“The blood of a bat, which lives in inhabited areas, for the cataract.”
I have become inured to some of the oddities encountered in the daily Daf Yomi readings, such as the request for eyeshadow and a comb from the grave in Berakhot and feeding a cat menstrual blood in this Tractate. But I was especially struck in today’s reading by the suggestion that the blood of a bat could cure a cataract while the blood of a wild chicken can cure a wart that lives outside the eye. Although the thought of putting blood of a wild chicken on a wart is frightening enough, the idea that one would put the blood of a bat inside one’s eye, given the presumed connection between bats and coronaviruses, is terrifying. I have to wonder if some of the Rabbinic remedies in the Talmud were more dangerous than the disease. And I also fear that some of the remedies being proposed for the coronavirus today are just as detrimental.
Today’s reading is primarily one of small measures. We are provided with a litany of what is allowed to be carried in the public domain and for the most part it is small quantities of substances. Water can be carried in a quantity that is no more than what is needed to spread on an eye bandage, the measure for carrying paper is the dimension of a tax receipt (but you can’t carry the tax receipt itself), an amulet is the measure for an animal hide, and one can only carry enough blue eyeshadow to paint one eye. The measure of wax is equal to a small seal and the measure for carrying glue is equal (cruelly) to what is needed to place on top of a board to catch birds.
If an item has two uses, the measure that is associated with the most common usage, such as wine, milk and water that are used more commonly for drinking than healing, is the one that provides the guidance. When there are two common uses, such as honey, which is used for both healing and eating, the more stringent of the two measures applies (i.e., the smallest quantity).
The Rabbis remind one to keep good tax records, in case we need to demonstrate to more than one tax collector that we are good citizens. We are also reminded to pay our debts and if we do so before Shabbat, we are allowed to carry the records with us into the public domain in order to demonstrate that we honor our financial commitments.
Today’s reading imprinted upon my consciousness the terrible image of a Rabbi rubbing bat’s blood into the center of his eye. I am terrified of bats. I always have been. They would find their way into the rafters of the house I grew up in and my father would attempt to chase them with a tennis racket. I believed the myth that they could get caught in long hair and I would hide under the covers of my bed as my father chased them through the upper floor of our house.
Today, my fear of bats is greater than ever. There is a strong belief in the scientific community that the different strains of the coronavirus originated in bats, although there is uncertainty on how the virus spread to humans. When I see photos of dead bats for sale in wet markets in Asia, I am terrified of what they represent: disease, indifference to wildlife and the emergence of silent pathogens. My fear of bats is turning out to be more rational than I could have ever imagined when my father was swinging at them with his well-honed backhand.
Like the bats that hang from trees, the world feels upside down these days.