On completing the study once again of Talmud Tractate Hullin

Today marks the completion of daf yomi study of Tractate Hullin.  We are reposting our previous post of our recollections and of Rav Soloveitchik's remarks in 1974 at a siyyum for Hullin, previously published in a well-known compilation .

My translation of Talmud tractate Hullin, as described below, was re-issued recently by Hendrickson in print and on CD.

On April 1, 1973 in Rabbi Soloveitchik's Talmud shiur at Yeshiva University we completed learning the first chapter of Talmud Bavli Tractate Hullin. The Rav gave a dvar Torah at the Siyyum. He explained the meaning of the recitation of the hadran alakh, the prayer that promised upon the completion of learning a Talmud chapter or Tractate that we would return to study you - speaking to the text - again.

I kept the promise. Between 1992 and 1994 as a professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Minnesota I directed my research to the study of this chapter and the remaining eleven chapters of the tractate.

I published the results of that study in some 900 pages in three volumes in the American Translation of the Talmud of Babylonia - a translation according to the prevailing paradigm of academic Talmudic scholarship. I explained my specific goals in the preface to the third volume in 1994:
I first studied Tractate Hullin with Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik in preparation for rabbinic ordination at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary of Yeshiva University some twenty years ago. That process naturally was an exercise in traditional learning according to the methods employed by Rav Soloveitchik. In conjunction with that analysis I also studied the pertinent laws from the Shulkhan Arukh for preparing meat. For centuries the last stage of preparation for rabbinic ordination has been the study of this tractate of the Babylonian Talmud and of the sixteenth century codification along with all the relevant commentaries. In conjunction with my rabbinic training I also visited a slaughter-house to observe the practice of the acts according to the precepts set forth in the texts.

It quickly will become clear to any reader of the texts of Tractate Hullin that it was not the purpose of those who first redacted this book to provide a code of laws to guide the practical life of the Jew in issues of what is kosher and what is terefah . The materials in Bavli Hullin mainly take the form of pure propositions relating to the text of the Mishnah, the Tosefta, other Tannaitic traditions, and to Scripture. Other later compilations, like the Shulkhan Arukh, engage in the application of these concepts of Bavli to the regulation of actual practice in the slaughter-house and in the kitchen. One could say then that Bavli Hullin serves as the statement of the algebra of the conceptualization of the law of rabbinic rules for foods and that later documents apply the ideas in engineering the rules for application to a rabbinic culture.

I present the translation of this Tractate in three volumes:

The Talmud of Babylonia : An American Translation. XXX.A: Tractate Hullin. Chapters 1-2, Brown Judaic Studies. Scholars Press, Atlanta.

The Talmud of Babylonia : An American Translation. XXX.B: Tractate Hullin. Chapters 3-6, Brown Judaic Studies. Scholars Press, Atlanta.

The Talmud of Babylonia : An American Translation. XXX.C: Tractate Hullin. Chapters 7-12, Brown Judaic Studies. Scholars Press, Atlanta.
After completing my studies with the Rav as I said, I went on to Brown University where I received a fellowship to begin doctoral studies in Religious Studies. When I consulted the Rav about my plans and explained to him that I would be paid a fellowship by Brown for my studies he remarked to me with a smile, "If I had such a fine offer I might leave the rabbonus."

In my first year at Brown as I studied methodologies in the history of religions I immediately appreciated that the Rav was not just a great rebbe and Talmudist. He was a profound phenomenologist of Judaism always seeking to get to the defining characteristics of religious practices apart from their historical or cultural underpinnings.

Rabbi Soloveitchik was consistent and persistent in his phenomenological methodology as the remarks reproduced below demonstrate. He uses the traditional prayers and practices of the siyyum ritual to illustrate how to the rabbinic Jew the proper practice of the study of Torah is a reenactment of the emotional relationship between a parent and child or of the romance between a lover and his or her beloved. This deeply authentic interpretation echoes the midrashic insights into the biblical love poems of the Song of Songs. The Rav poetically extends those into somewhat existential observations on the meaning of the act of study in contemporary talmudics. As I later read Rudolph Otto's The Idea of the Holy in my Brown University Theories of Religion seminar, I understood much more of what the Rav intended in those remarks to us the year before.

