Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Shabbos: Acting Destructively

"And all who act destructively are exempt." (106a).

On Shabbos, constructive activities that mirror the labors that went into the construction of the Temple are forbidden. One who does them deliberately has committed a capital offense; one who does them inadvertently would be obliged to offer a sacrifice in atonement for the transgression. However, destructive actions are exempt, at least in principle.

One very compelling example of a destructive act that is exempt from a penalty is the act of rending a garment as an expression of grief. Today's daf includes a dispute as to whether this exemption applies equally to those whose grief overwhelms them and to those who rend the garment to fulfill the mitzvah of mourning a close relative. (It is suggested that the latter is a destructive act with a constructive intent.)

Reading this daf on a day when many Jews are resisting the evacuation of Gaza, I am compelled to reflect on the passionate mourning of the dispossessed, both Arab and Jew, and how they each find ways to characterize their destructive acts as exempt from atonement offerings. The Talmud also recognizes this human tendency and retreats from its initial, apparantly global "all who act destructively . . ." to eventually add "except for one who wounds a person or burns something."

May I be allowed to apply the Talmud in these contemporary situations, or will I be left with the question Abaye raises on 102b: "Are you telling me to learn the tradition for no purpose, that it should be like a song?" Of course, songs have propelled people to rise up, too. If we hold to the tradition, we will find the purpose.


Anonymous Reed Chopper said...

Yes, a destructive act (like tearing up newspapers) can be done with constructive intent (like preparing to make paper mache). Hence, mindstate is central to shabbat law, for the selfsame act can be forbidden or permitted, depending on what you're thinking at the time.

Thus, uprooting the settlments in Gaza is forbidden on Shabbat on those grounds, since the ultimate pupose is constructive; however, it may be permissible on grounds that lives depend on it.

I'm surprised that you didn't groove on the amazing riff on the shapes of the Hebrew letters, their sequence in the alphabet (ever wonder how Z got to be last in ours?) etc. on 106a.

Different matter: I can't find the Abaye zinger on 102b.

5:05 PM  
Blogger NeilLitt said...

Oops. It was 106b, not 102b.

5:05 PM  
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