Thursday, June 16, 2005

Okay, starting with hamelech

I'm way behind in blogging about Masechet Rosh Hashanah. This post is for last week, when we did 31b-32b.

We begin with still more decrees of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai: If the head of the beit din is on the road, then witnesses don't have to go on a wild goose chase looking for him, but only need to go to the central meeting spot.

The Gemara tells a story of a woman who was called by Ameimar (the head of the beit din) to Nehardea, but then he left for Mechoza and she didn't follow him, so she got busted. Rav Ashi asked Ameimar "What about that mishnah?! Get with the times; witnesses don't have to follow you around." Ameimar said (paraphrased) "That mishnah only applies to testimony for the new moon. Besides, we have a history of coddling those witnesses so that they'll come back in the future -- e.g., in mishnah 2:6, we listen to their testimony even when we don't need it, just to make them feel useful. But for any other kinds of witnesses, let's not forget who's the boss here. We'll send them scurrying around Bavel just because we can."

And one more decree from RYbZ: The kohanim must remove their shoes when performing the priestly blessing, for a total of nine decrees.

Nine? Nine! Let's count: Six in this chapter (1. The shofar can be blown on Shabbat wherever there is a beit din, 2. seven days of lulav everywhere, 3. new grain is prohibited all day on 16 Nisan, 4. testimony of the new moon can be accepted all day, 5. witnesses of the new moon just have to go to a central location, 6. yes shoes -> no service), one in the first chapter (7. Nisan and Tishrei are the only months for which the messengers can break Shabbat - see 21b), and two more:

Number 8: When the Temple stood, a convert had to bring a pair of birds as an offering. Afterwards, in the absence of a Temple, they still had to set aside the cash for the offering. RYbZ got rid of this requirement -- let's not put too many obstacles in front of prospective converts.

Number 9: We can't agree on which one it is! There isn't another decree that is unambiguously attributed to RYbZ, so let's take two anonymous decrees and argue over which one could believably have been him.
Rav Papa's opinion: The produce of a vineyard in its fourth year (no longer in the first 3 years when it is forbidden, but not yet in the fifth year when it's permitted) must be brought to Jerusalem. Yes, we get around this by selling the fruits and just wiring the money to Jerusalem. But if you live within a day of Jerusalem, no excuses, you have to bring the fruit itself. The acknowledged motivation: mercantilism! Jerusalem gets to profit from the colonies! But Rabbi Eliezer petitioned for an exemption so he could use his field as a tax writeoff and donate the produce to the poor. His students said "Your colleagues have already permitted this!" According to Rav Papa, who is "your colleagues"? R. Yochanan ben Zakkai! This is the ninth decree! (But wait! RYbZ was R. Eliezer's teacher, not his colleague! Uhhhh.... R. Eliezer's students were just being polite by not saying "your teacher" to their teacher.)
Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak's opinion: No, that's not it at all. So we used to have this red ribbon that we would hang up outside the entrance of the Temple on Yom Kippur, which would turn white iff the people's sins had been cleansed. If it turned white, they were happy; if not, they were sad. We had enough sadness in the world already, so they started hanging it up inside the Temple, so that people wouldn't see it and get all fatalistic. But they looked inside anyway. So it was decreed that half of it was tied to the rock (out in the desert) and the other half went over the cliff with the scapegoat. According to R. Nachman bar Yitzchak, this last decree was by none other than RYbZ. (But wait a second, how can that be? The height of RYbZ's career was after the destruction of the Temple, when the whole scapegoat ritual had ceased. Uhhhh... he came up with this one when he was still a precocious student, while the Temple still stood, and it was taught in his name.)

In investigating the second option, we get a capsule biography of RYbZ: he worked in the real world for 40 years, learned for 40 years, and taught for 40 years, for a total of 120. As life spans increase, serial careers are coming back into popularity.

So what's the answer? Which is the real 9th decree? We don't know. But then, during Torah reading last Shabbat, MAK pointed out that the Hertz chumash says that the sotah ritual was abolished by R. Yochanan ben Zakkai! That would make 10 decrees (if not 11)!!! Either Hertz is wrong, or the foundations of Judaism are shattering!

New topic: the liturgy of Rosh Hashanah, with three distinctive sections in the musaf service: malchuyot (monarchy), zichronot (remembrance), and shofarot (the sound of the shofar). I translate malchuyot as "monarchy", because this literally means "rule by one", and this category is construed to include such verses as "Shma Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad", which say nothing about ruling/kingship/sovereignty per se, but a lot about oneness. But more on that later.

