Euphemisms

The discussion of when and how to search for chametz remains suspended as this daf introduces yet another new general teaching: that one should not use coarse language or imagery if one can find a delicate way to say what one has to say.

One example is the case of a zav (a man who has a seminal emission or a woman who has spotting outside the normal time for flow in her cycle). In Leviticus 15:9 , in the case of a man, what is stated as a warning that he might contaminate what is called his riding equipment (his saddle), is, in the case of women, called her seat. Rashi explains that “the Torah did not mention riding in the case of a female . . . for it is indelicate to speak of a woman who rides, since her legs are apart while astride the horse.” Here Rashi compounds the delicacy for this coarse reader who knows many men who regard that which is between her thighs as their riding equipment.

The euphemisms are charming here, but their real meaning may be lost on their intended audience. After all, the same technique is found elsewhere in the Talmud to protect the rabbis from charges of treason or blasphemy in the event that they are overheard by secular kings and idolaters.

Daf 326 (Pesachim 3a-3b)

The debate on the meaning of or continues. After several proofs that or means morning are refuted, a baraisa that echoes the mishnah is declared the proof that or, in this context, means night. The gemara explains that the appearance of the dispute was caused by a misunderstanding: Rav Huna comes from a town where night is called or. Why was night called light (or)? “This is similar to calling a blind person abundant light. . . . In this form of speech, something that carries a negative connotation is called by a word that means the opposite. People would use such euphemisms for reasons of delicacy and refinement.” Additional examples of refined speech in the Torah are presented.

The gemara goes on to caution the reader that refined speech is not only required in Torah, offering examples of its use in rabbinic teachings.

The principle of using refined speech sometimes conflicts with the principle of teaching in a concise manner. The gemara seeks to discover examples in which one principle has priority over the other.

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