Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Galley slaves and Leviathans in the Talmud

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: WHEN YOU BUY A COW (OR A BOAT) WHAT DO YOU GET FROM THE SELLER? WHEN IS IT YOURS? AND WHAT REALLY IS A COW ANYWAY? This week’s ‘Daf Yomi’ Talmud study goes straight to the essence of the matter. Plus, ‘fish tales’ and 750-mile-high waves.
Before Pesach, Daf Yomi readers were exploring the rules governing real estate transactions in Tractate Bava Batra, such as what exactly is included when you purchase a field or a house. During the holiday, Daf Yomi readers began Chapter Five, which applies the same sort of inquiry to various types of movable property. To avoid the kind of ambiguity that can give rise to litigation, the rabbis dictate exactly what the buyer is entitled to receive when he purchases items ranging from a ship to the head of a cow. They go on to explain what action the buyer must take to officially gain possession of the item—a process known as “pulling.”

The Talmud says that the sale of a ship does not include the galley slaves. As I have remarked before, the world of the ancients took for granted a level of cruelty and brutality that we can scarcely imagine today.

The passage also includes some entertaining tall tales:
The chief dish in this heavenly feast will be the flesh of Leviathan, the biblical sea creature around which Judaism developed a whole mythology. Rav explains that when God first created the earth, He made a male and a female leviathan, but He realized that if beasts of such enormous size reproduced, “they would have destroyed the entire world.” To prevent this, “He castrated the male and killed the female, and salted her for the righteous in the future.” This kind of folk belief is very different from what most American Jews learn as Judaism today. In our reformed, rationalized faith, there is no room for heavenly banquets on giant sea-monsters. And the proximity of these ostensibly religious tales to outright absurdities, like the one about the 750-mile-high wave, does not exactly inspire confidence. One of the most fascinating things about the Talmud, I have found in my Daf Yomi reading, is the way the same rabbinic minds can embrace both the most rigorous logic and the most florid fantasies.
Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.