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|Saturday, August 30th, 2014|
Moed Katan 15 – No tefillin
A mourner should not wear tefillin
on the day of burial. How do we know that? – When the wife of Ezekiel died, God told him “Put on tefillin, which is your glory
.” We understand from here that ordinarily a mourner is prohibited from wearing a tefillin.
Two classes of people who are similar to a mourner are those excommunicated by the court and those who are a metzorah (spiritual leper). Can an excommunicated person wear tefillin? – The Talmud does not know the answer.
Can a metzorah wear them? Since his head should be “disheveled
,” Rabbi Eliezer understands this as simply “no haircut.” However, Rabbi Akiva says that the same word, “disheveled,” is said about his garments, so here it must mean that his head is lacking a garment. Should we say that this means the removal of tefillin? -- Not necessarily, perhaps it means the removal of a hat or a turban. Thus, in both cases we don't know the answer.
Mourner is also not supposed to greet others, learn Torah, launder, do work and wear shoes. Do these laws apply to an excommunicated person and a metzorah? The Talmud investigates each situation and finds answers in many cases; for example, in contrast to a mourner, the other two categories are allowed to study Torah and teach it to others.
Art: A Jerusalemite Shepherd Winding the Phylacteries for the Hand by Carl Haag
Moed Katan 14 – Connection between joy and mourning
In general, one is not permitted to cut his hair during the holiday weekdays (chol hamoed). Why is this? By prohibiting to cut hair on the intermediate days of the festival, the Sages made sure that people come to the first day of Holidays completely prepared and with a haircut done.
However, there are exceptions. These include, for example, one who arrived from overseas on the holiday weekdays and who therefore could not take a haircut on a trip, one who was released from prison, one who was excommunicated and whose ban was now released.
Likewise, mourners are forbidden to cut their hair, but in the special situations listed above they are allowed to do it. What is the connection between joy and mourning, and why are their laws so similar? – From the phrase “You changed our joy to mourning
” we see that this change is easy, and it must be that the two states share similarities. Others say that a person who is over-joyful should be reminded that he, too, will die.
One is allowed to cut infant's hair on a holiday weekday. Since this child was previously unable to do so, being in his mother's tummy – “there is no prison more than that” rule applies.
Art: Haircut day By Hugh Carter
|Friday, August 29th, 2014|
Moed Katan 13 – Working in private
During holiday weekdays, when work is limited, one can still do things to prevent loss. For example, if he is afraid that his fruit may be stolen, he can bring them into his house. He should, however, do it privately, away from the public eye.
Rav Yosef had some large heavy beams, which could not be left outdoors, and he brought them in during the day. Abaya asked him, “But we learned 'do it privately'!?” Rav Yosef answered: “This is considered private, since at night I would have to hire more people and torches, so it would be even more public.”
Also, one should not plan the work for the holiday weekdays, using this permission as a loophole. What happens if he planned to do it on holiday weekdays but died – is his son also penalized and prohibited to do the work? The Talmud tries to find the answer by comparing this to other cases when a father did something wrong, and died, and the son could not use the results of the father's transgression. However, these laws do not have the same strength, and the son after all would be allowed to finish the work, even if his father planned it for holiday weekdays and died.
One should not buy homes or animals, unless they are for the needs of the Holiday. However, if there is a sale, and if he misses that, he will have to pay more later – then he is allowed to avail himself of the opportunity.
Art: Grapes, pears and other fruit in a bowl, with a mouse eating a hazlenut on a ledge and By Johann Amandus Wink
|Wednesday, August 27th, 2014|
Moed Katan 12 – Can one lie?
Generally, a mourner is prohibited to do work, unless he has nothing to eat. Even then, the community should provide for him. However, if he has contracted to do work before he became a mourner, and the work cannot be postponed (such as a harvest), he can ask others to do it for him. Moreover, in cases where he cannot ask others, he himself can do the work. Take, for example, a donkey driver with his animal who was hired for a month of work, and if he stops the work, he will loose the complete pay, and also cause a loss to his employer. Since his contract allows for no substitution, he cannot ask others to do the work and therefore he can do it himself.
