30 April 2008

Some More Articles on Sleep in Jewish Thought

Since my posting two years ago on the topic of articles on sleep in Jewish thought, I have a few more to add to the list, each of these will be listed topically:
First, mine that appeared in the last two issues of Milin Havivin:
  • Kaplan, Drew. "Birkat Ha-Mapil: The Rabbinic Pre-Sleep Blessing." Milin Havivin 3 (2007): 155-168.
  • Kaplan, Drew. "Rabbinic Sleep Ethics: Jewish Sleep Conduct in Late Antiquity." Milin Havivin 2 (2006): 83-93.
In addition to these, the reader may be interested also in my critique on the latter of these two papers. Also, perhaps of interest, are the two proposed appendices to my former paper: "The Institution of Shema' Recital Upon One's Bed" & "The Phrase 'My Bed' in Rabbinic Literature: A Connotational Shift for the Amoraim" (this latter one is the origin from which pp. 165-166, n. 69 was summarized).
Another article is
in addition to another article that discusses staying awake on Jewish holidays is
  • Horowitz, Elliot. "Coffee, Coffeehouses, and the Nocturnal Rituals of Early Modern Jewry." AJS Review 14: 1 (Spring 1989): 17-46.
Related to beds is
Speaking of Professor Schwartz, there is the following from Shai Secunda, "Dashtana - 'Ki Derekh Nashim Li''': A Study of the Babylonian Rabbinic Laws of Menstruation in Relation to Corresponding Zoroastrian Texts," (Ph.D. diss., Yeshiva University, 2007), 224, n. 532:
In Late Antiquity, beds seem to have been normally big enough for just one person. Even wealthier people probably did not purchase larger, “queen-sized” beds but instead would have created more beautiful, ornate beds without necessarily modifying their size. (Joshua Schwartz, private communication November, 2006). See Joshua Schwartz, “‘Reduce, Reuse and Recycle’: Prolegomena on Breakage and Repair in Ancient Jewish Society: Broken Beds and Chairs in Mishnah Kelim” JSIJ 5 (2006): 147-80. At the same time, a baraita found at tBer 2:14, and yQid 4:12, and a sugya at bBer 24a, discuss the laws of reciting the shema when sharing a bed [this is according to the printed editions, MS Munich 95 and apparently, the “Ashkenazi tradition” (See Or Zarua vol. 1 §133). The Eastern tradition reads, “a garment (tallit).” See MSS Florence II-I-7, Oxford Opp. Add. 23, and Paris 671] with another male, with one’s wife, or even with one’s entire family. Furthermore, a folk saying found at bSan. 7a may indicate that
couples shared one bed (“when our love was strong we used to sleep on a bed the width of a sword. Now that our love is not strong, a bed of sixty cubits is not enough for us”). Consequently, despite the fact that beds normally did not accommodate two people, in practice, the sharing of beds or bedding may not have been an entirely uncommon, if uncomfortable, occurrence.
Within another footnote (n. 534), Secunda writes
In addition, it seems that people living in Late Antiquity generally did wear some form of nightclothes to sleep [Joshua Schwartz, private communication, November 2006].

If anyone out there knows of any other articles or are publishing any on Jewish sleep-related topics, I am interested in them.

The Time Between Passover & Shavuot

Since we are in the time between Passover and Shavuot, I figured it would be appropriate to discuss, albeit briefly, a couple of texts discussing this time period:

The first of these is what Rabbi Yaakov, son of Asher wrote, in his famous halakhic work, regarding customs of what to do during the period between Passover and Shavuos (Tur, Orah Hayyim §492):

