Appearances Should Not Be Deceiving

Daf 117-130 (Shabbas 54a-67b)


Rabbinic prohibitions created to protect the Sabbath from desecration are often more stringent than the Torah’s restrictions. The additional restraints on behavior are enacted in order to avoid allowing an appearance that might be misinterpreted by a spectator. A witness might conclude that what he is witnessing is a desecration or he might misunderstand what he is seeing and conclude that what he believes he witnessed is permitted.

One such act recorded in this section is assumed by some of the Sages to be permitted because a great rabbi was witnessed witnessing it without protesting. The rabbi’s silence in the face of a misleading act is roundly condemned in a passionate polemic against silence in the face of wrongdoing that is no less timely today than when it was recorded. Such silence condemns an entire people to the harshest decree, unmediated by mercy.

Appearance seems to overshadow intent throughout these dapim, but some restrictions are also instituted to minimize the likelihood that a well-intentioned person will inadvertently transgress. Clothing that is likely to become unattached might be thoughtlessly picked up and carried in a public space. Ornaments might be removed to show them off and then carried. Restrictions are added to minimize the possibilities of these events occurring.

Here also are tantalizing glimpses of medieval medicine. Amulets are a distinct category of ornaments that may be permitted to be worn on Shabbes if their therapeutic effects alleviate a grave condition. But how does one determine if these amulets are truly effective or merely placebos? The discussion around this question suggests first halting steps toward  development of a scientific method.

When the subject turns to augmenting medicines with incantations derived from Scripture, we also have an early attempt at combining medication and psychological treatment.  An unrelated point worth considering: when the petitioners identify themselves, they refer to themselves as “the son of [the woman] so-and-so”– an uncommon formula for a people who are routinely named “the son of [the man] so-and-so.” It suggests the possibility that identity is associated with the parent who taught the lesson– fathers for Torah study; mothers for folk remedies.

When the rabbis consider prosthetic devices, the debate on whether such devices are clothing or utensils reflects a reluctance to regard the disabled as less than whole.

Here is a very rich discussion touching on various challenges related to managing daily existence while attempting to set aside time for timelessness.


Daf 117 (Shabbes 54a-54b)

May goats always go out with a pouch tied to their udders? The Tanna Kamma says yes. R’Yose says never. R’Yehudah says only when the pouch is not used to collect milk. Shmuel does not permit the pouch on the grounds that there is no way to determine why the pouch is tied to the udder. Ravin, coming from Eretz Yisrael, declares that the law follows the Tanna Kamma.

Mishnah. Here are the laws delineating when animals may not be let out on Shabbas.

Gemara. Rav Ashi speculates that the reason one is prohibited from tying one’s camels to each other and pulling one is “because he appears like one who is going to sell his camels in the market.”

Mishnah. Here are additional situations where it is forbidden to take an animal out on Shabbas, ending with “The cow of R. Elazar ben Azaryah used to go out with a strap between her horns, against the will of the Sages.”

Gemara. The gemara uncovers the reasons for many of the prohibitions delineated in the mishnah. Regarding the cow of R’Elazar ben Azaryah, the gemara asks, “But did he have only one cow?” According to some, he owned thousands of cows but not this cow (of the mishnah). This cow was owned by his “female neighbor,” but called his because he did not protest when she took it out with the strap between its horns. This leads the gemara to offer several cases to establish the importance of protesting.

Daf 118 (Shabbas 55a-55b)

The necessity of protesting wrongdoing is discussed further. The righteous who refrain from rebuking the wicked without certainty that their rebuke will be ignored are themselves judged without mercy. The gemara asks, “When did the merit of the patriarchs expire?” Four answers are considered. (For example, “Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said, ‘There has been no patriarchal merit since the days of Elijah.'”)

Rav Ami says, “There is no death without transgression and there is no suffering without sin.” Others object, finding Scriptural sources that include accounts of death without sin. Each, in turn, is shown to be invalid. Moses, Aaron, etc., all had shortcomings.

Daf 119 (Shabbas 56a-56b)

There is a debate over whether Shmuel’s sons “perverted justice” by failing to travel to judge the peoples in their cities.

R’Yonasan says, “Whoever says that David sinned is simply mistaken.” This is disputed. At best, David “sought to do a sinful act with Bathsheba, but in fact did not do it.” R’Yonasan says, “Whoever says that Shlomo sinned is simply mistaken,” and this is disputed. At best, Shlomo did not build altars to idols but failed to protest when his wives built them. The same formula is applied to Yoshiyahu. The question then turns to who are the greatest penitents.

Daf 120 (Shabbas 57a-57b)

Perek Six. Mishnah. Here are the rules regulating the wearing of ornaments on Shabbes.

