desh ([personal profile] desh) wrote2006-04-11 11:48 am
Entry tags:

legal fiction, part deux

How convenient! My synagogue just happens to have a siyyum tomorrow, just like last year! That's very lucky.

Speaking of religion and holidays, I wanted to share a bit of my religious reasoning with y'all. I don't drive on Shabbat (generally), but I do drive on the other Jewish holidays whose restrictions are 90% similar to those of Shabbat. Why?

Back in the early days of the rabbis, there was the concept of t'chum. The rule was that on Shabbat, you couldn't travel more than a certain distance (about 1 kilometer) from your starting point for the entire day. Even if your method of travel was permitted, like walking, you still couldn't do it. If you were within a city, then the t'chum-related boundary was extended to be 1 km beyond the edge of the city.

Now, this rule never really went away. Many observant Jews today still think of themselves as people who abide by this law. It just doesn't come up much; I'm pretty sure that most of us live in areas that are considered "cities" for this purpose, and if we don't, we probably don't have much of anywhere to go anyway.

So t'chum is one of the few prohibitions of Shabbat that doesn't apply to most other holidays. The reason for this is that on holidays, you're allowed to cook, and you're allowed to do certain other things in the service of preparing a hearty meal. (On Shabbat, by contrast, cooking is forbidden.) Some rabbi somewhere decided that traveling beyond the boundaries of t'chum is one of those permitted things.

So, what does this have to do with driving? Driving is the main Shabbat-related travel issue that affects the lives of modern Jews, in the same way as t'chum was the main Shabbat-related travel issue that affected the lives of Talmud-era Jews. And, just as it was decided in the Talmudic era that t'chum-related prohibitions don't apply on holidays, I've decided that I'm not going to follow the driving-related prohibitions on holidays that I ordinarily follow on Shabbat. Especially if the purpose of my driving is to go to a hearty meal.

Is this logic sound from the perspective of an Orthodox rabbi? Almost definitely not. But to me, it holds together and even makes some poetic sense.

And this particular reasoning is even something I can use as a sort of litmus test for whether people observe "my kind" of Judaism or not. If the reaction of another Jew is either "No, you're wrong, you're not allowed to make decisions like that at all!" or "Eh, why bother? If you want to drive, drive; and if you don't want to drive, don't drive; that's what I do, at least," then we approach Jewish law in fundamentally different ways. (Which is fine. No judgment here.) But if this sort of reasoning makes sense to you, whether it's something you'd apply to yourself or not (and whether you even feel it's necessary or not; you may have your own reasons why driving is okay), then you and I are on the same wavelength.

[Poll #708330]

[identity profile] 2006-04-11 04:24 pm (UTC)(link)
What about.... "I encourage you to do whatever you feel you need to express your religious sensibilities and understanding of Judaism (etc.), though I may disagree with the merits of your logic at times"?

[identity profile] 2006-04-11 04:27 pm (UTC)(link)
Excellent! Just let me get my sharpie marker out :)

[identity profile] 2006-04-11 04:46 pm (UTC)(link)
So. Lemme get this straight...

Sabbat == !driving, t'chum, other
Holidays == !t'chum, !other, therefore driving

Makes sense to me. I'll go for that.

[identity profile] 2006-04-11 05:04 pm (UTC)(link)
I supposed I'd have to spring for that fifth category too.

side question for clarification

[identity profile] 2006-04-11 06:18 pm (UTC)(link)
Are you considering "driving" a shabbat prohibition on its own, or as the derivative of other prohibitions?

Re: side question for clarification

[identity profile] 2006-04-11 09:21 pm (UTC)(link)
But isn't starting a combustion engine pretty clearly by any interpretation starting a fire?

Re: side question for clarification

[identity profile] 2006-04-12 12:57 am (UTC)(link)
But there's an escape clause (i don't know how often it's invoked) for melachot that happen as side effects (rather than as the main body of what you're trying to do).

Re: side question for clarification

(Anonymous) 2006-04-11 09:30 pm (UTC)(link)
From my understanding (disclaimer disclaimer),

The issue would be lighting a fire / igniting something (in this case the mini-explosions of fuel that push the pistons in the engine out and in).

Re: side question for clarification

[identity profile] 2006-04-11 09:31 pm (UTC)(link)
woops that anonymous = me

[identity profile] 2006-04-11 06:33 pm (UTC)(link)
Option four, as I told you back, like, last Shavuot or so. ;)

[identity profile] 2006-04-11 08:29 pm (UTC)(link)
I put option 4, but let me clarify that it's only because I think that talmudic "law" is more or less entirely inapplicable and inappropriate to modern judaism. I think your logic makes sense, but I think that water is wet, so who am I to judge?

(Anonymous) 2006-04-11 09:38 pm (UTC)(link)
(Hand waggle)

I think the term "Talmudic jurisprudence" would be more accurate, and also highlight your astute point (which I agree with of course) :) that rarely do the Sages in the Talmud "pasken" in the way later authorities did. Talmudic jurisprudence is much more open-ended because the Talmud is much more a book of legal *processes* than legal *decision*.

