Can You Hear Me Now (from Beyond the Grave)?

Daf 18. Summary. A baraita teaches that the mourner whose deceased relative has not yet been buried is exempt from saying Grace after his meal, and that no one needs to say it on his behalf; he is exempt from all mitzvot associated with meals, including recitation of the Shema— except on Shabbot. Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel says he is obligated to fulfill all obligations on Shabbat, which some understand to include having conjugal relations with his wife. Is there a contradiction between this baraita and the mishnah? The rabbis seek to see the texts as complementary.

It is prohibited to walk in a cemetery within four cubits of a grave wearing tefillin and reading from a Torah scroll (Psalm 17:5– “He who mocks the poor blasphemes his Creator’).

The protocol for transporting a dead body is compared to the protocol for transporting a Torah scroll.

Rabbi Hiya and Rabbi Yonatan were walking in a cemetery and Rabbi Hiya noticed that Rabbi Yonatan’s fringes were dragging across the graves. Hiya says, “Lift your fringes lest the dead say we are insulting them.” They debate whether the dead are indeed aware.

In another story, the sons of Rabbi Hiya realize they have forgotten what he taught them and one said to the other, “Does our deceased father know of our anguish?” An incident is related wherein a man, sleeping in a cemetery, overhears two spirits discussing how the crops will fare this year; news that he uses to his advantage. Eventually, however, the dead discover they have been overheard and are more guarded in their speech. Is this proof that the dead are aware of what transpires here? No, it is just as possible that another person who overheard them had died in the interval and told them they had been overheard.

Comment. Rabban Gamliel’s son would oblige the mourner to have sexual relations with his wife on Shabbat; his father would recite the Shema on his wedding night. Each is fastidious in his own way. However, if the dead are aware of what transpires in this world, I would not want to follow Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel and canoodle before I buried my dead.

Gamliel and son are but one of the father-son pairs in this daf. The forgetfulness of Rabbi Hiya’s sons following his demise is especially poignant given that it is Hiya’s concern for the feelings of the dead that are at the heart of this daf.

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