Volume 62 Number 55 
      Produced: Sun, 20 Sep 15 10:45:28 -0400

Subjects Discussed In This Issue:

Calling police on the Shabbat (2)
    [Bill Bernstein  Carl Singer]
Intoxication (2)
    [Wendy Baker  Carl Singer]
Reflecting and Extrapolating from Jewish Women and Magic in Babylon 
    [Gadi Simcha]
Relative priorities 
    [Joel Rich]
Strange Baladi custom 
    [Jack Gross]


From: Bill Bernstein <billbernstein@...>
Date: Sun, Sep 6,2015 at 07:01 PM
Subject: Calling police on the Shabbat

IN response to Yisrael Medad's question (MJ 62#54) about a man attacked by
anti-semitic thugs on Shabbat and subject to threats of physical violence: 

If the threats were immediate, personal, and credible (i.e. the attackers had
ability, opportunity and demonstrated intent of inflicting death or severe
bodily harm) he should in no way have called the police. Instead he should have
produced his carry pistol and shot the miscreants on the spot. Police would have
come shortly on their own anyway. But I realize we're talking about London where
they frown on that sort of thing.

Bill Bernstein
Nashville TN

From: Carl Singer <carl.singer@...>
Date: Sun, Sep 6,2015 at 09:01 PM
Subject: Calling police on the Shabbat

In response to Yisrael Medad (MJ 62#54):

These questions are best asked BEFORE they occur, rather than afterwards.

I would venture that any posek worth his salt would, in today's environment,
state that one MUST call.


From: Wendy Baker <wbaker@...>
Date: Sun, Sep 6,2015 at 07:01 PM
Subject: Intoxication

Yisrael Medad (MJ 62#54) wrote:

> On a number of occasions the Talmud notes (e.g., Shevu'ot 23a) that eating
> fig-cakes (dveila kil'it) or drinking honey or milk would cause someone to
> become intoxicated, precluding a priest from participating in the Temple
> service. Does anyone know of a discussion of how these foods lead to
> intoxication?

I cannot give a Talmudic answer, but I do know that both honey and milk can be
made into alcoholic beverages.  In the case of honey it is mead, a beverage
drunk by many Northern Germanic people in the Medieval period.  In the case of
milk, Mongols and Eastern Europeans and Asians, made Kvasse (or similarly named
beverages) which were alcoholic.  I can't think of alcoholic fig cakes, often
mentioned in the Talmud, but I dont see why fig juice might not have been
fermented into strong drink.   Perhaps fig cakes, or knotted bundles of figs, as
described by my Talmud teacher, could, with time themselves become fermented and
somewhat intoxicating.  The mead and kvass I learned about in history classes
but this last point is speculation on my part.

Wendy Baker

From: Carl Singer <carl.singer@...>
Date: Sun, Sep 6,2015 at 09:01 PM
Subject: Intoxication

In response to Yisrael Medad (MJ 62#54):

I am not professionally qualified to reply -- but we're speaking of foods that
can ferment and thus become intoxicants.

Locally there was a bear which got into a berry bush of some sort became
intoxicated.  Animal control was called, and tranquilized then relocated said
tipsy ursine.


From: Gadi Simcha <lhavdil@...>
Date: Wed, Sep 16,2015 at 12:01 PM
Subject: Reflecting and Extrapolating from Jewish Women and Magic in Babylon

In reference to a review of Daughters of Hecate: Women and Magic in the Ancient
World, Yisrael Medad (MJ 62#54) asks:

> Why, despite the very strong anti-'magic' exhortations in mainstream
> Judaism, were such things as demon bowls incorporated into Jewish life
> experience?

To respond, I'd recommend Gideon Bohak's book Ancient Jewish Magic: A History
(Cambridge University Press, 2011). Bohak is a professor at Tel Aviv University,
and a specialist in the history of Jewish "magic."  You can get a sense of his
focus by browsing some of his paper titles at 


The first chapter of the book addresses this same question. A quote:

> Given the repeated and the well-known Biblical prohibitions against
> dabbling in magic, sorcery, witchcraft, augury, and all related arts, one
> might expect magic to be practiced, if it all, only by Jewish deviants and
> heretics. And yet, as the present study will amply demonstrate, magic was
> widely practiced by Jews from at least late antiquity onward, and was
> nowhere limited to apostate Jews or to some religiously lax strata of
> Jewish society. How then are we to explain the enormous gap between the
> letter of the law and the practice of the people?