The report that I reproduce here of the Rav's remarks appeared in 1974 in Shiurei Harav: A Conspectus of the Public Lectures of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, edited by Joseph Epstein. It is one of my favorite divrei torah of the Rav.
The Jew unceasingly seeks, indeed craves, Kedushah (sanctity) and Torah. The Ramban explains that the preface to the Shir Shel Yom is always, "Today is the first (second, third, etc.) day in the Shabbat (cycle)" because the Jew counts each day with longing, anxiously awaiting the arrival of Shabbat. In a similar vein the Chinukh explains that the counting of the Omer reflects the Jew's awareness that the goal of the Exodus from Egypt was the receiving of the Torah, and by counting the days the Jew demonstrates his impatient longing for Torah. Similarly, the mitzvah of Tosefet Shabbat, of ushering in the Sabbath some small time before its obligatory commencement at sunset, exemplifies the Jew's impatient yearning for Kedushah.

This search for Kedushah is really a search for The Holy One, Hakadosh Baruch Hu Himself. Real Kedushah is found only when He "spreads the shelter of His peace (sukkat shalom)" over us.

The Talmud (Pesahim 113a) says that one who leaves over wine from the havdalah cup for the following week's kiddush, is worthy of a share in the world to come, for such a person symbolizes that, even when one Shabbat is leaving, he is already anticipating the next one.

The Gemarah (Yoma 19b-20a) relates that once Yom Kippur was not properly observed in Nehardea and God explained that it was because of lapetach chatat roveitz (Genesis 4:7). In order to experience Yom Kippur properly adequate preparation is needed. We start preparing on Rosh Chodesh Elul and gradually ready ourselves for Yom Kippur. During Elul we must climb a very steep mountain. Yom Kippur is the summit, the apex, the day of reconciliation between God and man. One cannot cross immediately and directly into Kedushah. At the entrance to Kedushah (petach), if there is insufficient preparation, there is sin (chatat). In Nehardea they were not prepared to experience the sanctity of the day.

Muktzeh, which actually means something not prepared from before Shabbat, may not be used on Shabbat, because one must prepare for Shabbat. Preparation, which is so important for experiencing Kedushah, is also important for Talmud Torah.

In a certain sense what Kedushah is for the Jew, Torah is for the talmid chakham. Torah should not just be an intellectual pastime. True, one can enjoy the intellectual creativity involved in Talmud Torah, but Talmud Torah should fee an emotional experience as well; one should feel a tremor when engaged in it. The Torah should be seen not just as a book, but as a living personality, a queen like the Shabbat Malkita, with whom one can establish an I-thou relationship. In many places the Torah is referred to as a personality, as for example: "The Torah said before The Holy One Blessed Be He." The study of Torah should be a dialogue, not a monologue. If I look at the Gemara as simply paper and print, as merely a text, I would never be creative; Torah is a friend.

"Say to wisdom (Torah), thou art my sister" (Proverbs 7:4). If the Gemara is approached as a plain text you might master it but you cannot be creative. To become a lamdan you must look at the Torah as an individual - a living personality. Then it becomes a part of you. I feel committed to defend the Rambam. Torah becomes a delight; it inspires you. There is a feeling of joy at having something precious, at having a treasure. But just as there is no Shabbat or Yom Kippur without preparing and questing, so also is this true concerning Talmud Torah.

To be a lamdan requires hatmadah and inquisitiveness and curiosity. If I love someone I am inquisitive, I am interested in him and in his plans.

If I were asked how an emotional experience can be had through studying the laws of monetary fines and damages etcetera, I would say that it is true that the exterior of Torah is formal and abstract, but behind the shell of conceptual abstractions there is a great fire burning, giving warmth and love, and one can love the Torah in turn with great passion. When you apprehend the Torah as a personality, not just as a book, it infiltrates your emotional as well as your intellectual life. An am haaretz cannot have this experience, and one cannot be a lamdan without it.

