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The Monster Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson is very good, and very full of plot, and has a ton of amazing characters and it handles integrating the new ones in really skillful ways and it never goes where you expect it to go, and the last hundred pages even take a surprising dip toward more hopefulness than I expected, and it was extremely enjoyable to read, but man does it cliffhang hard. Though the author's notes at the end say that Book 3 is already written, so that's good news.

My biggest ding on it is some first person sections from Xate Yawa that I don't think served the story well.
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Post-Chullin Jewish study plans:

1. I'm going to study Masechet Shabbos and make similar posts to the ones I made for Chullin. I will be trying to do it at Daf Yomi-ish speed and depth but not necessarily trying as hard to be on schedule.

2. I'm going to recommit to writing my commentary on the VanderMeers' Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals and set a goal to write up one animal a week.
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I was just emailed a weekend coupon to the local kosher pizzeria. I... don't know what to do with that.

A zissen pizzach to all!

I guess I do know what to do with that. :P
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Daf 142

End of the masechet! I'm trying to decide what I want to learn next- I liked the accountability of making myself do dailyish posts, but I don't think I care that much about the next Masechet, Bechoros. Anyone have any thoughts?

Actually, in general, I'm curious to hear from anyone who's been reading along who didn't have much experience with Talmud before, what they've learned from these posts of mine. Feel free to drop a comment or a PM.


The Rabbis usually want to end a Masechet on a high note, something that transcends the ticky tack technical details that otherwise fill most of the time in the Gemara and offers some more inspirational. Here, we get a little focus on the promise of long life to someone who observes the mitzvah of shaliach haken.

Kal vachomer: If one gets long life for such a piddling, easy mitzvah as shaliach haken, how great must the reward be for doing a legitimately difficult mitzvah!

Rabbi Yaakov moderates the enthusiasm a bit by pointing out that clearly anytime the Torah promises reward, it's not promising reward in this world, it's promising reward in Olam Haba. That's because reward in this world is too temporal to reward an action as great as doing a mitzvah, perhaps.

Rabbi Yaakov offers what seems like a mashal- A father sends his son up a tower to send away a mother bird from a nest and fetch bird eggs for dinner. The son falls to his death. Shaliach haken and kibud av are the two mitzvot that God promises long life for, so clearly the son's reward will be in Olam Haba.

The Gemara says "This seems like a mashal, clearly this never actually happened." No, answer the Rabbis, Rabbi Yaakov really saw this happen. I'm a little skeptical, but yeah, we all know about misfortunes in life that seem unfair. There is no clear causal relationship between our actions on Earth and our reward on Earth, that much is clear. God intervenes in our lives, but that happens in ways whose ultimate objectives are hard to comprehend. Needless to say, we don't always know what's good for us.


Edit Twist ending! The Gemara compares R' Yaakov's message to the message Elisha ben Abuya took from the same or similar events: God's rewards are unjust and we should rebel against God. If only Acher had taken R' Yaakov's lesson he would not have sinned, says the Gemara. Weirdly downbeat ending to the Masechet, IMO.
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Daf 141

The language of the commandment of shiluach haken is of a negative mitzvah followed by a positive. First it says "You shall not take the mother bird." Then it says "You shall surely send away the mother bird."

Mitzvot in this configuration have a few possible interpretations. One is that they're just separate mitzvot entirely. Sometimes even though they're juxtaposed there's no reason to consider them together.

Sometimes, it's a reinforcement, to suggest this is a mitzvah to take particularly seriously, or that when it's in conflict with another mitzvah, you prioritize this one.

Sometimes, there's a concept of a positive mitzvah that nullifies a negative mitzvah. Meaning you violate the negative mitzvah, which would incur a punishment of lashes, but if you perform the positive mitzvah before you receive the punishment, it nullifies the violation and you don't incur lashes. A couple examples mentioned here are theft, where the mitzvah of not stealing is followed by a mitzvah of restitution which nullifies lashes as the punishment, and (relevant to the season, probably going to discuss it when I make my siyum tomorrow), korban pesach, where you cannot leave over any meat, but if you do leave over meat and then burn it in the morning, you do not incur lashes.

The Rabbis suggest that shiluach haken is such a mitzvah. You can't take the mother bird, but if you do, you're okay as long as you send it away afterward. Rabbi Yehuda disagrees.

I think, and some mefarshim support me, that their disagreement is a fundamental one that's actually the #1 FAQ of shiluach haken. Is this a contingent mitzvah, or is it an affirmative obligation? Meaning, say you don't want to eat birds eggs, and you come across a nest. Do you have to send away the mother bird and take the eggs anyway, because it's a mitzvah, or is it only if you need the eggs? Rabbi Yehuda thinks that the mitzvah of sending away the mother is an independent obligation, so if you see a nest, there is a mitzvah to approach, send away the mother, and then take the eggs. The Chachamim think that sending away the mother is just a subordinate positive mitzvah that nullifies the main negative mitzvah of not taking the mother bird. Thus if you don't want the eggs, you don't have to do it.