[identity profile] 2006-04-11 10:12 pm (UTC)(link)
Ok, perhaps I worded my original statement a little too carelessly. It's not that I reject the Talmud as useless. Rather, I find that far too many people look at the Talmud and the Mishna as Law, rather than, as you say, a legal process. Because ultimately, the Talmud and the Mishna are both just snapshots of the jewish legal opinions that were being expressed at the time that the snapshot was taken. Far too many jews that I have come across are unwilling or unable to completely reject any passage of the mishna or talmud. This is silly. We know now that the dred scott case was wrongly decided, and we don't point to it as the model for our current judiciary. However, far too many jews are unwilling to revisit laws, or to decide for themselves what makes more sense. Those type of people are largely why I've drifted away from the jewish community.

The torah is the law of judaism. Everything else is fences. Pirkei avot, which is NOT law, in spite of what rabbis say, says to build a fence around the torah to prevent accidentally breaking the law of the torah. That's all fine and dandy when those fences are maintained by the oral tradition, as they were originally intended. Oral law is fluid. Things that don't work are forgotten, things that work and are not an undue burden are kept. As soon as the mishna was codified, the fences of that period were codified, regardless of what worked and what didn't. Later rabbis then set about making fences around those fences. The same thing happened when the talmud was codified. Judaism today is a tiny nugget of truth or community or happiness, or whatever you'd like to call the center, surrounded by layer upon layer of well meaning bullshit fences. That. is what I dislike about judaism. Not that any other religions are different, but I'm jewish, so I'll bitch about judaism.

[identity profile] 2006-04-12 04:33 am (UTC)(link)
What you're saying is interesting to me on two levels. One is, you've got a grasp of the halachic process that many halachically-observant Jews lack, and number two, you're acutely aware of where the system has failed. I wouldn't call everything "fences of bullshit", but it's true that halacha was meant to be fluid -- and yet with the Exile and the shattering of the chain of authority, (at least in Orthodoxy and in pre-modern Judaism for the most part) nobody feels worthy to the task. I've always thought it ironic that when you get down to it, the ideal Jewish religion as described by Orthodoxy is what would be now considered Heterodox -- just with a Sanhedrin making the changes. :)

[identity profile] 2006-04-11 09:38 pm (UTC)(link)
grrr I'm a spaz. I anonymozed again!

[identity profile] 2006-04-11 10:13 pm (UTC)(link)
oops, replied to your anonymous post...

Check it...

[identity profile] 2006-04-11 08:54 pm (UTC)(link)
I meant to put that makes sense, but I'm not doing that in my own practice. But really, I would put none of the above. You're the one who finds labels constricting. I find simple answers constricting. Give us an "other"!!!

I would say this. You're right about the t'chum thing.

As for driving, you might be able to stretch it. The issue is still lighting a fire, which you can't do on yom-tov, but transferring is fine. Or using a fire someone else [non-Jewish] starts I imagine, if it's not for your sake.

Driving would involve breaking the not lighting thing several times, every time you push the gas.

maybe if you kept the gas petal down the entire time, before yom tov, and didn't break, you could manage it.

Or perhaps there is a leniency in riding a free or prepaid bus, or getting in a car with a non-jew who was already driving to your destination and who you didn't ask to take you.

At least that's my take on the halacha. If you still wanna call yourself shomer yom tov in the halachic sense, it might be an inaccurate description if you drive.

[identity profile] 2006-04-11 09:05 pm (UTC)(link)
se'udah? I'm not sure. That's a question for [ profile] groovin_reuven or Shlomo.

[identity profile] 2006-04-12 01:00 am (UTC)(link)
ochel nefesh? (based on Exodus 12:16)

[identity profile] 2006-04-11 09:27 pm (UTC)(link)
I always enjoy your discussions of Jewish tradition, practice, and interpretation. Your commentary is always thoughtful, but even more, always gives me something to think on as well.

[identity profile] 2006-04-11 10:12 pm (UTC)(link)
that makes sense, but i can't comment on how the fact that i think it makes sense might influence my practice. it has been a while now since i truly tried to think about or justify to myself why i do what i do (and don't do). i'm not sure why it's like that, but it makes for a pretty static and boring relationship with judaism. maybe i will get motivated to follow your example!

[identity profile] 2006-04-11 10:17 pm (UTC)(link)
You know, I disagree with you (and am Jewish, for the purposes of poll completeness) but I think you're wrong not because you "can't make decisions like that" but because on chag it is still forbidden to *kindle* a fire. And cars work because fires get kindled. Little teeny tiny ones are constantly started in the engine. So while I see your point on t'chum, I still think cars are not okay.

Chag kasher v'sameach

[identity profile] 2006-04-12 04:41 am (UTC)(link)
btw, "upthread" = excellent terminology