R. Yehoshua b. Levi uses the same verse to prove what seems to be an eternal truth—money buys prestige. Mamzerim can buy their way into families of proper lineage and in the future, God will not sort them out as mamzerim. Rashi explains that R. Yehoshua reads the verb “purifier” differently than did Rami b. Hama. R. Yehoshua reads this as God allowing those mamzerim who had intermarried with Israel to remain there. This is a good representation on the two views of mamzerim we will see throughout these sugyot. Is it desirable that improper marriages, poor lineages, etc. should be weeded out? Or does God (and we in return) celebrate the fact mamzerim (and others of flawed lineage) have managed to hide their identity and in a sense “purify” their lines.
This interpretation maintains the second line I explained before. God does not reveal a family the flawed lineage that has become mixed up in a family.
According to this source, the lineage of Eretz Yisrael is dough, meaning mixed up, in comparison to Babylonia. Babylonia has preserved their lineage better than Eretz Yisrael. The practical ramification of this is that a family from a place of better lineage would have to investigate the lineage of someone they want to marry from a place of poorer lineage.
There was an attempt, according to this source, to change this around. But it failed. Even those in Eretz Yisrael realize that the lineage of those in Babylonia is superior.
We should realize that this is a source in the Bavli portraying those in Eretz Yisrael as admitting that those in Babylonia have superior lineage. From a source like this, it is not possible to know what those in Eretz Yisrael thought about their lineage.
In this fascinating story a rabbi realizes that his statement is not going to be popular, so he tells his slaves that as soon as he issues the statement, they should help him flee. Evidently, the slaves can run faster carrying him than he can run on his own (R. Pinchas really needs to get in shape).
To catch the students in the bet midrash off guard, he first issues a puzzling statement. The Torah does not mandate the ritual slaughtering of fowl. One who eats fowl not properly slaughtered has not transgressed a biblical commandment. Note that while there is someone who holds this in the Talmud, this is not the accepted halakhic opinion. In any case, while the other rabbis are looking into this puzzling law, R. Pinchas slips in that the lineage of Jews from Eretz Yisrael is dough in comparison to Babylonian Jews.
The students end up confirming his statement once they look into his opinion.
R. Yohanan swears by the Temple that the rabbis can reveal who has poor lineage. The problem is that some of the greatest men of their time are already mixed up with them and do not want to have their genealogical flaws revealed. R. Yohanan agrees with R. Yitzchak that once a family has their lineage mixed up, there is nothing anyone should do about it.
Abaye cites a tannaitic source that describes a strong man named Ben Zion who decided which family had improper lineage and which did not. In the future, Elijah will come and clarify the status of these families. But he will not look into the status of families who have been mixed up, whose lineage is not known.
As I’ve said before, statements like these express an ambivalence towards the “reality” of lineage. Is a genealogical flaw something “real” that manifests itself in the family in some way—perhaps moral, perhaps personal, social or religious? This might be similar to our asking today is “race” real? [I know, this is a very controversial question]. Or is it more “nominal,” meaning that it is a social construct that is at times best left unknown? I think the rabbis waver on this issue and are able to see it in both ways. At least we are presented with both opinions in the Bavli.
While the sages have information about which families have flawed lineage, they should preserve it but not reveal it. At most, they reveal it twice every seven years. Even one who takes a nazirite vow if he does not reveal which families are impure, should rather be a nazirite than reveal these impurities. This shows that the less such information is revealed, the better
Again, rabbis realize the danger of people going around and revealing which families have poor lineage. Social harmony seems more important than being adamant at revealing the truth about who people are.
Today’s section is connected to yesterday’s statement about genealogical information because it too talks about traditions that sages transmit once or twice every seven years.
God’s name, the “Tetragrammaton” has a certain pronunciation that is known only to the very few. The sages know how it is pronounced, but they transmit it only once or twice every seven years. R. Nahman b. Yitzchak connects this with a midrash on the way the world “le’olam” is spelled, without the vav. Pronounced a different way, the meaning could be “to conceal.” God’s name is meant to be concealed.
What! Rava wanted to reveal it to everyone and some old man said two words to him and stopped him. Who was this old man? Why? Why? And Rava, pretty bold move, although he was certainly discouraged very easily.
R. Avina contrasts the two parts of Exodus 3:15 as the source for why God’s name is written one way and spelled another. This indeed can be very confusing. Especially those times when it is written with yod he, but pronounced “Elohim.” Those cases always throw me for a loop.
This sugya continues to discuss God’s name.
Interestingly, according to this view of history, at one point everyone knew God’s twelve letter name. But people began to use it for their own gain, and at that point it needed to be hidden. They continued to transmit it to priests who would guard it properly. These priests softly uttered it during the chanting of the priestly blessing. Rashi explains that most priests would use God’s four letter name, as we do today (although we do not pronounce it the way it is written). When they would extend their singing, the priests who knew the twelve-letter name would utter it so that most people couldn’t hear it. Rashi even translates chanting into French as “trope”—as in Torah trope!
The most guarded of God’s name is the 42 letter name. The qualities that one has to be able to be entrusted with this name seem to me the exact type of qualities we would want in a powerful politician. I love it how the person is supposed to be middle-aged. That’s at least one characteristic that I fulfill!
We now return to the issue of genealogical fitness. In Babylonia, people are presumed to be genealogically fit. In other lands they are assumed to be unfit. In Eretz Yisrael, whatever a person is presumed to be is his status. As we have seen before, Eretz Yisrael’s lineage is superior to most lands, but not to Babylonia.
The last part of Shmuel’s statement seems to be self-contradictory as far as the status of one with no presumption—is that person assumed to be fit or unfit
The solution is that in order to marry a fit woman, the man needs to be presumed to be fit. But in order to be forced to divorce a fit woman, one needs to be presumed to be unfit. In other words, there is a higher bar ab initio than there is ex post facto.