Rabbi Yehuda's position is perhaps surprising. Intuitively we think of shiluach haken as being a mitzvah to teach us about empathy. If we're concerned about the feelings of the mother bird, it can help us attune to the feelings of others around us in general. But it's also just a chok in general, with inexplicable halakhic parameters and most significantly and strangely, one of the only promises in the Torah that if you observe this mitzvah, this one particular mitzvah, you will live a long life. Rabbi Yehuda's position is more in tune with this mysterious aspect of the mitzvah.

Today I will finish the masechta except for the last bit, which I will hold off to learn tomorrow morning at minyan so that we can eat a festive seudah and the firstborns do not need to fast Erev Pesach.

Thanks to everyone who's been reading along and commenting, and Chag Sameach to all!
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[personal profile] cyborganize recently posted an amazing 10K word essay on the creation of their Wonder Woman vid "Transmission", which premiered last spring at [community profile] wiscon.

I was thinking back to a post-VVC conversation with [personal profile] starlady last summer.

[personal profile] starlady: "One thing I've noticed is that the WisCon Vid Party has seemed to have more success drawing in a somewhat broader spectrum of vidders in recent years; it might be interesting to hear what, if anything, they've done to promote that, with an eye to getting people to support FanWorksCon."

[personal profile] seekingferret: "I'm not sure my impression matches yours there. I do think in the sense that Wiscon Vid Party is a place that some of the people alienated by VVC feel comfortable at, it has featured some voices who don't submit to VVC, and also Wiscon Vid Party has inspired several new vidders to try their hand, which is great [and the same is true of VVC, that nonvidders have gone to VVC and gotten inspired to become vidders.]. But I don't think it has drawn vidders from outside the sort of standard contemporary VVC vidder aesthetic, that I've seen, except inasmuch as Wiscon vids tend to default to a slightly more didactic/intellectual/SJy starting place."

I meant that in a particular way that spoke to my at the time current thinking about vid aesthetics. At VVC, [personal profile] winterevanesce had introduced many of us for the first time to the aesthetics of Instagram edits, which typically run less than thirty seconds, involve fast cuts, dramatic swoops and pans, obvious color adjustments, and complex overlays, and represented a wildly different approach to vidding. Wiscon vids, in contrast, look like VVC vids. For that matter, my 2018 Wiscon premiere "The Upload" and my 2018 VVC Premiere "Nightswimming" would have swapped places if not for VVC's 2018 rule against vids over 5 minutes long. I think the VVC audience would've appreciated "The Upload" and Wiscon's audience would have appreciated "Nightswimming".


But it strikes me that vids like "Transmission" and [personal profile] eruthros's "Straightening Up the House", which got its own 7.5K creation essay, are vids that in an essential way may reflect an emerging Wiscon aesthetic that is meaningfully different from VVC-style vids. These are vids that are created by vidders fluent in the VVC house style, but they have the DNA of academic research projects in them as well. Vids are always attractive to me because of the information density they're capable of conveying, but "Transmission" and "Straightening Up the House" intentionally throw more information at you than you can absorb, while making you aware that they are doing this. The kiloword creation essay is an essential part of the art. You can simply sit back and watch "Transmission" and enjoy it, but you do so with the full awareness that you are not seeing everything the vidder has to say. I feel like that stands in confrontational opposition to the idea of Vid as Essay, which is so often essential to understanding VVC vids.

I'd point to [personal profile] ghost_lingering's "Silent Fandoms" as a precursor to this style of vid, and in a slightly different manner [personal profile] scribe and [personal profile] fiercynn's "We Didn't Start the Fire", but I do think there's something to be said about both "Transmission" and "Straightening Up the House" appearing at Wiscon last year as heralding a potentially emerging trend that I am excited about. Of course this sort of vid is inherently labor intensive, it may be that this is not the sort of stylistic trend likely to pick up steam.

[personal profile] cyborganize calls "Transmission" a 'database vid'. Perhaps that's the right way to think about what's distinctive about this sort of vid, the lurking database behind it and the sense that it is itself a database.
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Daf 140

How do we know that shiluach haken applies only to kosher birds? Says Rabbi Yitzhak, there are multiple words in Biblical Hebrew for bird, and the word צִפּוֹר is only used to refer to kosher birds. This is not the most obvious way to understand the word צִפּוֹר in the many, many contexts in which Chumash uses the word, so it takes the Gemara a while to be satisfied on a narrower agreement with Rabbi Yitzhak's idea: We can assume צִפּוֹר unqualified means kosher bird without doing any serious damage to our canons of interpretation, but anytime צִפּוֹר is modified by some other word, like כנף, it is understood to be referring to a broader class of birds or flying things. We go through a lot of Bible verses before accepting that, though. A lot of Bible verses.