During the holiday weekdays one can only do work for the Holidays. For example, he can brew beer, but only for the upcoming Holidays. However, he can make fresh beer, even if he has old one, and then change his mind and drink old beer, so that the new one will remain for after the Holidays. Some say that this kind of lie, or subterfuge, is forbidden.
It once happened that they reaped Rav's harvest on the holiday weekdays. When Shmuel heard about it, he was upset. Why? The prevailing law is that one is permitted to harvest if it is going to spoil! – This was wheat, and it would not spoil. Then why did Rav permit it? – Because Rav had otherwise nothing to eat. If so, why was Shmuel upset? – Because he did not know that Rav had nothing to eat. Some say, Shmuel knew that, but he considered it more proper for Rav to borrow and later repay.
Art: Still hungry by Thomas Driver
Moed Katan 11 – Mourning and joy
As we learned before
, on festival weekdays one is prohibited to do many types of work, unless neglecting them leads to a loss, and even when he does perform this work, it should often be one in an unusual, or non-professional manner.
The laws of a mourner are similar: he is likewise prohibited from working, unless it leads to a loss. For example, if one softened his olives, preparing them for pressing for oil, then he must press them immediately, or else they will spoil. Therefore, if now mourning befell him, he is still allowed to load his olives and press them – but only the first pressing. This extracts most of the oil, and if the remaining olives spoil – so be it. This, however, is the opinion of Rabbi Yehudah. Rabbi Yose says that he can continue pressing his olives until all oil is collected: since he is permitted to do the first pressing, he is now permitted to do the rest.
If this happens in the middle of a festival, on holiday weekdays (chol ha moed), the law is similar. Some say that the laws or a mourner as stricter: since they are only decrees by the Sages, and not the Torah law, the Sages gave it even more severity, so that the people should not treat mourning lightly. Others, however, maintain just the opposite and say that the decrees of the Sages (mourning) cannot be stricter than the laws of the Torah (festivals).
Mar the son of Rav Acha was mourning, and he stopped his ox from working. Rav Ashi said, “How could a great man like this do it? Being that he is a partner with another, he should not cause loss to his partner!” And what was Mar's logic? – Since people look up to him, he distanced himself even from the appearance of work.
Art: Still Life with a Bottle of Olives by Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin
|Thursday, August 21st, 2014|
Moed Katan 10 – More work prohibitions
Many types of work are prohibited on the holiday weekdays (chol hamoed), unless they are for the purpose of the holiday, and even then they should be done in an unprofessional manner. However, building an oven or a stove is permitted. Even though doing this is a few steps removed from the food preparation for the holidays, this is an exception, because of the importance of enjoying the holiday.
Rava permitted a few thing on the holiday weekday, but depending upon intentions. For example, if one levels the mounds of rocks and earth in his field, then, if he is doing it to prepare a threshing floor – it is permitted (because it is for a festival need), but if he is doing it to prepare for cultivation (and he won't be able to enjoy the fruit of his labor this holiday), it is forbidden. How do we know what he has in mind? By the size of the mound that he leaves over.
Another example: one is cutting branches from a palm tree. If it is to feed his animals – it is allowed, but if it is to promote the growth of the tree – then it is forbidden. How do we know? – If he cuts from one side only – it is for the animals. But if he is careful to cut if from all sides – he is doing this for the tree.
Art: Interior with a Stove by Carl Holsoe
|Wednesday, August 20th, 2014|
Moed Katan 9 – What work not to do on the holiday weekdays?
One should not get married on the holiday weekday (chol hamoed)
, because it is a source of joy. Why would joy be a problem? – Precisely because the Festivals are already joyful occasions, and one should not mix one joy with another. Some say – because in order to make his wedding a joyful occasion he will exert himself too much. Yet others explain that if marriages were allowed on the Festivals, then people might postpone their weddings until the Festivals, in order to save on preparations, and would thus delay the commandment to be fruitful and multiply.
