Thirty minutes late (Daf Yomi Pesachim 11)

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“It is possible that both witnesses spoke the truth.”

I have an odd talent. If you ask me what time it is at any time of the day or night, I can tell you within five minutes of accuracy. If you wake me up in the middle of the night, I can tell you the time without looking at the clock. I am always aware of the changing of the hours. I am not sure there is much need for someone with such a talent today, but when the Talmud was written, I might have been able to make a career of telling time.

Time plays a prominent role in today’s Daf Yomi where the discussion continues on leaven (and I fear it will continue for many months to come.) Rabbi Meir said that one could eat leaven until the fifth hour of the fourteenth of Nisan, and then be prepared to burn what he had not consumed during the sixth hour. I am a bit of a carboholic and have visions of myself back in the day, with my keen sense of time, consuming the last bit of a golden corn muffin in the waning hours before the onset of the holiday, so that not a single morsel would be wasted.

Rabbi Yehuda plays if much safer, with the muffin allowed to be consumed only in the fourth hour and put aside in abeyance during the fifth hour ahead of burning in the final sixth one. Rabbi Meir assumes that people are more like me and have a keen sense of time. Rabbi Yehuda believes they need a buffer or a period of “abeyance” and are more like a friend of mine who is always thirty minutes late. And when he does arrive, he has that “thirty minutes late” look on his face.

We are provided with insight into how the Rabbis rationalized differences of opinion. And the Talmud is nothing but a collection of different perspectives among people with a different sense of time.  Rabbi Meir believes that if one witness says an incident happened on the second day of the month and another one says it occurred on the third, there is no contradiction. We just assume that a single day difference is not of great consequence, because one witness may have forgotten that the current month has 31 instead of 30 days. But if there is more than one day difference between the two stories, then they are both invalid because “there is no way to rationalize the contradiction.” This also holds true if the discrepancy is between three and five hours.

Rabbi Yehuda has a different perspective. He believes that even if there is a difference of several hours, both witnesses’ testimony is valid. He qualifies his statement; if the difference is between five and seven hours then both testimonies are invalid, because of the movement of the sun from east to west at that time. If one can tell the difference between the hours by the location of the sun, then the testimony cannot be believed.

Abaye, the great mediator, explains the difference in the opinion of the two Rabbis by explaining that Rabbi Meir assumes that “people know the exact time of day.” Rabbi Yehuda allows for errors of up to one hour. Abaye further explains that in Rabbi Meir’s point of view the discrepancy can be explained by one person saying that the hour was 2:59 and another saying it was 3:00 and as a result the discrepancy was minor. In the view of Rabbi Yehuda, the difference in time would be between 3:59 and 5:01, and a discrepancy is allowed for up to one hour “and a bit.”

There are people like my friend who are always thirty minutes late. He blames his late arrival on the traffic. It is always the traffic. And there are people like me who are just wired to feel each passing minute running through my body, and no matter how hard I try, I am always early. I am the one walking around the block one, two, three times, so that I am not the first to knock on someone’s door ahead of a party. I am the person who turns on the lights in a conference room before everyone arrives or the one who waits outside the grocery for the lights to go on and the doors to open. I am the one waiting in a restaurant sipping a glass of water for my friend who is always thirty minutes late.

There are times I want to live my life without the ticking of time rushing through me. If only I could lose myself in thirty minutes, just once.

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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