There are certain activities that should not be done in the synagogue. It should not be turned into a cafeteria. One shouldn’t use it as a place for dressing, putting on makeup, jewelry or other such acts considered “adornment.” Synagogues shouldn’t be used as a place to escape from the heat or the cold. In talmudic times eulogies were not delivered in the synagogue unless it was for a public figure such as a sage.
In general we should note that the structure of synagogues today is very different from back then. Today, at least in North America, a synagogue is a community building, with a social hall, a school, offices, etc. In talmudic times it was only a sanctuary. This is an important point to keep in mind.
When the synagogue is still in use, it should be kept up so that grass does not grow on its dirt floors. R. Judah adds that when it is destroyed (or at least no longer in use) they may let grass grow. When it does grow, they should not pluck it up for this would cause them even greater sorrow. There is little sadder than a destroyed synagogue.
Assi says that in Babylonia they build the synagogues with the stipulation that they can be used for other purposes. It is not clear what these purposes are, but they may include meetings or other such events, including eating and funerals for individuals. However, one still should not use them for business, by doing calculations in them.
Assi even goes so far as to say that as a punishment for doing business calculations in a synagogue, they leave a dead body in there overnight. This is too gruesome for the Talmud to simply accept. It is also not particularly respectful to use a deady body as a sort of punishment for the synagogue. Therefore, the Talmud emends his statement to read, that in the end a “met mitzvah”—a dead body with no one to bury it—will be left in there. This is not an actual punishment but a prediction of one. A community that allows its synagogue to be used as a place for calculating debts and other such matters, will in the end spur on violence in the community.
This section continues the interpretation of the Mishnah.
According to the Mishnah, it was forbidden to get dressed in the synagogue, or adorn oneself in some other way. Rava says that this rule does not hold for rabbis, since the synagogue (or bet midrash) is called the “rabbis’ house.”
There is some confusion or perhaps overlap in these sources between the synagogue and the bet midrash. This probably reflects the fact that synagogues were used for study and rabbis prayed in the bet midrash. To this day, there is no clear distinction between the two.
Ravina and R. Ada b. Matanah are asking questions from their teacher Rava when it starts to rain hard outside. They go into the synagogue, but are quick to declare that they have not done so merely to escape the rain. Rather, in order to concentrate on their studies they need to be able to focus as if it was a clear day. Studying Torah outside in the rain is not a good way of learning.
Since one is not allowed to go into a synagogue unless there is some sacred reason, he cannot just go in to call someone out. So what is he to do if he does need someone who is inside?
The first option is to go in and recite some teaching or tradition he knows: either a halakhah, a Mishnah or a verse. A halakhah a tradition that also explains the reason for the tradition. It may include a midrash. A tanna recites a “mishnah,” a short teaching with no explanation, from memory, even if he does not fully understand it. A “kara” is one who memorizes the Tanakh. If the person does not know even know a verse, then he can ask a child to recite the last verse that the child had been learning.
If he can’t use one of these options, then he should just sit around outside and hope the person he wants comes out. The Talmud does not allow him to go into the synagogue just to call someone out. The synagogue’s holiness was taken very seriously.
The mishnah had stated that a public eulogy can be done in the synagogue. This seems to be a eulogy for a public figure that died, assumedly in the eyes of the rabbis, a rabbi.
Hisda and R. Sheshet both say that if the other is present at the eulogy, then it must be a “public eulogy.” Rashi explains that their presence implies that one of the rabbinical students in their bet midrash had died. Although it wasn’t the leading member of the bet midrash who was being eulogized, the fact that it was a rabbi is sufficient for the eulogy to be considered public.
In the second half of this section, two rabbis eulogize others in the synagogue, claiming that by doing so, many people will come. The fact that the rabbi is offering the eulogy ensures that it will be considered a public eulogy.
This section begins with another eulogy.
This is an example of a short eulogy, offered for a rabbinical student who would repeat halakhot in front of a large number of students.
This story is brought here as a contrast between the sages of the Land of Israel and those in Babylonia. The person who died was a professional reciter of rabbinic traditions. His memory was enormous and he knew all of the rabbinic compositions. “Halakhot” refers to the Mishnah. Sifra and Sifre are midrashic compositions and the Tosefta is a collection of material supplementary to the Mishnah. This man knew them all. And yet when they ask R. Nahman to say a eulogy for him, he responds by calling him a “bag of books.” This is a disparaging remark. Just as a book can’t understand its content, so too a professional memorizer, according to R. Nahman.
Now the Talmud notes how much more respectful Resh Lakish was than R. Nahman. Rashi explains that Resh Lakish was such a great person that he wouldn’t even talk to another rabbi in public because anyone seen talking to Resh Lakish would be considered so trustworthy that business matters could be conducted with him without witnesses. Resh Lakish was modest and did not want others to risk money based merely on their having spoken to Resh Lakish. On the other hand, R. Nahman was known elsewhere for being extremely arrogant, as we can see in this tradition as well.
The Mishnah teaches that if someone uses the “crown” he will pass away. This refers to the “crown of the Torah” condemning one who uses Torah for personal gain. Resh Lakish interprets it to mean that one cannot “accept service” from a person who knows enough to repeat halakhot. One must treat such a person with a high degree of respect, and not allow him to act as a servant. Ulla says that one does not owe such a high amount of respect to someone just because they can repeat Torah. To earn such a high level of respect the person must also be able to teach it.
Ulla refers to “four orders of the Mishnah.” By the amoraic period two orders of the original six were not being learned. In Israel they taught: Zeraim, Moed, Nashim and Nezikin. In Babylonia they taught: Moed, Nashim, Nezikin and Kodashim. In neither place was Toharot taught. I think I can understand why.
This story illustrates Resh Lakish’s principle that one must honor someone even if the best they can do is recite Mishnah. The person carrying Resh Lakish across the river turns out to be one who can recite four full orders of the Mishnah. Upon hearing this, Resh Lakish refuses to receive any more service from him and orders him to cast him back into the river. The man has “hewn four rocks”—learned four full orders of Mishnah—and now he lowers himself to carry Resh Lakish. Disgraceful.
The man refuses to throw Resh Lakish into the water, asking instead that Resh Lakish teach him something.
The particular halakhah that Resh Lakish teaches the man has to do with the laws of menstrual purity. According to Toraitic law a woman who menstruates does not need to wait seven days without blood before going to the mikvah. When a woman menstruates, she counts seven days from the start, and as long as she is no longer menstruating by the time the week is over, she goes the mikveh and she is clean immediately. Jewish women were strict however, treating any blood as if it may be non-menstrual blood. Furthermore, non-menstrual blood requires seven clean days only if the woman bleeds three days in a row. Jewish women treated one issue of blood as if it were three days of non-menstrual blood. They were doubly strict.
I’m not sure why Resh Lakish chose to teach the man this particular halakhah. Perhaps it illustrates the problem of relying on the mishnah alone to rule in matters of halakhah.
It was taught in the house of Eliyahu: Whoever repeats halakhoth is assured of the world to come, as it says, “His goings [halikoth] are to eternity” (Habbakuk 3:6). Read not halikkot but halakhoth.
The sugya concludes with this teaching from the house of Eliyahu—whoever repeats halakhot is guaranteed a place in the world to come.