Law of the Sabbath

From The Mishnah And The Jerusalem Talmud

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(From Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
by Alfred Edersheim, 1886, Appendix XVII)

The terribly exaggerated views of the Rabbis, and their endless, burdensome rules about the Sabbath may best be learned from a brief analysis of the Mishnah, as further explained and enlarged in the Jerusalem Talmud. [The Jerusalem Talmud is not only the older and the shorter of the two Gemaras, but would represent most fully the Palestinian ideas.] For this purpose a brief analysis of what is, confessedly, one of the most difficult tractates may here be given.

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The Mishnic tractate Sabbath stands at the head of 12 tractates which together form the second of the 6 sections into which the Mishnah is divided, and which treats of Festive Seasons (Seder Moed). Properly to understand the Sabbath regulations, it is, however, necessary also to take into account the second tractate in that section, which treats of what are called 'commixtures' or 'connections' (Erubin). Its object is to make the Sabbath Laws more bearable. For this purpose, it is explained how places, beyond which it would otherwise have been unlawful to carry things, may be connected together, so as, by a legal fiction, to convert them into a sort of private dwelling.

Thus, supposing a number of small private houses to open into a common court, it would have been unlawful on the Sabbath to carry anything from one of these houses into the other. This difficulty is removed if all the families deposit before the Sabbath sone food in the common court, when 'a connection' is established between the various houses, which makes them one dwelling. This was called the 'Erubh of Courts.' Similarly, an extension of what was allowed as a 'Sabbath journey' might be secured by another 'commixture,' the 'Erubh' or 'connection of boundaries.' An ordinary Sabbath day's journey extended 2,000 cubits beyond one's dwelling. [On the Sabbath journey, and the reason for fixing it at a distance of 2,000 cubits, see Kitto's Cyclop. (last ed.) 'Sabbath way,' and 'The Temple and its Services,' p. 148.]

But if at the boundary of that 'journey' a man deposited on the Friday food for two meals, he thereby constituted it his dwelling, and hence might go on for another 2,000 cubits. Lastly, there was another 'Erubh,' when narrow streets or blind alleys were connected into 'a private dwelling' by laying a beam over the entrance, or extending a wire or rope along such streets and allwys. This, by a legal fiction, made them 'a private dwelling,' so that everything was lawful there which a man might do on the Sabbath in his own house.

Without discussing the possible and impossible questions about these Erubin raised by the most ingenious casuistry, let us see how Rabbinism taught Israel to observe its Sabbath. In not less than 24 chapters, [In the Jerusalem Talmud a Gemara is attached only to the first 20 chapters of the Mishnic tractate Shabbath; in the Babylon Talmud to all the 24 chapters.] matters are seriously discussed as of vital religious importance, which one would scarcely imagine a sane intellect would seriously entertain. Through 64.5 folio columns in the Jerusalem, and 156 double pages of folio in the Babylon Talmud does the enumeration and discussion of possible cases, drag on, almost unrelieved even by Haggadah. [I have counted about 33 Haggadic pieces in the tractate.]

The Talmud itself bears witness to this, when it speaks (no doubt exaggeratedly) of a certain Rabbi who had spent no less than two and a half years in the study of only one of those 24 chapters! And it further bears testimony to the unprofitableness of these endless discussions and determinations. The occasion of this is so curious and characteristic, that it might here find mention. The discussion was concerning a beast of burden. An ass might not be led out on the road with its covering on, unless such had been put on the animal previous to the Sabbath, but it was lawful to lead the animal about in this fashion in one's courtyard. [In the former case it might be a burden or be lead to work, while in the latter case the covering was presumably for warmth.] The same rule applied to a packsaddle, provided it were not fastened on by girth and backstrap.

Upon this one of the Rabbis is reported as bursting into the declaration that this formed part of those Sabbath Laws (comp. Chag. i. 8) which were like mountains suspended by a hair' (Jer. Shabb. 7b). And yet in all these wearisome details there is not a single trace of anything spiritual, not a word even to suggest higher thoughts of God's holy day and its observance,

The tractate on the Sabbath begins with regulations extending its provisions to the close of the Friday afternoon, so as to prevent the possiblity of infringing on the Sabbath itself, which commenced on the Friday evening. As the most common kind of labour would be that of carrying, this is the first point discussed. The Biblical Law forbade such labour in simple terms (Ex. 36:6; comp. Jer. 17:22). But Rabbinism developed the prohibition into 8 special ordinances, by first dividing 'the bearing of a burden' into two separate acts, lifting it up and putting it down, and then arguing that it might be lifted up or put down from two different places, from a public into a private, or from a private into a public place.

