Talmud for Trayvon

The dapim of the last few days may be hundreds and hundreds of years old, but even so, reading them now, one could come away with the sense that they were ripped from the headlines. Both the Talmud and the law of the state of Florida agree that the intended victim of murder may save himself or be saved even if it means taking the life of the would-be murderer. They differ, however, in the case where the “victim” put his own life in danger. The gemara asks, “What do you see to assume your blood is redder than that of your victim?”

George Zimmerman saw no crime being committed. No one was in immediate danger. The police advised him to stay in his vehicle. He unnecessarily created a situation for himself and Trayvon Martin in which each would fear for his life and only one would get out of it alive. Was George Zimmerman’s blood redder than that of his victim?

In the same sugya, the rabbis seek to determine if one may benefit from a forbidden act that was not intended. Again, the headlines present a case in point.Of three sprinters discovered to have used forbidden substances, one fell into the category of seeking a benefit from an intended forbidden act (Tyson Gay, who declared, “I don’t have anything to say to make this seem like it was a mistake”); one still insists that the violation was unintentional (Sherone Simpson, who declared he has never “knowingly or willfully taken any substances that break any rules”). Should the latter one be permitted to benefit from his unintentional violation?

Daf 347 (Pesachim 24a-24b)

 The gemara seeks to determine which prohibited items must be eliminated through burning; also, whether the apparent establishment in the Torah of multiple prohibitions for a single forbidden act would ever result in liability for multiple sets of lashes. The first inquiry is suggested by the search for a clear ruling on when to burn chametz; the second inquiry is the flip side of deriving benefits from forbidden objects. (Thus, although these topics are digressions from the main topic, they are not arbitrary digressions.)

Daf 348 (Pesachim 25a-25b)

Can one derive benefit from a forbidden material so long as one does not enjoy it in a “usual” manner? Can the case of meat cooked in milk speak to this point? (The latter question is raised because, although the combination is forbidden, neither substance alone is forbidden.) Can the case of employing forbidden substances to save a life speak to this point? Answer: No, since the forbidden substance, if “sanctified by idolaters,” may not be used even to save a life: “A person may be healed with anything except a cure that involves idol worship, illicit relations, or murder.”

In expounding the reason why murder is included, a baraisa notes that “in the case of a would-be murderer, his intended victim should be saved at the cost of the would-be murderer’s life.” This applies even in the case of one who is ordered to commit murder (i.e., he should die rather than obey the order to kill another): “What do you see to assume your blood is redder than that of your victim?”

Daf 349 (Pesachim 26a-26b)

May one benefit from a forbidden act that was not intended? from a forbidden act that was unavoidable but intended? from a forbidden act that was intended but not for the (unanticipated) benefit?

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Forbidden Objects with Benefits?

The origin of any law is either Biblical or rabbinic. If the latter, it may be early or late. There are many gaps in the collective recollection of origins, and questions arise as to whose opinion is being cited and whether or not it was derived by the same reasoning by every scholar who holds it to be correct. The answer to even the most simple question may lead to extensive discussion because the simple answer to one question may create complications when a similar case is raised in a different context.

Can we get benefit from chametz once it is forbidden to eat it? Another six dapim later, and we seem to be no closer to an answer, despite a seemingly clear Mishnah (21a).

Daf 341 (Pesachim 18a-18b)

R’Yose is cited as saying that beverages have the Biblical capacity to contaminate. Reish Lakish insists that R’Yose himself does not hold this opinion but is only quoting his teacher (Akiva). The rabbis argue exactly what materials might be contaminated by beverages– food, utensils, other beverages?

Daf 342 (Pesachim 19a-19b)

Whether or not R’Yose agrees with Akiva remains unresolved, but it is clearly established that in at least one instance Akiva does not agree with R’Yose.

Do rabbinic rules regarding contamination of hands apply in the Temple? There is a question of when the rabbinic decree was enacted. (Was there still a Temple?)

Daf 343 (Pesachim 20a-20b)

How many steps are there in diminishing degrees of contamination? This is the subject of detailed dispute in this daf before the focus finally returns to the question of whether chametz that is possibly tamei may be burned with chametz that is definitely tamei. Another question interrupts the deliberations: Should one take action “out of concern for the commission of a misdeed”?

Daf 344 (Pesachim 21a-21b)

Perek 2. Mishnah. It is permitted to benefit from chametz (e.g., use it as animal feed or sell it to a gentile) for as long as it is permitted to eat it.

Gemara. The gemara seeks to determine which rabbi’s view is in accordance with the mishnah. This leads to a consideration of whether giving it to a “stranger” should take precedence over selling it to a “heathen”: “Since you are anyway commanded to sustain a stranger and you are not commanded to sustain a heathen . . . it is a rational conclusion!”

