Beware of snakes (Daf Yomi Shabbos 110)

“One that digs a pit will fall into it, and one who breaches a fence will be bitten by a snake”

Today’s Daf Yomi is all about snakes and if there was ever a time to look up at the heavens and ask the Rabbis if they are kidding in the strongest of New York accents, this is surely the time. Oh Rabbis, are you kiddin’ me? We are told that snakes bite us as punishments for transgressions and we die. We are offered a myriad of cures for snakes that crawl into us or snakes that stalk us, which include tying cats to the posts of a bed and placing the bed on four barrels. There is also a discussion thrown into today’s Daf Yomi about castration, female emissions and a litany of odd remedies. But mostly it is about snakes.

We are provided with a treatise on the dangers of snakes and anyone who has Ophidiophobia, the fear of snakes, should best stay away from today’s reading. We are told that if a snake ensnares someone with its twisted body, one should descend into a body of water with a basket on his head and stand very still until the snake crawls up into the basket. He should then throw the basket into the water and run for his life to dry land. If he can’t shake off the snake and is followed, he should jump over a ditch or cross a roaring river.

If one is pursued on dry land by a snake, he is advised to place his bed on four barrels and sleep outside under the stars. He is told to locate four cats and tie each to one of the barrels overnight so that they can lure the snake out of hiding and eat it. This seems terribly cruel and may put the cats in danger if they cannot escape from a venomous snake. If I find out that anyone is trying this at home, I promise to report them to the Humane Society. They should be tied to a post as a punishment for animal cruelty with a snake slithering before them and no way to escape.

And remedy of remedies, what should a woman do if she is being harassed by a snake? We are told that she should have relations with her husband in order to make it clear to the threatening snake that she is perhaps “protected”. What is the sub-text suggesting here? It’s almost too horrible to imagine. We are told that this woman should throw her cloak and hair and cut fingernails at the intruding snake and scare him away by saying “I am a menstruating woman.” She should add “I am a proud menstruating woman and you are a creepy little snake.”

If the snake is bold enough to enter the woman (and it’s too horrible to think of how this would occur), she is subjected to being tied to two barrels with her legs spread wide and fatty meat thrown onto hot coals with fragrant wine besides her in order to lure the snake out. When the snake emerges, she is to throw him onto the hot coals with a pair of tongs and be rid of the trespasser forever.

If a woman has not suffered enough from being subjected to a lecherous snake, we are told that if she is unlucky enough to be found to be a Zava who emits omissions, she is put through a series of unpleasant cures, which for some reason her cousin the Zav is never subjected to. She is given foul tasting mixtures of ingredients to drink or eat, she is spread with unpleasant concoctions, she is placed in various pits, she is frightened from behind, she is smeared with flour, and after each cure, she is told to “stop emitting your discharge.”  Meanwhile, her cousin the Zav is free to wander the world emitting as he sees fit.

There is a Pentecostal tradition of worshipping snakes in order to test one’s faith. The practice is outlawed everywhere except in the Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia. Articles on the topic describe congregants who are covered in wounds and have withered fingers from snake bites. There have been more than 100 recorded deaths from the holy creatures. These churches believe that the snakes are a sign of belief and faith and despite the evidence, they feel protected from their bites, until of course, when they are not. And if a snake bites, they should run for the hills because there is a dangerous disbeliever among them.

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