Here, of course, there are discussions as to what constituted a 'private place' and 'a public place'; 'a wide space,' which belongs neither to a special individual or to a community, such as the sea, a deep wide valley, or else the corner of a property leading out on the road or fields, and, lastly, a 'legally free place.' [Such a free place must cover less than four square cubits, for ex., a pillar would be such. To this no legal determination would apply. The 'wide space' is called Karmelith. The Mishnah, however, expressly mentions only the 'private' and the 'public' place (or 'enclosed' and 'open'), although the Karmeilth was in certain circumstances treated as 'public,' in others as 'private' property. The explanation of the terms and legal definitions is in Jer. Shabb. 12d; 13a; Shabb. 6a, b; Toseft. Shabb. 1.] Again, a 'burden' meant, as the lowest standard of it, the weight of 'a dried fig.'

But if 'half a fig' were carried at two different times, lifted or deposited from a private into a public place, or vice versa, were these two actions to be combined into one so as to constitute the sin of Sabbath desecration? And if so, under what conditions as to state of mind, locality, etc.? And, lastly, how many different sins might one such act involve?

To give an instance of the kind of questions that were generally discussed: the standard measure for forbidden food was the size of an olive, just as that for carrying burdens was the weight of a fig. If a man swallowed forbidden food of the size of half an olive, rejected it, and again eaten of the size of half an olive, he would be guilty, because the palate had altogether tasted food to the size of a whole olive; but if one had deposited in another locality a burden of the weight of a half a fig, and removed it again, it involved no guilt, because the burden was altogether only of half a fig, nor even if the first half fig's burden had been burnt and then a second half fig introduced. Similarly, if an object that was intended to be worn or carried in front had slipped behind it involved no guilt, but if it had been intended to be worn or carried behind, and it slipped forward, this involved guilt, as involving labor.

Similar difficulties were discussed as to the reverse. Whether, if an object were thrown from a private into a public place, or the reverse. Whether, if an object was thrown into the air with the left, and caught again in the right hand, this involved sin, was a nice question, though there could be no doubt a man incurred guilt if he caught it with the same hand which it had been thrown, but he was not guilty if he caught it in his mouth, since, after being eaten, the object no longer existed, and hence catching with the mouth was as if it had been done by a second person.

Again, if it rained, and the water which fell from the sky were carried, there was no sin in it; but if the rain had run down from a wall it would involve sin. If a person were in one place, and his hand filled with fruit, he would have to drop the fruit, since if he withdrew his full hand from one locality into another, he would be carrying a burden on the Sabbath. It is needless to continue the analysis of this casuistry. All discussions to which we have referred turn only on the first of the legal canons in the tractate 'Sabbath.'

They will show what a complicated machinery of merely external ordinances traditionalism set in motion; how utterly unspiritual the whole system was, and how it required no small amount of learning and ingenuity to avoid commiting grievous sin. In what follows we shall only attempt to indicate the leading points in the Sabbath legislation of the Rabbis. Shortly before the commencement of the Sabbath (late on Friday afternoon) nothing new was to begun; [Here such questions are raised as what constitutes the beginning, for ex., of shaving or a bath] the tailor might no longer go out with his needle, nor the scribe with his pen; nor were clothes to be examined by lamp light. A teacher might not allow his pupils to read, if he himself looked on the book. All these are precautionary measures.

The tailor or scribe carrying his ordinary means of employment, might forget the advent of the holy day; the person examining a dress might kill insects, [To kill such vermin is, of course, strictly forbidden (to kill a flea is like a camel). Rules are given how to dispose of such insects. On the same occasion some curious ideas are broached as to the transformation of animals, one into another.] which is strictly forbidden on the Sabbath, and the teacher might move the lamp to see better, while the pupils were supposed to be so zealous as to also do this.

