Monday, November 14, 2005

Play it, Leo!!!

It's been a long time since I've blogged about Talmud. This doesn't mean that the study of Talmud has ceased (shelo tamush hatorah mipi umipi zar'i umipi zera' zar'i 'ad 'olam!); it just means that between work, holidays, and the independent Jewish revolution, there hasn't been time to blog about it. We last left off near the bottom of Megillah 9b; now I'll start blogging feverishly to catch us up all the way to 12b. This post (which belonged way back during Sukkot) takes us from the bottom of 9b to the middle of 10b.

We reach the tenth and final installment in a highly structured series of vignettes connected by form and not by content.

There is no [legal!] difference between Shiloh [in its heyday] and Jerusalem, except that in Shiloh, kodashim kalim [second-class kodashim, such as shelamim] and ma'aser sheini can be eaten anywhere in sight of the city (with fuzzy boundaries), and in Jerusalem, they must be eaten within the wall. In both cases, kodshei kodashim [first-class kodashim, such as chata'ot] must be eaten within the Temple complex. Also, the holiness of Shiloh (forbidding sacrifices at private bamot during the Shiloh epoch) is ephemeral; after the end of that epoch, bamot are permitted once again. (Yes, this is all in the present tense.) The holiness of Jerusalem is eternal; after the destruction of the Temple, bamot are never permitted again.

This was a bold move on the part of the rabbis, who could have allowed Judaism to revert to its pre-Temple form, but instead kept it moving forward. By keeping Jerusalem's holiness locked in the closet, they were able to move beyond the sacrificial system de facto without abrogating the sacrificial system de jure.

So ends the Mishnah for Megillah chapter 1.

Now the Gemara. I really wasn't expecting that last point (that Jerusalem's status sticks around permanently) to be debatable, but the Talmud is always full of surprises! Rabbi Yitzchak heard that there were sacrifices going on in the house of Chonyo (in Alexandria) in the present time, suggesting that Jerusalem's holiness was only while the Temple stood and was not in perpetuity. This is derived from a hekeish: "Ki lo vatem ad 'atah el hamenuchah v'el hanachalah" - "For you have not yet come to the rest and to the inheritance" (Deuteronomy 12:9). As we know from Mishnah Zevachim, the menuchah is Shiloh and the nachalah is Jerusalem. Menuchah is juxtaposed to nachalah, so just as Shiloh's status doesn't last forever, neither does Jerusalem's.

Of course, this flies in the face of both our mishnah and the one in Zevachim. But the Gemara sets this up as a machloket tannaim by tying it to a mishnah from Eduyot dealing with the construction of the Second Temple. Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehuda say things that don't seem to be responding directly to each other, and R. Yehuda says the party line that Jerusalem's first holiness was in perpetuity. This is construed to mean that R. Eliezer doesn't think that Jerusalem's holiness was in perpetuity. Rabbi Eliezer, the first post-Zionist.

A baraita brings another machloket tannaim that is overlayed on our question. Mishnah Arachin 9:6 lists nine cities that were walled at the time of Joshua. (Brilliant! The structured part of the Gemara for this perek is about to end, so it is masterfully linked back to the content at the beginning of the perek.) Why are only these nine listed, when we know from Deuteronomy 3:4-5 that there were sixty? Opinion 1: when Israel returned from exile, they found these cities and sanctified them, but the cities had lost their initial sanctity when the land was abandoned. Opinion 2: Yes, these are the cities that the returnees found, but it's not an exclusive list; if you know of any other cities that were walled at the time of Joshua, those count too, since they never lost their sanctity.

It seems to me that Opinion 1 can be harnessed to argue that parts of the historical land of Israel (like Hebron) have lost their holiness.

And that's just about it.


When Julia Andelman taught her new tune for "Ya'aleh tachanuneinu me'erev" ("May our supplications ascend from evening") for Yom Kippur at the dar, she introduced it by saying that this piyyut was important because it marked the point where the formal structure of the evening service is completed and gives way to pure emotion. This explosive primal moment, like a dam bursting open, can be observed in many contexts. It's the moment in "Carlebach-style" davening when the words of the psalm come to an end and the kahal doubles in volume as it continues without words (especially in the Carlebach Psalm 96, or in the Avniel "Yah Ribon" tune that Kol Zimrah often uses for Psalm 99). It's the ascending "better better better better better better AAAAAAAAA!" moment in "Hey Jude" that divides the song into the structured verse-chorus-bridge part and the longer "na na na" part. It's the moment in many Phish songs when the band completes the part that is played the same way every time and begins the real-time composition, particularly "Theme from the Bottom", "Reba", "Mike's Song", and anything in the Leo Trio (in contrast to the songs that build gradually to a rolling boil, like "Piper", "Harry Hood", and "Run Like an Antelope").

And we see this explosive moment on Megillah 10b, dividing the chapter into two. The Gemara for this perek has completed its formal role (explication of the Mishnah, no matter how loosely understood) and begins an extended jam: midrash aggadah on Esther, which looks like it is going to continue for more than 6 full dapim.


And so the megillah begins.

This midrashic work begins the same way as Pirkei Avot, with the rabbis receiving oral tradition from the Great Assembly (and beyond).

Rabbi Levi, or perhaps Rabbi Yonatan, has a received tradition from the Great Assembly: Any time the text says "Vayhi", this is a sign of trouble. (Skipping ahead, this is explained on the next daf: Vay vehi, which seems to be a variation of oy vey.)

For example, "Vayhi bimei Achashverosh" foreshadows Haman. "Vayhi bimei shefot hashofetim" (Ruth 1:1) foreshadows the famine. Genesis 6:1 leads into the flood. Genesis 11:1 leads to the Tower of Babel. "Vayhi bimei Amrafel" (Genesis 14:1) leads to war. Joshua 5:13 leads to Joshua being rebuked for neglecting Torah study, as we already know well. Joshua 6:27 leads to war crimes. I Samuel 1:1 foreshadows Hannah's infertility. I Samuel 8:1 foreshadows Samuel's kids going bad. I Samuel 18:14 leads to Macbeth, I mean Saul, going after David. II Samuel 7:1 leads to David not getting to build the Temple.

Okay, that was fun, but now it's time to inject some sense into this. What about the dedication of the mishkan (Leviticus 9:1)? Oh right, Nadav and Avihu died. But what about the construction of the Temple (I Kings 6:1) or the first meeting of Jacob and Rachel (Genesis 29:10), or every frickin day of creation, or EVERY OTHER TIME THE TANAKH SAYS "VAYHI" WHEN IT'S NOT ABOUT SOMETHING TRAGIC?

Okay, stop shouting. So vayhi is sometimes good and sometimes bad. BUT "Vayhi bimei" ("It happened in the days of") is always bad. There are a total of five in Tanakh: the three already mentioned (Achashverosh, shefot hashofetim, Amrafel), "Vayhi bimei Achaz" (Isaiah 7:1, introducing war between Israel and Judah), and "Vayhi bimei Yehoyakim" (Jeremiah 1:3, and even the English language knows how happy he is).

While we're on the subject, Rabbi Levi has another received tradition from the Great Assembly: Amotz (father of Isaiah), and Amatziah (king of Judah, one of the good ones) were brothers. This goes to show you that if you're modest like Tamar (who covered her face), then you'll be the ancestor of prophets and kings (Tamar was the mother of Peretz, ancestor of the Davidic line, and based on this tradition, also ancestor of Isaiah).

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