Wednesday, July 01, 2015

The Talmud as "Fossil"

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: The Talmud as Fossil Record of Ancient, Everday Jewish Life and Idioms. In this week’s ‘Daf Yomi’ study, why vows are hardly sacred, and why circumcision is the most glorious of rituals.
This week, the rabbis’ discussion of vowing revolved around a number of idioms that were apparently commonplace in vows. Like a fossil leaf in a stone, these pieces of everyday language are preserved in the Mishna, showing how our ancestors talked when they got mad 2,000 years ago. Today, people tend to use expressions like “I swear” or “I’ll be damned” thoughtlessly, not intending them to be actual vows or promises to God; and reading the Talmud, one gets the impression that Talmudic-era Jews were often no more serious in their vows. Why else would they resort to expressions of such obvious hyperbole? Under what circumstances, for instance, would it make sense for someone to vow “that he will not derive benefit from people who live on dry land”? As the rabbis point out, this category includes more or less everyone in the world.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.