Thursday, June 3, 2021

The Hallowed Secular Talmud

6/3/2021--Further Introduction 

The very first issue discussed in the Talmud is when the Evening Shema can be recited. In introduced the first few lines in yesterday’s blog posting.

The rabbis agreed that the evening Shema could be said only after the stars appeared—but that is not how the Mishna put the matter. There was a disagreement over how long a person have to say it.

Then the Mishna tells a story about Gamliel’s sons. They come how from some kind of event—a wedding?—and report to their father that they have not yet said the evening Shema and it is now after midnight. Can they still say the prayer?

Gamliel responds that the majority rule holding that midnight marks the end point to say the evening Shema really means anytime before dawn. He goes further to opine that this is always the case with a “midnight” rule. The reason the rabbis said midnight was “to keep a man far from transgression.” That is, so you would not fall asleep thinking you would say the prayer later and never say it.

So the sons are “duty bound” to say the prayer.

Think of all the issues this short episode raises. First, why hadn’t everybody already said the Shema at the wedding feast? We have here the question of how stylized the Talmud is. Are these stories true at all? Did the entire population practice the arcane rules of the Talmud?

And why are the sons only duty bound? Is there no penalty for a transgression like failing to say the evening Shema?

Notice also that the Mishna does not conclude this episode with any conclusion. There remain three interpretations. That suggests that something other than law clarification is going on in the Talmud.

Maybe all of Jewish law is an attempt to keep people far from transgression and all of it should be taken with a grain of salt.

Finally, notice that law here is relational. The Talmud does not say what the law is in general. Instead, the law arises out of the relationships of people, here Gamliel’s family.

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