Tag Archives: Tradition

Of Secrets and Stringencies

Day 21 – Berachos 22

מַעֲשֶׂה בְּרַבִּי יְהוּדָה שֶׁרָאָה קֶרִי, וְהָיָה מְהַלֵּךְ עַל גַּב הַנָּהָר. אָמְרוּ לוֹ תַּלְמִידָיו: רַבֵּינוּ, שְׁנֵה לָנוּ פֶּרֶק אֶחָד בְּהִלְכוֹת דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ. יָרַד וְטָבַל וְשָׁנָה לָהֶם. אָמְרוּ לוֹ: לֹא כָּךְ לִמַּדְתָּנוּ רַבֵּינוּ, שׁוֹנֶה הוּא בְּהִלְכוֹת דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ?! אָמַר לָהֶם: אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁמֵּיקֵל אֲנִי עַל אֲחֵרִים, מַחְמִיר אֲנִי עַל עַצְמִי.

תָּנוּ רַבָּנַן: בַּעַל קֶרִי שֶׁנָּתְנוּ עָלָיו תִּשְׁעָה קַבִּין מַיִם — טָהוֹר. נַחוּם אִישׁ גַּם זוֹ לְחָשָׁהּ לְרַבִּי עֲקִיבָא, וְרַבִּי עֲקִיבָא לְחָשָׁהּ לְבֶן עַזַּאי, וּבֶן עַזַּאי יָצָא וּשְׁנָאָהּ לְתַלְמִידָיו בְּשׁוּק. פְּלִיגִי בַּהּ תְּרֵי אָמוֹרָאֵי בְּמַעְרְבָא, רַבִּי יוֹסֵי בַּר אָבִין וְרַבִּי יוֹסֵי בַּר זְבִידָא. חַד תָּנֵי: שְׁנָאָהּ, וְחַד תָּנֵי: לְחָשָׁהּ.

מַאן דְּתָנֵי שְׁנָאָהּ, מִשּׁוּם בִּטּוּל תּוֹרָה וּמִשּׁוּם בִּטּוּל פְּרִיָּה וּרְבִיָּה. וּמַאן דְּתָנֵי לְחָשָׁהּ — שֶׁלֹּא יְהוּ תַּלְמִידֵי חֲכָמִים מְצוּיִים אֵצֶל נְשׁוֹתֵיהֶם כְּתַרְנְגוֹלִים.

The Gemara is discussing the laws of when a Baal Keri, one who had a seminal emission, can learn Torah or daven. In the midst of this discussion the Gemara relates numerous incidents to prove different points.

I have quoted above two of these incidents. In the first, Rebbi Yehuda had taught that a Baal Keri can learn or teach only the laws of Derech Eretz. However, when he himself was a Baal Keri, he immersed himself for purification before teaching the Halacha. When confronted over the self contradiction, he said he is being stringent on himself. 

In the second incident we find a tradition passed down secretly that one who is a Baal Keri, need not immerse himself but can have a measurement of nine Kavin of water thrown over him and then he can learn Torah. This seems to be about 2.9 gallons of water, or about a 90 second shower. This tradition was passed secretly from Nachum Ish Gamzu to Rebbi Akiva to Ben Azzai, who went ahead and said it in public.

There are different traditions as to what actually happened: There are those that say that he publicized this in order to increase intimate relations and procreation. As he himself was a bachelor, this was something that was important to him. There are others that say that he indeed passed it over to his students in a secret, in order that they do not get too intimate with their wives and thereby distracted from their Torah studies.

From these two incidents, it is apparent that there are two or more levels of Torah. There is the level of the general populace, that which may be more lenient at times, but we see Rebbi Yehuda was stringent on himself. Conversely, we see that there was a level for the general populace to be more stringent and only those in on the secret knew about the lenient ruling. 

Why is this? If we have a lenient ruling, why is that only kept as a secret tradition amongst the Tannaim? Additionally, if Rebbi Yehuda ruled leniently for everyone why is that leniency not good enough for himself, and if it was not good enough for himself, why is he letting others be lenient?

It seems that there are two tracks here, one for those in the know and one for the general population. I am curious where this idea comes from and why this is so. 

I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

The Birthday in Traditional Jewish Thought

ויהי ביום השלישי יום הלדת את פרעה ויעש משתה לכל עבדיו וישא את ראש שר המשקים ואת ראש שר האפים בתוך עבדיו

The sole reference to a celebration of one’s birthday in the Torah is found in Parshas VaYeshev1 . I would like to analyze the tradition of this celebration in Jewish thought and how it applies in both law and custom.

There are many events that we mark with special occasions: The creation of the world on Rosh Hashanah; the judgment of trees and plants on Tu B’Shvat; the dedication of the Beis HaMikdash on Chanukah, the creation of fire on Motzei Shabbos, and the anniversary of one’s birth.

We see many sources for the birthday celebration throughout Chazal.

Rav Chaim Dovid Halevy2 explains that the original Torah source for the celebration of one’s birthday is from Pharaoh, however, it originated as a custom of kings to celebrate their birthdays in public festivities3. and eventually individuals also began to have private birthday festivities in their homes4.

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