Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Talmud Circle 2: November 1, 2015

Hannah's despair, Ilja Repin (1844-1930)

Some Definitional Terms--Sources:

Tannaim:  Tanna is an Aramaic word related to Hebrew "Shana", meaning to "repeat" or "recite." The Tannaim, thus, were those who repeated and recited the Torah and passed it down through the generations.

The Mishnah:  The first major book of Rabbinic literature, or redaction of the oral law. Mishnah is organized by six subject matters (Seeds-Agriculture;  Times--Sabbath & Holidays; Women--marriage & divorce; Damages--Civil & Criminal law; Holy Things--Ritual & Temple; and Rituals--rituals of purification) The authoritative collection of Mishnah is by rabbi Judah HaNasi. [Note: "Blessings" are included in Seeds].

Barita: Tannatic teachings that were not included in Mishnah.

Talmud: First layer of Talmud is Mishna; but not every Mishna is in the Talmud--only the ones Rabbis talked about or felt important.  Talmud is the Gemara as it comments on Mishna--but not every Mishna.  Talmud follows the flow of the Mishna.  Same organization. Also includes  some Midrash. 

Amora: Means "speaker:" refers to the rabbis in the fourth/fifth centuries who spoke about the Torah and the Mishna.

Midrash: Comments organized by Torah portion.  Also contained in a separate collection. The Madrash Rabba. Some Midrash is also included in Talmud. 

Brief Review: 

Torah portion is Samuel 1 about Elkanah and his two wives--Hannah and Peninnah. Hannah was childless and petitions the Lord with prayer. We're at Shiloh, North Central Israel, before Israel's three kings [Saul-David-Solomon]. 
The Tabernacle at Shiloh?/NW Encyclopedia
Key transitional times. Israelites in the hills were late bronze age people. There is evidence the Philistines on the coast were an early iron age people. Some people interpret the David and Goliath story as a contest between these bronze age and iron age powers: David overcame the iron age power with guile and cleverness. But he also stole their ironworkers. 

The traditional offering to God is the sacrifice. The family would go to Shiloh every year to bring their offering. "On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to [his family]." Samuel 1:4.  

Traditional prayer: the fire consumes the flesh; part of the offering goes up to the heavens as ash and heat rise; represents earth/wind/fire. It's a recycling of life: form is lost along with the illusion that you once owned form.  As the portion is consumed it turns into matter, heat, and air. The sacrifice is a transformation of the offering. [It's mindfulness; no wonder many Jews have been drawn to Eastern religions that practice mindfulness] [Christ as the "Lamb of God"] 

You don't need language or a building to practice sacrifice. But you did need to be in Israel. The law of sacrifice is only binding in the land of Israel [because that's what Torah says] The sacrificial cult cannot be exported; you can't conquer other lands in its name. The religion as practiced was local--even though God was conceived as universal. The Lord of Hosts. After destruction of the Temple, there was a transfer from the land to Torah: we are bound to Torah as we were bound to the land.


Aside 1: Cliff Detz thinks Israelites were not yet monotheistic when Hannah prayed at Shiloh. Peretz pointed out that the story of Hannah takes place pre-Judaism.

Aside 2: Peretz referred to Abraham Joshua Heschel's work and his conception of Judaism as a religion of time. His Sabbath: Its Meaning for modern Man (1951) "is a work on the nature and celebration of Shabbat( and) is rooted in the thesis that Judaism is a religion of time, not space, and that the Sabbath symbolizes the sanctification of time."

Aside 3: Hasidism, Zionism, and Reform Judaism all have the same birth date. They all responded to a crisis in Judaism; it's practice had become dull and formulaic. Uninspiring. Jews had a hard time getting a minion together in Germany. 