These latter rules, we are reminded, were passed at a certain celebrated discussion between the schools of Hillel and Shammai, when the latter were in the majority. On that occasion also opposition to the Gentiles was carried to its farthest length, and their food, their language, their testimony, their presence, their intercourse, in short, all connection with them denounced. The school of Shammai also forbade to make any mixture, the ingredients of which would not be wholly dissolved and assimilated before the Sabbath. Nay, the Sabbath law was declared to apply even to lifeless objects. Thus, wool might not be dyed if the process was not completed before the Sabbath. Nor was it even lawful to sell anything to a heathen unless the object would reach its destination before the Sabbath, nor to give to a heathen workman anything to do which might involve him in Sabbath work.

Thus, Rabbi Gamialiel was careful to send his linen to be washed three days before Sabbath. But it was lawful to leave olives or grapes in the olive or wine press. Both schools were agreed that, in roasting or baking, a crust must have been formed before the Sabbath, except in case of the Passover lamb. The Jerusalem Talmud, however, modifies certain of these rules. Thus the prohibition of work by a heathen only applies if they work in the house of the Jew, or at least in the same town with him. The school of Shammai, however, went so far as to forbid sending a letter by a heathen, not only on a Friday or on a Thursday, but even sending it on a Wednesday, or to embark on the sea on these days.

It being assumed that the lighting of the Sabbath lamp was a law given to Moses on Mount Sinai, the Mishnah proceeds, in the second chapter of the tractate on the Sabbath, to discuss the substances of which respectively the wick and the oil may be composed, provided always that oil which feeds the wick is not put in a seperate vessel, since the removal of that vessel would cause the extinction of tha lamp, which would involve a breach of the Sabbath law. But if the light were extinguished from fear of the Gentiles, of robbers, or of an evil spirit, or in order that one dangerously ill might go to sleep, it involved no guilt. Here, many points in casuistry are discussed, such as whether twofold guilt is incurred if in blowing out a candle its flame lights another.

The Mishnah here diverges to discuss the other commandments, which, like that of lighting the Sabbath lamp, specially devolve on women, on which occasion the Talmud broaches some curious statements about the heavenly Sanhedrin and Satan, such as that it is in moments of danger that the Great Enemy brings accusations against us, in order to ensure our ruin; or this, that on three occasions he specially lies in ambush: when one travel after the fast (Day of Atonement), that the Jewish proverb had it: 'When you bind your Lulabh [The Lulabh consisted of a palm with myrtle and willow branch tied on either side of it, which every worshipper carried on the Feast of Tabernacles ('Temple and its Services,' p. 238).] (at the Feast of Tabernacles) bind also your feet', as regards a sea voyage (Jer. Shabb. 5b, Ber.R 6).

The next two chapters in the tractate on the Sabbath discuss the manner in which food may be kept warm for the Sabbath, since no fire might be lighted. If the food had been partially cooked, or was such as would improve by increased heat, there would be temptation to attend to the fire, and this must be avoided. Hence the oven immediately before the Sabbath only to be heated with straw or chaff; if otherwise, the coals were to be removed or covered with ashes. Clothes ought not to be dried by the hot air of a stove. At any rate, care must be taken that neighbours do not see it. An egg may not be boiled by putting it near a hot kettle, nor in a cloth, nor sand heated by the sun. Cold water might be poured on warm, but not the reverse (at least such was the opinion of the school of Shammai), nor was it lawful to prepare either cold or warm compresses.

'Nay, a Rabbi went so far as to forbid throwing hot water over one's self, for fear of spreading the vapour, or of cleaning the floor thereby! A vessel might be put under a lamp to catch the falling sparks, but no water might be put into it, because it was not lawful to extinguish a light. Nor would it have been allowed on the Sabbath to put a vessel to receive the drops of oil that might fall from the lamp. Among many other questions raised was this: whether a parent might take his child in his arms. Happily, Rabbinic literally went so far as not only to allow this, but even, in the supposed case that the child might happen to have a stone in its hands, although this would involve the labour of carrying that stone! Similarly, it was declared lawful to lift seats, provided they had not, as it were, four steps, when they must be considered as ladders.