נוהגין בכל המקומות שלא לישא אשה בין פסח לעצרת והטעם שלא להרבות בשמחה שבאותו זמן מתו תלמידי ר"ע וכתב הר"י גיאת דוקא נישואין שהוא עיקר שמחה אבל לארס ולקדש שפיר דמי ונישואין נמי מי שקפץ וכנס אין עונשין אותו אבל אם בא לעשות בתחלה אין מורין לו לעשות כך וכזה הורו הגאוני' ויש מקומות שנהגו שלא להסתפר ויש מסתפרי' מל"ג בעומר ואילך שאומרים שאז פסקו מלמות מצאתי כתוב מנהג שלא לעשות מלאכה מפסח ועד עצרת משקיעת החמה עד שחרית משום תלמידי רבי עקיבא שמתו סמוך לשקיעת החמה ונקברו אחר שקיעת החמה והיה העם בטלין ממלאכה על כן גזרו שלא לעשות שמחה בינתיים ונהגו הנשים שלא לעשות מלאכה משתשקע החמה ועוד שאנו סופרים העומר אחר שקיעת החמה וכתיב שבע שבתות תמימות תהיינה מלשון שבות ולשון שמיטה שבע שבתות וכתיב וספרת לך שבע שבתות שנים מכאן שהספירה כבית דין מה שנת השמיטה אסור במלאכה אף זמן ספירת העומר דהיינו לאחר שקיעת החמה אסור במלאכה

There are many places that are accustomed not to marry between Passover and Shavuot. The reason is in order to not increase in merriment, for at that time, Rabbi Akiva’s students died. Rabbi Isaac ibn Ghiyyat wrote it is specifically marriage, which is the main aspect of merriment, but to engage or betroth are quite alright. And marriage, also, for whom he leaps and brings her in – we do not punish him. But if he came to do it initially, we do not advise him to do as such. And, like this, the Geonim taught.
And there are places who are accustomed to not cut their hair. And there are those who cut their hair from the 33rd day of the omer and thenceforth, for they say that that is when they ceased from dying.
I found a custom written down to not do creative work from Passover until Shavuot from sunset until the morning prayer service, on account of Rabbi Akiva’s students who died close to sunset and were buried after sunset and the nation desisted from working. Therefore, they decreed not to make merriment between them.
And women are accustomed to not work from sunset.
Furthermore, we count the omer after sunset. And it is written, “Seven complete weeks it shall be” from the language of resting and the language of laying fallow seven weeks. And it is written, “And you shall count for yourself seven weeks of years.” From here, the counting is like the court: just as the year of laying fallow, work is forbidden, so, too, the time of the counting of the omer, which is after sunset, work is forbidden.

Regarding the origin of the tradition regarding Rabbi Akiva’s students dying (presumably early second century) is found in the Talmud as follows (Yevamos 62b):

דתניא, רבי יהושע אומר: נשא אדם אשה בילדותו - ישא אשה בזקנותו, היו לו בנים בילדותו - יהיו לו בנים בזקנותו, שנא': +קהלת י"א+ בבקר זרע את זרעך ולערב אל תנח ידך כי אינך יודע אי זה יכשר הזה או זה ואם שניהם כאחד טובים;
ר"ע אומר: למד תורה בילדותו - ילמוד תורה בזקנותו, היו לו תלמידים בילדותו - יהיו לו תלמידים בזקנותו, שנא': בבקר זרע את זרעך וגו'.

אמרו: שנים עשר אלף זוגים תלמידים היו לו לרבי עקיבא, מגבת עד אנטיפרס, וכולן מתו בפרק אחד מפני שלא נהגו כבוד זה לזה, והיה העולם שמם, עד שבא ר"ע אצל רבותינו שבדרום, ושנאה להם ר"מ ור' יהודה ור' יוסי ורבי שמעון ורבי אלעזר בן שמוע, והם הם העמידו תורה אותה שעה.

It was taught:

Rabbi Yehoshua says, “If a man married a woman in his youth, he should marry in his older age. If he had children in his youth, he should have children in his older age, as it is said, ‘In the morning, plant your seed; and in the evening, do not let your hand rest, because you do not know which one will prosper – this one or this one, or if both of them will be good like one.’”