Interestingly, this translational question is a topic I wrote about several years ago while dealing with wildly different issues. When I wrote about Gerald Schroeder's The Science of God, I mentioned his claim that the word עוֹף is the Torah's word to refer to generic flying things, while צִפּוֹר is the Torah's word for birds, which I dismissed as not inherently true. Sometimes עוֹף must be understood more narrowly. Sometimes צִפּוֹר is is not the generic word for bird, it's a specific word for kosher birds. Schroeder was trying to solve a very different problem- Bereishis's timing of when God created birds does not align exactly with present day evolutionary theorists' best guess of when birds evolved. A particular translation of עוֹף and צִפּוֹר made his life easier, and that translation was congruent with the understanding of some mefarshim, so that was enough for him. But he was trying to come up with a resolution without confronting the full complexity of the translational challenge. I wasn't saying Schroeder was wrong, just that his answer was glib. The Rabbis are not so easily satisfied.
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Daf 139

In Gemara logic this makes sense: The Mishna said that shiluach haken does not apply to kodshin. Therefore there must have been a type of consecrated bird that we might have thought shiluach haken did apply to. But you shiluach haken applies to wild birds, not to birds you already own, but you can't consecrate birds that you don't own, so no normal kodshin would be eligible for shiluach haken anyway. You might say that's the point, that's how the Mishna derived the fact that it does not apply to kodshin, but you could derive that without the Mishna explaining it explicitly so it must exist to teach some other case.

Rav and Shmuel both have slightly different versions of the same explanation: It was a domesticated bird that you owned and consecrated, and then it escaped before you could actually bring it to the Beis Hamikdash. Having established its own nest in the wilderness, you come across it, realize that it's your old bird that you consecrated, and therefore though you might think that the mitzvah of shiluach haken applies, comes the Mishna to tell you that it's exempted because of your prior consecration.

In Rav's version, it's a dove designated to be a sacrifice. In Shmuel's version, it's a hen designated for Temple maintenance. If we hold by Shmuel, Rav's position is a kal vachomer. But if we hold by Rav, we make a distinction where if you designate a bird merely for temple maintenance and it's then lost, it loses the status of being kodshin.

This leads the Gemara off on a merry detour about what happens in various situations where you lose consecrated property before it makes it to serve its designated function. There's all sorts of different answers for different situations. Sometimes you need to redeem your offering with a monetary redemption, sometimes not, sometimes if you recover the lost property later you have to bring it to the Beis Hamikdash, sometimes you don't. Sometimes the difference is as simple as how you phrased your neder. If you said you designated it "alay", on your behalf, then you have to make it up, but if you used various circumlocutions that mean the same exact thing, maybe you don't. The Gemara doesn't really understand the magic of 'alay', and neither do I. I guess if you build a system around the formal power of words to change the metaphysical status of objects, you're subject to the seemingly arbitrary rules of the system.
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Yesterday was an unbalanced and unbalancing day.

My dad's cousins organized the tombstone unveiling for my great-aunt and great-uncle, who died about a month apart last summer. The unveiling was out in Philadelphia. I drove over to my parents house and we drove down together in the morning. After the graveside ceremony, there was lunch and watching the Masters finale and reflecting on two amazing peoples' lives.

I got home around 3PM feeling exhausted. I'd hoped to get most of my Pesach cleaning done, but I managed less than hoped. This also is hard to plan because of Pesach falling on a Friday this year. Normally, if I convert the kitchen over on Sunday, I only have to make do without a kitchen for a couple chametzdik days before Pesach starts, but this year I was reluctant to fully commit to the conversion and be without a kitchen for a whole week. I cleaned and put away my chametzdik dishes yesterday, and plan to use paper/plastic the rest of the week, but I haven't put away all my cooking utensils yet and I think I'm going to clean/convert more and more of my kitchen each night in gradual stages. If that works out, great. If not, Thursday's gonna be frantic. :P
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Daf 136

The Mishna reports a position on a bunch of questions involving Reishis hageiz from R' Ilai that is in several ways significantly different than the position of the Rabbis. A few theories are mooted for where he gets his disagreement with the Rabbis from. Rava suggests that the Rabbis learn most of the halachos of reishis hageiz from a gezeirah shavah on the matanos of the previous perek, while R' Ilai learns the halachos from a gezeirah shavah on terumah.