If one has to mend or make his clothing for the sake of the Holiday, and he is not a professional tailor, he can sew in a regular way. However, if he is a professional, then he should take care to sew with irregular stitches. This distinction between unskilled worker and a professional applies to other works on the holiday weekdays.
Art: Portrait of a Young Married Couple by Jacob Jordaens
|Monday, August 18th, 2014|
Moed Katan 5 – Marking the graves
Although – as we have mentioned
– many labors are restricted on the holiday weekdays, nevertheless the works that are needed by the public are permitted. For example, one can repair the roads and mark the graves.
It was customary to mark graves with lime, so that those who are eating the priestly portion (terumah) would stay away and not become ritually impure. One of the hints for this custom is in the words of Ezekiel, “When one sees a human bone, he will make a marker near it
.” (Ezekiel was talking about the soldiers of the army of Gog). The Talmud quotes many other allusions to this custom.
The markers were made at some distance from the grave, so that passers by do not step on the place of ritual impurity but are warned beforehand. They are not placed too far though, so as not to take away from the land where one can travel safely. Cemeteries need not be marked, because that is obvious, however, alleys leading to them might be marked, since occasionally people will be on the way to bury their dead, run out of time, due either to nightfall or to the approach of Shabbat, and bury the dead in such an alley.
Art: The Jewish Cemetery At Oudekerk On The Amstel by Jacob Van Ruisdael
Moed Katan 4 – How much water is enough
On holiday weekdays (days that are surrounded by Holidays
) one is prohibited from doing work that requires exertion. For instance, one cannot draw water for his field, neither from water wells nor from pools of rainwater.
Now, we understand that drawing water from a well, using a pail, requires exertion. However, what's the problem with the pool of rainwater? It should be pretty easy to trace a path for the water with one's foot, and let the water flow from the pool into the field. – The Sages simply prohibited both together, so that people would not make the wrong deduction. Others say, the pool of rainwater may eventually dry out and require a pail. The argue about whether water may or may not dry out.
There is one exception for the above rules: one may bring up (water with a pail) for the vegetables, in order to eat them on the Holidays. Ravina and Rabbah were traveling along the road on a certain holiday weekday, and they saw a man who was drawing water with a pail and watering his vegetable patch. Rabbah said to Ravina, “Let's excommunicate him for violating the law!” Ravina answered, “but we may draw up for vegetables in order to eat them.” Rabbah counters, “Is that how you understand 'bring up'? No! - This means, thinning out the vegetables, by 'bringing up' the extra ones, which don't let the others to grow.” Ravina showed him an example where “bringing up” meant bringing up water, and Rabbah said, “I agree with your proof and retract my opinion.”
Art: Still Life With Cabbages, Asparagus, A Basket Of Chestnuts by Giacomo Legi
|Sunday, August 17th, 2014|
Moed Katan 2 – Limiting the work
The week of Passover and the week of Sukkot have two Holidays, one in the beginning and another one at the end. On a Holiday (Yom Tov) work is completely prohibited. The five intermediate days, between the first and the last Yom Tov are called "holiday weekdays". On these days work is permitted, but it is limited - thus adding to the enjoyment of the holidays.
What are these limitations, and what kind of work should not be done on holiday weekdays? In general, only work which, if not done, leads to losses – only such work is allowed. Moreover, even when saving his crop from ruin, one cannot do work which required exertion.
Take, for example, a field. If this field is normally irrigated by rains, then one should not water it during the holiday weekdays. The crop in this field can survive without his additional water, so watering it would only lead to additional growth, and that is not reason enough to work. On the other hand, if his field is high up in the mountains, and it depends on his watering of it, and without this his crop would be ruined, he is permitted to water it.
