The Smallest Proofs - Shabbat 27
For the Rabbis, no word, wording, sentence structure, or textual proximity is without divine intention and meaning. In this case, one rabbi asks where they learned that woven materials other than linen or wool (like camel hair) are liable to such uncleanness, and they are pointed to Leviticus 11:32, which reads in part: “And upon whatever any of them, when they are dead, falls, it shall be unclean; whether it is any utensil of wood, or garment, or skin, or sack. . .” The questioner responds: I can learn from “garment” what I already accepted, but how does this prove the extension of the rule to something new? The response: it says “OR garment.” In other words, the little word “or” must be a sign that there is more to the rule than meets the eye. In the previous page, the word “and” filled the same role. To our mind, the original verse is simply completing a list, and has nothing to say of camel hair (or, for that matter, linen and wool either). But for the Talmud, every little detail is an opportunity for interpretation.
The same approach supports one interpretation of the commandment to wear tzitzit [fringes] on the corner of one’s garments – in Deuteronomy 22:11, one is commanded not to wear a garment of different sorts together [shaatnez], and in verse 12 fringes at the four corners of one’s cloak are required. From this, this interpretation assumes that the fringe requirement only applies to linen or wool, since the verses come right after one another. Again, any list like the list of commandments in Deuteronomy is going to have one item follow another, and we would not automatically jump to such a conclusion – the first and the second amendment to the Constitution do not appear to interpret each other. This is the creative but sometimes maddening Talmudic tendency to find proof from the smallest of sources.
Rabbi Adam Chalom