Abaye and Rava bicker affectionately back and forth for the whole page. Abaye keeps bringing up obscure particular details of the laws of terumah and asking Rava if R' Ilai holds that they also apply to reishis hageiz. Rava either answers that they do apply to terumah, citing a baraisa or mishna in support, or he explains why R' Ilai distinguishes terumah from reishis hageiz in this particular case because of a close reading of the pasuk. At the end of the day they both seem pretty happy with their argument.

Daf 137

Rabbi Yochanan is visited in Eretz Yisrael by Isi bar Hini, a talmid in Sura. Isi bar Hini has been repeating the mishna of reishis hageiz in R' Yochanan's beis medrash, but he hypercorrects the gender agreement of one of the sentences and Rabbi Yochanan stops and tells him he should recite the Mishnah as it was written, not as he thinks it should have been written. Apparently in some cases gender agreement in Mishnaic Hebrew is different than gender agreement in Torah Hebrew.

Rabbi Yochanan, already not super impressed with Isi bar Hini, asks him who his Rosh Yeshiva is. He says Abba Arika. Abba is Rav's given name, and Arika is an epithet he was given either because he was really tall, or because he was a giant of Torah. Rabbi Yochanan gets even less impressed with poor Isi bar Hini. He reminds him that Rav was once a student of Rebbi in Eretz Yisrael along with Rabbi Yochanan himself, and that he was way greater as a Torah thinker even than Rabbi Yochanan, and it hardly seems appropriate for lowly Isi bar Hini to be referring to him so familiarly. He should be calling him Rav, not Abba, even with the honorific epithet Arika attached.

Rabbi Yochanan then proceeds to drop knowledge on Isi bar Hini, explaining a detail about the minimum quantities required for reishis hageiz that vexed Rava and Abaye back on Babylonia

Daf 138

The start of the last perek in Chullin! I would finish Daf Yomi Wednesday, except that I will be delaying the very last bit until Friday so I can make siyyum bechor.

The last perek is Shiluach haken, the mitzvah of sending away the mother bird.

The Mishnah records a fascinating machlokess between Rabbi Eliezer and the Rabbis. All agree that a kosher bird nesting on the eggs of a nonkosher bird does not obligate shiluach haken. All agree that a nonkosher bird nesting on the eggs of a kosher bird does not obligate shiluach haken. This implies that if a kosher bird nests on the eggs of a different kosher species, it would obligate shiluach haken.

But what about the male partridge, which is kosher and apparently has the habit of roosting on the eggs of other birds, including sometimes kosher birds? Rabbi Eliezer obligates in shiluach haken, the Rabbis exempt, because it's not a mother bird. But clearly Rabbi Eliezer says that once you dispense with the requirement that it be the actual mother and her actual eggs, we no longer require that it be a mother, it's enough for it to be a kosher bird roosting on kosher eggs.
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I took the Jeopardy online test again last night. They never tell you how you did, so who knows, but I felt confident on about 45 of the 50 questions and may have gotten another one or two right. I definitely missed two I should have gotten, a chemistry question and a whiskey question. And in checking afterward, I got a couple of my wild guesses right, which is always a nice feeling.

Tuesday night was Puzzled Pint, which doubled as my birthday party. We had an unwieldy team of 7 people as a result, so I only got to look at one and a half of the puzzles and the meta, and we were done pretty quickly. But that was fine, it meant the rest of the night we got to just relax and hang out. The main puzzle I worked on was a double crossword, which is a puzzle type I really enjoy, but layout was a bit annoying to manipulate.
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Waiting eagerly to read [personal profile] lannamichaels's inevitable gutwrenching ode to Beresheet.


Daf 135

It's the start of the new perek on reishis hageiz, the gift of first shearing of sheep to the kohanim. This doesn't exactly belong in Masechet Chullin, which is supposed to be about food, but it's similar in some ways to the matanos discussed in the previous perek so the Mishnah lumps them together. Like with the matanos, reishis hageiz is given from one's nonconsecrated animals to a kohen as a gift.

Why from nonconsecrated animals? Because the verse says tzonecha, from your flocks. If you've consecrated an animal, or if it's a bechor and inherently consecrated or whatever, it's not really 'yours'.

This was good enough for me, the Gemara spends most of the rest of the daf on questions of other possible meanings of tzonecha:

Perhaps 'your flocks' means not the flocks you co-own with a non-Jewish partner. Since part of the ownership is not chiyuv, maybe you're exempt.

Perhaps 'your flocks' means not the flocks you co-own with a Jewish partner. Since neither of you could call the flocks 'yours', maybe you're both exempt.