Rabbi Akiva says, “If he learned Torah in his youth, he should learn Torah in his older age. If he had students in his youth, he should have students in his older age, as it is said, ‘In the morning, plant your seed; and in the evening, do not let your hand rest, because you do not know which one will prosper – this one or this one, or if both of them will be good like one.’”

They said, “Rabbi Akiva had 12,000 pairs of students, geographically ranging from Gabbatha until Antipatris – and they all died at one segment of time, because they did not accord honor one to the other. And the world was desolate until Rabbi Akiva reached our rabbis in the south and taught the Torah to them. They were Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Yehudah, Rabbi Yosé, Rabbi Shim’on, and Rabbi Eleazar, son of Shammua, and they revived the Torah at that time."

After the latter part of this tannaitic text, the editor places next to this text another tannaitic text, specifying the time period of when their collective death occurred:

תנא: כולם מתו מפסח ועד עצרת.

It was taught: All of them died from Passover until Shavuot.

Following these tannaitic statements, a further specification about what occurred is stated by either the third century sage, Rav Hama, son of Abba, or the fourth century sage, Rabbi Hiyya, son of Avin:

אמר רב חמא בר אבא, ואיתימא ר' חייא בר אבין: כולם מתו מיתה רעה.

Rav Hama, son of Abba or maybe Rabbi Hiyya, son of Avin, said, “All of them died a terrible death.”

After which, the Talmud's editor inserts "מאי היא? - which death was it that was so bad?" in order to set up the statement by Rav Nahman, the turn-of-the-fourth century sage, identifying it as "אסכרה -It was croup.”

Reflecting back to what Rabbi Ya'akov, son of Asher wrote, we can understand why the keyword in this section is "accustomed" - as the Talmud records no actions to do during this time (aside from counting the omer) and everything regarding this period is post-Talmudic custom.

(I hope to return to this topic a little bit more in depth....)

28 April 2008

My Passover 2008 (with an emphasis on Hol haMoed)

This past week (plus the previous two weekends) was the holiday(s) of Passover this year. The first half of the time, my wife and I spent in Rochester, her hometown, where her parents live and the last half of the time in Columbus, where my parents and grandmother live. For the first weekend, we stayed at my mother-in-law's house, attending services at a local shul. For the latter weekend, we stayed at my grandmother's house, attending services locally, as well (albeit a 45-minute walk). For the week in between, there was Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday:
Drew at the batting cage
On Tuesday, we mostly got to hang out with my wife's father, including going to the batting cages,
which was certainly fun, as well as going to the mall. As it was earth day, there were a lot of things trying to be green. Don't get me wrong, however, I generally try to be green and environmentally-conscious, etc., but the trendiness of environmentalism in the past week has been quite a lot! If I wasn't already into it, I would try to go against the grain - it just seems all so sudden. Anyway, I think that, on the whole, it's a positive and I hope that people are somehow more environmentally/ecologically aware because of it.


We went to the Rochester Zoo (actually entitled "Monroe County's Seneca Park Zoo") before driving to Columbus. We had a pleasant time there, as, although it started raining a little bit, the weather got better. The highlight of our trip was watching a burmese python eating a bunny rabbit - certainly a special treat for us to watch. While the zoo is not particularly large, according to the guide we got when we entered, they have "New York State's only African elephants", something we don't have in The City. Also, there one can see "the only Bornean orangutans and white rhino in New York State as well as the only Eurasian arctic wolves in the U.S." The guide also added that their "African penguins are one of the top three breeding colonies in the nation."

We shopped at Easton on Thursday, mostly shopping for clothing, but also just browsing the stores. Our favorite non-clothing store was Sharper Image, where they had neat gadgets and the like, but there was this one particular massaging chair that was simply great (and expensive).