Even so, one cannot work too hard. He can use a spring and divert its water to his field. He cannot, however, draw water from a well, because this requires much more exertion.
The two additional limitations are the view of Rabbi Yehudah. There are, however, other views, which take away both of the "preventing loss" and "not working too much" limitations for the holiday weekdays - and that is the view of Rabbi Meir.
Art: The Old Well by Elihu Vedder
|Wednesday, August 13th, 2014|
Megillah 32 – After reading the Torah
After they have read the Torah in the synagogue – which was done by calling multiple people – they call another person to raise the Torah scroll, for all to see, and then to “dress it up” – that it, to put the cover on it. This person takes away the reward of all the previous ones. How could it be? – The Talmud likes to emphasize things. Rather, his reward is equal to all of the previous ones combined.
With all that we said about the Torah on the previous pages, how could God say, “I, too, will give you laws that are not good?” Rabbi Yochanan says that it is talking about someone who is learning, but does not express his joy of learning in singing. However Abaye asked about this, “Just because someone does not know how to sing nicely, he deserves the bad words?” Rather, it is talking about two Sages who live in the same city but not discuss Torah between them.
Finally, the phrase “And Moses told the laws of the Holidays to all Israel” teaches that he established a custom to learn the laws of each Festival on or before its time. It is customary to connect the end of a Tractate with its beginning – and here we can remember that the beginning of this Tractate discussed when the people should read the Megillah
– which obviously requires advance study.
Art: Two gentlemen discussing business by Fritz Wagner
Megillah 30 – What happens when Purim is on Friday?
If Purim happens on a Friday, when are we to read the Torah portion of “Remember Amalek and what he did to you?” There is a direct connection between the two: on Purim they destroy Amalek (since Haman was a descendant of this archenemy of the Jews), and on Shabbat when they read about it, the people recall this commandment. Logically, one should read about Amalek first, and only then go to fight him. Therefore, they should read about Amalek on the Shabbat before Purim – and that is what Rav says. Shmuel, however, holds that they should read about Amalek in its proper time as it falls out. As far as events being out of order: first do, and then be commanded – Shmuel answers that since there are walled cities, who would celebrate Purim on the fifteenth of the month, for them at least it will come at the same time.
The Talmud continues with the discussion of the multiple possible occurrences of calendar days and Shabbat, Holidays, and the Torah portions read on these occasions. Today, when the calendar is fixed and is not determined by the Court, many of these coincidental occurrences can not happen.
Art: Punishment of Haman (detail) by Michelangelo Buonarroti
|Monday, August 11th, 2014|
Megillah 29 - When to close the books
One should stop learning Torah in order to accompany a funeral procession or to accompany a bride to the wedding. However, this is only when there are not enough people to honor the dead. And how many is enough? - Twelve thousand, just as the number of men who went to war with Midian. Others, however, say, that it is six hundred thousand: just as the Torah was given to the soul in the presence of six hundred thousand people, so it is taken away with six hundred thousand.
Abaye said, "Initially I learned Torah at home and prayed in the synagogue. Once I understood how God loves the synagogue, I learn and pray there." In another place, we have an opposite teaching, about praying in the place of learning. The synagogue is called "a small Temple," and in the future all synagogues and study halls will be transplanted to Israel.
Close to Purim, in Adar, there are four special Torah portions read in the synagogue. They are: half-shekel collection for the Temple - because of its timing in the next month, the portion of destroying Amalek - because of its connection to Purim, the red heifer - because it was used to purify the people before the Holidays, and "this month will be for you to celebrate Passover" - because by then it is already Passover time.
Art: The Funeral by Edouard Manet
|Sunday, August 10th, 2014|
Megillah 28 – A synagogue in ruins
A synagogue that has fallen into ruin and is not used for prayer nevertheless retains its sanctity. One may not eulogize ordinary people there (unless Sages are present, which makes it a public eulogy). One may not do any kind of work there, such as making ropes or nets, or spreading fruit on its roof. One should also not use the synagogue as a shortcut.