Perhaps 'your flocks' means not if you consecrate your animals to the temple for temple maintenance but retain their wool. You're not allowed to do this with kodshin for olah offerings or whatever, since it would diminish the kedusha of the offering, but even though you're not really supposed to do this with kodshin for temple maintenance either, that's just a d'rabbanan.
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Daf 134

A goy slaughters a cow, they don't need to give the matanos to a kohen. Duh, that's obvious. The goy converts, then he has to give the matanos to a kohen. Similarly obvious. What if there's a safek whether his cow was shechted before or after his gerus? It's a silly question, ignore that, it's not even the silliest question on the page, the point is to explore the handling of edge cases.

The halakha is that because there's a safek, he doesn't have to give matanos, because in matters of monetary debts, if there's a safek you don't have to pay.

The Gemara raises an objection from a case of droppings for the poor. If you have animal holes in your field that grain might fall into, then if you have grain in the holes, it's possible you dropped it while harvesting, in which case you're required to leave them for the poor, or it's possible that they fell on their own earlier, in which case they belong to you and you don't have to leave them. Since it's a safek, you have to leave them for the poor. What's different between the two cases?

It might be as simple as the distinction I mentioned about the last page. The gifts for the poor are tzedaka, you should go out of your way in a case of doubt to help them live secure well-fed lives. The gifts for the kohanim, even though they're still part of the primary livelihood of the kohanim, are gifts intended to honor the exalted position of the kohanim, so in cases of doubt the principle of tzedaka doesn't tip the balance on the safek.

But the Gemara also attempts a broader structure to the question. What is the difference between situations where we are lenient on a safek, vs. where we are machmir on a safek?

Amar Rav Chisda, and also Rav Chiyya, there are eight cases of safek involving a ger and uncertainty about when some action happened with respect to their gerus, and in four of them we are mekil and in four of them we are machmir. The cases where we are machmir include taking challah, and bringing the firstborn animal to be redeemed. The difference is that supposing the worst case of the safek were true, in these cases one would end up violating a d'oraysa prohibition connected to the Temple worship, eating the bread that was tevel, or gaining benefit from an animal dedicated to the Temple. But the cases where one can be mekil on a safek are cases like the matanos, which are chullin, and the pidyon haben, which is just a debt of money.

How does this relate to the leavings of the field? Well, either you dismiss the ruling that you hold differently in the case of the poor, as Rabbi Yochanan tries to do, or you have to say that in some way tzedaka is a sufficient mitzvah that the obligation to give to the poor is not a mere financial obligation but it's a substantial devotional obligation.


In the last bit of the perek, the Gemara defines the zroa and the halachayim, with some nice callbacks to the first perek of Chullin in the definition of the jaw in relationship to the location of shechita on the neck of the animal. Which I definitely don't remember in much detail at this point four months latter. :P
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Daf 133

Rabbi Linzer distilled a lot of the halakha on this page around the question of the purpose of the matanos. On the one hand, he said, the Torah and as a result the Gemara analogizes the matanos to the various gifts one is obligated to give to the poor- the gleanings of the field, the fruits one leaves behind while harvesting, etc. The kohanim have no land and no other source of income than the goodwill of the nation of Israel, they're financially dependent on Israel and they need these gifts. On the other hand, the matanos are honored gifts being given to the Kohanim as recognition of the central role they're providing as spiritual emissaries of the Israelites.

In balancing these concerns, the Rabbis are interesting in the proper way to perform this mitzvah, both as the giver and the receiver. How to make sure that the giving is done in a way that is respectful of the office of the kahuna, and that the receiver behaves in a way that is appropriately dignified.

Thus, Abaye, who was a kohen, says that he struggled between his ordinary impulse to rush to do a mitzvah, and his desire not to seem like he was avidly begging for gifts, and eventually settled on a balance where he would only accept the matanos on Erev Yom Kippur, when everyone in the whole city was slaughtering meat for the festive pre-fast meal and people would have been suspicious of his priestly status, with so many matanos being given, if he refused.

Later on the page a baraisa lists all of the 'gifts' the kohanim receive, in three categories: 10 that must be eaten/used in the Beis Hamikdash, 4 that must be eaten/used in Jerusalem, and 10 that can be eaten/used anywhere in Eretz Yisrael. This categorization is neat and tidy, but closer examination finds it kind of lumps similar gifts together or separates them out depending on how they'll be able to maintain the nice mnemonic 10-4-10 structure. Specifically, it lumps together all the matanos as a single item, whereas in halakha the matanos are actually considered as either 3 or 5 separate gifts.
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I'm about a hundred pages into The Monster Baru Cormorant, which finally came off hold at the library. Traitor eventually becomes incredibly bleak and despairing; Monster starts off that way and so far has been pretty unrelenting. Oh, man, the map... You know how the map at the start Traitor was hilarious and full of insights into how Baru looks at the world, and basically it was my favorite fantasy map ever? The map for Monster is just full of emotional daggers- both Taranoke and Duchy Vultjag are marked 'my home', and Duchy Vultjag is also marked 'hers'. Treatymont is marked 'Fuck this place.' Dickinson manages to say so much with so little yet again, and he is aiming to wreck you. The book's epigram is "If something hurts, does that make it true?"

