Not Your Father's Talmud

Rabbi Adam Chalom of Kol Hadash Humanistic Congregation in suburban Chicago explores the Talmud from a Humanistic perspective, one page a day.

Location: Highland Park, Illinois, United States

Rabbi Adam Chalom is the Rabbi of Kol Hadash Humanistic Congregation in suburban Chicago. He is also the Assistant Dean for the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Agreeing to Disagree about Ingredients - Berakhot 37

The Talmudic tradition went to great lengths to preserve the chain of authority in transmitting important sayings - the title for the earlier generations of Rabbis was Tannaim, which means “Repeaters,” the experts in orally repeating the teachings of the past. It was only at the end of the Tannaitic period that the Mishnah was written down in its fixed form. As we have seen on earlier pages, the Talmud’s discussion often tries to harmonize opposing views of earlier generations by “clarifying” that they were referring to different circumstances.

There are also times when the disagreement does not permit a compromise. On today’s page, Rabban Gamaliel, the head of the Rabbinic assembly, believes one must recite three blessings (as after a meal) after eating any of the “seven species” (seven foods listed in Deuteronomy 8). “The Rabbis,” on the other hand, believe one may say an abbreviated form instead. An anecdote appears to resolve the dispute: Rabbi Akiva, given permission by Gamaliel to bless the food, follows the practice of The Rabbis instead! Gamaliel says, “Akiva, how long will you put your head into disputes?” Akiva’s defense: “have you not taught us, with one versus many, the halakha (law) is with the many?” And that is the end of the debate – an early example of majority ruling over authority.

In today’s page, the disagreements continue to address food whose blessing may or may not be changed by preparation – rice, in today’s example, is in fact changed. Or has it? One says rice is a kind of grain, and is treated more like wheat, while another claims it is treated more like a cooked dish. Other disputes include common (for their day) combinations of various foodstuffs – is the dish more honey than grain, or more grain than honey? They do not haggling over recipes for taste’s sake, but for ritual purposes. Again, we also pay attention to ingredients, but more for health of the body than that of the soul.

Rabbi Adam Chalom