A nice slide of bread with marmalade (Daf Yomi Eruvin 81)

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“Take you for yourself wheat, and barley, and beans, and lentils, and millet, and spelt, and put them in one vessel, and make them for yourself into bread.” 

Today’s Daf Yomi portion took me back to the happy days of Tractate Berakhot when we first read of the importance of bread. We learned that bread was everything! It was a meal in and of itself and one passage said it was a dessert, which brought to mind how wonderful it is to get lost in the depth of a creamy bread pudding. We have been reading for weeks of how bread is an important source for establishing an eruv, although a barrel of wine can also qualify.

Today’s reading considers the foods that are appropriate for establishing an eruv. We are also provided with a lesson in how to keep the peace among neighbors. The voice of the Gemara reminds us that we were told earlier in this Tractate that alleyways can be merged through an eruv that is created from all kinds of food, except for water and salt. Rabbi Yehoshua, however, is especially partial to a loaf of bread, which he believes is the only legitimate food used for this purpose.

Rabba bar bar Hanna steps in to defend the contradiction apparent in Rabbi Yehoshua’s opinion by stating that what he was really excluding from the realm of possible foods to create an eruv is a broken loaf of bread (which is presumably one that has been nibbled on surreptitiously by a hungry person.) There is some difference of opinion on broken loaves, which may have been so in order to contribute a tithe to the priests.

We are provided with a lesson on how to keep the peace among neighbors, although the message about being lenient when it comes to eruvs from the previous day’s portion appears to be forgotten. We are told that only a whole loaf of bread can be used to create an eruv in order to avoid a situation that would pit neighbor against neighbor and lead one to accuse the other of not contributing their fair share. For this reason, we are told that the Sages mandated that each person must contribute a whole loaf. But why would neighbors not be lenient with those who may not be able to contribute a whole loaf?

We are told that the loaf itself does not necessarily need to be made from wheat flour. For those who have an intolerance to gluten, loaves baked from rice or millet are acceptable. And there are good options by a company called Ezekiel 4.9 which has the quote from today’s portion imprinted on its packaging: Take you for yourself wheat, and barley, and beans, and lentils, and millet, and spelt, and put them in one vessel, and make them for yourself into bread.” Lentil bread is excluded because Shmuel’s dog rejected it and as a result we are told, “clearly, lentil bread is not fit for human (or dog) consumption.”

The focus on bread reminded me of my departed father who took his bread very seriously and would never have stood for loaves made from lentils or barley.  He especially loved a good crispy semolina. He would intently analyze loaves on the shelves of downtown New York bakeries like a serious art critic would examine a painting. He would deconstruct the ingredients in order to understand its underlying meaning. And he found a lot of meaning that most of us missed in bread. He would return home with a treasure bag of semolina, rye, sourdough and pumpernickel that he would carefully store in a breadbox until he could return again to New York. Eating plain white bread was a major transgression and he would make painful faces indicating extreme disappointment when I ate spongy slices of wonder bread as a kid.

I have a confession to make. I still prefer an unassuming loaf of white bread to the dark loaves that according to my father were our Eastern European heritage. A slice of white bread toasts up nicely and is the perfect breakfast when served with a thick spread of orange marmalade and a strong cup of coffee. At the same time, I can hear my father turning in his grave wondering where a daughter of his ended up with such tastes. He lived for the mystery embedded in a dark, complex loaf of bread. And all I want is a simple slice and sweet jam.


About the Author
Penny Cagan was born in New Jersey and has lived in New York City since 1980. She has published two books of poems called “City Poems “ and “And Today I am Happy." She is employed as a risk manager and continues to write poetry. More information on Penny can be found at https://brokentabletsfrompennycagan.me
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