But it's also twisty and complicated and beautiful in most of the ways that Traitor was, so it's been a pretty great read so far. All the new characters have lurking depths, all the returning characters are so vividly themselves, Baru is radiantly terrible... I'm excited to keep reading.
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Daf 132

The interesting thing about the matanos is that they're chullin. They don't have any special status like terumah where in giving the gift, terumah is specifically designated for the kohen and can't be eaten by a non-kohen. In contrast, the matanos are for the kohen to do whatever they want with. This is also why there's no religious penalty for not giving them... it's a purely civil matter. You, as the slaughterer of an animal, owe this tax to a kohen, essentially. The other significant point is that the owner of the animal has tova hanaah- the right to decide who gets benefit from your gift.

So if a kohen shechts his own animal, he does not have to give the matanos, because I think in the abstract, he could always just give the matanos to himself. There's no ritual procedure, no special language. He just says I'm giving the matanos to myself, done.

The problem is that the Talmud has the idea of business partnership and co-ownership. So what if a kohen goes into business with a non-kohen, selling meat? Are they inherently exempt from giving matanos? This might be a sufficient money-saver to make it worth going into business with the kohen even if the kohen does no other work and contributes no other capital. So there's what seems to be a D'rabbanan rule that if the kohen goes into business shechting, he is no longer exempt from matanos, and has to give them to some other kohen. Because otherwise, the whole system of matanos would effectively be circumvented with a legal fiction that all butcher shops were technically co-owned by kohanim.

But I'm not sure this is quite enough, because why can't the kohanim that the butcher shops chose to give matanos to make a deal with the butcher shops that they'll resell the matanos back to the butcher shops at a discount in exchange for being the chosen kohanim?
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Drawing the Line by Edwin Danson


A really neat, incredibly nerdy book about the construction of the Mason Dixon line. It mentions the Civil War and slavery perhaps twice in the whole book. Because it is not a book about the cultural significance of the Mason Dixon line. Danson is a surveyer, and Drawing the Line is quite literally about drawing the line, the technical and political and physical challenges involved in the creation of the Mason-Dixon line, which after nearly a century of political and legal wrangling settled decisively the boundary between the Pennsylvania colony and the Maryland Colony, a scant few years before the American Revolution.

The important context for Danson is the massive leaps forward in surveying technology in the mid 18th century associated with the development of telescope technology, measurement instrument technology, and Earth exploration. A lot of this was tied up with the so-called 'Longitude problem', how to inexpensively and straightforwardly calculated one's latitude at sea, quick enough and accurately enough to be useful for navigation. Before he was sent to America, Charles Mason was deeply involved at the Greenwich Observatory in one of the most significant efforts to solve the longitude problem, the cheaper but less accurate method known as the Method of Lunar Distances.

And so with the enhanced capabilities for surveying and generally for knowing where the hell on Earth one was at any given moment, the possibility for more accurately resolving boundaries in dispute was greatly expanded. Danson rarely steps back and thinks about the bigger picture of his story in any other than technical terms, but a boundary like the Mason-Dixon line was not really feasible before this moment in history. If you wanted a real boundary that everyone understood, you either needed a body of water in between, or you needed a wall- a boundary negotiated not on paper but by the actual physical markers. What Mason and Dixon accomplished was to resolve a boundary dispute arising from a theoretical boundary written on a piece of paper, by actually fully mapping the theoretically defined parallels and tangent lines of the legal proclamations, so accurately that nobody could argue.

It took them several years of painstakingly 'chaining' their way across the Mid-Atlantic, which means what it sounds like. Crews under Mason and Dixon's command had carefully calibrated chains of precise length and they would stretch the chain out on the ground in the specified direct and then mark the spot and bring over the next chain to continue the line. They did this for hundreds of miles, stopping every ten miles or so to take painstakingly precise astronomical measurements to confirm their physical location and adjust for errors in the chaining process with offset tables. After the chaining was done, Mason and Dixon would double back along the line they'd marked, fixing marked spots based on their offset tables, and permanently mark their lines.

The calibrations of the chains were variable with temperature and wear and tear, and subject to dozens of human errors in measurements, but per Danson (and I trust Danson, because the technical language of surveying he uses is so complicated that I have no choice but to accept his word) Mason and Dixon's line was remarkably straight.