The remainder of the book is an exploration of the many different "magical"
practices found across a wide spectrum of geography, time, and social class, and
it investigates different rationales used by poskim (religious judges) and other
authorities to permit or prohibit the practices. 

I can in no way do this book justice, but some of the interesting rationales were:

1) The p'sukim (passages) in Torah that prohibit magic use uncommon technical
terms; they may be narrowly construed to refer to specifically Caananite
practices by the reader motivated to do so.  So some people would (historically)
exempt similar practices (such as divination, charms and amulets, and
protective/destructive incantations) as long as they were in a specifically
Jewish context - using Jewish holy names, angelology/demonology, etc.

2) The Tanach is full of "magic" by nevi'im (prophets), where divine miracles
are accomplished through dramatic ritual acts.  Bohak argues that the textual
logic implies that "our" magic is better/stronger than "their" magic, which
lends justification to the idea that the prohibitions are against "chukkat
goyim" (practices of gentiles).  If the magic uses Jewish symbology, Bohak
argues, it is seen as organic (within Judaism), rather than outside Judaism.

3) There is a history of poskim who permit, including even the rationally-minded
Rambam. Bohak writes that even though Rambam "fulminates against the madness of
amulet writers," he permits using a magical incantation for an injured person if
the injured person believes the incantation will be effective (Mishneh Torah A"Z

4) The Talmud itself contains "magical" segulot/refuot (healing/protective
charms/practices), sometimes making recommendations about their efficacy. Gemara
Shabbat 61b amplifies the Mishnah that one may go out with a charm "mishum
refuah" (for the sake of healing).  Tosefot amplifies that this refers only to
an amulet that has proven to be effective. One way to predict effectiveness if
the amulet creator had already created at least three good amulets.  This
implies Talmudic sanction for a professional or near-professional class of
amulet writers (which, Bohak documents, did in fact exist for centuries within
the context of normative Judaism).

The book is far more exhaustive and nuanced, but the upshot is that there have
historically been many "magical" practices within the cultural boundaries of
Judaism - extensively so, as Bohak shows. Via whatever rationales, amulets,
segulot, superstitious practices, and belief in magic (and, later, kabbalistic
magic) were spread at various times through educated and uneducated classes
alike, including rabbis who distributed good-luck and healing tokens and
performed miracles. Just recently, the Skulener Rebbe asked women to shorten
their sheitels (wigs) for someone who was grievously ill. "In the merit of
cutting the sheitel, may Hashem cut the machla (sickness) away from this
person." Magic is apparently alive and well in Boro Park.

May we all be sealed for a good new year.

Daniel Nachman
Austin, Texas


From: Joel Rich <JRich@...>
Date: Sun, Sep 6,2015 at 06:01 PM
Subject: Relative priorities

Alan Rubin wrote (MJ 62354):

> Joel Rich asked (MJ 62#53):
>> A yahrtzeit shiur is "being sponsored" at the same time as your regular
>> learning seder. How should one evaluate the various 'score cards' in
>> shamayim (yours, the niftar's, your chavrutah's)
> To be honest I don't quite get the mentality that tots up score cards in
> shamayim. It is an approach that I can't relate to. 

It would be more helpful if Alan could suggest an alternative approach to use
when trying to mediate relative priorities?

Joel Rich


From: Jack Gross <jacobbgross@...>
Date: Sun, Sep 6,2015 at 06:01 PM
Subject: Strange Baladi custom

Yaacov Fenster wrote (MJ 62#54):

> Rabbi Meir Wise wrote (MJ 62#53):
>> Can anyone explain why the Baladi Yemenites always read Chukkat and Balak
>> together?
> There are really two interesting customs as to what to do instead of combining
> Matot/Masai (but only in those years where they are typically combined), one
> of the Baladi and one of the Dardarim. 
> ...
> The Dardarim split up Chukkat so that we do not read about the deaths of two
> righteous people (Aharon & Miriam) in the same week. The first half is 
> combined with the preceding Korach and the second half is combined with the 
> succeeding Balak.

The practice of "Dardarim" that you describe is also the practice listed in
Siddur Rav Saadia Gaon


End of Volume 62 Issue 55