Our big thing of the day for Friday was to visit COSI. However, before we did, we visited Topiary Park, a "landscape of a painting", the painting being Georges Seurat's most famous work (
A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte). Our time at COSI was fine, though as we were going through it, I kept remarking to my wife that it wasn't the same as the previous COSI, whereupon she said to stop saying that and for her to experience COSI on its own terms for herself (as an aside, my family members and other people with whom I spoke also agreed with my thoughts). Anyways, aside from the exhibits themselves (we liked the space area a lot), we enjoyed the two movies on the extreme screen, "Sea Monsters 3D: A Prehistoric Adventure" and "Greece: Secrets of the Past" (although we enjoyed the former moreso than the latter).

Also, each of the nights (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday), we enjoyed our holiday with a movie an evening. Okay, now we can go back to eating hamez after the week+ hiatus.

17 April 2008

Explaining My Disgust with the term "Family Purity"

Okay, so I had previously called נידה (niddah) "menstrual impurity", claiming that
I refuse to call it טהרת המשפחה, as per ITLOTW (who says there, "I refuse to call it taharat hamishpacha...you are being purified to a limited extent, not your family, they are not dipping in any mikvahs or counting any days.")
In the comments thread, Rabbi Rivkin responded that
The phrase Hilchot Niddah does not convey the spiritual importance of these laws, or the positive effect that they have on Jewish marriage.
Somehow, talking about the laws of the dripping women (Niddah from the verb Davah) or the laws of the banished women (niddah from the term Nidui) doesn't sound so uplifting as talking about the laws that sanctify sexual relations between husband and wife.
Okay, so the comments thread is still there and the reader may be referred there for more discussion. However, one interesting thing is that I wrote that before having studied those laws in depth last year. In any event, this past shabbas, with the Torah reading including Leviticus 15, I couildn't but think about this topic.
Okay, in truth, the other week, at the gym, whilst on the elliptical machine (a great place to read articles, dissertations, etc.), I read Aviad Stollman's review article and the first footnote caught my eye:
It seems that the title “Jewish Family Life” was coined by the author as an attempt to render a more politically correct term than the now conventional euphemism tahorat ha-mishpahah. According to Evyatar Marienberg, the term, ‘tahorat ha-mishpahah,’ itself is of German-Jewish origin, late in the nineteenth century, probably a translation of the expression “Reinheit des Familienslebens.” The original expression was most likely coined as an attempt to suppress the obvious halakhic fact that a woman who menstruates is impure. Instead of discussing the impurity of the niddah, one is encouraged to think of the purity of the family. It is also probable that the term came into use to emphasize the talmudic notion that not keeping the laws of niddah can have consequences on the purity of the offspring.
I realized a less intellectual and more visceral problem for me with the term of family purity - it conjures up the term of "limpieza de sangre". Anyways, I don't like it.

