Sunday, May 29, 2005

How to Observe Shabbat

From the discussion in the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbat, folio 12b:

“An objection is raised: One must not read by the light of a lamp, lest he tilt it [and thus violate the rules against work on the Sabbath]. Said R. Ishmael b. Elisha, ‘I will read and will not tilt.’ Yet once he read and wished to tilt. ‘How great are the words of the Sages!’ he exclaimed, ‘who said, One must not read by the light of the lamp.’ R. Nathan said, He read and did tilt it, and wrote in his notebook, ‘I, Ishmael b. Elisha, did read and tilt the lamp on the Sabbath. When the Temple is rebuilt, I will bring a fat sin offering.’”

(trans. H. Freedman from Soncino Press edition)

3 comments:

kaspit said...

Greetings. You probably have in mind the notion that I b. E is not going to let halakhic minutiae get in the way of reading Old Books (I like your blog's title btw). But his solves the problem, it seems, merely by not caring too much about the liability. That is, he ignores the gezera and keeps track of times that he tilts (as the gezera had anticipated) But one could also go about this by developing a more shabbat-friendly (i.e., halakhically-driven) technology, as I argue (in my blog) has been done for cholent and much else. Or, could IbE have taken a more permissive position within the halakhah? Any sense of why he took the path he travelled?

Good luck with this blog!

Adam said...

It was the possibility of a more permissive/lenient position that intrigued me. Is he really repentant and won't do it again? Does he now realize the need for the gezera? Does he believe he will have the opportunity to make amends with his "fat sin offering" soon? Or, does he think this gezera is a bit extreme and is making a bit of a joke? Needless to say, I haven't pursued this through later commentators and codes but perhaps now I will.
As for technology: in my local Judaica store, I recently saw a Shabbat lamp with shades to pull across when you want to "turn off" the light. Presumably manipulating the shades allows more or less light which strikes me as the contemporary equivalent of tilting the lamp.

kaspit said...

As I saw on a "secular humanist" daf yomi, "Rabbi Ishmael b. Elisha assumed he could read without tilting, but when the moment arrived he was about to do it and celebrates the sages for predicting his inclination."
Still, I think it is intended to be humorous. (Tho' my weakness is in seeing every sugya as sardonic.)

For shabbos technology, many of the breakthroughs come from the ability to automate and sustain controlled mechanisms, to delegate autonomy to machines. The VCR, the voice mail, and now the observant must grapple with whether their blogs are working for them, too. Ciao...