Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Shabbos: The Care and Feeding of Gentiles

They stuck a sword in the house of study and they said: whoever wants to enter may enter but whoever wants to leave may not leave. And on that day Hillel was submissive and he sat before Shammai like one of his disciples. And that day was as grievous to Israel as the day on which the golden calf was made. And Shammai and Hillel passed a decree on the matter but the populace did not accept it from them.
Is all the attention to the few triumphs of Shammai a warning to all future Rabbis to be mindful that stringent rulings will discourage the people from maintaining a connection to Jewish practice?

The chapter ends with some apparant leniencies. When I began reading this tractate, I despaired that one would be permitted to feed the poor on the Sabbath, but here (19a1) it is taught that "we may place food before a gentile in the courtyard on the Sabbath [and] if he takes it and goes out of the yard, we need not involve ourselves with it." So, while we may not bring the food out to him, it is incumbent upon us to invite him in! (Even the gentile!)

In like manner, some restrictions are waived (20a) when groups are presumed to be conscientious. One such group are Pesach celebrants putting meat up to roast just before Shabbos. (Perhaps this presumption should be revisited in light of the tragic fire that occurred this year!)

Chapter 2 is ostensibly about the wicks and fuels that may be used for Shabbos lamps, but launches into a lengthy digression on the makeup and use of Hanukah candles. As I mentioned in the previous post, this shift from Rabbinic enactments related to a Biblically mandated holiday to a discourse on a holiday that is purely Rabbinic is itself worth noting. The ultimate conclusion is that the goal of the observance is to publicize what is being commemorated. Was Hanukah a celebration of a victory over the assimilationists from its very birth? How unlike the Rabbis to encourage a fuss in the public squares of our exile!

2 Comments:

Anonymous Reed Chopper said...

Why do they compare the day Shammai's eighteen measures were adopted to the day the Golden Calf was made? One possibility is that they're making an analogy between Hillel and Aaron, both of whom were on the right side, but acted submissively.

The late Lubavicher Rebbe has an interesting bit of Chassidus on the difference between the Hillel and Shammai schools. As you may know, most chassidim believe that the world is an illusion, and that nothing exists except God. This explains many chassidic practices. For example, the purpose of bittul ha-yesh (annihilation of the self -- literally, of what is) is to see through the illusion that you (or anything else) are separate from God. The end of the first paragraph of the Alaynu, "Ayn 'od" is usually translated as "There is no other," but for chassidim it means "There is nothing else." For most chassidim, the tzimtzum is only apparent, not real.

The late Rebbe proposes that both Hillel and Shammai schools understood this fact. Shammai's approach, through stringency, is a kind of negation of materiality, teaching you through limitation, rejection and prohibition that no material thing exists. Hillel teaches the same thing, but from the other perspective. By permitting and embracing as much as possible of the material world, he is teaching that these things are really part of God.

Makes me proud to be a Litvak.

3:38 PM  
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