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.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

The Necessary Connection - Shabbat 48

Is a tire part of an automobile? On one hand it is integral for the car’s function, but on the other one could argue that a tire is clearly replaceable and removable, and the car remains clearly an undamaged car when on a repair jack with a tire off. In rabbinic terminology, a similar question is put in various ways: are otherwise acceptable objects attached to problematic ones also forbidden to use on Shabbat? Or, in another way of thinking about it, are these items considered connected in terms of becoming unclean in general?

A piece of wood temporarily improvised as an axe handle, or laundry loosely stitched together for transportation, or a bunch of keys – all are considered “connected” for purposes of uncleanness unless they have begun to be untied. In other words, a loose tire might be considered less on the car than on its way off of it! Rabbi Meir is credited with the general principle: whatever is bound to something, behold it is like it (i.e. they are one object). Of course, Rabbi Meir’s authorship of this saying must be deduced by other rulings of his on similar subjects, but that is par for the rabbinic course.

What can we glean from this discussion? Think of necessary consequences – if we know that a particular action is fine in and of itself but it will necessarily lead to bad consequences down the road, we cannot but consider those two pieces one issue. And the same is true in considering what happens to us – sometimes what gets us is an unintended consequence of another action, but that doesn’t make the originator of the bad results innocent if they could have been reasonably predicted. In other words, they share what the Scottish philosopher David Hume called a “necessary connexion [sic]” upon which we base our basic concepts of causality, sequence, and for that matter personal responsibility.

Rabbi Adam Chalom