I never actually watched Hands on a Hard Body, but the premise always fascinated me. The 1997 documentary film traces a yearly competition in Longview, Texas which pits 24 contestants against each other to see who can keep their hand on a pickup truck for the longest amount of time. Five-minute breaks are issued every hour, and fifteen minute breaks every six hours, but other than that, one must be touching the truck at all times. Whoever endures the longest without leaning on the truck, squatting, or breaking contact wins the truck.
As a one-time participant (and referee) for Northwestern University’s Dance Marathon several years running, I have seen this sort of endurance competition up close. Inherent in the competition is a delight in and fascination with continuity — one which also pervades today’s daf.
The question at hand is whether a bandage that has slipped off a wound can be replaced without being considered a new act of bandaging (which would be prohibited on Shabbat). The Gemara begins with a statement that is broadly permissive:
The sages taught: With regard to a bandage that became detached from a wound, one may return it to its place on Shabbat in all cases.
But along comes Rabbi Yehuda to argue with this premise:
Rabbi Yehuda says: If it slipped downward, one may push it upward; if it slipped upward, one may push it downward. One may also uncover part of the bandage and clean the opening of the wound on one side, and then uncover another part of the bandage and clean the opening of the wound on that side.
Rabbi Yehuda effectively limits the permission to replace a bandage to cases in which the bandage slips a little — up, down, side-to-side — or is bent back partially. His statement implies that if the bandage is ripped off fully and intentionally, it cannot be replaced on Shabbat as this would constitute a new act of bandaging.
But, the rabbis want to know, what would happen if the bandage fell off completely? May it be replaced? Now it gets more complicated, especially since Rav Yehuda and Rabbi Yehuda are not the same person!
Rav Yehuda said that Shmuel said: The halakhah is in accordance with the opinion of Rabbi Yehuda.
Rav Hisda said: The sages taught that it is permitted to restore the bandage to the wound only where it became detached and fell onto a utensil, in which case one may immediately pick it up and replace it. However, if it became detached and fell onto the ground, everyone agrees it is prohibited, as this is considered as though one were bandaging the wound for the first time.
The discussion continues. Ultimately, the Gemara, which opened in a permissive place, ends up there as well, with the halakhah landing on the idea that the bandage — regardless of how or where it fell — may be restored to the wound on Shabbat. Like the Texan competitors and their proscribed breaks, the halakhah makes space in Shabbat for inevitable human needs, like the need for a restroom break or a shift in position.
In case you’re wondering, the 1995 competition, captured in the documentary, lasted a lot longer than Shabbat: 77 continuous hours.