Gemara. The gemara seeks to understand the rules presented in the mishnah. It infers that the prohibitions are associated with ornaments likely to be removed and inadvertently carried.

Daf 121 (Shabbas 58a-58b)

Shmuel says, “A slave may go out on the Sabbath with an emblem that is on his neck but not with an emblem that is on his clothing.” Perhaps Shmuel worries that the emblem on his clothing might come loose and he will have no choice but to carry it. A baraisa contradicts Shmuel’s assertion that an emblem may be worn hanging from a slave’s neck. Perhaps one is speaking of a clay emblem and the other is speaking of a metal emblem.

Bells are seemingly similar to emblems in that they may hang from around the neck, but those hung on an animal are susceptible to contamination, while the same bell hung on a door is not susceptible to contamination. The gemara notes that a bell originally hung from an animal does not lose its susceptibility even after being hung on a door because “all utensils descend (i.e. become susceptible) . . . even through thought . . . except through a physical change.” It is not clear whether a bell without a clapper is susceptible and this is argued over. Is the clapper an integral part of the bell? Even so, one should rule stringently when they are not attached “because of the fear that one might incorrectly rule leniently” when they are attached.

Daf 122 (Shabbas 59a-59b)

Does a utensil (e.g., a bell) retain its susceptibility to contamination if it is not still fit to be used as originally intended? R’Yochanan says, “The bell retains its tumah status because it is fit to give a drink of water to a child in it.” Or does he in fact say that it retains its status “because it can still produce sound when struck against an earthenware pot”?

The rabbis argue over whether or not a woman is permitted to go out on Shabbes wearing a “city of gold.” Some are concerned she might remove it to show it off to a friend and then thoughtlessly carry it. The same dispute is repeated over whether or not a woman is permitted to wear a tiara out on Shabbes.

Daf 123 (Shabbas 60a-60b)

Is a signet ring worn by a woman a burden or an ornament?

Mishnah. Here are rules concerning what a man may wear when he goes out on Shabbes.

Gemara. The gemara seeks the reasons for the rules. “What is the reason that one may not wear a hobnailed sandal on the Sabbath?” The answer is that hobnailed sandals were connected with one or more situations where the tracks they left were misread by fugitives from persecution, causing panics in which “they pushed and kicked at each other, and they killed more of each other than the enemies did.”

There is an extended discussion of which sandals are exempt from this rule. R’Chiya says, “If not for the fact that people would call me the Babylonian that permits forbidden things, I would permit a hobnailed sandal that has many nails in it.”

Daf 124 (Shabbas 61a-61b)

The mishnah permits one with a wounded foot to wear a hobnailed sandal on Shabbes. The gemara wonders whether he is allowed to wear it on the wounded foot or the other one. Rav Huna says it is the wounded foot (to protect it). Chiya bar Rav says it is the other foot (to provide comfort); since the wound is thus visible, no one will suspect him of carrying the other shoe.

Some rabbis hold that one puts on one’s left shoe first (following the same practice as with tefillin); some hold that one puts on the right shoe first (no reason is offered); some put on the right shoe but do not tie it until they put on the left shoe and then they tie the left shoe first (in deference to both rulings). Rav Kahana follows no consistent principle in putting on his shoes.

The rules regarding wearing an amulet on Shabbes are examined. A definition of an “effective” amulet is attempted. Is it one that has cured three times or one that has cured three men? Or is it if three amulets made by the same craftsman has effected each a separate cure? What of the one who created three different amulets for one person with three afflictions? Do amulets have “intrinsic sanctity”? (I.E., is it permitted to enter a latrine while wearing an amulet?)

Daf 125 (Shabbas 62a-62b)

The rabbis compare amulets to tefillin as they continue to attempt to determine if amulets have intrinsic sanctity.

Mishnah. Here are laws on what a woman is forbidden to wear in public spaces on Shabbes.

Gemara. The gemara wonders why the laws in this mishnah apply only to women. Abaye’s conclusion: “Everything that involves pleasure and also involves joy, the rabbis decreed against its use. But something that involves only pleasure and does not involve joy, the rabbis did not decree against it.” The gemara then presents a “phrase-by-phrase interpretation of a Scriptural verse which rebukes Jewish women for flaunting their beauty.” (Another verse is used to describe their punishment.) Then, they turn on the men.

Daf 126 (Shabbas 63a-63b)

Mishnah. There is a prohibition against going out on Shabbes with a sword. However, R’Eliezer says that swords are ornaments.

Gemara. The Sages ask R’Eliezer, “In as much as these weapons are ornaments . . . why will they be eliminated in the Messianic era?” Others suggest that there may be a distinction between the Messianic era and the World to Come; they also seek to understand how best to study and whether a verse “never departs from its plain meaning.”

