“Go, roll up the mats.”
We appear to be at the very end of this Tractate where the Rabbis are trying to wrap up a few loose ends so that we can finally move on to something more interesting than today’s discussion of bolts and utensils. At least, I hope that is the case, because I have hung on this long in the belief that if I just finished this Tractate, the daily journey through the Talmud would get somehow easier to maneuver.
Today’s Daf Yomi reads like a series of out-takes that appear at the end of a movie. We are presented with a dramatic scene of ten people lifting a crossbeam against a doorway each night in the home of Rabbi Pedat in order to secure it. I imagine ten men heaving the beam across the door and locking the Pedat family in for the night in what must have been a very bad neighborhood to require so much security. Rabbi Pedat allowed the act on Shabbat because he considered the heavy crossbeam to be a utensil. I wrote yesterday about all the workaround solutions in the Talmud, including the concept of an eruv itself. Today, we learn that almost anything can be allowed if one can characterize the item that is being deployed as a utensil.
Shmuel also appears to have lived among dangers. He secured his door at night with a mortar that was equal to half a kor in size. (A kor was equal to approximately 230 liters.) He defended the use of the mortar in this way because it could be considered a utensil. The underlying principle is that one is not violating the restriction against building on Shabbat if he completes an action through the use of a utensil.
Where there is Shmuel, there is Rav. He says to “go, roll up the mats that were spread out there for shade, but leave one handbreadth covered.” One is to return the following day, “unroll the entire mat” and a temporary tent is created that is allowed to provide cover from the sun. Rav extends this concept of allowable actions to a curtain that is put up for privacy, which he says is akin to a temporary wall, which is permitted if it is not “fixed firmly in place.”
We are told that a bridal canopy that is suspended over a bed is permitted to be spread out and dismantled on Shabbat if the top of the canopy is less than a handbreadth wide, which makes no sense in terms of a measurement, unless we are talking about a bed crafted for a doll’s house.
A stiff hat that extends a handbreadth from a person’s head is regarded as a tent and is prohibited. If its brim is less than a handbreadth it can be worn with aplomb on Shabbat. One should just make sure it is fitted snuggly to their head, so that it does not slip off and require carrying on Shabbat.
We are provided with a list of actions that are permitted in the Temple but nowhere else. If I remember correctly from earlier readings, this is because Rabbinic laws were not necessary to be followed in the Temple because the priests were trusted to follow Torah laws and did not need the special guardrails that the Rabbis had created. For this reason, we are told that if a bandage becomes detached from a wound on Shabbat, it is allowable to replace it only in the Temple, but not “in the rest of the country.”
There is some disagreement among the Rabbis on what is allowed if the bandage falls off. This is a health matter, because replacing a bandage that falls to the ground might contaminate the wound, but leaving the wound uncovered might also result in an infection. Rabbi Yehuda says that if the bandage simply slips out of place, one can nudge it back into the right position. He also allows lifting the bandage in sections and cleaning each bit of the underlying wound. However, one must never clean the bandage itself on Shabbat, at the risk of spreading the healing ointment, which would result in a violation of the law against smoothing on Shabbat.
There is some debate about what to do if the bandage entirely falls off. If it falls on a utensil (there it is again – the magic of a well-placed utensil), it is allowed to be retrieved and reattached to the wound. If it falls to the ground such an action is prohibited, although not all Rabbis agree.
Like the reference to the harp with a loose string that one can secure only in the Temple, I am more than ready to tie up this meandering, difficult, complex Tractate for once and for all. It is time for the credits to roll and the lights to come on.
And speaking of credits, I miss movie theaters. They have been closed in New York City since the city went into shut-down last March. I miss sitting in a dark movie theater and losing myself in the big screen. From the moment the previews start until the credits roll in the end, anything is possible. When I leave the theater after the movie ends and the lights come on, I see things slightly differently. It might be the tone of an actor’s voice that stays with me or the movement of throwing a coat over their shoulders, or a landscape somewhere, or the background music, but something in how I view my world has changed ever so slightly.
There is a movie theater at 19th Street and Broadway that is lit up at night with a concession stand that looks ready to come back to life. Every time I walk past, I am ready to buy a ticket. There are even markers on the floor indicating that one must stand six feet apart, as if it is ready to open at any moment. But the numbers in New York City like elsewhere are going up and it looks like there is no hope that the movie theaters will open anytime soon. When the theaters were open, there was always someplace to go.