Finally, Yalta sends R. Nahman a message—finish up with this monkey business and let’s get this guy out of here!
R. Nahman does not even remember sending the summons, but R. Yehudah whips it out, so R. Nahman reluctantly agrees to get on with the show.
R. Yehudah explains that he excommunicated him, a punishment worse than lashes, for abusing R. Yehudah’s agent when the agent was buying meat.
R. Nahman thinks R. Yehudah went overboard by proclaiming him a slave. Shmuel might have said that we suspect the person of calling others by his own disqualification, but he did not say we proclaim the offendant as such. To use contemporary terms, there are opinions one might legitimately have, but declaring them in the public space is not legitimate.
R. Yehudah always seems to have a quote ready from Shmuel. Overly praising your own lineage is a sign that in reality, the braggart is a descendant of slaves.
R. Nahman points out a problem—R. Yehudah should not be allowed to issue a ruling in his own favor after a case comes in front of him. It’s like making a prediction after you know the outcome.
R. Yehudah responds that R. Matanah agrees with him. Stay tuned—tomorrow we will meet R. Matanah.
The fascinating conclusion to the epic story of R. Yehudah and the namecaller.
R. Matanah conveniently comes to Nehardea that very day for the first time in thirteen years. Shmuel jogs his memory and R. Matanah remembers Shmuel indeed ruling that whoever claims that he is from the Hasmonean house is a slave. The last remaining Hasmonean committed suicide. In this story, Herod kills all of the members of the Hasmonean household and claims their throne. Herod, according to that rabbinic tradition, is descended from a slave. So even if one can trace his/her lineage to Herod, his rule is not the authentic Hasmonean rule. He is a usurper.
This is a fascinating end to the story. R. Yehudah wins, but ruling that a prominent man is a slave can be very dangerous. Evidently, he had many family members, and many people discovered that their marriages were annulled. The people are understandably furious with R. Yehudah for essentially ruining their lives. His response is to threaten them even more—if you don’t back off I’ll let you know even more information as to who is valid and who is not.
The people back off, but their stones cause a stoppage in the river. Definitely symbolic—all of this name calling causes an end to the flow that sustains life.
This whole story is a fascinating discussion of the power of language and lineage. Knowing too much about a person can be dangerous. Neither R. Yehudah nor his disputant is a sympathetic character, which makes the story even more fascinating.
R. Yehudah, now perhaps drunk with his own power, begins to proclaim who is fit or unfit in Nehardea. I believe that this portrayal of R. Yehudah is at least partially critical of his behavior.
The Bavli continues to portray rabbis casting aspersions on entire families of Jews. Again, it is hard to know what the editor thinks of these actions. On the one hand, there is no doubt that all rabbis believed in the importance of lineage. On the other, maybe rabbis should not go around announcing information that will cause such terrible disruptions in society. Do we always want to know the truth?
R. Yehudah casts aspersions on all impudent priests. Pashchur b. Immer was a priest in the time of Jeremiah. He is found in Jeremiah 20. He is described as having deep conflict with Jeremiah and is not a positive character at all. Here he seems to be the emblematic priest—priests that come after him are descended from his slaves. Abaye adds another slam on the people of Nehardea. Those who sit in the “row of honor” are all descendants of slaves. Abaye, as you can imagine, was not from Nehardea.
Abaye and R. Yehudah’s negative views of lineage of cantankerous priests are not shared by R. Elazar. Priests are just cranky, quarrelsome people. This does not mean that they have flawed lineage. One wonders how the priests would have responded to this.
God, in a sense, cuts off men who marry wives not fit for them (meaning their lineage is not appropriate). The people of Israel are a testimony to God only when their proper lineage is preserved.
God’s Divine Presence will rest only on families with unflawed lineage.
The comparison of the two verses allows Rabbah bar R. Huna to conclude that those born as Jews are automatically the people of God. Whereas converts must first pledge their hearts to God, and then they too shall be God’s people.
This source is, in my opinion, an accurate reflection of a dominant trend in Judaism. Jews, by virtue of being born Jewish, have a special relationship with God. As problematic as this sounds to our ears, the rabbis believed that Jews are God’s chosen people and as such have special responsibilities as to how they act in the world. But they also believed that the path to God is not closed to the rest of the world. It is open and it is each individual’s choice to choose that path.
R. Helbo plays on the similarity in the Hebrew between the word “and they shall cleave” and the word for “scab” in the context of skin diseases. Converts, are difficult to Israel, like scabs and sores are difficult to a person.
There are several different interpretations of this fairly well-known statement. In my opinion, the simple reading is that R. Helbo has a very negative, blood-related (perhaps racist, if you want), view of conversion. Converts, whose lineage is not Jewish, defile, in a sense the pure blood of Jews, and while Judaism is open to conversion, this is not something that should be celebrated.
However, we should note that throughout history there have been more positive takes on this statement, and some more ambivalent ones. A positive take is that converts, by their dedication to Judaism, and their choice to join, make Jews look bad, for Jews are often lax in their observance. Rashi reads the difficulty of converts in that they are not scrupulous in the performance of the commandments.
The history of Judaism’s attitude to converts and conversion is, like most things in Judaism, long, complicated and dynamic.
The Talmud continues to discuss lineage. We’ll be talking about this for a long time, just so you know.
God is portrayed here as sorting out the proper lineage of Israel—who married women fit for them and who did not. When God does this, the first tribe to be sorted out will be the Levites.