But it was not allowed to draw along chairs, as this might produce a rut of cavity, although a little carriage might be moved, since the wheels would only compress the soil but not produce a cavity (comp. on the Bab. Talmud, Shabb. 22a;46; and Bets. 23b). Again, the question is discussed, whether it is lawful to keep the food warm by wrapping around a vessel certain substances. here the general canon is, that all must be avoided which would increase the heat: since this would be to produce some outward effect, which would be equivalent to work.

In the fifth chapter of the tractate we are supposed to begin the Sabbath morning. Ordinarily, the first business of the morning would, of course, have been to take out the cattle. Accordingly, the laws are now laid down for ensuring Sabbath rest to the animals. The principle underlying these is, that only what serves as ornament, or is absolutely necessary for leading out or bringing back animals, or for safety, may be worn by them; all else is regarded as a burden. Even such things as might be put on to prevent the rubbing of a wound, on other possible harm, or to distinguish an animal, must be left aside on the day of rest.

Next, certain regulations are laid down to guide the Jew when dressing on the Sabbath morning, so as to prevent his breaking its rest. Hence he must be careful not to put on any dress which might become burdensome, nor to wear any ornament which be might put off and carry in his hand, for this would be a 'burden.' A woman must not wear such headgear as would require unloosing before taking a bath, nor go out with such ornaments as could be taken off in the street, such as a frontlet, unless it is attached to the cap, nor with a gold crown, nor with a necklace or nose ring, nor with rings, nor have a pin [Literally, a needle which has not an eyelet. Of course, it would not be lawful for a modern Jew, if he observe the Rabbinic Law, to carry a stick or a pencil on the Sabbath, to drive, or even to smoke.] in her dress. The reason for this prohibition of ornaments was, that in their vanity women might take them off to show them to their companions, and then, forgetful to the day, carry them, which would be a 'burden.'

Women are also forbidden to look in the glass on the Sabbath, because they might discover a white hair and attempt to pull it out, which would be a grievous sin; but men ought not to use looking glasses even on weekdays, because it was undignified. A woman may walk about her own court, but not in the streets, with false hair. Similarly, a man was forbidden to wear on the Sabbath wooden shoes studded with nails, or only one shoe, as this would involve labour; nor was he to wear phylacteries nor amulets, unless, indeed, they had been made by competent persons (since they might lift them off in order to show the novelty). Similarly, it was forbidden to wear any part of a suit of armour. it was not lawful to scrape shoes, except perhaps with the back of a knife, but they might be touched with oil or water.

Nor should sandals be softened with oil, because that would improve them. It was a very serious question, which led to much discussion, what should be done if the tie of a sandal had broken on the Sabbath. A plaster might be worn, provided its object was to prevent the wound from getting worse, not to heal it, for that would have been a work. Ornaments which could not easily be taken off might be worn in one's courtyard. Similarly, a person might go about with wadding in his ear, but not with false teeth nor with a gold plug in the tooth. If the wadding fell out of the ear, it could not be replaced. Some indeed, thought that its healing virtues lay in the oil in which it had been soaked, and which had dried up, but others ascribed them to the wrath of the wadding itself. In either case there was danger of healing, of doing anything for the purpose of a cure, and hence wadding might not be put into the ear on the Sabbath, although if worn before it might be continued.

Again, as regarded false teeth: they might fall out, and the wearer might then lift and carry them, which would be sinful on the Sabbath. But anything which formed part of the ordinary dress of a person might be worn also on the Sabbath, and children whose ears were being bored might have a plug put into the hole. It was also allowed to go about on crutches, or with a wooden leg and children might have bells on their dresses; but it was prohibited to walk on stilts, or to carry any heathen amulet. The seventh chapter of the tractate contains the most important part of the whole. It opens by laying down the principle that, if a person has either not known, or forgotten, the whole Sabbath law, all the breaches of it which he has committed during ever so many weeks are to be considered as only one error or one sin.

If he has broken the Sabbath law by mistaking the day, every Sabbath thus profaned must be atoned for; but he has broken the law because he thought that what he did was permissible, then every separate infringement constitutes a separate sin, although labors which stand related as species to the genus are regarded as only one work.

