Nedarim 56

A lucky bed?

The mishnah on today’s daf explores whether a dargesh is included in the category of bed. If someone vows not to use a bed, is that person allowed to use a dargesh? Rabbi Meir says yes, but the rabbis state that a dargesh is considered a bed and therefore not allowed. As we might expect, the mishnah doesn’t tell us which position is the correct one. And as we also might expect, the mishnah doesn’t tell us what a dargesh actually is.

Enter the Gemara. The only thing the Gemara wants to discuss is this question of what a dargesh is. Rav Tahalifa suggests that a dargesh is a leather tanner’s bed, which presumably means that it has leather components. Rabbi Yirimyah, meanwhile, states that both a bed and a dargesh involve some kind of mattress supported by straps fastened to a bedframe but:

In a bed, one fastens straps over (the frame); in a dargesh, one fastens the straps through itself.

Rabbi Yirmiyah distinguishes between a bed with a solid frame and the straps are woven over it, covering the frame, and a dargesh which has a frame with holes in it to loop the straps through. 

The rabbis offer a different interpretation. They quote a mishnah in Tractate Keilim which says that a bed frame must be sanded. If the whole thing is covered in straps, why would it need to be sanded? The rabbis insist therefore that both a bed and a dargesh have a frame where the straps do not cover the frame. The difference they see is:

In a bed, the straps are inserted and extracted through holes; in a dargesh, the straps are inserted and extracted through loops (connected to the bed frame).

If you read the page before you read this essay, you may have noticed that I skipped the first answer offered by the Gemara. Let’s now look at that answer, in light of the other three: Ulla states that a dargesh is an arsa de-gada. Arsa is the Aramaic word for bed. So Ulla thinks that there are regular beds, and then there are de-gada beds. 

In biblical Hebrew, the word gad usually refers to luck or fate. That’s why when Zilpah gives birth to a son in Genesis 30:11, Leah exclaims “What luck!” and names him Gad. But language evolves. The word gada has two meanings in the Aramaic dialect used in the Talmud. According to Michael Sokoloff’s expert Dictionary of Jewish Babylonian Aramaicthe word can mean luck or fate, or it can mean woven.

Because more people today read biblical Hebrew than read Aramaic, we might assume that the word in the Talmud is the same as in the Bible — and so there’s a regular bed, and a lucky bed, and those are not the same thing. Indeed, with his comprehensive understanding of the Bible, the medieval commentator Rashi offers exactly this gloss on the phrase arsa de-gada: “a bed that one sets up for luck, but no one sleeps on it.” If you’re studying the Talmud in English, the most common English translations follow the opinion of Rashi in translating this phrase; some people carry around a rabbit’s foot or a lucky penny, others have symbolic beds in their homes to bring good fortune.

But in light of the other three opinions discussed in the Gemara, I think that Sokoloff’s second suggestion makes more sense in this context. If the rabbis are debating what kinds of materials and craftsmanship make up a regular bed and which make up a dargesh, then having Ulla suggest that a dargesh is a bed with woven components makes more sense as part of the discussion.

Marcus Jastrow’s dictionary of Aramaic may also be of help here. He says that a dargesh is a fancy kind of bed that has a footstool — or just the footstool of this style of bed. This fits well with other discussions of the dargesh in Moed Katan 27a and Sanhedrin 20a, where we learn that a dargesh cannot be used as a bier (because it is too fancy, and funerals should not draw attention to the wealth or poverty of the deceased) and that while beds are ordinarily overturned in the wake of a death in the house, a dargesh is turned not upside down but on its side — or perhaps its straps are loosened. 

In conclusion, the dargesh may be posh, but perhaps it is not so lucky after all.  

Read all of Nedarim 56 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on December 20th, 2022. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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