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, July 13, 2005

Shabbat 72 – Shabbat and the Week

Sometimes the examples one chooses to illustrate a legal point can be more interesting than the legal point under discussion! Today’s page continues trying to hash out the difference between the liability when one has prior knowledge of one’s transgression versus being unaware that one’s action was prohibited. It turns out that there are two categories of guilt-offerings: asham vadai [certain guilt] and asham talui [“depends” guilt], and ‘Ulla tries to illustrate that one can still require a certain guilt offering even if unaware at first that it was prohibited.

Here is his example: if one “cohabits” five times with woman betrothed to another (violating Leviticus 19:21), he is only liable for one offering. Rabbi Hammuna objects that one could cohabit, set aside a sacrifice, and say “wait until I come back after ‘cohabiting’ again” in the interests of efficiency! But ‘Ulla clarifies that his example only applies to prohibited “cohabitations” not set apart by offering an atonement sacrifice in between. And others consider the same example from the perspective that prior knowledge would require separate atonements for each “cohabitation.” It is certainly interesting how far hypothetical examples to explore other legal points can take us from our central topic.

Returning to the central focus of this tractate (i.e. Shabbat), we find another example of the importance of relativity to truth – in certain contexts one’s breath is warm (with cold hands), but in others it is cool (with hot soup). Here the Rabbis teach that khomer Shabbat mish’ar ha-mitzvot, v’khomer sh’ar ha-mitzvot me’Shabbat – Shabbat can be more strict than the rest of the commandments, and the rest of the commandments can be more strict than Shabbat. If one performs two actions while unawares on Shabbat, one is liable for each unlike with other mitzvot. At the same time, unintentionally violating a regular mitzvah still automatically incurs an atonement offering, but unwitting violation on Shabbat does not. Yet one more reason Rabbinic Judaism made a separation [havdalah] between Shabbat and the week – even the law has different effects.

Rabbi Adam Chalom