Daf Yomi Shabbos 81: A Handful of Stones

“One need not measure the stones. He simply takes a handful of stones.”

Did the Rabbis really have to go there today? By “there” I mean into a discussion of bathroom habits. This is not the first time the text dealt with bodily matters, including days of discussion of seminal fluids in the Berakhot Tractate. This is also the end of a very difficult and bewildering chapter that included smearing young girls with lime, painting only one eye blue and feeding menstrual blood to a cat. I am looking forward to moving on, but also with some trepidation of what lies ahead.

The Rabbis start this discussion, after a brief interlude discussing keys, with the measure of stones that are allowed to be carried into the public domain on Shabbat. They determine that a pebble or stone can only be carried into the public domain on Shabbat if it is smaller than what is required to chase away a bird or hit an animal so that he feels its blunt force. I wish the Rabbis had demonstrated more concern for animal welfare, as they should prohibit such throwing of stones at animals on any day of the week.

And then yes, they go there. They discuss the measure of stones that are used in the bathroom and they are quite specific about how. They discuss if they can be reused, even if rained upon and if they can be carried elsewhere if needed. The relevant measure that is allowable is simply a handful of stones, or what is needed to complete the job. Rabbi Yannai clarifies that one may gather a handful of stones, if he has a place in the bathroom to store them.

The Rabbis, who are often concerned with health issues, discuss hemorrhoids and warn against ten things that may cause one to suffer from such an ailment. This involves a varied list of don’ts, including eating the leaves of bulrushes, grape leaves, tendrils of grapevines, the palate and tongue of an animal, as well cleaning oneself with an already used stone. The Rabbis further discuss what side of a stone can be reused but suffice it to say that during this time of sheltering in place, it just feels like too much to me.

The discussion of the storing of bathroom stones reminds me of the photos of people loading up with shopping carts of toilet paper and paper towels. I myself have given into storing more toilet paper than I need, in an admitted surrender to the fear, anxiety and uncertainty associated with living during this stressful time. I think I need a good book and a light movie rather than a treatise on ancient bathroom habits right now. But I am committed to this endeavor, and so I move on with all the Daf Yomers to the next chapter in this wild ride.

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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