Telling it like it is (Daf Yomi Shabbos 150)

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“Does it seem that you will join me this evening?

Today’s Daf Yomi discusses work arounds for prohibited acts on Shabbat that involve indirect or inferred speech. This goes against every grain in my body, which is to be direct, say what you mean, and don’t hide behind obfuscated words. I find when I speak in muddled language rather than directly, I do not always communicate effectively and become frustrated when I do not receive the response that I was after. The Rabbis suggest in today’s text that there is a code of alternative words that can be used to get around certain Shabbat restrictions.

We are told today that an observant person may not discuss hiring workers on Shabbat. This prohibition extends to telling someone else who is not observant to line up workers for a task. We are introduced to the concept of Shabbat boundaries where I imagine workers on one side of a field waiting to be selected for a job by the landowners who required help with their produce. One may not stand at the edge of his field waiting for sundown in order to hire workers but is allowed to stand watch in order to protect his crops. And if he is there anyway, he may bring in his produce as well since “he did not initially intend to wait at the edge of the boundary for this purpose.”

And here is where obscured language comes in: we are told that one cannot say to the foreman of a work crew on Shabbat “hire workers for me,” but he can say “does it seem you will join me this evening.”  We are told that this is permitted even though it is understood that a business transaction is occurring, and the foreman is not being asked to one’s home for dinner. The verse from Isaiah 58:13 is quoted as justification for this strategy: “And you shall honor it by not doing your ways, nor pursuing your business, nor speaking of it.”  We are told we cannot speak directly of conducting business on Shabbat, but we can talk around it through inference.

The Rabbis discuss the role contemplation plays in performing certain acts on Shabbat. We are told that “contemplation is not tantamount to speech” and consequently, not prohibited. A comparison is made with contemplation of the Torah, which is permissible any place except a bathroom. How could this possibly be enforced?  The Rabbis could not control people’s thoughts, and I am sure most everyone has experienced a few quiet moments in the bathroom as a chance to contemplate one’s life and learnings.

I have worked over the years with colleagues and clients from all over the world. This required becoming attuned to cultural differences that exist in different regions of the world. When I missed certain nuances or unspoken meanings, things would go off the rails very quickly. I learned that someone’s “looks promising” may actually mean “no way.” I lived for a time in Scotland where I learned this lesson the hard way, because although we speak the same language, sometimes words can mean very different things.

New York City became my adopted home when I attended graduate school at New York University more years ago than I will confess in print. I fell in love with this city at the time, and have remained committed to staying here through September 11th when I worked at the World Trade Center, Hurricane Sandy when I lived downtown with no electricity in a high rise building for almost a week, and now the coronavirus epidemic when during the months of March, April and May there was the constant drone of ambulances racing to nearby hospitals.

I remain committed to this crazy way of life, which makes no sense from a cost-basis, because of New Yorkers. They are in your face and say what they mean. They tell you like it is, whether you want to hear it or not. When I am asked by friends if I intend to leave like so many others that did so during the pandemic shut-down, I tell them to “fuhgeddaboudit” – I am here to stay.

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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