Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Chickenhawk feedlot

Masechet Megillah is caught up to the present time with this dispatch from 6a-7a.

The old prophecies are seen as referring to current events: Ekron (the Philistine city from Zephaniah 2:4 and Zechariah 9:7) is understood to be the "Edomite" city of Caesaria, which was a thorn in Israel's side until the Hasmoneans came and defeated it. Did Rabbi Abahu or Rabbi Yosi bar Chanina think that Ekron (mentioned in conjunction with other Philistine cities like Gaza) really was Caesaria? Unlikely. But they were bringing relevance to the biblical text, as part of the larger endeavor of identifying "Edom" with Rome.

The last part of Zechariah 9:7 ("Ekron shall be as the Jebusites", and Jebus = Jerusalem) is understood to mean that the theaters and circuses of "Edom" will be places where Torah is taught to the masses. Prescient?

Jerusalem and Caesaria (with mad metonymy going on there, of course) have a Harry Potter-Voldemort relationship: "Neither can live while the other survives."

The "plan" in Psalm 140:9 is taken to refer to the "Edomite" province of Germamia (or Germania), because if they were to go out, they would destroy the whole world. Prescient again!

Lots of anger at the power structure all around this daf. But Rabbi Yitzchak counsels moderation, urging people not to throw themselves up against a brick wall when the bad guys seem to have everything going for them. Psalm 37 is his pragmatist-quietist prooftext. We then get a rebuttal from the more bellicose wing of the Talmud, represented by, of all people, R. Shimon bar Yochai! (It's easy for him to preach about fighting back when he spent the war underground in a cave. Chickenhawk.) He sees Proverbs 28:4 as a prooftext for a righteous struggle. R. Dostai bar Matun launches ad hominem attacks on his political opponents who interpret Psalm 37:1 as a warning against fighting the bad guys: he suggests that their conscience must be troubling them about something (so that they're worried about losing the battle). Rather, he sees Psalm 37:1 as saying that you shouldn't be like the bad guys.

The Gemara steps in to resolve this dispute by saying "Those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones". Viz., if you're a complete tzaddik, then by all means go fight the bad guys and Godspeed; if not, then don't do anything stupid.

Ulla gives us a fanciful description of a Roman city that was 300 parsah by 300 parsah (that's 1200 km x 1200 km), and contained the world's first factory farm (the chicken market was 16 km x 16 km, and that was the smallest of the 365 markets) and all of its residents and natives (and the union of those sets) got to eat from the king's house, and it's a bustling industrial metropolis with 500 windows spewing smoke outside the wall. One side faces the sea, one side faces mountains and hills, one side is an iron barrier, and one side is rocks. And that's it; then we go straight to the Mishnah. MAK exclaimed "WHAT DID WE JUST READ???" To make sense of what this description was doing, we had to go to the only one of the "guys in the back" whom I'm not afraid of, Aggadot Maharsh"a. He says that the point is to describe the greatness of Rome. If that's how great it is for the bad guys now, how much greater it will be for the good guys in the future! Eh. Comforting, perhaps, but not a good way to set policy for the present. It is this false hope that causes working-class people in places like Kansas to support cutting taxes for billionaires, since one day they might end up in that position.

Finally, back to halacha. In the new Mishnah, we address the question of leap years, and get multiple opinions as to which Adar is the right Adar for each of the various mitzvot of Adar. Furthermore, for those things that should be done in Adar II, if they're done in Adar I and then the year is intercalated, do they have to be repeated in Adar II, or was the first time good enough? Opinions differ.

This is where we get the famous statement about linking the redemption of Purim to the redemption of Pesach (hence the current practice that Adar II is the "real" Adar). However, there is a minority opinion that Adar I is the real one, since why would you want to delay the mitzvot?

Where we left off: Esther asked the sages to canonize her in perpetuity. They responded "Are you crazy? Do you want to make the other nations angry?" She said "It's too late! I'm already in the chronicles of Persia and Media anyway!"

1 comment:

  1. Greetings to You - In my internet adventures today checking for Christian and Bible information, I came across your Blog and checked it out. You have an interesting Blog here. I have a website that you might find interesting that also contains information about the Kingdom of Edom.

    With Many Blessings,

    Dennis Day