Friday, May 20, 2005

No more, no less

This week in Rosh Hashanah: middle of 27b to before the Mishnah on 29a.

Adding anything else to the shofar: No way. Well maybe, if it's adding more shofar material to it; R. Natan disagrees with the tana kama. Plating it with gold on the inside: as if! We might as well play a synthesizer! The key is to be blowing the shofar itself, nothing else. Plating it with gold on the outside: if it doesn't change the sound, then fine. A shofar cracked lengthwise: are you kidding me? Cracked widthwise: as long as the shofar is long enough from the mouthpiece to the crack, we can ignore the part after the crack (since obviously it had to be broken once already to separate it from the ram). How long is long enough? Long enough to hold it in your hand with stuff sticking out on both sides.

Then there was stuff we didn't understand about the bone holding the horn onto the animal's head. We're not so great at zoology, botany, or agriculture, but we rocked at the astronomy part.

And then back to the case of blowing a shofar into a pit -- do you hear the shofar or do you hear the echo? And if you heard part of the shofar blast in the pit and part of it outside the pit, you're ok (since you heard part of a valid shofar blast), but if you heard part of it before dawn and part of it after dawn, then it didn't count, because the shofar blast itself wasn't valid -- the whole thing has to be in the appropriate time, viz. daytime (yom teruah). The imagery of someone blowing a shofar for him/herself while climbing out of a pit was amusing.

Can you use a shofar from an animal that was set aside as a sacrifice? Obviously not! But if you did, is it kosher? And does it matter whether the sacrifice was an olah or a shelamim? At first the discussion focuses on whether the animal maintains the status of hekdesh (such that benefiting from it is forbidden), until Rava reverses his stance and says mitzvot lav leihanot nit'nu. The commandments were not given to benefit from them (and thus using something to fulfill a commandment doesn't count as benefiting from that thing).

We considered the question of whether this category of b'diavad (where you did something illegal but the action may have validly fulfilled some purpose even though it was illegal) exists at all in American or other secular law, and couldn't think of any examples. If you can think of one, comment on this post. (One non-example: in the US, if evidence was obtained via an illegal search, then it is not valid evidence and cannot be used in court.)

Likewise, a shofar from an animal used for idolatry: illegal but valid (yatza b'diavad). A shofar from an ir nidachat (idolatrous city that was destroyed) is invalid, because everything in the city (including this shofar) was supposed to be destroyed, and therefore this shofar has the status of having been destroyed. The fact that the shofar is still intact is a mere physical fact and doesn't change anything. This strikes me as something out of Douglas Adams.

People who took vows not to benefit from X can still use X to fulfill a commandment, as long as they're not benefiting from it in some other way.

The huge discussion: do mitzvot require kavanah (intention)? Leading off are two examples that seem to suggest "no": Someone who was forcefed matzah has still fulfilled the obligation of eating matzah. Someone who blew the shofar just to play music (or someone who heard a shofar blast for the purpose of music?) has still fulfilled the obligation of shofar.

But it's not so simple! Matzah, fine, since the commandment is to eat matzah. But for shofar, the commandment is zichron teruah, suggesting that consciousness is required. So if you can still fulfill the obligation without intent, does that mean that mitzvot in general don't require kavanah? And is it really true that you fulfill the obligation without intent? Doesn't the Mishnah say otherwise (that if you passed by a synagogue and heard the shofar, you fulfill the obligation iff you direct your heart)? Or is it just that you have to be aware that you're hearing a shofar (and not a donkey), but you don't have to have any intentions about the obligation? Does the shofar blower have to have intent, or the listener, or both, or neither? Does the shofar blower have to intend to fulfill specific individuals' obligations, or just the community in general? Does it make a difference whether the shofar blower is a representative of the community at large vs. a freelancer? All these questions are debated at length.

In the meantime we have a big satellite discussion about bal tosif -- the commandment not to add onto the commandments (the textbook example, cited by Rashi, is having 5 tzitzit instead of the proper 4). Has bal tosif been violated if the person wasn't doing the additional action with the intent of making it part of the mitzvah? For example, if someone sleeps in the sukkah on Shemini Atzeret (after the 7 days that one is supposed to sleep in the sukkah), is this a punishable offense? Well, wait a minute, there's another issue there -- maybe bal tosif doesn't apply if the additional action was outside the proper time for the mitzvah. Other examples up for scrutiny: A priest may not add extra blessings of his own volition to the threefold priestly blessing in the Torah. And the debate from Mishnah Zevachim 8:10 - if blood requiring one pouring on the altar (no more, no less!) is mixed with blood requiring four (no more, no less!), then how many times should the combination be poured on the altar? If you do it four times, then some of the mixture is subject to bal tosif, and if you do it one time, then some of it is subject to bal tigra (don't subtract)! Rabbi Eliezer says it's better to err on the side of too many, whereas Rabbi Yehoshua prefers sins of omission to sins of commission. The resolution to the parameters of when bal tosif applies, according to Rava or his stammaitic avatar: if it happens during the time for the mitzvah, then it's totally bal tosif (with or without kavanah); if it's outside the time, then it's bal tosif iff there is kavanah. (And he maintains his claim that fulfilling the mitzvah never requires kavanah.) I guess I can still make fun of 2-day yom tov people by saying it's bal tosif (I was worried for a second when it seemed like it was only bal tosif during the appropriate time.)

As always, the questions are more exciting than the answers.

As much as the idea of carrying out ritual mitzvot without intention seems empty and meaningless, I think the result-oriented approach that Rava's opinion suggests for ethical mitzvot might make up for this.

We're totally finishing Chapter 3 next time and starting Chapter 4. Finishing the whole masechet by Shavuot looks unlikely, but it's a moot point, since MAK and I won't be in the same place for Shavuot, so a 4 AM siyyum isn't happening anyway.


  1. i think in some places it is illegal for 16 year olds to purchase tobacco but not illegal for them to smoke. so cigarettes purchased illegally are legal to smoke... which is sort of similar to the bediavad yotzei...

  2. I think it's not only illegal for 16 year olds to buy cigarettes in some places, but also for an adult to give a minor cigarettes. But it's not illegal to smoke them. This could be urban legend, but if it's not, it seems to completely fulfill what you're talking about. (Except in the case of found cigarettes.)

    Also, there are circumstances in baseball where getting an additional out after the 3rd out can prevent a run, whereas the run would've scored if you'd only gotten the first 3. It's not quite this b'diavad thing, I don't think, but it seems to be along the same lines.

    And your whole bal tosif discussion might have convinced me to only keep 1 day of holidays from now on. (I was on the fence anyway.) I'll have to go learn more about this.