a Jew couldn’t venture outside his or her home on Shabbot, at least not if he carried something, like keys (forget a wallet or purse). This was incredibly impractical, even for the ultra-orthodox, so the gedolim came up with the idea of an eruv, essentially making all the area surrounded by one one’s home, where one could walk the dog — even if the pooch wasn’t Jewish, etc.

          No problem with that so far; if someone wanted to be ultra-Orthodox, that in itself wouldn’t infringe on the rights of the less or unobservant. But the mere presence of an eruv attracts the ultra-orthodox. As a result, many parts of the Five Towns, let alone Monsey, became exclusively ultra-Orthodox. Stores were in effect forced to close on Saturday, and non-kosher businesses were forced out. Publc schools in the area were defunded, as in Ramapo, NY, and money was diverted to the yeshivas which sprouted up in their place.

          Thus, the purpose of an eruv, perhaps unwittingly, is to turn a heterogeneous neighborhood into a shtetl. Shtetls should be relegated to the dustbins of history.

          Grigalem says:

          The rest of us are here to think about and discuss and gain insight into the Daf Yomi, using the springboard of Adam Kirsch’s reading of it.

          The Daf is an intellectual, philosophical and legal discussion among the teachers and interpreters of the law (and the judges who enforced that law) in the academies of Sura and Pumbeditha in Babylonia.

          From that 500-year conversation we derive some of the principles of living as Jews as taken from the edicts laid down in the Torah.

          You don’t wanna play that game than don’t play that game. There is always checkers and poker.

          There is nothing in the Daf that goes into the weirdnesses, bullshit and whack-o interpretations of ordinary long-standing Jewish principles by the anti-Jewish extremists of Monsey or Mea Shearim … or explains it, or exonerates them or gives them permission. Or created shtetls against our will.

          The purpose of an eruv is to make life easier for Jews. Fuck Monsey and it’s ugly little fascist society. It’s not relevant here. There are many places where it is.

          If you cannot grasp what is going down here, or deliberately refuse to consider what the Daf is saying just so you can ride your anti-Monsey hobby horse into the ground, then you will continue to be ignored as a thinker / commenter. The rest of us will continue to discuss the Daf and Mr. Kirsch’s take on it.

          By the way – the word is spelled Shabbat.

          dantheman08822 says:

          You sure are one arrogant and condescending little pipsqueak, Griggy. Did your Toy-reh teacher teach you that? Moreover, English transliterations are spelled numerous ways. Recall the controversy of the spelling of “knaidel.”
          Moreover, just who died and put YOU in charge of what people are supposed to write?
          As for Eruvs, what you said might be the concept behind them, as I very clearly stated. But the effect is to self-segregate, and turn entire communities ultra-Orthodox. Not just Monsey and Kiryas Joel.
          As a far greater man than me said, Shabbot (or Shabbot) is supposed to be a day of celebration, not a punishment. But the idiotic rules handed down by the so-called “gedolim” (no driving, no usage of the Internet, no taking an elevator if you have to push a button, leaving you to perform real work, like climbing up 20 flights of stairs) are beyond ridiculous, and make orthodox Judaism look like Talibanic zealotry.

          Grigalem says:

          Arrogant and condescending is “little pipsqueak”, “Griggy”, Grigaleh” and “Toy-reh teacher”. Jes’ sayin’.

          Weird is your notion that eruvs turned segregated ultra-orthodox communities into segregated ultra-orthodox communities.

          The rest of us are discussing Adam Kirsch’s take on the Daf. If you want to rant on and on about Monsey’s rabbis, that is your privilege. And it is our privilege to ignore you. Because the rest of us are discussing Adam Kirsch’s take on the Daf.

          dantheman08822 says:

          What happened to my reply?

          Grigalem says:

          I don’t know and I don’t care.

          I wouldn’t have paid much attention to it anyway, unless it was full of more inaccuracies, or full of more arrogance and condescension.

          dantheman08822 says:

          You’re the one who’s arrogant and condescending. And not just to me. I’ll bet you got shoved into a lot of lockers in high school.

          Grigalem says:

          Go away.

          dantheman08822 says:

          I saw your responses in other threads. You’re the same arrogant bully as you’re trying to be with me. I’ll bet you’re about 5’6″ and 125 pounds in real life.

          Grigalem says:

          Now you are just being idiotically stoopid. You couldn’t discuss the Daf if someone paid you to.

          “Go away” is not bullying. It is a statement of my final thoughts on this matter.

          Now go away. Find something to do with your life other than idiotic pseudo-psychoanalysis.

          dantheman08822 says:

          I’ll go away when Hell freezes over. And I could care less about the DAF, it’s the attitude of orthodox and even MO Jews who believe it’s “my way or the highway” which gets my goat, shmendrick.

          Grigalem says:

          “I could care less about the DAF”

          That should make you popular and influential on a series devoted to the Daf.

          Go ride your hobby horse (hobby goat?) in this inappropriate space. No one here cares about your obsessions.

          You don’t even understand the legitimate Jewish purpose of an eruv.

          dantheman08822 says:

          You don’t understand the legitimate purpose of discussion. Keep right on making a fool of yourself; you’re doing an outstanding job.

          Grigalem says:

          And you don’t understand the concept of appropriate time and appropriate place.

          I notice that no one is discussing anything with you. Or has discussed anything with you. That I understand.

          “I’m proud to be a Baraita” indeed.

          dantheman08822 says:

          I notice that nobody other than you and me are posting at all. Tell me, if I’m of no importance to you, and everything I write is irrelevant, why are you bothering to continue this discussion?

          Grigalem says:

          I ended it a long time ago … somewhere around “Go away”.

          Now I am just cleaning up all the notices in my inbox.

          Grigalem says:

          Arrogant and condescending is “little pipsqueak”, “Griggy”, Grigaleh” and “Toy-reh teacher”.

          Michael says:

          Of course thinking like mine convinces many religious Jews. The desertion from Orthodox Judaism is an ongoing process, gaining momentum all the time. While other religions are maintaining their memberships, Orthodox Jewish religion is losing it. Check out the statistics from around the world. To the modern “Jew” comments from secular like me are more relevant than the Talmud.

          judahdan says:

          I live in Israel and I am secular. The fastest growing group is the Modern Orthodox / kippa siruga. Sorry to disappoint you.
          The are actually a great, well balanced community.


          Michael says:

          Thank you for the good news. Kipa Sruga are two thousand years further advanced than Haredim. May they carry the banner of Judaism and take away more troops from the Haredim.

Facebook User says:

It seems, incidentally, that kids grew up faster back then. The Talmud is saying that after age 4 or 5 the average child won’t keep calling for his mother until she comes – but some of my children were still doing that at 6 or 7!


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The Talmud Paints a Vivid Picture of Jewish Family Life in This Week’s Daf Yomi

Daf Yomi: Our literary critic discovers more rules on male authority, Shabbat meals, and how the rabbis thought about wealth

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