The Rabbis taught in a Baraisa: One who needs to relieve himself should not pray until he does so . . . Rav Zavid and some say it was Rav Yehudah, said: They did not teach that the prayer of one who needs to relieve himself is invalid except in regard to one who is unable to restrain himself. (23a)Several folios explore the various ways that the body undermines the soul. Sneezing, drooling, pissing, farting, shitting-- a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do. But it can distract one from more "elevated" concerns.
On 21b we meet the baal keri, one who has had a seminal emission, and we learn that Ezra forbids him to recite Torah. But let's face it: who among us can be confident that he is not a baal keri? I take a nap, I have a dream that I don't even remember, out pops my little am haaretz and makes a puddle that dries even before I awaken. It happens.
R'Yehudah permits a baal keri to study the laws of derech eretz (proper conduct), but no other parts of the Torah, Prophets, and writings, nor the Mishnah, Talmud, Halachach, or Aggadic teachings: "for the particular tumah he contracted was brought about through levity, inconsistent with the feeling of awe that Torah study demands."
Awe = good. Levity = bad. R'Zeira would not laugh on account of the prohibition cited in Berachos 31a that "it is forbidden to fill one's mouth with laughter in this world." ArtScroll cites Rashi's explanation that "R'Zeira was extra stringent in regard to this matter and would not smile at all."
With characteristic humorlessness, the ArtScroll footnote continues by assuring us (citing Ritva) that there is nothing wrong with smiling and that there are many recorded instances of Rabbis making humorous remarks, but "as a personal precaution . . . R'Zeira was careful not to laugh at all, so as not to come to forbidden laughter."
So, forewarned is forearmed: try not to laugh. Eschew smiling as needed. If you're a baal keri (and who isn't?), ponder the divide between the one who rules that "this and that are forbidden" and the one who rules that "this and that are permitted" (22a).
It was taught in a Baraisa: It once happened that someone propositioned a woman to commit an immoral act with her. She replied to him: "Boor! Do you have forty se'ah available to you in which you can immerse after your proposed tryst?" Upon hearing her words, he immediately discontinued his attempt to seduce her, and refrained from committing the sin.
Can you resist smiling in the presence of such tales? Do you wonder if this woman was a Torah scholar? Do you buy the idea that the man would find the reminder that he did not have the water needed to ritually purify himself a sufficient impediment to discontinue his attempt to seduce her? And last but not least, wherever would he put his tefillin while he was ravishing her?
Respect My Tefillin!
An incident occurred with one student who placed his tefillin in the holes that were towards the public domain, and a certain harlot came by and took them, and she came to the study hall and said: Look what so-and-so gave me as my payment. When this student heard this, he went up to the roof and fell off it and died. At that time they instituted the rule that one should hold the tefillin in his garment and in his hand and enter the latrine with them. (23a)
Ultimately, "whatever is done to protect them from loss is more worthwhile than preserving them from disrespect" (24a).
Sneezing and Farting
One who sneezes during his prayer, it is an evil omen for him. (24b)Of course, we sneeze all the time! I dare say we sneeze a hundred times for every seminal emission. Well, actually, the Gemara explains, this "refers to a 'sneeze' from below, i.e. to gas passed noisily from the rectum." Humorlessly, ArtScroll fn 14 on 24b explains,
The reason passing wind during Shemoneh Esri is an evil omen is because the sound that accompanies the wind alerts others to his act, and he is thereby humiliated. This humiliation before others is an evil omen, for it indicates that this individual is not well regarded in Heaven.Hey Reed Chopper! Is ArtScroll pulling my leg (or my finger)?
The Bottom Line
These folios lay down rules for parts of the body that will not be governed. I was curious to see what the most famous physician/rabbi had to say about this, so I consulted Maimonides.
The Jewish people accepted the custom of reading the Torah and reciting the Shema even after a seminal emission because the words of Torah cannot contract ritual impurity. . . . They stand in their state of purity forever, as Jeremiah 23:29 states: Just as fire is incapable of becoming ritually impure, so, too, the words of Torah are never defiled.So, the decree to forbid a man who has had a seminal emission from reading Torah is rejected because the people are unable to maintain it. Such a decree is never really accepted as law.
I specifically want to encourage comments on what decrees we can and cannot accept, and what we make of the notion that a decree that cannot be maintained cannot be the law and how that would play out.
One Last Thing
This section is clearly an early source for Jewish notions of body image that survive to this day, most obviously in traditionally observant communities. It is here (24a) that we find that one may not gaze on a woman "with intent to enjoy her" and that her hair and her voice are both equivalent to "her nakedness." And since men cannot be trusted to restrain their impulses, women are denied the right to be themselves.