Penny Cagan

Daf sisters of the world unite (Daf Yomi Pesachim 48)

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“One kneads, one arranges, one bakes.”

Daf sisters of the world unite. Today’s portion is for you (and our open-minded brothers). We are still in the land of dough, with a discussion of how three women can work together to create unleavened batches in perfect unity. It is a passage that provides insight into how women who find a common rhythm can support each other through difficult tasks. And there is nothing more challenging than getting up each day and reading another portion of the Talmud. It is through the worldwide community of learning and support that we all manage to get through it.

We are presented today with three woman who work together to produce unleavened loafs for Passover. We already know from previous readings how hard the task is through the necessity to haul cisterns of water back and forth from the garden and to knead through the day with hands chapped from constant dipping into cool water to prevent leavening. Let’s call our three women Daisy, Rose and Lily (because I like flower names). They get together to complete the tedious task of making unleavened bread before the onset of Passover.

These women are expert operations managers when it comes to baking and they work out the best process for making matza because they are under time constraints and have limited space in their shared oven. If they knead the dough and spread it across a pan, and with an oven that can only accommodate one batch at a time, the two batches in waiting may start to leaven. They have a plan that is based on workstations, not unlike speed dating when you move from table to table. There is station for kneading, one for spreading the dough on the pan, and the final station, the oven. They move from station to station as they finish each task. And while they work, they drink a lot of coffee and listen to each other’s problems.

Rabbi Akiva reminds us that “not all women, not all wood, and not all ovens are the same and therefore no set rules should be established.” Women work at different paces and levels of concentration, some pans are harder to work with, and ovens can vary in how they bake dough. The Rabbi establishes a simple solution: “if the dough begins to rise, she should spread cold water in which she immersed her hands, onto the dough, in order to stop the leavening process.” The voice of the Gemara, however, reminds us that as long as Daisy, Rose and Lily are engaged in handling the dough, there is no danger of leavening.

We are told that if the women do not work diligently or carefully enough, the dough can become marked with cracks “that look like the antennae of locusts.” This is certainly a sign of leavening. And if the surface of the dough becomes pale “like the face of a person whose hair stands on end due to fear” we have an instance of leavening that the sages called “siur.” If someone eats dough that is cracked or pale in appearance, then they are liable to receive karet, or a type of spiritual death. But Daisy, Rose and Lily are extremely competent and there are no visions of locusts or pale faces in their final product.

I am constantly flamed in my daily Daf Yomi posts for my interpretation of the text. I am not a Rabbi or a learned Talmudic scholar. I am a secular woman who is winding my way through the Talmud each day in order to understand my heritage and Jewish center. My way of doing this is to dig into the text in order to find just one thing each day that relates to my current life. I have never professed to do more than that or to offer anything close to a Rabbinic interpretation.

I feel that I am not misguided in this approach. I reread Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz’s introduction to the Koren Talmud Bavliand was reminded that this journey is about finding relevancy in the text to one’s life. Rabbi Steinsaltz wrote in the introduction: “Whatever is written herein refers only to me, is written for me and obligates me, first and foremost, the content is addressed to me.” 

This journey is only possible with the support of my fellow Daf Yomers and their personal commentaries on each day’s text. I am grateful to have found my Daf Yomi community as a shelter from all the pain and anguish in the world right now. We are all kneading, arranging and baking together each day.

Today’s Daf Yomi is a reminder of what we can achieve together outside the traditional Jewish learning centers and through each and every one of us making the Talmud our own.

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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