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, August 28, 2005

Shabbat 92-95 Survey (August 2-5)

Who would have guess that HOW one carries an object out on Shabbat would make a difference? It turns out that the point is to avoid carrying out as people generally carry out – as the Mishnah on Shabbat 92 explains, carrying in either hand or on a shoulder is a violation, but carrying something with your foot or in your mouth or on your elbow or in your ear is not a violation. There is some debate about carrying out on your head, as this is the custom in some places (as we know today from National Geographic), but not in others. The general point is that one’s behavior on Shabbat should be very different from every day, and we can see to sides to this – on one hand, it’s good to get out of the ordinary to create moments of pause and difference, but on the other one should not be so pre-occupied with the different day and its different behaviors that that time becomes more worry than rest.

Thus on Shabbat 94b, one is not allowed to pluck out more than one hair, but pulling out the grey ones from among black ones is prohibited entirely – and not just on Shabbat, but on every day, since it is connected with the Torah prohibition of men wearing women’s clothing! The commentator mentions that it is in the pursuit of attractiveness to the point of effeminacy – no “metro-sexuals” wanted here, evidently. I remember once reading a medieval Spanish Hebrew poem (that I can’t put my hands on now) to the effect that you can pluck one grey hair, but it laughs at you because its reinforcements will eventually arrive to overwhelm you. And that is certainly true.

Some of these pages concern again permissible quantities and contexts for carrying out – using a utensil to carry out a material, or a bed to carry out a person, is not considered a separate violation because the tools are part of the important item (or individual) being carried out. However, make sure to avoid carrying out something k’zayit [the size of an olive] from a corpse or a vermin, since that’s a violation! But later generations allow a corpse to be carried out for a burial, drawing on a saying we saw cited on earlier pages – that human dignity is so great that it can supersede a negative Torah commandment; in this case, as Rashi points out, it’s a Rabbinic enactment regarding “carrying,” but remember that the Rabbis are not overly modest when it comes to projecting their authority and rulings back in time as “Torah.” Today we might say that human dignity and individual choice make commandments into suggestions, but that’s our voice, not the Talmud’s.