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, June 22, 2005

Respect and Compassion - Shabbat 51

For all of the attention to picayune detail we have seen so far in defining Shabbat observance, there are also times when a touching humanity is displayed in rulings and legal discussions. The first half of today’s page is mainly focused on elaborating the Mishnah’s ruling concerning storing cold water during Shabbat. To answer a “rabbinic paradox” – two opposite legal rulings ascribed to the same rabbi – we are told that Rabbi prohibited such storage before his encounter with Rabbi Ishmael son of Rabbi Yose, but permitted it afterwards. The encounter was very simple: Rabbi ruled against storing cold water, and Rabbi Ishmael said “my father allowed it.” And that is all Rabbi needed to hear to change his ruling, so great was his respect for Rabbi Yose. But that respect went two ways, because Rabbi Yose occupied his father’s place but was submitting to be a student before Rabbi, and then Rabbi submitted to his authority as well! Rabbi Papa touchingly observes: “Come and see how much they loved each other!”

In the second half of today’s page, the Mishnah text under discussion concerns the circumstances under which animals may go out and about on Shabbat. We should recall that Biblical Shabbat law commands rest not only for the landowner, but for everyone and everything:

Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your ox, nor your ass, nor any of your cattle, nor your stranger who is inside your gates; that your manservant and your maidservant may rest as well as you. (Deuteronomy 5:13-14)

So when the Mishnah specifies what kind of controlling device (a bit, rope, or chain) specific animals may be wearing on Shabbat, the Talmud explains that one wearing a device intended for another could be considered a burden, and thus prohibited. There is some debate about a muzzle/collar [soger], but the resolution is that since its goal would be to protect the animal, it is indeed permitted. The attention to this detail, the compassion for the rest of others of other species, deserves to be highlighted here.

Rabbi Adam Chalom