Squeezing meaning from the Talmud (Daf Yomi 143)

Embed from Getty Images

“An unintentional act is prohibited, as he certainly does not intend to squeeze liquid from the sponge.”

It is difficult for me to not be enthusiastic about a Daf Yomi reading that starts with the feeding of a cat. I am a bit of a crazy cat lady. My bonding with my two Siamese cats has only become deeper since we have been locked up together since March. They are the only living creatures that I come into contact with most days, with the exception of the baristas at Starbucks who give me a big hello when I show up for my order of a venti skim iced latte. Having said all that, finding relevant meaning in the last few days of Daf Yomi readings is certainly like the act of squeezing liquid from a sponge.

We are reminded of earlier guidance that one must feed his animals before himself. This is one of the tenets in the readings that has resonated with me, because anyone who lives with cats know that most will not tolerate much fussing around on your part ahead of feeding them upon awakening. Today we are told that Rava provides his cat with a special diet of duck intestines. He also feeds his dog the same diet, but let’s leave our canine friends out of the reading for today. We are told that it is permissible to move a duck’s intestines on Shabbat because one must feed his cat (always first.) This is because if he doesn’t feed his cat the meat immediately, it will become rancid. Interestingly enough, I feed my cats Blue Wildness duck and green pea dry kibble in addition to wet food. Duck is considered an acceptable hypo-allergenic food for cats with allergies which Siamese  are susceptible to. Poultry in general is considered high in taurine, which is necessary for a cat’s well-being.

We are provided with a glimpse into the domestic life of Rabbis in today’s Daf Yomi. From what I can tell, they were messy eaters and sometimes rather crude. We are told that Rav Sheshet would spit out date pits and Rav Pappa would dispose of them behind the divan where he would sit. Rabbi Zekharya ben Avkolasw would try to hide his by placing them behind the sofa when no one was looking. I can only imagine what their wives found when they moved the furniture around and found a collection of date pits. (And it would have been the wives who would sweep them up.)

And so, after all this time, we come to this: a thesis on the lowly sponge. We are told that if the sponge has a leather handle, one may wipe a table with it, but otherwise, he cannot, “lest he come to squeeze liquid from it.” A group of unnamed Rabbis disagree and say that a sponge can be moved regardless of its handle on Shabbat because “a sponge is not among the substances that can become ritually impure, neither by Torah law nor by rabbinic decree.” Clearly, this group of Rabbis were not concerned about germs that breed on most kitchen sponges, which serve as vessels of impurity as they contaminate every surface they touch. I doubt they had anti-bacterial sponges 1,500 years ago and they most probably used those sponges for quite a long time. Rabbi Shimon voiced his concern and said that if the unintended consequence of using a sponge is to squeeze it, which is an action prohibited on Shabbat, one may not use the sponge. He reminds us that if you “cut off its head will it not die.”

It seems that among all the back and forth on sponges is another prohibition related to squeezing: one may not squeeze a fruit on Shabbat. Rabbi Yehuda clarifies and says that fruit that leaks juice that is destined for eating is permitted, but if it is designated for juicing it is prohibited. So, we can eat a flavorful orange on Shabbat, but we can’t put it in our juicer for our morning brunch. And olives and grapes are entirely out, because they are “generally used for squeezing.” There is some disagreement among the Rabbis on mulberries and pomegranates, which are given intermediate status.

The discussion of squeezing compares juicing activities with a mother’s milk, which Rabbi Yehuda says “renders food susceptible to ritual impurity” regardless of how it was expressed. We are told that it is different for animals whose milk only makes food impure if it is expressed with intention. The constant reference to female impurity in the text and comparison with animals (remember the white geese in Berakhot?) continues to trouble me. Male impurity appears to be isolated to the Zav, while women appear to exude impurity in their very essence, through menstruation, childbirth and expressing milk.

And I imagine these women sweeping, wiping, cleaning, and yes, squeezing sponges as they work in the shadows of their pit-spitting husbands. They are most likely sweeping down the kitchen after a long night of Rabbinical discussions on the impurity of sponges, as they serve glass after glass of tea, with perhaps some wine and dates. I wonder if it was a lonely life living in the background of these men and sweeping up after their messes and if there were many husbands like Yalta’s who invited them to sit down at the table and join the discussion.

And today, this is the best I can do with squeezing liquid from a sponge.


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
Related Topics
Related Posts