Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Old Buildings

Today the Talmud department of Hebrew University went on its less-than-annual field trip. We went up to the Golan, where Dr Hayim Ben-David showed us around a couple of synagogues he is excavating. For extensive coverage of one of them, Umm el-Kanatir, follow this link. The site is quite astounding. They hope to reconstruct the Torah Ark, which apparently stood 5 meters high.

The main point that Dr. Ben-David was trying to make, as far as I was able to assimilate, was that Jewish settlement in the Golan after the destruction of the Second Temple was quite extensive. Archaeologists have found remnants of 26 villages with synagogues. They don't know what any of these villages were named. So, the theory goes, perhaps some of the spare names in the Talmudic onomasticon - those place names in Talmud Yerushalmi and midrashim which do not belong to any known town - might refer to places in the Golan. This, on the assumption that the Golan was not considered a distinct geographic entity at the time.

I came back and watched a silly but entertaining movie, which turned out to be full of old and crumbling stone buildings too.

Which ties in with something I was reading on Shabbat - R Ari Chwat's edition of the Testament of R Judah the Pious ("Re'ach Bosem" to his admirers, more commonly known as R Yehuda he-Hassid).

This testament is notorious in halachic writings for its utter disregard for halachic norms, and almost exclusive interest in superstition. For instance, it says that a chicken that crows like a rooster must be slaughtered immediately - a direct contravention of Tosefta Shabbat 6:5.

Another famous injunction in the Testament is that a man may not marry a woman who carries the same name as his mother. So too if his name matches that of his prospective father-in-law.

But Hassidei Ashkenaz are justly famous for their sensitivity to the depths of human nature. So I was intrigued by the following warning:

לא יבנה אדם בית אבנים, ולא יקנה. ואם עשה או קנה, לא ידור בו אם
לא ידורו בו אנשים שנה ראשונה
A person should not build a stone house, nor buy one. If someone
did or bought, he should not dwell in it unless other people occupy it for the
first year.
I think I understand the idea here. Building a stone house, an imposing edifice, is an act of hubris. It implies wealth, power and permanence. Those are potent emotions. Perhaps it were better if they were channeled elsewhere - for instance, towards building a synagogue or some building of public use. If you do insist on taking this step, on building your own private temple, hesitate. Let other people live there first. Be humble.


Anonymous francine marino said...

You're not implying that the injunction against marrying someone with the same name as either of your parents is based on superstition, are you? Because I think it actually demonstrates sensitivity to human nature too. Though, obviously of a different sort than the restrictions on building a stone home.

1:31 PM  
Blogger manuscriptboy said...

I'm implying that, though it is presented and generally discussed as superstition, it is based on a sensitivity to human nature.

1:32 PM  

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