It follows, that guilt attaches to the state of mind rather than to the outward deed. Next, 39 chief or 'fathers' of work (Aboth) are enumerated, all of which are supposed to be forbidden in the Bible. They are: sowing, ploughing, reaping, binding sheaves, threshing, winnowing, sifting (selecting), grinding, sifting in a seive, kneading, baking; shearing the wool, washing it, beating it, dyeing it, spinning, putting it on the weaver's beam, making a knot, undoing a knot, sewing two stitches, tearing in order to sew two stitches; catching deer, killing, skinning, salting it preparing its skin, scraping off its hair, cutting it up, writing two letters, scraping in order to write two letters; building, pulling down, extinguishing fire, lighting fire, beating with the hammer, and carrying from one possession into the other.

The number 39 is said to represent the number of times that the word 'labour' occurs in the Biblical text, and all these Aboth or 'fathers of work are supposed to be connected with some work that had been done about the Tabernacle, or to be kindred to such work. Again, each of these principal works involved the prohibition of a number of others which were derived from them, and hence called their 'descendants' (toledoth). The 39 principal works have been arranged in four groups: the first (1 - 11) referring to the preparation of bread; the second (12 - 24) all connected with dress; the third (25 - 33) all connected with writing; and the last (34 - 39) to all the work necessary for a private house.

Another Rabbi derives the number 39 (of these Aboth) from the numerical value of the initial word in Exodus 35:1, although in so doing he has to change the last letter 'the' into 'a' to make 39). [The Rabbis contend for the lawfulness of changing 'the' into 'a' for the sake of an interpretation. Sop expressly here (Jer. Shabb. 9b) and in Jer. Peah 20b into Lev. 19:24).] Further explanations must here be added. If you scatter two seeds, you have been sowing. In general, the priciple is laid down, that anything by which the ground may be benefited is to be considered a 'work' or 'labour,' even if it were to sweep away or to break up a clod of earth. Nay, to pluck a blade of grass was a sin. Similarly, it was sinful labour to do anything that would promote the ripening of fruits, such as to water, or even to remove a withered leaf.

To pick fruit, or even to lift it from the ground, would be like reaping. If for example, a mushroom were cut, there would be twofold sin, since by the act of cutting, a new one would spring in its place. According to the Rabbis of Caesarea, fishing, and all that put an end to life, must be ranked with harvesting. In connection with the conduct of the disciples in rubbing the ears of corn on the Sabbath, it is interesting to know that all work connected with food would be classed as one of the toledoth, of binding into sheaves. If a woman were to roll wheat to take away these husks, she would be guilty of sifting with a sieve. If she were rubbing the ends of the stalks, she would be guilty of threshing. Is she were cleaning what adheres to the side of a stalk, she would be guilty of sifting. If she were brushing the stalk, she would be guilty fo grinding. If she were throwing it up in her hands, seh would be guilty of winnowing. Distinctions like the following are made: A radish may be dipped into salt, but not left in it too long, since this would be to make pickle.

A new dress might be put on, irrespective of the danger that in so doing it might be torn. Mud on the dress might be crushed in the hand and shaken off, but the dress must not be rubbed (for fear of affecting the material). If a person took a bath, opinions are divided, whether the whole body should be dried at once, or limb after limb. If water had fallen on the dress, some allowed the dress to be shaken but not wrung; other, to be wrung but not shaken. One Rabbi allowed to spit into the handkerchief, and that although it may necessitate the compressing of what had been wetted; but there is a grave discussion whether it was lawful to spit on the ground, and then to rub it with the foot, because thereby the earth may be scratched. It may, however, be done on stones. In the labour of grinding would be included such an act as crushing salt.

To sweep, or to water the ground, would involve the same sin as beating out the corn. to lay on a plaster would be a grievous sin; to scratch out a big letter, leaving room for two small ones, would be a sin, but to write one big letter occupying the room of two small letters was no sin. To change one letter into another might imply a double sin. And so on through endless details!