Rabbi Stollman continues, in the same footnote as mentioned above, and suggests further reading:
See: Evyatar Marienberg, Niddah: Lorsque les juifs conceptualisent la menstruation (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2003), pp. 40–41; Haviva Ner-David, “Niddah: A Case in Point of Feminist Reinterpretation,” in To Be a Jewish Woman, Part B: Proceedings of the Second International Conference: Women and Her Judaism, ed. Margalit Shilo, (Jerusalem and New York: Kolech―Religious Women's Forum and Urim Publications, 2003), pp. 110–111; Tirzah Meacham, “An Abbreviated History of the Development of the Jewish Menstrual Laws,” in Rahel R. Wasserfall, ed., Women and Water― Menstruation in Jewish Life and Law (Hanover: Brandeis University Press, 1999), pp. 32–33; Jonah Steinberg, “From a ‘Pot of Filth’ to a ‘Hedge of Roses’ (and Back): Changing Theorizations of Menstruation in Judaism,” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 13:2 (1997), pp. 5–26.
Over the weekend, I read this last article. A really nice excerpt is the following:
The production of a contrary new truth, at least in literature, is an amazing feat, considering that Orthodox Judaism abhors the attribution of fallacy or fallibility to the sages of its past. The feat is even more astonishing when we turn from what 'family purity' isn't to what it is in modern Orthodox apology. (17)
However, I must, point out something that I found to be erroneous in his article:
One passage from the Talmud, however, figures prominently in all of the new literature. This is the statement, from the talmudic tractate Niddah: "Because a man may become overly familiar with his wife and thus be repelled by her, the Torah said that she should be a niddah for seven clean days (after her flow) so that she will be pleasing to her husband as on the day of her marriage" (b. Niddah 31b). This quotation speaks plainly of male sexual desire ("pleasing" here means also "sexually pleasing"); but the mythology of "family purity" converts this dictum into the promise of an eternal and mutual honeymoon. (18-19)
The statement Steinberg references is
Rabbi Meir used to say, "Why did the Torah say niddah is seven days? Because if he was accustomed to her, she would be disgusting in his eyes. The Torah said niddah is seven days in order so that she should be beloved upon her husband on the day of her purification (some MSS have "her immersion") like the day of her entrance to the huppah."
The thing that immediately jumps out to the reader is the androcentricity of the statement and of the affection. However, the erroneous statement of Steinberg's is that "
she should be a niddah for seven clean days (after her flow)", as Rabbi Meir was a tanna (and the stringency to go beyond that didn't arise until at least a century after Rabbi Meir died) and he was speaking about what the Torah (in Lev. 15) said to do for niddah. I suppose Steinberg was speaking about the contemporary handbooks?
Those are my niddah thoughts for now....

14 April 2008

Birkat HaMapil Article Published

My article on ברכת המפיל (birkat hamapil) (the Jewish blessing before going to sleep) was, indeed, published and is now available in Milin Havivin 3 (in other words, Drew Kaplan, "Birkat Ha-Mapil: The Rabbinic Pre-Sleep Blessing", Milin Havivin 3 [2007]: 155-168.). It mainly tries to deal with the blessing in the Talmud, including going through over a dozen manuscripts and other medieval versions of the blessing, as there are quite a few different versions of the blessing.
Initially, I had included, also, two appendices: one on saying the Shema' upon one's bed and the other on the term "my bed" in rabbinic literature. However, the former one got excised and is available as "The Institution of Shema' Recital Upon One's Bed". As to the latter, it also got excised, but was condensed into a footnote (pp. 165-166, n. 69), although it may be read in full as "The Phrase 'My Bed' in Rabbinic Literature: A Connotational Shift for the Amoraim" (if, when reading the footnote, you get somehow confused or don't find that the information is altogether well laid out, consult this latter work).
I am not planning, at this time, to do a critique of this piece, like I did for my previous article in Milin Havivin, but I am open to comments, questions, and queries.

07 April 2008

Yesterday's Wedding

Yesterday, I attended a wedding of a friend of my wife's. Actually, this friend had met her husband at our wedding, as he was a band member there.
There were a lot of firsts about it for me. It was the first where I knew neither the groom nor the bride. It was the first wedding I've attended where not just the seating for the huppah was separate gendered (not uncommon), but also for the meal! So, my wife and I were unable to sit together. Also, they had [faux] flowers on the women's tables, but those of the men's. My guess would be that men don't care about flowers' prettiness(?), so why spend the money on them (alternatively, someone told my wife that it "was a thing" that they don't on account of the femininity attached to them, thus, they were not on the men's side). Also, the bride's mother walked behind her daughter while a rabbinic couple walked her down, which was odd.
A couple of nice things about the wedding were free CDs, as the groom is apparently a musical fellow. Another was supplying the guests with ear plugs, which is a brilliant idea (even if they hadn't supplied them, my wife had remembered to bring a pair along). Also, I had never seen a band at a wedding so numerous - there were more than a dozen band members there.
It was a nice occasion and a new experience.