Persistence of Memory (Daf Yomi Eruvin 97)

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“One who finds phylacteries in a field brings them in to the town pair by pair, whether the finder is a man or a woman.”

Instead of a land of milk and honey, today we enter the land of phylacteries; it is a a strange world where phylacteries seemingly grow everywhere around us; the black boxes swing from trees and gangly weeds of straps sprout from the ground. We step over them as we travel through fields where they reside in piles of leather.

Today’s Daf Yomi continues the discussion of what to do when we come across phylacteries in a field in the outer corners of town. We are told that if one “finds phylacteries in a field” he should “bring them in to the town pair by pair, whether the finder is a man or a woman.” We were told in yesterday’s reading that despite what the scholars who farm the fields with the mysterious phylacteries tell us, women can own them, and wrap themselves with their smooth straps and don them on their foreheads with the letters on the box facing outwards.

Today’s Daf will have me dreaming of phylacteries for days to come. Salvador Dali’s painting titled “Persistence of Memory” comes to mind with its melting clocks and watches draped over a barren landscape. (https://mymodernmet.com/the-persistence-of-memory-salvador-dali/) In today’s landscape, we are told that there is a difference between carrying old and new phylacteries. Perhaps like a pair of broken-in shoes with resonate with memories of a life, the old phylacteries can be trusted to fit just right. The new ones carry some uncertainty as to their authenticity, especially the first time you wear them, and may require some adjustment. There is concern that tying a permanent knot which would make the new set acceptable is prohibited on Shabbat.

There is a debate about what to do if someone wants to wear a new set of phylacteries into town on Shabbat. Rabbi Yehuda suggests that one simply tie a bow and walk carefully so that they do not fall off. It seems like a logical solution, although I cannot wonder why someone would not just wear an old set on Shabbat and save the new one for a weekday. I suppose contingencies must be made if the old set becomes damaged beyond repair on Shabbat.

There is always an objecting Rabbi, and Rav Hisda is the one today. He says that Rabbi Yehuda’s workaround is not an effective solution because a proper knot is required. Rabbi Yehuda backs down and conforms to Rav Hisda’s line of reasoning. There is a challenge from the Gemara that says a bow is prohibited because it is in fact considered a full-fledged knot. But let’s leave it there and suffice it to say that Shabbat is not the ideal day to break out new phylacteries.

We are in very serious territory here. We are told that the form of the knot was “transmitted to Moses from Sinai.” We do not want to mess with something that is replete with so much memory and obligation. We are also provided with a primer on how to acquire phylacteries. We are given guidance on purchasing from someone who is not an expert, such as perhaps a reseller on Ebay. The rule of three applies: if three sets are found to be valid “the seller is considered an expert and the rest of the phylacteries are presumed valid as well.”

I am currently not in the market for phylacteries and do not intend to ever don them. But I understand the persistence of memory they carry within them, like the clocks in Salvador Dali’s painting. When I observe someone wearing them, I am reminded of our entire Jewish history and where we have come from as a people.

The black boxes represent the tradition we have inherited with all its pain and sorrow and obligation to remember. And I am also reminded of where we are going, because if one reads yesterday’s Daf Yomi in a very particular way and edits out the dissent, women are entitled to wrap themselves in phylacteries and claim that history for their own.

https://brokentabletsfrompennycagan.me/eruvin/eruvin-97

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 https://brokentabletsfrompennycagan.me
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