The assimilation and subsequent loss of Jews has been a problem since the beginning of Jewish history. Many of us were taught--in kindergarten, no less--how Abraham and Sarah converted many to Judaism. This is the midrashic explanation of the verse we will read next week, “and the nefesh, souls they made in Charan” (the simple explanation is that nefesh refers to the wealth they had acquired). Yet these anonymous people or their children must have assimilated, as we never hear from them again.
The kohen gadol had a hard day of work on Yom Kippur. The avodah, the special Yom Kippur Temple service, was intricate and difficult, and had to be performed after the kohen gadol was forced to stay up all night. He was kept up to avoid the possibility of a seminal emission, which would disqualify him from working on Yom Kippur. The Gemara relates how the mikarei Yerushalayim, the important people of Jerusalem, would also stay up making noise through the night, to make it difficult for the high priest to doze off (Yoma 19b).
“And he shall atone for himself and for his household” (Vayikra 16:6). The Rabbis derive from this verse that the kohen gadol, in order to effect atonement, must be married. What if the kohen gadol should suddenly become single? What would happen if his wife were to die suddenly, just prior to Yom Kippur? The Sages argue that we need not worry about such.
“And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house” (Devarim 6:9). The mitzvah of mezuzah is a most beloved and popular one—and many a Jew far from traditional practice proudly identifies his home as a Jewish one.
The Talmud is the written record of the Oral Law. With the destruction of the Temple and subsequent exile of the Jewish people, it was no longer feasible to rely on oral transmission of our tradition. In recording teachings spanning some 600 years, both the Mishnah (circa 220 CE) and the Gemara (circa 500 CE) meticulously recorded not only what was said, but who said it, and in whose name it was said.
The halachic legal system is much more than a set of abstract principles or technical details. It incorporates factors such as human psychology (something that is so impactful during the mourning process), human error, and probability analysis.
These extra-legal aspects of the law can be seen in three Talmudic debates, which appear back-to-back-to-back, that discuss the prohibition of chametz.
"Two verses that contradict each other, until a third verse is found and reconciles between them". This 13th and last of the interpretive principles of Rabbi Yishmael highlights the many contradictions inherent in the Torah. Torah mirrors life, and recognizing the complexity of both is so important that our rabbis placed this message into the daily siddur.
While the basis of Jewish law (and much more) is to be found in the Talmud, the Talmud, in and of itself, is not a very good text for determining Jewish law. The legal analysis, the range of views, the tendency to move from one topic to another, and the fact that any given topic may be discussed in a variety of places makes reaching a conclusion on any particular issue a difficult task.