"Blessed art Thou . . . Who has commanded us to be involved (la`asok) in the words of the Torah." Torah is not only to be studied but demands an all encompassing involvement, la`asok b'divrei torah. Tosafot (Berakhot, ib. sub. shekvar) asks why the blessing for Torah, recited once in the morning, suffices for each time one learns during the day no matter how many interruptions have taken place (e.g. one has gone to work), while the blessing for residing in the Sukkah must be recited anew each time one returns to the Sukkah after leaving it. They answer that since the obligation of Talmud Torah is continuous v'hagita bo yomam valailah (Joshua 1:8) - one is always conscious of the mitzvah. However, any discontinuity of awareness (heseich hada`at) relating to the mitzvah of Sukkah effectively requires that a new berakhah be recited each time the observance of the mitzvah is terminated and then subsequently renewed.

Apparently there are two kinds of awareness according to Tosafot. The first is an acute awareness; clearly this is lacking when one thinks about other matters. The second is latent awareness and this awareness is still present even though one is engaged in other matters. When a mother plays with her child there is an acute awareness of the child. But even when the mother works at a job or is distracted by some other activity, there is a natural, latent awareness of her child's existence. This latent awareness remains throughout her entire lifetime and can never be extinguished. It is expressed in commitment, devotion, and in a feeling of identification, a feeling that I and the baby are one. The infant is the center of gravity of the parent's lives. They feel they cannot live without their child.

The same is true with regards to Torah. There may not be an acute awareness of Torah for twenty-four hours each day. But the latent awareness never ceases. The injunction which forbids discontinuity of awareness from Torah is measured in terms of pen yasuru milvavkhah (lest Torah be forgotten from your heart - Deut. 4:9), not in terms of pen yasuru milimod (lest Torah not be studied). All the injunctions against heseich hada`at from Torah do not refer to a discontinuity of acute awareness. Rather they refer to a discontinuity of latent awareness, which, as already mentioned, is expressed in commitment, devotion, and self-identification with Torah. When even the latent awareness - the commitment to Torah - is forgotten and is dismissed from mind, then one is "worthy of death." This is the reason we say la`asok b'divrei Torah. La`asok implies that even when we are mentally involved with something else we are aware of Torah. This awareness of Torah should become part of one's I-awareness. Just as I am always aware of my existence without having to walk around saying "I exist, I exist," so should I be aware of Torah.

If the blessing were lilmod Torah (to study Torah) and related only to the cognitive act, then any discontinuity of the acute awareness of Torah would require that a blessing be recited every time Torah study commenced anew after a previous discontinuity - just like the blessing for the Sukkah must be repeated with each new entry.

V'hagita (in the verse Vhagita bo yomam valaila), refers not to the actual study of Torah, but to the mitzvah of latent awareness of Torah. Higayon does not refer to thinking in the sense of pure intellectual detached thought. Rather it refers to awareness of personal desires, wishes and concerns; it refers to a deeply felt longing and questing, as in v'hegyon libi (Psalms 19:15), which refers to awareness of one's prayers and petitions. Not matter how much involved one is in other matters there should always be an awareness of the appreciation of Torah as the highest value.

For this reason when we make a siyum we say hadran alakh - we still return to you. As far as acute awareness is concerned we are through, we are leaving this chapter. But the latent awareness remains and for that reason we still return again to learn Chullin. It is just like when a mother leaves her child and says, "I'll be back." She does not say this merely to encourage the infant. She expresses a basic truth. A mother leaves only to return; otherwise she would never leave.

Daatan alakh - in our latent awareness we are still committed to you.

Vdaatakh alan - we hope you won't forget us. We hope that you, the tractate, will also keep us in mind, and if we view the Torah as a friend, the Torah will indeed be able to watch over us.


Rabbi Seinfeld said...

Thank you.

bryce said...

Thank you for sharing your experiences with the Rav.

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Anonymous said...

In Hulin daf 92 amud aleph at the bottom, Ula said that the 30 refers to the Noachide mitzvot, of which they keep only 3, the first being not to write a k'tuba fot a man. (Baalei Ha)Tosafot expound(s) that even though we suspect mishkav zachar, they at least won't write a k'tuba. Mashma from this is that lesbians can write each other k'tubot. Voos zoogt der rebbe?