The most exciting part of the story comes toward the end. The Proclamation of 1763, a British response to the economically and militarily costly Pontiac rebellion after the French and Indian war, forbid American colonists past the Alleghenies, to avoid antagonizing the Iroquois Confederacy and some of the other tribes of the area. But the lines on paper in the charters of Pennsylvania and Maryland extended about a hundred miles past that boundary. The colony governors sent representatives to negotiate with the native tribes to allow the surveyors to continue their work to the end of the line. The leaders of the confederacy were not stupid- it seems clear they recognized that the only possible intention of this survey was to pave the ground for later expansion of the colonies past the 1763 line, so they had armed detachments accompany the survey, both to make sure that tribes not affiliated with the Iroquois would not harass Mason and Dixon, and to make sure that the surveyors did not push too far into Iroquois territory. Ultimately, they stopped the survey thirty or forty miles short of its targeted goal. Danson suggests this was the result of confusion or misrepresentation by the colonial negotiators, that the natives did not have a clear comprehension of what '100 miles past the 1763 line' was and the negotiators had as a clarifier suggested that the survey extend to a particular river as the boundary, in congruence with what I mentioned above about how pre-Mason and Dixon boundaries were dependent on physical lines to define their meaning. But I think it's also possible from Danson's account that the Iroquois refusal to let Mason and Dixon complete their survey was about asserting their dominance and refusing to let the British colonists establish the foothold they desired beyond the 1763 line. Danson does a good job of conjuring up the tension of the situation as the surveyors pushed increasingly deep into forbidden territory.


In any case, the other story Danson tells well, because he was blessed with Charles Mason's fabulously detailed journals of his surveying adventures, is the story of Mason falling in love with the Maryland/Pennsylvania countryside and falling in love with America as he surveys the land. Many of my favorite passages in the book are preceded by Danson's mention again of Mason's restlessness, which always leads to him grabbing a horse and riding off on an adventure- to Virginia, to New York, to Philadelphia, always meeting new and interesting people to talk math and astronomy with. Sadly, Danson's documentation on Dixon is far sketchier, leading him to dismiss him as fascinating but mysterious.

But if you want to read 200 pages of blow by blow summaries of an incredibly historically significant surveying expedition, you'll enjoy this book. I recognize that might be a small subset of people.
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Daf 131

Is Mateh Levi one of the twelve tribes? Well, sort of. Anytime the Torah lists the tribes of Israel, it lists twelve tribes. Sometimes it includes Levi in the count, and leaves out one of the other tribes. Other times, it leaves Levi out of the count and adds back in that other tribe. Levi has a special status among the tribes because of its consecration to the Temple service. So when the Torah uses the term 'ha'am', does it include Levi?

Reply hazy. Try again.


Rav asks the question of whether Levites are obligated in the matanos. The matanos are special gifts to the kohanim, but they're chullin, not kodshin, that's the whole point of the first Mishnah. So you'd think sure, of course the Leviim have to give the matanos to kohanim, they're not kohanim. Obviously they have to give them.

The problem is that there's a lot of gifts that are owed to the kohanim, and less but still a few gifts that are owed to the Leviim, and they all have slightly different language in the psukim discussing them in the Torah, but the Mishnayos are trying to come up with somewhat more standardized rules for all these gifts. So Rav brings down a few different baraisos about the gifts that send mixed messages about what exactly the Leviim are chiyuv in as far as gifts to kohanim, and gifts to other Leviim.

In particular, in a baraisa about the matanos, it says "Kohanim do not give to Kohanim, and Leviim don't give to Leviim". Obviously, the latter part of the baraisa can't be about the matanos, because the Leviim are't owed the matanos, so the baraisa must be talking about some other thing that the Leviim are owed, probably the maaser rishon. But it's precisely this ambiguity that puzzles Rav. The language of "Kohanim don't give to Kohanim, and Leviim don't give to Leviim, suggests that there is some case where the Leviim do have to give to the Kohanim." Otherwise the baraisa could have said "Kohanim don't give to Kohanim, and Leviim don't give to Kohanim", and by kal vachomer we could have derived Leviim don't give to Leviim. Perhaps this is in reference to first shearings, which are also owed to Kohanim, but the most obvious implication is that it's about the matanos.

But the problem is that there is evidence both in the Torah literature and in the Mishnaic literature that uses 'ha'am' to include Leviim, and so Rav is uncertain about whether the Leviim should be considered part of the people for purposes of the matanos, because of the contradictory evidence.