The Mishnah continues to explain that, in order to involve guilt, the thing carried from one locality to another must be sufficient to be entrusted for safekeeping. The quantity is regulated: as regards the food of animals, to the capacity of their mouth; as regards man, a dried fig is the standard. As regards fluids, the measure is as much wine as is used for one cup, that is, the measure of the cup being a quarter of a log, and wine being mixed with water in the proportion of three parts water to one of wine, 1 / 16 of a log. [It has been calculated by Herzfeld that a log = 0.36 of a litre; '6 hen's eggs'.] As regards milk, a mouthful; of honey, sufficient to lay on a wound; of oil, sufficient to anoint the smallest member; of water, sufficient to wet eye salve; and of all other fluids, a quarter of a log.

As regarded other substances, the standard as to what constituted a burden was whether the thing could be turned to any practical use, however trifling. Thus, two horse's hairs might be made into a birdtrap; a scrap of clean paper into a custom house notice; a small piece of paper written upon might be converted into a wrapper for a small flagon. In all these cases, therefore, transport would involve sin. Similarly, ink sufficient to write two letters, wax enough to fill up a small hole, even a pebble with which you might aim at a little bird, or a small piece of broken earthenware with which you might stir the coals, would be 'burdens!'

Passing to another aspect of the subject, the Mishnah lays it down that, in order to constitute sin, a thing must have been carried from one locality into another entirely and immediately, and that it must have been done in the way in which things are ordinarily carried. If an object which one person could carry is carried by two, they are not guilty. Finally, like all labour on the Sabbath, that of cutting one's nails or hair involves moral sin, but only if it is done in the ordinary way, otherwise only the lesser sin of the breach of the Sabbath rest. A very interesting notice in connection with St. John 5, is that in which it is explained how it would not involve sin to carry a living person on a pallet, the pallet being regarded only as an accessory to the man; while to carry a dead body in such manner, or even the smallest part of a dead body, would involve guilt.

From this the Mishnah proceeds to discuss what is analogous to carrying, such as drawing or throwing. Other 'labours' are similarly made the subject of inquiry, and it is shown how any approach to them involves guilt. The rule here is, that anything that might prove of lasting character must not be done on the Sabbath. The same rule applies to what might prove the beginning of work, such as letting the hammer fall on the anvil; or to anything that might contribute to improve a place, to gathering as much wood as would boil an egg, to uprooting weeds, to writing two letters of a word, in short, to anything that might be helpful in, or contribute towards, some future work.

The Mishnah next passes to such work in which not quantity, but quality, is in question, such as catching deer. Here it is explained that anything by which an animal might be caught is included in the prohibition. So far is this carried that, if a deer had run into a house, and the door were shut upon it, it would involve guilt, and this, even if, without closing the door, persons seated themselves at the entry to prevent the exit of the animal.

Passing over the other chapters, which similarly illustrate what are supposed to be Biblical prohibitions of labour as defined in the 39 Aboth and their toledoth, we come, in the 16th chapter of the tractate, to one of the most interesting parts, containing such Sabbath laws as, by their own admission, were imposed only by the Rabbis. These embrace: 1. Things forbidden, because they might lead to a transgression of the Biblical commune; 2. Such as are like the kind of labour supposed to be forbidden in the Bible; 3. Such as are regarded as incompatible with the honour due to the Sabbath. In the first class are included a number of regulations in case of a fire: All portions of Holy Scripture, whether in the original or translated, and the case in which they are laid; the phylacteries and their case, might be rescued from the flames.

Of food or drink only what was needful for the Sabbath might be rescued; but if the food were in a cupbord or basket the whole might be carried out. Similarly, all utensils needed for the Sabbath meal, but of dress only what was absolutely necessary, might be saved, it being, however, provided, that a person might put on a dress, save it, to go back and put on another, and so on. Again, anything in the house might be covered with skin so as to save it from the flames, or the spread of the flames might be arrested by piling up vessels. It was not lawful to ask a Gentile to extinguish the flame, but not duty to hinder him, if he did so. It was lawful to put a vessel over a lamp, to prevent the ceiling from catching fire; similarly, to throw a vessel over a scorpion, although on that point there is doubt. On the other hand, it is allowed, if a Gentile has lighted a lamp on the Sabbath, to make use of it, the fiction being, however, kept up that he did it for himself, and not for the Jew. By the same fiction the cattle may be watered, or, in fact, any other use made of his services.

