The world is turned upside down (Daf Yomi Shabbos 121)

“Nothing can be inferred from this mishna.”

I repeat what I wrote in yesterday’s blog: it might be disrespectful to say so, but the text of the Talmud could use a good editor. This is especially true today, with the text meandering all over the place, from tales about Rabbis who are denied a bed, more discussion on rescuing items from a fire on Shabbat, feces that are suggested to be appropriate for a dog’s meal, the killing of creeping animals and protocols for immersions by zavs and zavas.

So, here is what I have gleaned from today’s text. A zav who is impure can immerse himself in a ritual bath any time of the day, while a zava, a menstruating woman or a woman who has just given childbirth must do so at night. However, if nighttime is inconvenient for a woman, who is probably extremely busy with taking care the household, she can find a more convenient time.

On the ongoing matter of extinguishing a fire on Shabbat, one can enlist the help of a non-Jewish neighbor. However, one cannot appeal to this neighbor to put out the fire directly, or to ask him to refrain, but can simply hint that something has to be done to address his burning home. The neighbor needs to come to his own conclusion that he may want to grab a garden hose or another water source and put out the fire. It is all the better if this firefighter is paid for his effort, because then his intention is to act out of his own self-interest rather than out of the desire to help his Jewish neighbor circumvent Jewish law. An odd scene comes to mind of a homeowner standing in front of his burning house hinting to his non-Jewish neighbor that maybe something needs to be done here. We are told that the desire to extinguish the fire “can be inferred” and cannot be a “direct command.”

We were previously told that one must not kill any living thing on Shabbat, with the exception of eight creeping animals. Today, we are presented with a different opinion by two Rabbis. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says that all harmful creatures can be killed on Shabbat. Rav Yosef says that only five can be destroyed on Shabbat: “the poisonous fly that is in the land of Egypt, the hornet that is in Ninveh, the scorpion that is in Ḥadyab, the snake that is in Eretz Yisrael, and a mad dog in any place.”  The matter is settled when Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi clarifies that any creature can be killed if there is imminent danger from an encroaching animal, although he might want to reconcile his opinion with Shabbos 111.

It’s 4th of July weekend, I am stuck at home, its hot and humid outside, and I am reading about the killing of snakes and scorpions and asking for help with putting out fires through indirect cues. My head is spinning from trying to piece all the arguments together and making sense of the contradictions. I have the broadcast of Hamilton saved in a streaming queue which I am going to watch tonight. I am wondering if Manuel Miranda would ever consider creating a Broadway show from some of the stories in the Talmud. The material is rich with students hiding under the beds of Rabbis and Yalta breaking all those bottles of wines and spirits asking for blue eyeshadow from the grave. And why not? The world is turned upside down. The opening song can be ““If the fire is extinguished, it is extinguished.”

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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