Conjuring Yalta (Daf Yomi Pesachim 88)

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“I choose not to be supported by you.”

Today’s Daf Yomi continues the discussion from the previous day on the migration of the Jewish people out of Israel. We are reacquainted with Ulla. We first encountered Ulla when he insulted Yalta, by suggesting that as a woman she had no seat at the table of sages when her husband asked that a glass of wine be passed to her.  (see Yalta was so angry at Ulla’s dismissal of her that she smashed 400 bottles of wine, but not before she told Ulla off with these acerbic words: From itinerant peddlers, Ulla traveled regularly from Eretz Yisrael to Babylonia and back, come meaningless words, and from rags come lice.”

Ulla was a frequent traveler between Israel and Babylonia and carried dust on his shoulders as he traveled from town to town. We learn today that he really liked dates. Ulla seemed to favor the lifestyle and lower cost of living in Babylonia, and he was impressed with how plentiful and cheap his beloved dates were. A basket of dates — or maybe three if you bargained carefully — could be purchased for a single zuz.

The fact that dates were so cheap left Ulla to proclaim that life was better in Babylonia because one would not have to work so hard to earn a living and would have more time to study the Torah. But Ulla had a rude awakening. He ate so many sweet, delicious, dates that he became ill. All of a sudden, those wonderful cheap dates seemed like a basket of lethal poison to him as he suffered from indigestion. He changed his viewpoint on living life on the cheap and inquired how the residents of Babylonia could find time to study at all if they were often sick from overindulgence. The lessons are that one’s perspective can change depending on the circumstances, and of course the obvious — everything in moderation.

And speaking of strong, strident Yalta, and because we are still in Tractate Pesachim, I have been wondering what Passover might have been like in her home with her husband Rabbi Nahman. I doubt they invited Ulla back after the wine incident. I think if she lived at the time of the temple she would have been right up there behind the men at the gates of the courtyard waiting to sacrifice her lamb. And if anyone told her that it was not a women’s place, instead of breaking 400 bottles of wine, she would have tipped over 400 silver and gold bowls of sacrificial blood.

Today we learn that although a woman probably would not be allowed at the gates of the courtyard, she was within her rights to slaughter her own lamb and to declare her independence from her husband in so doing so. We are told that she can reject her husband’s designation of a lamb on her behalf with these words: I choose not to be supported by you and will therefore not grant you the proceeds of my labor.” And through these words, she retains the ability to slaughter her own lamb. And to be her own person. And to manage her own funds.

There are very few women mentioned by name in the Talmud and often they are simply known as someone’s wife. I have made a point of calling out these women by name when we encounter them. I fell in love with the Talmud when I first read about Yalta and her 400 bottles of wine. Not only was she a woman with a voice, but she demanded her place at the table. And what was wonderful about the story was how supportive her august Rabbi Nahman was of her.

Yalta was a woman who demanded her place at the table, had strong opinions, and certainly would have been up to the task roasting her own lamb and storming the gates of the courtyard if she needed to. In the story of Yalta, we all have a voice in the Talmud.

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
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