Aside 4:  Zionism said "if we just till the land, isn't that enough?" They felt it was enough to just be on the land. Connected with Martin Buber's Hebrew Humanism. Martin Buber (1878-1965).  From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Martin Buber, ~1900(?)
Buber was recruited by … Herzl to edit the main paper of the Zionist party, Die Welt. He soon found a more congenial home in the “democratic faction” of “cultural Zionists” led by Chaim Weizmann, then living in Zurich. …[H]e never ceased to write and speak about what he understood to be the distinctive Jewish brand of nationalism. …He … search(ed) for psychologically sound foundations on which to heal the rift between modern realpolitik and a distinctively Jewish theological-political tradition. Very much in keeping with the nineteenth-century Protestant yearning for a Christian foundation of the nation-state, Buber sought a healing source in the integrating powers of religious experience. …[H]e … began publishing the journal Der Jude, which served as an open forum of exchange on any issues related to cultural and political Zionism. In 1921 Buber attended the Zionist Congress in Carlsbad as a delegate of the socialist Hashomer Hatzair (“the young guard”). In the debates that followed the first anti-Zionist riots in Palestine, Buber joined the Brit Shalom, which argued for peaceful means of resistance. During the Arab revolt of 1936–39, when the British government imposed quotas on immigration to Palestine, Buber argued for demographic parity rather than trying to achieve a Jewish majority. Finally, in the wake of the Biltmore Conference, Buber (as a member of Ihud) argued for a bi-national rather than a Jewish state in Palestine. At any of these stages Buber harbored no illusion about the chances of his political views to sway the majority but he believed that it was important to articulate the moral truth as one saw it. Needless to say, this politics of authenticity made him few friends among the members of the Zionist establishment.

At the theoretical core of the Zionism advanced by Buber was a conception of Jewish identity being neither a religious nor a national form, but a unique hybrid. ... Buber rejected any state-form for the Jewish people in Palestine. .... Buber embraced Zionism as the self-expression of a particular Jewish collective that could be realized only in its own land, on its soil, and in its language. The modern state, its means and symbols, however, were not genuinely connected to this vision of a Jewish renaissance. While in the writings of the early war years, Buber had characterized the Jews as an oriental type in perpetual motion, in his later writings the Jews represent no type at all. Neither nation nor creed, they uncannily combine what he called national and spiritual elements. 
In his letter to Ghandi, Buber insisted on the spatial orientation of Jewish existence and defended the Zionist cause against the critic who saw in it only a form of colonialism. For Buber, space was a necessary but insufficient material condition for the creation of culture based on dialogue. A Gesamtkunstwerk in its own right, the Zionist project was to epitomize the life of dialogue by drawing the two resident nations of Palestine into a perfectible common space free from mutual domination.

A Buber anecdote: "an aged pious man, Rabbi Susya, became fearful as death drew near. His friends chided him, 'What! Are you afraid that you'll be reproached that you weren't Moses?' 'No,' the rabbi replied, 'that I was not Susya.'"

Aside 5:  O.K., I read the Judith Hauptman article on women and prayer. I confess, I scanned this and did not try to follow all her minutia--because, frankly, I don't need to be convinced that women are equal to men, including in the ability/obligation to pray.  The article doesn't mention Hannah or Samuel 1.  So what's all that about?  I also listened to the Dov Hartman video.  She's quite the gal; she does speak about Hannah and tells us what Peretz said. 

Aside 6: There are (of course) folks advocating for rebuilding of Third Temple NOW. And, of course, there is textual support for this.  E.g. two of the seven blessings of the wedding ceremony--Sheva Berakhot-- talk about the ingathering in Jerusalem and "let there soon be heard the sounds of joy"; soon as in tomorrow.  People skip stuff they don't like in the blessings; but people read that stuff and take it seriously--so we need to engage with it to fight the good fight. 

Aside 7: When the temple was built, the priests tried to stamp out the ritual practice at the sacrificial mounts throughout the land. Priests wanted to control the sacrifice centered on the Temple. Crowds who arrived in Jerusalem from other places needed to change money into local currency.  Currencies proliferated.  Money changers set up tables outside the temple. They charged 4-8% premium on the exchange.  Among other things, there was a thriving market in selling of sacrificial animals. 

Aside 8: There is a thin line between offering and magic. Offering needs to be brought for the "right" reasons. 

Aside 9:  Cohen means "servant of the place."  The Cohens were the custodians of the temple. They were not allowed to leave the building. Not a power group; but a burdened and restricted group. 

Aside 10: Jaffa was the early location of the Jewish poets.  Herzel  built his Yeshiva in Jaffa. He had no interest in Jerusalem. 

Aside 11: At engagement party tradition is to break a plate. Symbolism is that although we exported Judaism into diaspora, it is unstable, impermanent, uncertain. 

Back to Hannah at Shiloh: 

Traditional prayer was not doing it for Hannah. Year after year, Hannah did not become pregnant. "Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat [of the sacrificial offering]."  Samuel 1:7 And then Hannah made a revolutionary move: Hannah went to the priest (Eli) alone and prayed silently, petitioning God directly without priestly intervention, and without a sacrificial offering being involved. 1:10. She's been "pouring out her soul before the Lord" (1:15) and Eli blessed her.  And her prayers were answered. 