Why is this? – Because of the phrase, “And I will make your sanctuaries desolate.
” Thus, even after they are desolate, they are still called “your sanctuaries” and retain their rights. If grass sprouts there, one should not uproot it, in order to inspire grief.
Since one cannot enter the synagogue for personal affairs, what is he to do when he needs to call someone out of it? – He should come in and sit down. Then, if he knows certain portions of the Talmud or the Torah, she should recite them. If not, he can ask a child to recite for him what the child learned today.
Art: The Ruins of Taormina by Thomas Cole
|Wednesday, August 6th, 2014|
Megillah 26 – Selling a synagogue
The townspeople who sold the town square are allowed to buy a synagogue with the proceeds, but if they sold a synagogue, they are not allowed to buy a town square with the money.
What is special about a town square? Going back Taanit
, we know that people used to pray there on the seven strict fast days
, so this teacher holds that this gives the town square some degree of holiness.
In any case, we see here the rule of “we bring up in holiness but don't bring down.” What is the source for this rule? For the first part, we get it from Betzalel creating the Tabernacle object, and then Moses, who was on the higher level, putting it together. The “don't bring down” part is learned from the two hundred and fifty people who joined Korach in his revolt: the pans which they used to offer incense were not disposed off but beaten into the covering for the Altar.
What about keeping on the same level? For example, can one sell a synagogue in order to buy another one? The rule leaves it open, and there are two opinions (“yes” and “no”), but in practice it is permitted. With the synagogue, there are also other considerations: care must be taken to prevent negligence of not buying or building another synagogue later.
If the people in a village built a synagogue building strictly for themselves, their authorized representatives can sell it in the presence of the residents of the place. However, a city synagogue is usually built with contributions from out-of-town people, and for the use of everyone, so in general it cannot be sold.
Art: A Cathedral On A Townsquare In Summer by Cornelis Springer
|Monday, August 4th, 2014|
Megillah 23 – When do you need a minyan
As we learned before
, on different days a different number of people are called to read from the Torah, and on Shabbat it is the most – seven. Why seven? Some say, it is because of seven words in the blessing of the Priests, and others – that it corresponds to seven servants of Achashverosh who "saw his face of the king every day."
In principle a woman or a minor can be called to read from the Torah, but the Sages said that it should not be done – because it will reflect negatively on the level of knowledge of the male contingent.
Certain events require the presence of a minyan, or ten adult Jewish males. For example, communal prayer (with the prayer leader's repetition of the Amihad) cannot be said when there are less than ten people present. Also, the Kohanim don't say their blessing, and the Torah is not read unless there is a minyan present.
But how do we know that the minyan is exactly ten people? – from the word “among”. This word is used in describing the congregation of Korach, and the congregation of the spies who belittled the Land of Israel, and there were ten of them. Further, from “I will sanctified among the sons of Israel” we see that every sanctification needs a congregation, and a congregation is ten.
Art: The Wrath of Ahasuerus by Jan Steen
Megillah 22 – How much to read in the Torah
Moses instituted reading the Torah in public on Saturday, Monday, and Thursday
. A few readers are called up, depending on how much time people have. For example, on regular weekdays, when people work the most, only three readers are called, but on Shabbat, which has the strictest prohibition of work, seven people read from the Torah.
Initially, the first reader would say the opening blessing, and the last one – the closing one. Later, when more people started getting in and out of the synagogue during the reading of the Torah, the Sages established that everyone who is called up says both blessings, for otherwise those who attended only a part of the reading would mistakenly think that the reading of the Torah does not need a blessing before or after.
Everyone who reads in the Torah should be given at least three phrases. This presents another problem: since the Torah is written in small sections, visually delineated from the rest, they should read at least three phrases from the beginning of each section. Otherwise, those going in might mistakenly conclude that the previous reader got only two phrases. The same applies to the end of the section. Therefore, how does one divide the section consisting of five phrases? – He reads three from the beginning, and the next reader repeats the last phrase; thus, both read three phrases. Some say that these precautions only apply to people who are going out. Anyone who is coming in will surely ask, “How come we started two phrases from the beginning? Did the previous reader only get two phrases?” - and they will explain to him that the reader started from the section before.
