Shabbat 157

Shabbat shalom!

Mazel tov! We are on the last page of Shabbat — the longest tractate by word count in the Talmud. For those of who have been following Daf Yomi since the beginning of Berakhot, we have been studying together for just over seven months, and are about 7% of our way through the Talmud, a fact that we at MJL find both inspiring and humbling.

Ahad Ha’am famously quipped: “More than the Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews.” If you’re already feeling nostalgic for conversations for the day of rest, fear not, because we are not really leaving it. Tractate Eruvin, which we will begin tomorrow, is really a continuation of Shabbat, concerned with the laws of eruv — the boundary that permits the carrying of objects in public on Shabbat.

The first tractate of the Talmud, Berakhot, concluded with a number of pithy rabbinic statements that felt both expansive and summarizing. Tractate Shabbat does something of the opposite, wrapping up by discussing a mishnah that tackles a bunch of obscure do’s and dont’s on Shabbat, including whether a man may nullify the vows of his wife or daughter, seal a window, measure a rag to see if it’s large enough to contract impurity or measure a mikveh to see if it contains enough water. To the end, it seems, the rabbis delight in the minute and obscure.

The tractate ends with a story that springs from the discussion about measuring water for a mikveh:

Ulla came to the house of the Exilarch where he saw Rabba bar Rav Huna sitting in a tub of water and measuring it. 

He said to Rabba bar Rav Huna: The Sages said that it is permitted to measure on Shabbat only in order to perform a mitzvah. But this measuring, which is not for a mitzvah, did they say that it is permitted?

Rabba bar Rav Huna said to him: I am merely acting unawares.

And that is where the tractate leaves us — with a rabbi lounging idly in a bathtub, distractedly measuring the volume water for no apparent reason. With all that learning, perhaps his brain needed a break. Maybe yours does, too. Rest up quick, because Daf Yomi stops for nothing, and tomorrow we open a new chapter. See you then!

Read all of Shabbat 157 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on August 10, 2020. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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