Shabbat 13: Fasting or Feasting

When it was still forbidden to write down the Oral Law, one of the very few written texts was that of Megillat Taanit, the scroll of fast days. This Megillah lists 35 days on which it was forbidden to fast, as they were days commemorating joyous events in Jewish history. Of the 35 days listed, only two remain applicable today, that of Purim and Chanukah. The others lost all meaning with the destruction of the Temple. 

Shabbat 10: A Special Gift

“Rava bar Machsseya said in the name of Rav Chama bar Gurya in the name of Rav: One who gives a gift to another must inform him” (Shabbat 10b). 

As the Tosafists (Shabbat 10b, s.v. hanoten) note, this law applies only if the gift is given as a demonstration of friendship and love. To anonymously give such a gift would be counterproductive, preventing greater closeness between people. However, a gift that is liable to cause embarrassment, such as charity funds, should be given anonymously.  

Shabbat 4: Praying Alone

One of the hardest mitzvot to properly fulfil is that of rebuke, “hocheiach tocheech et amitecha” (Vayikra 19:17). We are commanded, when necessary, to “prove” to our fellow Jews that what they are about to do is wrong and thus, they must desist. We must do so in a manner that does not cause embarrassment—hence, the continuation of the verse, “You shall not bear a sin because of him”, to which Rashi comments, “Do not whiten his face in public”.

Shabbat 2: From Place to Place

“The carrying out on Shabbat are two that are four [for one] inside [a home] and two that are four [for one] outside [the home]” (Shabbat 2a). The Mishna discusses who violates Shabbat, and under what circumstances, when an object is passed from a private, “inside”, to a public, “outside”, domain. It is with these laws of carrying that we begin masechet Shabbat, the opening tractate of Seder Moed, detailing the laws relating to the special occasions, moadot, of the year. 

Shabbat 147b: Sin City

"Rav Helbo said: The wine of Perugitha and the water of Diomsith cut off the Ten Tribes from Israel" (Shabbat 147b). As Rashi explains, Perugitha was the name of a country that produced great wine, and while he does not explicitly say so, Diomsith had wonderful bathhouses. Rashi goes on to explain that the ten tribes spent their time seeking pleasure, thereby neglecting Torah. This caused them, to use a modern term, "go off the derech", both figuratively and literally.

Shabbat 145: Home and Away

When one studies Talmud, it is easy to forget that Sages quoted on the same page may actually have lived hundreds of years and hundreds of miles apart. A question posed by a third-century scholar in Israel might be answered by a fifth-century scholar in Babylonia. As is to be expected, these two great centers of Torah study developed in slightly different ways; there was even healthy competition between the two.

Shabbat 139: Guilty as Charged!

While we are unable to discern G-d's ways--and it behooves us to not even try--Talmudic rabbis were not so reticent in ascribing reasons for misfortune. Whether the Rabbis meant it literally, or gave cause to calamity as a means to deliver a message to their generation is not really relevant. What we can gain is insight into their view of the world. There is nothing new under the sun, and the messages of 2,000 years ago are no less--and are probably much more--applicable today.


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