Daf 345 (Pesachim 22a-22b)

The rabbis seek to determine when it is permitted to derive benefit from objects that are otherwise forbidden to their owner.

Daf 346 (Pesachim 23a-23b)

In a baraisa, R’Yose Haglili asks, “How can you say that chametz is forbidden for benefit all seven days of Pesach?” The meaning of this question is vigorously debated.

R’Yehudah and R’Chizkiyah agree that it is forbidden to benefit at all from chametz when it is forbidden to eat it (or from an ox to be stoned), but they do not reach the conclusion through the same reasoning. The gemara seeks to uncover the implications of the different reasonings to anticipate how each rabbi might rule on other matters.

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Politics In and After the Temple

A few dapin ago, R’Chanina suggested that the Kohanim observed Rabbinic ordinances, which struck this reader as unlikely in actuality but a calculated move in suggesting rabbinic authority over the Temple priests. Today Rav suggests that the Kohanim performed the Temple service incorrectly. Politics is playing out here . . . and still no further mention of chametz.

Daf 340 (Pesachim 17a-17b)

Rav asserts that the Kohanim held incorrectly regarding the degree of contamination acquired and conferred by liquids and “that is why it is written that all their handiwork and what they offer in the Temple is tamei.” This is disputed by others.

A ruling by R’Yehudah may or may not have been retracted, but even if it was, the gemara still needs to determine whether the retraction was complete or only partial.

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Yes We Have No Chametz

Chametz is not mentioned at all in today’s daf.

Daf 339 (Pesachim 16a-16b)

There are several related disputes here. Some hold that the prohibition against contaminated beverages is rabbinic, others that it is biblical. If the former opinion holds, then any object with which the beverage might have come into contact would be considered contaminated; if the latter, then only objects with which the beverage definitely connected are considered contaminated. Other rabbis maintain that beverages are subject to contamination but are not themselves transmitters of contamination.

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Choosing Between Purity and Loss

There is an underlying abstraction beneath a very technical dispute about commingling contaminated materials. An uncontaminated domain is fit for holy practices, but not if it contains materials that are forbidden for use in holy practices. Even so, it has not yet been determined (at least through the present daf) that the elimination of that which is contaminated may be effected simultaneously with the elimination of that which is forbidden. The resolution depends on whether it is permissible to contaminate a forbidden object in the process of destroying it.

Daf 338 (Pesachim 15a-15b)

R’Chanina “testified” that the Kohanin burned both meat contaminated rabbinically and meat contaminated biblically in the same fire, suggesting this is justification for burning contaminated and uncontaminated chametz together on erev Pesach. (And also suggesting that the priests were guided in this matter by the rabbis? Is this an anachronism?) But the rabbis see a distinction between commingling products with different degrees of contamination and commingling uncontaminated and contaminated products; in the latter case, the commingling initiates contamination of that which was not contaminated rather than simply advancing it in products previously contaminated.

Can one contaminate a material “with one’s own hands” to prevent monetary loss of materials that would otherwise be exposed? (Answer: Only if the loss will be “substantial.”)

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The Sugya of R’Chanina Sgan HaKohanim

A long, long time ago, before there was a Talmud and rabbis, there were Priests and there was a Temple. The Priests maintained a state of holiness by rigidly policing the grounds of the Temple to prevent contaminants from proliferating. In the daf beginning today, the rabbis study the laws of disposing of contaminated materials with the goal of applying them to the disposal of chametz.

Daf 337 (Pesachim 14a-14b)

Mishnah. Materials contaminated to different degrees were permitted to be burned together in the Temple, although it added a “degree” of contamination to the less contaminated components. R’Meir derives from this that both contaminated and uncontaminated chametz may be burned together on the eve of Pesach. R’Yose, R’Eliezer, and R’Yehoshua all agree, although they disagree on a related issue (commingling Terumah for burning).

Gemara. The gemara seeks to determine by what degree of contamination commingled products are augmented.

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Just One of Those Days . . .

I think we’re in the middle of something here and I have no idea where this is headed . . .

Daf 336 (Pesachim 13a-13b)

The attempt to resolve the dispute between R’Meir and R’Yehudah continues.

A story is related of one Jew who has custody of another Jew’s chametz. Near the onset of Pesach, mice pierce the sack that contains the chametz. Rebbi advises the custodian to sell it in the marketplace to another Jew (or so it says at first). We learn that the custodian cannot buy it himself “so people will not suspect [him] of buying it at an unjustifiably low price.” Rebbi’s advice is questioned: did he not actually instruct the custodian to sell the chametz to gentiles? And whose view does Rebbi’s ruling support?

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