This pre-temple period was full of religious variety: there was much more than just Pharasees, Saducees, and Essenes.  

Recital of Shema (morning & evening) is linked to when priests would consume their Truma (tithe). The Shema replaced the sacrificial offering in post-temple times. This was a major move from the concrete to the symbolic.

Talmud:  Berakhot 30b, 31a

So how do we pray?

First Mishna: One may only stand and begin to pray from an approach of gravity and with submission--some have prepared for an hour beforehand--in way not to be distracted by high (kings) or low (snakes). 
Halakhah: How many ways to walk, how many ways to go do we learn from this Talmudic portion?  
Prophetic religion was critical of the rote nature of sacrifice. Sacrifice as method. Prayer must be more mindful. Method of sacrifice vs. mindfulness of prayer.  
Hannah's approach to God is different from the method of sacrifice in that her prayer is heartfelt.  
Must enter the temple with awe. There is a focus on imminence. [There is no word in Hebrew for "prayer" as such. The word "Bevahkasha" is used and it means to request.  "Haleot" is used and it means praises. "Brachot" is used and it implies a radical centeredness]
Here is my paraphrase of the Gemara found on pp. 203-209): 
They say from Hannah we derive a requirement to approach prayer with gravity.
Hannah was also bitter, but bitterness is rejected. Rabbi Yosei says the key is to approach "reverently," citing David in Psalms. Nope, says Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi: we should approach in "trembling of holiness;" one must enter into prayer from an atmosphere of "gravity engendered by sanctity."  
No, that's not quite it either, says the Gemara. We note that Rav Yehuda would adorn himself to pray, suggesting,  perhaps "it's in the beauty." 
But Rav Nahman bar Yitzhak said "Serve the Lord in fear and rejoice in trembling."  Rav Adda bar Mattana said this means there must not be unbridled joy. "Where there is rejoicing, there should be trembling," he said. Abaye is rebuked for being excessively joyful.  And Abaye said: "but I'm wearing philacteries! As long as I wear them, they ensure that the fear of God is upon me."  O.K. then. 
Yes, sorrow is appropriate, but not excessive joy, agreed Rabbi Zeira. "In all sorrow there is profit," he says.  "But I'm wearing phylacteries!" says Rabbi Yirmeya. 
A story:
Rabbi Ravina thought people were excessively joyous at his son's wedding, so he smashed a cup worth four hundred zuz (~$750/with silver at $15 per ounce). Rabbi Rav Ashi, at his son's wedding, did Rabbi Ravina one better and smashed "a cup of extremely valuable white glass." And the wedding guests "became sad." 
And, when the sages suggested the master sing a song at his son's wedding?  Well, he said, a tad overreacting perhaps: "Woe unto us, for we shall die! Where is Torah and mitzvah to protect us?"  
Rabbi Yohanan, another serious fellow, said "One is forbidden to fill his mouth with mirth in this world as long as we are in exile!"  Are we in exile still?
It is not appropriate to pray when halakhah is in doubt "as preoccupation with the halakhic ruling will distract us from prayer."  But what is an example of conclusive halakhah?   
I know one, said  Abaye: "Rabbi Zeira had a halakhah--the daughters of Israel were stringent with themselves; to the extent that they saw even a drop of blood corresponding to mustards seed, they sat seven days clean for it!" [This exceeded the requirements of Torah] "I have one too," said Rava, referring to the exemption from tithing a portion of grain fed to animals if it has not been threshed and piled. Or, consider the prohibition on making beneficial use of the blood of a sacrificial animal! 
O.K., said the sages. "That settles that; we'll pray with an atmosphere of gravity!"  It's a conclusive halakhah. 
So.... on topic of proper preparation for prayer: Sages taught we may not stand to pray from an atmosphere of sorrow, laziness, laughter, conversation, frivolity, or purposelessness. One should approach prayer from an atmosphere of "joy of mitzvah." [Just make sure it's not excessive joy!] 
When we talk of halakah we should also take leave of one another in the same frame of mind as we approach prayer. We should conclude our talks with words of praise and consolation. [Because, heaven knows, we do get contentious!] 
As Mari taught: we should take leave of another in a way they will think well of us and the new halakhah they learned. You know, like that time Rav Kahana and Rav Shimi bar Ashi went to the palm grove of Babylon and Shimi bar Ashi taught that the palm trees of Babylon date back to Adam. Or that time when the student Rav Mordekhai accompanied his master Rav Shimi bar Ashi all the way to Keifei; or was it Be Dura?
 But back to prayer:
In the Tosefta (supplement to the Mishna) the sages taught that one who prays must focus his heart toward Heaven. If God directs your heart, his ears will listen. And in a baraita it says Rabbi Akiva would shorten his prayer with the congregation, so as not to be an encumbrance on them, but when he prayed alone his enthusiasm was so great that he'd go on, and on, and on, and would unwittingly move from one corner to another. 
Rabbi Hiyya bar Abba said: "we should always pray in a house with windows" because, after all, Daniel had open windows in his attic where he prayed three times a day upon his knees--and these windows faced Jerusalem.  And did you hear that?  Three times, Daniel prayed. So it is halakhah.  And not just in Babylonian exile did he do that, but he did it before. And did he face Jerusalem?  It's not coincidence; its halakhah. And David said "morning, noon, and night I pray aloud and He hears my voice." If it's good enough for David, it's good enough for us... it's halakhah. The Amidah (the central prayer in every worship service) we recite without making our voices heard; because Hannah...its halakhah. And the order of prayer is praise, then petition, then thanks; that's how Solomon blessed the temple... it's halakhah. 
After the Amidah prayer there is no limit. We may recite the equivalent of the order of the confession on Yom Kippur... it's allowed. It's true: the Amora of Rav Hiyya bar Ashi agrees--if you have additional requests after completing the Amidah, knock yourself out. 
How many halakhot can be derived from the prayer of Hanna? wondered Rav Hammuna. Well... focus your heart, enunciate the words, not only contemplate them in the heart, but we must recite silently. And we must not be drunk. In fact we must remove the wine from ourselves. It's halakhah. 
And continuing with Berakhot, 31b:
And Rabbi Elazar said "if you see someone praying in an unseemly way, reprimand him or her. Go set them straight. It's a mitzvah."
What about Eli falsely accusing Hannah of being drunk? Well, there is a dispute.  Rabbi Hanina says it means the divine spirit did not rest upon Eli in his judgment. In other words, it's a mistake; it happens.  On the other hand Rabbi Elazar says this is the foundation for the halkhah that one who is wrongfully suspected of something must come forward and inform the one who wrongfully suspects, and clear himself or herself of suspicion.  We have a duty not to sulk in silence. 
Rabbi Elazar also concluded that praying drunk is like idol worship. Don't do it. [Say what?Yeah, there is a note; don't ask]  But if you're wrong in your accusation, you had better appease the one you accused falsely, and bless him or her... it's halakhah.  [After all you've greatly annoyed the falsely accused]
Then there's a parable.  Whoa, or as Eli might have said, we're not at Shiloh anymore Sherlock:
Rabbi Elazar says, "did you hear that? Hannah called God 'The Lord of Hosts!' Nobody does that."  Moreover, Hannah taunts the Lord: "Is it so difficult for you to grant me one son?" she says. 
The Gemara says this is like a street person crashing the king's feast and standing at the door saying to guests: "give me a peace of bread." When he's ignored he pushes his way up to the king and says: ""is it so difficult for you to spare me a single peace of bread, huh?" Hmmm.
Well, the Gemara here rather misrepresents Samuel 1.  There is nothing in Samuel 1 that would suggest the petulant attitude that the rabbis attribute to Hannah here. It's not at all clear, in fact, that the rabbis had their Samuel 1 handy.  Hannah pours out her soul before God and gets straight to the point: "She prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. And she vowed a vow and said 'O'Lord of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thy maidservant...[I will consecrate my son to you]" Samuel 1:10-11. There is nothing here about "give me!" or "You owe it to me" as the rabbis suggests. Nothing petulant at all, in fact.

But the Talmud story goes on:
What was Hannah threatening? I will go and seclude myself with a man, so my husband suspects adultery, and they will have to give me the Sato. [Sato is a trial by ordeal involving public humiliation, and drinking of water contaminated with a scroll that contains the woman's denial of adultery--ending in her belly swelling and her thighs falling away if she's guilty, or (if she's innocent) a priestly declaration of "never mind you can go back to your husband now." As if she'd want to] And because it will be a ruse in Hannah's case, and she did not commit adultery, God will have to let her pass the trial by ordeal. And she will bear children because Torah says if you pass this trial by ordeal "you shall conceive." 
Well, the rabbis who thought up that particular fantasy had spent a bit too much time in the library and away from their women.  Really!

I think I will stop here and let Peretz clear this story up for us on December 6.

Happy reading to all,

Roland Nikles

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