Art: A Rabbi Reading The Torah by Jan van de Venne
|Friday, August 1st, 2014|
Megillah 21 – How to read the Megillah
When reading the Megillah, one can either stand or sit; however, one who reads for the congregation always stands. By contrast, one who reads the Torah scroll, even in private, should accord the Torah more honor by standing.
How do we know this rule about reading the Torah? – Because God said to Moses, “And you, stand here with Me
.” In fact, Rabbi Abahu explained it thus: “Were it not that the Torah said it, it would be inappropriate to speak of God in these terms, but it tells us that God, too, was standing while teaching Moses.” From the word “with me” we see that the teacher should be not sitting on the couch while the student is on the ground, but rather they should be on the same level. Indeed, earlier generations, from Moses till Rabban Gamliel, were standing while learning Torah. Later a general feebleness descended into the world, and they began learning while sitting.
Even two people people can read the Megillah for the congregation, but with the Torah it has to be only one. Why? – Since people love the Megillah, they will concentrate and hear every word anyway.
Moses established to read the Torah publicly on Saturday, and also on Mondays and Thursdays. That way, no three days will pass without one hearing the Torah.
Art: The Discourse by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
|Tuesday, July 29th, 2014|
Megillah 17 - The order of blessings
Obviously, one should read the Megillah from the beginning to the end. However, obvious things are not stated in the Talmud, and instead we deal with exceptions. If one reads the Megillah in the wrong order of words, verses, or paragraph, he has not fulfilled the mitzvah. He should read it from a scroll; reciting by heart is also invalid.
Other things that must be recited in proper sequence are praises (Hallel) and the central part of the daily prayer, "Amidah", or "Eighteen blessings." The Talmud then discusses the reason for each of the eighteen blessings, and why each one takes its place in the proper order. After these words, one should not praise God on his own, making them an additional part of the Amidah. Why not? Because he certainly cannot enumerate all the praises, and by saying only some of them he in fact detracts. By right, this argument should apply to the Amidah itself: how can we start praising God, knowing that we won't do it adequately - for this one has an excuse, since the early Sages established this text and required it to be said daily.
Art: Praising The Gods by Roman School
|Monday, July 28th, 2014|
Megillah 16 – Mordechai and Haman
King Ahashverosh asked Haman, “What should be done for a man that the king wants to honor?” Haman, thinking of himself, said, “That man should be made to ride on king's horse, in king's garments.” The king said “Do this for Mordechai.”
Haman tried to argue, “Why do you need to do all of this? If you want to thank Mordechai, just give him a village or a river, to collect taxes.” Ahashverosh answered, “This, too, do for him.” That is why the Megillah states, “Do not leave out any word of what you have said.”
Haman went to Mordechai, to put him on king's horse. However, Mordechai said that he was weak from the fast, and could not mount the horse by himself. Haman had to bow down and allow Mordechai to step on him. As he was mounting the horse, Mordechai also kicked Haman. Haman asked him, “How can you do this? Your own king Solomon tells you, 'When your enemy falls, do not rejoice.'?” Mordechai answered, “That is said about a Jewish enemy. But about you it says, 'You shall tread upon their high places.'”
The Talmud then turns to the story of Benjamin, from whom Mordechai descended. When Joseph received his brothers in Egypt, he gave to Benjamin five portions of food and five garments, thus showing preferential treatment. How could he do this, seeing that Jacob's preferential treatment of him earlier led to brothers hating and selling him? The answer is that Joseph was thus influencing the future for Mordechai, who would wear five royal garments.
Art: Joseph Receives His Father and Brothers in Egypt by Salomon de Bray