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.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Wisdom and Temptation - Shabbat 11

In the line of “sayings of Rab” that began on previous pages, our page begins with more wise sayings. Some may have had wisdom in their own day, but others are timelessly true: “any illness but that of the bowels, any pain but heart pain, or any ache but a headache.” We may disagree with his last one (“any evil but an evil wife”), but it is hard to disagree with the next saying – though the original refers to reshut, or domain (as discussed above), I prefer how this saying sounds in the Soncino translation as “government:”

“Raba b. Mehasia also said in the name of R. Hama b. Goria in Rab's name: If all seas were ink, reeds pens, the heavens parchment, and all men writers, they would not suffice to write down the intricacies of government.”

Is that not true for all times and places, and most certainly our own?

And again the “potpourri” quality of an individual Talmud page makes its appearance. We find a discussion of whether a man with a discharge of pus can go out on Shabbat with the bag required to catch the discharge, but in the more interesting context of whether an individual can go out wearing the instrument of their trade: a tailor with a needle, a moneychanger with a coin, a scribe with his quill, or a dyer with a color sample on his neck. If they are worn as clothing, one might think they would be allowed out. And Rabbi Judah says that artisans are liable for the tools of their trade, but all others would be exempt – so a non-tailor carrying a needle would be fine!

Why this differentiation? The initial Mishnah text under discussion makes clear that the overall objective is something else – a man and a woman with forbidden discharges are prohibited from even eating together mipney hergel aveira – because it could lead to sin/transgression. In other words, if one leaves home with the tools of one’s trade on Shabbat, one might be tempted to work. In our context, if you took your laptop computer, Blackberry, or cellphone with you on vacation, the changes of work being are that much greater. So to avoid “temptation,” leave them at home!

Rabbi Adam Chalom