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 15, 2005

Self-Prohibitions - Shabbat 45

Today’s page continues the previous page’s discussion of the intricacies of muktzeh [temporarily prohibited] items on Shabbat, specifically nerot [lamps] on Shabbat – may one move them or not? Rabbi Judah defined the official approach of the Mishnah by permitting only never-used lamps to be handled, while Rabbi Simeon articulated a broad minority perspective that all lamps could be moved except a lamp actually burning on Shabbat – once it went out, it too could be moved. The problem with Rabbi Simeon’s approach is that Rabbi Judah defined the lamps as muktzeh because they were “repulsive”, not because of their active use or original purpose, so how can Rabbi Simeon permit it?

Rabbi Simeon, it turns out, takes a permissive approach to muktzeh in a lot of areas – he might well allow people to use the wood from their sukkah [festival huts] for other purposes, just as his son would allow people to draw oil from a lamp burning on Shabbat. And he would certainly allow someone to define part of the fruits and decorations of their sukkah as permissible to eat during the festival, while others might not. One authority claims that Rabbi Simeon rejects the category of muktzeh for anything except drying figs and grapes, where an individual defines them as off-limits until they are finished changing. The important point here that IS generally accepted is that items can be defined as muktzeh not only by their general function or by their “repulsiveness” but also by individual decision.

As we go through life, we often try to exercise self-control by defining certain items, substances, or behaviors as unacceptable – sometimes from popular agreement, and sometimes on an individual basis. Our guidelines for living are no less important because we ourselves had defined them – if I decide that ice cream is muktzeh for me because I can’t eat it in moderation, then I should take that “ruling” as seriously as a strict diet supervised by a dietician. I can change my mind later if circumstances warrant (i.e., I’ve demonstrated renewed self-control in other areas), but just because I made the rule doesn’t mean it wasn’t made for good reason.

Rabbi Adam Chalom