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.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Through Thick and Thin - Shabbat 42

Over 100 pages into the Daf Yomi [daily page], I have found that some pages are treasure troves of historical information, rabbinic philosophy, interesting anecdotes and creative reasoning. And some pages are, frankly, rather thin in terms of material relevant to contemporary liberal Jews who live lives independent of the authority of Talmudic halakha [religious law]. This should not be surprising; in fact, the vast philosophic gulf between these two worlds makes it inspiring to have found as much interesting material as we have.

Today’s page is, unfortunately, one of the thinner ones. In English translation, one can tell how detailed the halakhic wrangling is by the relative sizes of the Talmud text and its commentators – the more contentious the issue, the more later commentators like Rashi or the Tosafists had to say on the subject. Thus the more surrounding commentary was created for that particular page, and less original Talmud text could fit there. The pages we have found most interesting have been those anecdotal or ethical texts that have had less commentary and more original material.

A central issue in today’s page, continuing the discussion of “indirectly heated materials on Shabbat” is how to handle water that has been boiling on a stove – for example, Beit Shammai [the house/school of Shammai] claims that one may pour hot water into cold (thus cooling it), while one may not pour cool water into hot (thus heating it). Beit Hillel, on the other hand, would allow one to pour hot into cool or cool into hot. The Talmud clarifies that this permission applied only to a drink, but not to something as substantial as a bath. Then it debates if a basin is more like a bath or a cup. Since pouring into another container is one more step removed, the rabbis are more permissive here than they were with indirectly-heated ovens. In short, this is not likely to be a legal debate that will shape global ethical behavior. But tomorrow’s promises to be much more interesting. . .

Rabbi Adam Chalom