20 March 2011

A Purim Drinking Story: Might "עד דלא ידע" be a Stammaitic Addition?

Today is Purim - Yay! It's the merriest day of the Jewish calendar :) Purim is the celebration based off of the events of the book of Esther, in which - facing annihilation in the Persian empire - the Jews survived and, to this day, celebrate.
One of the leitmotifs of the book is drinking and partying and that is also reflected in the holiday's celebrations. Around the turn of the fourth century, a couple of prominent Babylonian rabbis, Rabbi Zeira and Rabbah had a Purim meal together and they got so drunk that Rabbah, so the story goes, killed his friend; however, he prayed for him and he was revived. The following year, Rabbah suggested they get together again for the festive meal, to which his friend said, "Miracles don't happen every year." (Megillah 7b).
A few decades later, Rava declared - perhaps basing himself off of the earlier example of his rabbinic predecessors - "מיחייב איניש לבסומי בפוריא" - "A person is obliged to get drunk on Purim." One of the peculiarities of this statement is that while it's stated in somewhat of a formal halakhic fashion, it's in Aramaic (as opposed to a few lines later on the same page (Megillah 7b), where he states "סעודת פורים שאכלה בלילה לא יצא ידי חובתו").
What follows in the text of the Talmud then turns to Hebrew and may very well be a later addition: "עד דלא ידע בין ארור המן לברוך מרדכי" - "until one does not know between cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordechai." Typically, these two statements are read together as part of Rava's statement, but two problems present themselves: 1) The linguistic issue of switching from Aramaic to Hebrew & 2) Drinking on Purim is well and good, but to get so plastered to be unable to distinguish between extremes of morality is A LOT.
Even if one were to say the linguistic issue isn't that significant, since it could have been something changed in the oral transmission, how can one drink that much? Even when I'm so drunk on Purim that I'm throwing up, I can still distinguish between such matters.
Just some food for thought on this merry day :)


5 comments:

margavriel said...

For one thing, עד דלא ידע is Aramaic. Hebrew would be עד שאינו יודע. The word בין can be either language. The phrases ארור המן and ברוך מרדכי are both Hebrew, but Rava is quoting existing liturgical phrases, mentioned already in the Yerushalmi.

For another thing -- it *is* possible to get that drunk. I've done it. I don't recommend it, though.

Drew_Kaplan said...

Argh! I'm totally מודה on the linguistic element - you're correct, although that doesn't necessarily mean that it still wasn't a later addition (especially with lifting the language already existing in the ירושלמי).
As far as the drunkenness part, even if it is possible, it's not easily done and probably not done commonly....

Gabriel Wasserman said...

Mitzves aren't easy!

Seriously, I think (beli neder) that I'm not going to drink that much on Purim ever again. It's really a dangerous amount.

Drew_Kaplan said...

lol - yes, it is a dangerous amount, which is why I don't think everybody is obliged to get that drunk every year....

yochanan said...

Drew, I don't get it - what is the basis for assuming that it is not part of Rava if the language is the same?