Before passing from this, we should point out that it was directed that the Hagiographa should not be read except in the evening, since the daytime was to be devoted to more doctrinal studies. In the same connection it is added, that the study of the Mishnah is more important than that of the Bible, that of the Talmud being considered the most meritorious of all, as enabling one to understand all questions of right and wrong. Liturgical pieces, though containing the Name of God, might not be rescued from the flames.

The Gospels, and the writings of Christians, or of heretics, might not be rescued. If it be asked what should be done with them on weekdays, the answer is, that the Names of God which they contain ought to be cut out, and then the books themselves burned. One of the Rabbis, however, would have had them burnt at once, indeed, he would rather have fled into an idolatrous temple than into a Christian church: 'for the idolators deny God because they have not known Him, but the apostates are worse.' To them applied Ps. 139:21, and, if it was lawful to wash out in the waters of jealousy the Divine Name in order to restore peace, much more would it be lawful to burn such books, even though they contained the Divine Name, because they led to enmity between Israel and their Heavenly Father.

Another chapter of the tractate deals with the question of the various pieces of furniture, how far they may be moved and used. Thus, curtains, or a lid, may be regarded as furniture, and hence used. More interesting is the next chapter (18), which deals with things forbidden by the Rabbis because they resemble those kinds of labour supposed to be interdicted in the Bible. Here it is declared lawful, for example, to remove quantities of straw or corn in order to make room for guests, or for an assembly of students, but the whole barn must not be emptied, because in so doing the floor might be injured. Again, as regards animals, some assistance might be given if an animal was about to have its young, though not to the same amount as to a woman in childbirth, for whose sake the Sabbath might be desecrated.

Lastly, all might be done on the holy day needful for circumcision. At the same time, every preparation possible for the service should be made the day before. The Mishnah proceeds to enter here on details not necessarily connected with the Sabbath law.

In the following chapter (20) the tractate goes on to indicate such things as are only allowed on the Sabbath on condition that they are done differently from ordinary days. Thus, for example, certain solutions ordinarily made in water should be made in vinegar. The food for horses or cattle must not be taken out of the manger, unless it is immediately given to some other animal. The bedding straw must not be turned with hand, but with other part of the body. A press in which linen is smoothed may be opened to take out napkins, but must not be screwed down again, etc.

The next chapter proceeds upon the principle that, although everything is to be avoided which resembles the labours referred to in the Bible, the same prohibition does not apply to such labours as resemble those interdicted by the Rabbis. The application of this principle is not, however, of interest to general readers.

In the 22nd chapter the Mishnah proceeds to show that all the precautions of the Rabbis had only this object: to prevent an ultimate breach of a Biblical prohibition. Hence, where such was not to be feared, an act might be done. For example, a person might bathe in mineral waters, but not carry home the linen with which he had dried himself. He might anoint and rub the body, but not to the degree of making himself tired; but he might not use any artifical remedial measures, such as taking a shower bath. Bones might not be set, nor emetics given, nor any medical or surgical operation performed.

In the last two chapter the Mishnah points out those things which are unlawful as derogatory to the dignity of the Sabbath. Certain things are here of interest as bearing on the question of purchasing things for the feast day. Thus, it is expressly allowed to borrow wine, or oil, or bread on the Sabbath, and to leave one's upper garment in pledge, though one should not express it in such manner as to imply it was a loan.

Moreover, it is expressly added that if the day before the Passover falls on a Sabbath, one may in this manner purchase a Paschal lamb, and, presumably, all else that is needful for the feast. This shows how Judas might have been sent on the eve of the Passover to purchase what was needful, for the law applying to a feast day was much less strict than that of the Sabbath. Again, to avoid the possibility of affecting anything written, it was forbidden to read from a tablet the names of one's guests, or the menu. It was lawful for children to cast lots for their portions at table, but not with strangers, for this might lead to a breach of the Sabbath, and to games of chance. Similarly, it was improper on the Sabbath to engage workmen for the following week, nor should one be on the watch for the close of that day to begin one's ordinary work. It was otherwise if religious obligations awaited one at the close of the Sabbath such as attending to a bride, or making preparation for a funeral.

