“The Sages disagree whether or not an action prohibited due to the appearance of prohibition is prohibited everywhere.”
What has been challenging about the Daf Yomi readings so far is that when I think I have grasped some overriding concept it gets refuted either directly or indirectly somewhere else. When I started this cycle back in January 2020 (the good old pre-coronavirus days) with the daily portions of Berakhot Tractate I thought I figured out a basic tenet in the Talmud that intention matters. The Tractate also discusses the importance of attention to all the blessings around us.
I repeated the mantra “intention and attention” regularly to myself with some confidence that I was starting to figure things out (I wasn’t.) We learned in Shabbos 56 that intention really didn’t matter in determining King David’s culpability in his adulterous affair with Bathsheba; through some twisting of the facts, the Rabbis argued that he never really carried out the act. (see https://brokentabletsfrompennycagan.me/shabbos/shabbos-56)
The Rabbis skip over the whole concept of intention in today’s text when they continue to discuss the importance of appearances. The text opens with a discussion on whether if one’s clothes get wet – perhaps from getting caught in a driving Spring rain – they cannot be dried in the usual manner on Shabbat. It is permissible to spread the clothes out in one’s garden to let the them dry under the warmth of the sun as long as there is no one around to witness the chore, because someone may come to the conclusion that the clothes were laundered on Shabbat.
Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Shimon, in the spirit of Talmudic disagreement, argue over whether drying one’s clothes in the sun should be prohibited regardless of whether the act can be observed by someone else. The disagreement is left to stand as is and we are told that “the Sages disagree whether or not an action prohibited due to the appearance of prohibition is prohibited everywhere.”
The Rabbis turn all their years of learning and wisdom to a discussion of whether a woman is allowed to go out in public on Shabbat with a cloth that she uses to control her menstrual flow. Rami bar Ḥama and Rava disagree on the conditions in which it is permitted; the guiding principle that was established in early texts is that it is permitted if it cannot be removed. Rami bar Hama says its permissible as long as it is tied between the woman’s thighs, while Rava disputes the practicality of the argument and says it is permitted without any ties because it would never be removed in public. Rabbi Yirmeya suggests that perhaps a woman could use a handgrip to hold the cloth, which would make it permissible. (This reminds me of the key-like utensils that are currently advertised to protect people from touching potentially virus-contaminated elevator buttons or doorknobs.)
The discussion continues with other items that a woman is prohibited from adorning in public on Shabbat. This includes a gold tooth because she could be tempted to take it out and show it off. If we follow the logic from an earlier reading, a woman who can afford a gold tooth would be unlikely to do something as tactless as taking it out and showing it off. Teeth made of less precious metals such as silver are permissible. In an example of something that one should not do at home, we are told that it is permissible to go out with a coin tied to a wound because the rust is beneficial. This sounds like a path to getting tetanus or another type of infection and should not be attempted as a treatment for a wound.
There is an unexpected reference to women who “lie together” which Rav Huna says is “motivated by sexual desire.” We are told that women are forbidden from marrying into the priesthood if they are caught in this act, although this is disputed. Shmuel’s father is quoted as saying that women who lay down next to each other could “become accustomed to sleeping with a foreign body, which could stimulate sexual desire.”
I am preparing myself for the fact that there is a lot more coming in terms of the Rabbi’s comments on women, their menstrual cycle, and the rules that have been established to keep them in traditional roles. The Talmud, with all its dissenting opinions and arguments back and forth, is teaching me to be tolerant of their perspective from 2,000 years ago and not jump into a diatribe about their view on women (although I it is very tempting). This is teaching me to listen to all the dissenting views that are around me – even those that I believe are misguided. In the end, it’s complicated.