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.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

A Golden City - Shabbat 59

Our current Talmud discussion concerning what certain people may wear out of their house tries to draw a distinction between an ornament and a burden – one is not supposed to carry around a burden on Shabbat, but wearing an ornament would be permitted. I remember being surprised as an undergraduate in college hearing that on Shabbat Orthodox Jewish students would not carry their keys in their pockets but could wear them with a pin on their clothes, but I have since learned that this is the same kind of rationale.

In our original Mishnah text, we read that women should not go out wearing “a golden city” [ir shel zahav] – in other words, a golden ornament so bulky that it crosses the line from ornament to burden! What city? Of course, “a golden Jerusalem” [Aramaic yerushalayim d’zahava], just like Rabbi Akiva made for his wife (that story is in Nedarim 50a). This kind of an ornament is often referred to in rabbinic literature, and it became the basis for the very famous Naomi Shemer song Yerushalayim Shel Zahav [Jerusalem of Gold] written after the Israeli victory in Jerusalem in 1967. You can read all about the song, including more on rabbinic sources, at

Rabbi Meir would hold a woman going out with such an ornament liable for a sin-offering, but the Sages exempt her unless she takes it off in order to show it and thus carry it in the street. And Rabbi Eliezer tries to reason that the only kind of woman who would have such a piece would be an “important woman” [ishah khashuva], and such a woman wouldn’t remove it for display. Interestingly enough, any considerations of modesty, decorum, or tact in terms of how large a piece of gold jewelry can be on Shabbat are not explored. For me, any piece of jewelry that is so large that there is even an argument about whether or not it is a burden is too large for my tastes.

Rabbi Adam Chalom