“The Gemara begins with a logical analysis. And it may be inferred logically that this is so.”
I needed a very tall and deep cup of coffee to get through today’s reading. I entered this 7 ½ year cycle with a promise to myself that I would take it one day at a time and if it ever became too much, I would abandon the exercise without feeling like I had not finished something. Whatever I got out of it, I got out of it. If there was ever a day when I was tempted to re-evaluate my commitment to the daily readings, it was today.
Today we are provided with a lesson in the Talmud’s version of verbal analogy, which is deriving conclusions by extending pairs of words. The pairing of words in today’s Daf Yomi is for the purpose of determining ritual purity and we are taken through a circuitous route of Talmudic logic.
We start with the examination of a sack which can be added to the category of garments and because it is woven it can be deemed ritually impure. We are also presented with the concept of a garment that is not comprised of woven fabric, but instead goat hair. We are told that by extension such an uncomfortable garment could be considered impure.
The analogy extends to the impurity of an unaltered sack and then onto reins and saddle bands fastened under a horse’s belly, which are compared with a sack and as a result also ritually impure: “The verse states: “Or sack”; “or” teaches that the verse is referring to items similar to a sack as well.” The extension of the analogy includes the impure status of ropes and measuring cords because they are woven like a sack.
And here is the real brain twister: an object that comes into contact with a creeping object can become impure, but less so than an object that comes into contact with a corpse, which is more impure by magnitudes of degree. We are told that since impurity emanating from contact with a corpse is so severe that even unwoven objects can become impure, such as “garment and leather.” If a garment or leather hide come into contact with a corpse, they are fully contaminated. The discussion comes full circle back to the goat’s hair and we are told that just as garment and leather can become impure by contact with a corpse, any object that is constructed of goat’s hair can be as well. And of course, the comparison can then be made to a horse’s or cow’s tail and back around to saddle bands.
From the circular discussion of ritual purity, the Rabbis return to the discussion of what can be worn by women in the public domain on Shabbat. We are told that a woman can go out as far as a courtyard on Shabbat with a woolen cap or wig as long as she does not stray too far. She is also allowed to go out with strands of hair woven into her own if the hair extensions are close to her own color and style and are not made of animal hair. Ulla makes an appearance to remind us that this is allowable so that a woman will remain attractive to her husband.
Rabbi Akiva says that women can go out with make-up, hair extensions, and even jewelry. He is concerned that the Rabbis who restrict women from wearing make-up or colorful clothing may be so restrictive that the stability of marriages may be at risk. He is more concerned about the welfare of the marriages in his community than appearance of piety, while a group of more traditional Rabbis are focused on what people will think if women are seen strolling in the courtyard all dressed up.
Rav Yehuda said that Rav said: “Wherever the Sages prohibited an action due to the appearance of prohibition, even in the innermost chambers, where no one will see it, it is prohibited. When prohibiting an action, the Sages did not distinguish between different circumstances. They prohibited performing the action in all cases.”
Appearances matter. Perception can become reality. And we can find connections in the world through the most unlikely extension of our words. As frustrating and totally perplexing as the Talmud can be, what is wonderful about the Daf Yomi is the connection I have made with fellow “Dafers” who live across the world. And I feel the presence of the community when I read and reread and read again each passage, often with a head-scratching moment of “they said what?”