“Testimony is entrusted to the vigilant.”
Today’s Daf Yomi presents the Rabbinic version of Law and Order, which is one of my favorite shows. I love police procedurals and courtroom dramas and the Law and Order franchise brought the two together. There are two key participants in the criminal justice system, as noted in the opening credits of the long-running series: “the police who investigate crimes and the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders.” And each episode starts with the promise that we will hear their stories.
The Law and Order franchise is vast, with series devoted to special victims, hate crimes, undercover policing, life on the streets, and organized crime. I am a fan of the original series, which was filmed in New York City. If you lived in New York long enough you were bound to walk into an episode being filmed on the street. There were versions devoted to the criminal justice systems in Los Angeles, Russia and the United Kingdom. To the best of my knowledge, a Rabbinic version was never filmed.
Today’s Daf Yomi addresses that gap. Imagine a courtroom where Rabbi Meir is the district attorney and Rabbi Yehuda is the investigating officer. They are listening to testimony regarding a case involving the unauthorized eating of leaven during the Passover holiday. There are only two witnesses called to the stand. The judge requires, upon swearing in of the witnesses, that they restrict their testimony to a method called the “seven form” in which their answers pinpoint the time of the crime to the seven-year Sabbatical cycle, the month and day, and hour and place when the eating of leaven occurred.
Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yehuda hold their acceptance of variations in time to different standards. Rabbi Meir allows for a deviation of the exact time of the crime by two hours before he goes before the judge and accuses a witness of perjury. Rabbi Yehuda, as the investigating officer, testifies on the stand that the testimony of the witnesses he interviewed were five hours apart in their estimated time of the crime, but that he found this difference entirely acceptable. Meanwhile, the defense attorney (Abaye?), discredited Rabbi Yehuda’s testimony because the discrepancy between five hours is too great. He asks the jury to look up at the sky where the sun is in the east and rests his case. Our leaven eater is found not guilty and is free to go home and resume his compulsive consumption of crumbs.
What was particularly fascinating about Law and Order was that its stories were billed to have been “ripped from the headlines.” They were fictional tales of city crime, but they were inspired by actual events. And the stories were real New York stories. They were dramatized, but they rang true and felt true. One of the actors who played a district attorney would frequent the same nail salon that I visited each week. She was going through a high-profile divorce from a celebrity chef and her story was plastered across the headlines. It was exciting to watch her cross-examine witnesses each week in the television courtroom and then sit next to her in the salon as she had her nails done in a tasteful neutral color.
I have encountered in New York famous actors, dancers, and authors over the years in restaurants, and salons, or literally bumped into them on the street while I was lost in thought, which happened with Christopher Reeves and Dustin Hoffman in the 1980s. I sat at a diner counter next to Donald Sutherland and in a coffee shop next to William Hurt. And once, I sat at a table next to Pavarotti in an Italian restaurant (what else?) on Central Park South. He was with a much younger woman and what was notable about him was his ruddy complexion and white silk scarf. He didn’t say much to the waiter. I did not observe him ordering from a menu. But the plates kept coming out of the kitchen with what must have been his usual order. He appeared to have a huge appetite.
There are eight million people who live in New York, and each one has their own story. Each person who has stayed behind during the pandemic when the faint-hearted abandoned the city, has a story to tell of resilience and loyalty to a place that every day offers another chapter in the story of this immense, bustling, crazy, fabulous city life.