Monday, February 19, 2007

A long-expected party

La nitneshei minach, Masechet Megillah!

Following a successful Rosh Chodesh apartment minyan, the long-expected siyyum on Masechet Megillah took place today. Thanks to everyone who came, including a number of special guests from DC, the Boston area, and Jerusalem!

[UPDATE: Great timing! It has been pointed out to me that the Daf Yomi is currently in Masechet Megillah.]

I introduced the masechet with the first mishnah. The first half of chapter 1 is about the laws and customs of Purim and the reading of the megillah, but there's a problem -- Purim doesn't appear anywhere in the Torah. But it appears in Tanach, viz. the book of Esther, so this perek transforms Esther (viz. chapter 9) into a legal work, and lets loose the full arsenal of midrash halacha methodology, so that this chapter becomes a halachic exegesis on Esther chapter 9. As a simple example, I cited the interpretations of "mishloach manot ish lerei'eihu" and "matanot la'evyonim" from 7a, but really more so that I could tell the story of Rabbah and Marei bar Mar's mishloach manot and Abaye's sarcastic comments, and then pass out food representing their 1500-year-old mishloach manot: dates, peppers, and Ginger-O's (representing the ginger and the flour). The second half of Megillah chapter 1 is the complement to the first half: it's an aggadic exegesis on Esther chapters 1-8 and 10 (the narrative part - i.e. most of it). For this part, we watched a video recorded by my erstwhile chavruta MAK (who participated remotely in the siyyum), in which he used various midrashim in this perek to draw parallels between the story of Esther and the story of the Tower of Babel. (Perhaps he can elaborate more on this.)

The rest of Masechet Megillah (chapters 2, 3, and 4) transition gradually from the reading/writing of the megillah to the reading/writing of a sefer Torah, and then public worship in general, including the physical space in which it occurs. When we get into the topic of prayer, there is overlap in topics and actual content between Megillah and Berachot. The difference is that Berachot is focused on the individual (e.g. what prayers are said and when) and Megillah is focused on the community (and Torah reading can only take place in a community), but there is overlap for things like communal prayer.

Since we had just done a Rosh Chodesh Torah service, we looked at the sugya on 21b-22a about why the Rosh Chodesh Torah reading is done in such a peculiar way (repeating at least one verse). The answer is that when you apply all the rules about how to split up aliyot, it is mathematically impossible to do this reading all the way through without repetition.

Then we skipped to the end, to the very last mishnah and baraita. On each holiday, we read a Torah portion relevant to the holiday, and study the halachot of that holiday. The Mishnah links this to Leviticus 23:44. Rashi explains: Didn't Moshe say all of the commandments to the Israel? It needed to be said for this one, because he established that they would learn about each holiday on that holiday, and "kiyemu vekibelu" (they established and accepted) the reward of all the mitzvot for themselves and their descendants. By linking the end of the masechet (about Torah reading) to Esther and Purim, Rashi concludes the masechet by tying it all together.

Amen amen amen selah va'ed!


Mishnah completed:

Tractates of Gemara completed:
Rosh Hashanah
(Time to get out of Mo'ed!)

Tractates of Gemara on the way:
Makkot (ALG and I are on 19b, only 5 dapim from the end, and we'll keep you updated)

Tractates of Gemara partially completed:
Berachot chapters 1, 2, 4, 7, 8
Sanhedrin chapter 8

At this rate I'm not going to finish in this lifetime, but maybe that's ok.


So what's next?

Every year at the NHC Summer Institute, there is a siyyum on Shabbat afternoon celebrating the completion of a letter (last year it was "Siyyum on the Letter S"). During the year, there is a group of people learning a daf a day from the Encyclopaedia Judaica, and they present the highlights (amid much hilarity and herring) at the Institute. They've been doing this for several decades now, and they're going out of order (right before S, they did G), and they're almost done! I hear that there are only two letters left! This means that the grand siyyum on the entire EJ will take place at the 2008 Institute. What's after that?

Some of us have been conspiring about next steps. After the EJ is done, it would be great to have a study project that the whole community can take part in, wherever they are. The EJ is entertaining when distilled down to the most amusing highlights, but I tried it one year and didn't last very long -- page for page, it was deadly. In the next round, we want to expand to a larger pool of participants.

One suggestion that has been made is Sefer Ha-Aggadah. It's encyclopedic in form like the EJ, but probably more interesting and useful, as a collection of the greatest hits of rabbinic literature, and it is accessible to a wide range of people, available in both Hebrew and English translation. We're (and the "we" here is no one official, just a guerrilla operation) talking about starting this in 2008 and completing it in two years, to make a siyyum at the 2010 Institute. This would involve lots of people studying on their own (and/or with in-person chavrevata and communities) and discussing it online. Just in case it is decided that this online discussion should be in blog form, I have reserved Sefer Ha-Bloggadah. If people are interested, then we'll start recruiting bloggers in the time to come.

Next step: the Mishnah. We could do a seder a year, making a siyyum at each Institute and finishing in 2016. The online discussion could be very fruitful, looking at the Mishnah creatively and applying it in the present time, using the blog format (or whatever format has supplanted it in the next decade) to produce a body of Torah surrounding it.

Who's in?

1 comment:

  1. Don't know if you're aware, but there's a NEW Encyclopaedia Judaica! It just came out in December,, and there's lots of new information presented there.