Friday, June 17, 2005

Welcome to our Sho-ar

And now for this week, Rosh Hashanah 32b-33b. (Im tirtzeh hashem, we should finish next week! Stay tuned for the siyyum!)

Why do we blow shofar during musaf rather than shacharit? So we can do it when more people are there! Plus ca change, plus ca meme chose (ein kol chadash tachat hashemesh)! Then why do we do hallel during shacharit? Because people will make an effort to get there earlier for hallel. And they won't for shofar?! Ok, ok, shofar used to be during shacharit, but then the evil empire would hang out all morning making sure we didn't blow shofar, so we had to wait until after they left.

And why don't we say hallel on the High Holidays? The angels asked this question too. Well, could you party down while God is sitting on the throne of judgment with the book of life and death open in front of it? Didn't think so.

And then it's back to the laws of shofar. I must say that I don't completely understand how this masechet is structured -- we seem to keep looping around between witnessing the new moon, the shofar, and the liturgy of Rosh Hashanah, and we can't make a clean break from any of these three topics. And within each of the topics, we keep repeating the same sources. Part of the problem is that Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai seems to have his own gravitational field, and everything else is pulled into orbit around him.

Basically, shofar does not override the prohibitions of yom tov. Also, you can pour water or wine into the shofar to polish it, but please don't urinate into it.

Most of page 33a is filled with a particularly incontinent Tosafot. (One day I'll stop being intimidated by Tosafot, and then I won't feel the need to lash out. But I don't know when or how that will happen.) MR's copy has several underlined passages in it, so we know right away that it must have something to do with women's obligations in the mitzvot. Sure enough, it does! The question of whether women may blow shofar for a coed community is a hot question in a very rarefied section of the Jewish world (including the section that is lending me this complete Gemara set, so I shouldn't bite the hand that feeds me), while everyone else says either "of course" or "of course not". Looking at the underlined passages in the Tosafot without examining their context too carefully, it seems that there is support for both opinions, which is why it is such a hot question. (Some of us would say that the categories of "men" and "women" as understood by the Gemara or Tosafot no longer exist.)

The Mishnah says that children, even though they're not obligated in shofar, are allowed to blow shofar for educational purposes, but shofar blasts for the purpose of teaching. Mercifully, the tannaim vote 2-1 that women are allowed to blow shofar (this doesn't address the question of whether their shofar blasts fulfill anyone's obligation, just whether they're allowed anywhere near a shofar), even though the education rationale doesn't apply, because boys are future men (who will one day be obligated) and women aren't. Someone can come up with something Freudian here, but not I. Rabbi Yehuda, last week's "strict constructionist", holds the misogynistic dissenting opinion. In other news, President Bush has appointed Rabbi Yehuda to a federal appeals court. Senate Democrats have vowed to filibuster.

Anyway, there's no explicit discussion in the Gemara itself about whether women can fulfill men's obligation. And you can't just say "of course they can't, because the Talmud considers women's claim to the shofar to be even sketchier than young boys' claim, and we know that educational shofar blasts don't count", because the reason educational blasts don't count is that they aren't necessarily done with the intention of making the sound, and the key (looping back to 28a) is that the blower has the intention of making a teki'ah sound. Anyway, I'm glad that someone else is thinking about these things, because I don't want to. It is possible that communities that I am close to are considering these questions behind the scenes, but if they are, then I don't want to know about it. It's a sausage factory.

Moving toward the less contentious, but no less ambiguous, we get into the anatomy of the actual shofar blast. Everyone agrees that each of the three sets should be teki'ah teru'ah teki'ah. But how long is each of those, and what exactly is a teru'ah? Is the teru'ah supposed to be like what we now call teru'ah (lots of staccato notes), or like what we now call shevarim (a few longer notes), or like what we now call shevarim-teru'ah (a combination)? Heck if anyone knows. Thus, we cover all the bases each time, hoping that at least one of the permutations is correct.

1 comment:

  1. "Some of us would say that the categories of "men" and "women" as understood by the Gemara or Tosafot no longer exist."

    Or perhaps more precisely, the men and women in communities asking the question don't fall into the categories called "men" and "women" in the gemara or Tosafot. Even if you accept the linguistic argument distinguishing between the social class of "isha" in the medieval period and the gender "female," there certainly may be women in places like Mea Shearim who are clearly what is meant by "isha" in the gemara/Tosafot.