Daf 127 (Shabbas 64a-64b)

The gemara seeks to determine which fabrics and “undersized” garments are susceptible to contamination. When there are no deeds to atone for, atonement will still be needed for “thoughts.”

Mishnah. Here are additional rules concerning what a woman may wear out on Shabbes.

Gemara. Why may a woman go out with her hair braided with the hair from her friend but not with the hair of a woman who is markedly younger or older than her? Is a menstruating woman permitted to adorn herself? (Answer: Yes, so as to prevent her husband from regarding her as repulsive.)

Daf 128 (Shabbas 65a-65b)

Is it permitted to spread out one’s clothes to dry on Shabbes if one was caught in the rain? Some say yes, but only in a secluded area so that passersby will not suspect one is doing one’s laundry. R’Elazar and R’Shimon forbid it even in one’s private quarters.

May a woman go out wearing “a wad that she prepared for her menses”? (Answer: Yes.) There is a general discussion that establishes that a woman is permitted to wear any article on Shabbes that she is unlikely to remove because displaying it would cause her embarrassment.

Mishnah. Here are more articles that a woman may wear outside on Shabbes.

Gemara. Why did the father of Shmuel prohibit his daughters to sleep together while they were still virgins? Rav Huna said, “Women who rub one another to satisfy a desire for sexual intercourse are disqualified from marriage to a Kohen Gadol . . .” The gemara rejects this, explaining that Shmuel’s father simply did not want his daughters to become accustomed to lying pressed against another’s body.

May one “employ a subterfuge” to avoid the appearance of desecrating the Sabbath? For example, by putting on additional clothing to rescue the clothing from a fire? According to the Tanna, this is preferable to allowing one to extinguish the fire.

Mishnah. Here are the rules regarding the appliances that aid handicapped people. For example, an amputee may go out on Shabbes with a prosthetic foot. (“It is considered to be his shoe.”)

Daf 129 (Shabbas 66a-66b)

R’Yose does not consider a prosthetic foot to be like a shoe.

Gemara. The gemara asks whether the prosthetic foot is a shoe or isn’t it. Rav Nachman says, “I do not know.” If it is not a shoe, it is a utensil (and consequently susceptible to contamination). A lengthy discussion seeks to determine whether or not it is a shoe. A walking stick is not susceptible to contamination, so the gemara wonders if there is a difference between a walking stick and a prosthetic foot. According to Rava, the primary function of the stick is “to strengthen one’s step” and it does not bear weight as does the foot.

Mishnah. Two additional items that one may wear outside on Shabbes: knots and bells.

Gemara. The gemara seeks to clarify what sort of knots are referenced in the mishnah. Perhaps the knots have a therapeutic function, either medical or psychological. Rav Chama bar Gurya mentions how, “to comfort a son who yearns for his father who is parting from him, the father takes a strap from his own right shoe and knots it to the boy’s left arm. This will alleviate the boy’s sadness.” Other therapies that are permitted on Shabbes are mentioned; followed by other therapies unrelated to Shabbes, including an incantation designed to transfer one’s burden to an insect sealed inside a copper pipe.

Daf 130 (Shabbas 67a-67b)

The recitation of therapies and incantations continues, including incantations derived from Scripture. There is some dispute surrounding which verses are appropriate. (ArtScroll: “Many commentators ask an obvious question regarding this Gemara. The Gemara in Shavuos 15b states that one is forbidden to heal oneself by reciting Scripture; how then can our Gemara recommend a remedy that makes use of Scriptural verses? . . . If, however, one recognizes that what lies at the root of every physical ailment is a spiritual shortcoming, one may employ Torah to remedy one’s spiritual lack.”

Mishnah. The rules for going out on Shabbes wearing talisman for healing. These are permitted by the Sages but condemned by R’Meir as heathen magic.

Gemara. Abaye and Rava dispute R’Meir’s ruling, saying that “any practice that is of evident therapeutic value is not prohibited.” The gemara goes on to list those foreign practices that are prohibited.

Perek 7. Mishnah. Here are the rules for determining the number of offerings required for inadvertent transgressions of Shabbes.

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One Response to Appearances Should Not Be Deceiving

  1. elenizl says:

    Greetings! The post is very long and so I’d like to respond in pieces…..This notion of appearances is important. The Talmud suggests that we do or don’t do certain things in order not to inadvertently communicate that a transgression has been committed. In our visible behavior we should always err on the side of caution lest we be misunderstood. This should not be confused with behaving in a way that is intentionally designed to confuse and obfuscate. That would simply be wrong. Intention is important as is integrity.

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