[It is curious as bearing upon a recent controversy, to note that on this occasion it is said that an Israelite may be buried in the coffin and grave originally destined for a Gentile, but not vice versa.] On the Sabbath itself it was lawful to do all that was absolutely necessary connected with the dead, such as to anoint or wash the body, although without moving the limbs, nor might the eyes of the dying be closed, a practice which, indeed, was generally denounced.

In the last chapter of the tractate the Mishnah returns to the discussion of punctilious details. Supposing a traveller to arrive in a place just as the Sabbath commenced, he must only take from his beast of burden such objects are are allowed to be handled on the Sabbath. As for the rest, he may loosen the ropes and let them fall down of themselves. Further, it is declared lawful to unloose bundles of straw, or to rub up what can only be eaten in that condition; but care must be taken that nothing is done which is not absolutely necessary. On the other hand, cooking would not be allowed, in short, nothing must be done but what was absolutely necessary to satisfy the cravings of hunger or thirst. Finally, it was declared lawful on the Sabbath to absolve from vows, and to attend to similiar religious calls.

Detailed as this analysis of the Sabbath law is, we have not by any means exhausted the subject. Thus, one of the most curious provisions of the Sabbath law was, that on the Sabbath only such things to be touched or eaten as had been expressly prepared on a weekday with a view to the Sabbath (Bez. 2b). [This destination or preparation is called Hachanah.] Anything not so destined was forbidden, as the expression is 'on account of Muqtsah' i. e. as not having been the 'intention.' Jewish dogmatists enumerate nearly 50 cases in which that theological term finds its application.

Thus, if a hen had laid on the Sabbath, the egg was forbidden, because, evidently, it could not have been destined on a weekday for eating, since it was not yet laid, and did not exist; while if the hen had been kept, not for laying but for fattening, the egg might be eaten as forming a part of the hen that had fallen off! But when the principle of Muqtsah is applied to the touching of things which are not used because they have become ugly (and hence are not in one's mind). so that, for example, an old lamp may not be touched, or raisins during the process of drying them (because they are not eatable then), it will be seen how complicated such a law must have been.

Chiefly from other tractates of the Talmud the following may here be added. It would break the Sabbath rest to climb a tree, to ride, to swim, to clap one's hands, to strike one's side, or to dance. All judicial acts, vows, and tilling were also prohibited on that day (Bez. 5:2). It has already been noted that aid might be given or promised for a woman in her bed. But the Law went further. While it prohibited the application or use on the Sabbath of any remedies that would bring improvement or cure to the sick, 'all actual danger to life,' (Yoma 7:6) superseded the Sabbath law, but nothing short of that.

Thus, to state an extreme case, if on the Sabbath a wall had fallen on a person, and it were doubtful whether he was under the ruins or not, whether he was alive or dead, a Jew or Gentile, it would be duty to clear away the rubbish sufficiently to find the body. If life were not extinct the labour would have to be continued; but if the person were dead nothing further should be done to extricate the body. Similarly, a Rabbi allowed the use of remedies on the Sabbath in throat diseases, on the express ground that he regarded them as endangering life. On a similar principle a woman with child or a sick person was allowed to break even the fast of the Day of Atonement, while one who had a maniacal attack of morbid craving for food might on that sacred day have even unlawful food (Yoma 8:5, 6).

Such are the leading provisions by which Rabbinism enlarged the simple Sabbath law as expressed in the Bible, [Ex. 20: 8 - 11; 23:12 - 17; 34:1 - 3; Deut. 12 - 15.] and, in its anxiety to ensure its most exact observance, changed the spiritual import of its rest into a complicated code of external and burdensome ordinances. Shall we then wonder at Christ's opposition to the Sabbath ordinances of the Synagogue, or, on the other hand, at the teaching of Christ on this subject, and that of his most learned and most advanced contemporaries? And whence this difference unless Christ was the 'Teacher come from God,' Who spake as never before man had spoken.

Author Edersheim refers to MANY reference sources in his works. As a Bibliography resource, we have created a separate Edersheim References list. All of his bracketed references indicate the page numbers in the works referenced.

The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in May 1997.

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