Because of this safek, and because matanos is considered a monetary obligation rather than a matter of kedusha and mitzvah obligation (c.f. yesterday's thing about Rav Chisda's leniency, which seems to come from the same place), we are lenient and don't obligate the Leviim.
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Daf 130

The subject of the new perek is the matanos, the gifts that are owed to the kohanim from every chullin behema you shecht, which consist of the z'roa, the halchayim, and the keva- the front leg, the jaw, and the stomach. The Mishna says the law in still in effect outside Israel and after the Temple was destroyed, which I guess makes sense by the letter of the law but seems logistically unwieldy. Artscroll footnote says there's a lenient position later in the Gemara that says that you don't need to do this chutz la'aretz, and I guess Ashkenazim hold that way by a selective reading of the Rema? Googling around I found kehuna.org which appears to be an advocacy group arguing for restoring as much of the kohen's special privileges as possible in galus, and which claims that they are being denied the cow stomachs that are rightfully theirs. They also seem to say that challah is rightfully theirs, so I guess if they're right I should mail some dough to Brooklyn every time I make challah.

The rest of the Mishna discusses two types of consecrated animals with blemishes that therefore can't be offered as sacrifices and must be monetarily redeemed. The former class had a blemish before they were consecrated. Thus it was never possible for them to be truly consecrated, and when they are redeemed, they regain most of the properties as if they were always chullin, including being obligated in the matanos. The latter class got the blemish after being consecrated, and they even after redemption retain a lot of the properties of kodshin, including being exempted from the matanos.
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And I am caught up at last, and we complete this frustrating perek.

Also, I wanted to mention that Print-o-craft, after not offering a 2018 Asufa Haggadah, is offering a 2019 version. Asufa is a project from an Israeli art collective where they assign a different artist to create each page of the Haggadah, and they put out a new Haggadah every year. They're very fun, you turn each page and you get a new, beautiful perspective on the Seder.

Daf 128

Rabbi Linzer kept calling this topic very fun. That's... an interesting perspective. I think it's clear that the Talmud is playing around here, but the ideas involved are still tricky and the topic kind of irrelevant.

The Gemara has discussed in previous perakim the hanging limb, which is where a limb is partially severed from an animal, and then it dies, and so the limb is considered ever min hachai. The act of dying is considered to have severed the limb entirely so that the limb is considered ever min hachai. And contrariwise if one shechted the animal, the shechitah doesn't take effect on the animal so it's sort of neveilah. Now the Gemara considers the susceptibility of this limb to tumah. Since it was sort of connected to the animal while shechitah was happening, and the blood of shechitah renders a shechted animal susceptible to tumah, but the act of shechitah also technically disconnected it from the rest of the animal, is it susceptible to tumah?

Rabbi Meir says yes, Rabbi Shimon says no. The Gemara sees this dispute as an opportunity to play around with a lot of more abstract principles of halakha.

What if the blood of shechita flies out of the neck and touches the limb, does that render it susceptible to tumah? What if the blood of shechita flies out after you sever one of the simanim, you wipe it off, and then you sever the second siman? This lets us contemplate and re-examine a previous argument about what constitutes 'the moment of shechita', whether that's a continuous process or if it only happens at the end of shechitah.

Also, what if the living cow touches something tamei... It is not susceptible to tumah as a living cow, but perhaps it acts as a yad and transmits the tumah to the partially severed tail? This lets us contemplate various questions about what constitutes a yad in unusual circumstances that technically meet the definition of yad but for various reasons test our conventional assumptions of what a yad should look like.

There's also an interesting bit where they discuss Rabbi Akiva's position. According to Rabbi Yehuda, Rabbi Akiva's position was originally aligned with Rabbi Meir, and then he retracted it after it was pointed out that it was inconsistent with a different ruling of his about tumah of certain vegetables. So Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Shimon, both talmidim of Rabbi Akiva, and one held the pre-retraction position and one held the post-retraction bit. Perhaps Rabbi Meir never heard Rabbi Akiva's retraction and only knew the pre-retraction position, or perhaps he knew both and formed his own opinion that Rabbi Akiva's position was originally right.

Daf 129

Ordinarily there is an idea that tumas ochel is a relatively non-severe kind of tumah. It's pretty limited, that is to say. Abaye asks a series of questions about cases where food can taken on a more serious kind of tumah than normal, and Rava answers each in the same way, by saying that in this case, the food is 'like wood', that is to say, it is not being treated as food.

The cases include: Making a chair out of dough that is then sat on by a zav. Dough filling in the cracks in a utensil that is then touched by a mes. Offering food as a sacrifice to avodah zarah. In each case, what makes the food more severely tamei is that it is considered for these purposes not as food.




I separately, since I've been listening to Rabbi Linzer's YCT Daf Yomi podcast quite a bit and citing him fairly regularly in these notes, wanted to say something about the news from YCT. But I think the thing I want to say is that I don't have an opinion. Not that I don't have feelings about it, but I don't know enough facts about the case to feel like my opinion belongs out in the open. But I wanted to at least say I'm thinking about it.

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