The present order of the liturgy (1. avot, 2. gevurot, 3. kedushat hashem, 4. malchuyot and kedushat hayom together at last, 5. zichronot, 6. shofarot, 7. avodah, 8. hoda'ah, 9. birkat kohanim) is based on R. Akiva's position, but was by no means a no-brainer. R. Yochanan ben Nuri put malchuyot into the third bracha, with kedushat hashem. (Perhaps we have some vestige of this, with all the "uvchen" paragraphs added to the third bracha on the High Holidays?) And even if you agree that malchuyot is #4, the placement of kedushat hayom isn't obvious. Is it with malchuyot (because it's always #4), or is it with zichronot (because it's always in the middle)? Strangely, no one suggests that it's with shofarot (because it's always fourth from the end).

Along the way, Psalm 29 is taken to be the basis for the first three blessings of the Amidah: "Havu lAdonai b'nei eilim" => avot. (Is this really as idolatrous as it seems? The more apologetics there are, the more likely the answer is yes!) "Havu lAdonai kavod va'oz" => gevurot. "Havu lAdonai kevod shemo, hishtachavu lAdonai b'hadrat kodesh" => kedushat hashem.

We get another mention of the tradition that from the time of Ezra, Elul never had 30 days. So maybe that's the answer to why the "long day" of Rosh Hashanah is 1 and 2 Tishrei (rather than 30 Elul and 1 Tishrei) - just because there's such a solid tradition that 30 Elul shouldn't exist.

The minimum number of verses in each section is 10. We have several opinions as to why 10: the 10 hallelu's in Psalm 150 (and the whole psalm is included as one of the 10 selections in the modern version of shofarot, so there is a self-similar structure), the 10 utterances at Sinai (and Sinai also figures prominently in shofarot), and the 10 utterances by which the world was created (connecting to zichronot -- Rosh Hashanah is a remembrance of the first day).

10 should be the minimum, but if you do 7 of each, you're ok. However, R. Yochanan ben Nuri says that 7 is the recommended minimum and 3 is the absolute minimum, and the Gemara upholds him! So the version that has survived as the "traditional" liturgy (though this chapter makes it abundantly clear that there is no one traditional version) goes above and beyond the requirements, and Gates of Repentance (with 4 verses in each section) still makes it.

Now we get to the content of each section. In general, R. Yose has a more expansive definition of what can go in each section, and R. Yehuda is more of a strict constructionist, and today's liturgy largely fits R. Yehuda's narrower definitions, except when it's impossible. All of our malchuyot contain some form of the root m-l-ch (with one key exception); all of our zichronot contain some form of z-ch-r, and all of our shofarot contain the word shofar. R. Yose would have been ok with synonyms (such as allowing the word teru'ah under shofarot, or the root p-k-d under zichronot), but R. Yehuda won't stand for that.

Malchuyot/zichronot/shofarot that talk about God applying God's sovereignty/remembrance/shofar for destruction aren't allowed, unless it's the destruction of people we don't like.

Psalm 24
:7-10 counts as 5 malchuyot, since it says melech 5 times (or maybe only 3, if interrogative ones don't count), and it is treated as just one these days, so once again we're going way beyond the requirements.

There are supposed to be 3 verses from the Torah, 3 from Ketuvim (Writings), 3 from Nevi'im (Prophets), and one concluding verse from the Torah. But that's a real problem for malchuyot, because there are only 3 places in the whole Torah that say m-l-ch in reference to God! (It doesn't say this anywhere, but we realized that there is an implicit assumption that m-l-ch and z-ch-r only count if they refer to God. Then we amused ourselves coming up with counterfactual malchuyot and zichronot if this rule were not in place: "hamoleich meHodu v'ad Kush", "et zachar lo tishkav", etc.) So what's the fourth? Sh'ma Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad! Oneness! Monarchy! R. Yehuda rejects this, but in this case he gets shut down. Alternatives (also rejected by R. Yehuda) include Deuteronomy 4:35 and 4:39. Ein od! There is no other! There is nothing else!

Update: Who knows nine? I know nine! Nine decrees of R. Yochanan ben Zakkai! Nine blessings in the musaf of Rosh Hashanah! This can't be mere coincidence.

Also, when we discuss the 10 utterances with which God created the world, we have an objection that there are only 9 utterances explicitly mentioned in Genesis 1, and the response is that the tenth (actually the first) is Genesis 1:1 (B'reishit bara Elohim et hashamayim v'et ha'aretz). So maybe it's important for RYbZ to have only 9 decrees (otherwise, R. Papa, R. Nachman bar Yitzchak, and R. Hertz could all be correct), to show that he is not God. RYbZ can create through speech (like God), but he can't create ex nihilo.

No comments:

Post a Comment