Shabbos 146 Original sin, the purifying effect of Torah, and converts

It is often though that the idea of original sin, that a person is borne already tainted by the sin of the first man, is a Christian concept (some Christian denominations go further and see every-man as not only tainted by, but guilty as a result of it), whereas the Jewish belief is that each person is borne pure and free of sin, and only becomes tainted by his own sins, mainly after he reaches the ages of majority, namely 12 for a girl and 13 for a boy.

Not only does every person need to purge this original sin in Christian theology, but for many centuries, Jews were persecuted and murdered for their very own “original sin”- namely the crucifixion, for which their persecutors held them responsible, despite it having been carried out by the Romans, not the Jews, and in much earlier generations.

One of our most essential beliefs regarding reward and punishment is indeed the idea that איש בחטאו יומת – each man will be “killed” for his OWN sins, and no one else’s (Devarim 24/16; Melachim II 14/6.)

Yet one cannot escape the fact that there are times where the Tanach and Chazal certainly seem to teach that people can be punished for the sins of their fathers.

Rehavam, the son of King Shlomo (Solomon) had his kingdom split into two, with ten of the 12 tribes rebelling and breaking away from him, due to the sins of his father Shlomo, allowing his wives to bring idolatry into the land (Melachim I 11/12.)

Many of the dynasties of biblical kings came to an end with severe retribution, blamed on the sins of the dynasty’s founder (see Melachim I 16/12 for example,) and we are told that every punishment in history involves a component of the original Jewish sin of the golden calf (Sanhedrin 102a.)

In fact, we are explicitly told (Shmos 34/7) that פוקד עון אבות על בנים ועל בני בנים על שלשים ואל רבעים – “he visits the sins of fathers on their sons and grandsons until 3 or 4 generations.”

In dealing with this contradiction, the Gemara (Sanhedrin 27b) concludes that so long as the son is righteous himself, he will not be punished for the sins of his father.

However, if he knowingly follows in the path of his wicked father, he will be punished not only for his own sins but also for those of his father.

Yet even when later generations are not punished for the sins of their fathers, their does seem to be some concept of “original filth,” if not original sin, that Chazal believed in.

On this daf, we are told that when the snake caused Chava, the first woman, to sin, he engaged in sexual relations with her and implanted זוהמא (filth) into her.

Only when the Jewish people stood on Mount Sinai, the filth that the original snake had given to her, was cleansed from them.

The Gemara asked what about גרים (strangers or converts,) who were not present at Sinai- how were they cleansed of their original impurity.

It answers that even though they were not there physically, their מזל (literally star) was there.

Without a full analysis of the subject of whether such statements of Chazal are meant to be taken literally, which is an important discussion in its own right (spoiler alert- very often at least, they are not,) or what the idea of מזל actually means, one can understand that whatever impurity that came into mankind after he/she disobeyed the divine command that very first time by following the snake instead of his/her maker, was somehow made right by the unconditional acceptance of his Torah on Sinai.

That “cleansing” is not only limited to the Jewish people who were on the mountain and their descendants, but to any righteous convert who takes on the law of G-d on his own volition.

Without getting involved in the discussion as to whether this option applies in our time or not, it is possible that this not only applies to a גר צדק ( someone who converts to Judaism,) but also to a גר תושב , someone who accepts upon himself the 7 Noachide laws but remains non-Jewish, at least at a certain level, for he too has accepted upon himself again the most basic level of divine law.

On a symbolic level, every person has his personality (star) that was present at Sinai and that thus has the potential to receive the benefits of Sinai retroactively- all he needs to do is take the plunge.

These posts are intended to raise issues and stimulate further research and discussion on contemporary topics related to the daf. They are not intended as psak halacha.

Shabbos 145 Daf Yomi on Erev 9 Av

As noted last week, it is incredible that there is so often something on the daf or other regular learning programs we follow, that is so obviously relevant to us at the time we study it.

Incredibly, after a few days focusing on Shabbos and other matters again, today’s daf contains a discussion about the period after the destruction.

We are told that for 52 two years, the land of Yehuda was so desolate that even the birds were in exile.

We are also told that the festivals are (or at least were) happier outside Israel because they were not subject to the curse of חדשיכם ומועדיכם שנאה נפשי היו עלי לטרח (I have hated your new-moons and festivals- they have become a burden to me- Yeshayahu 1,) as we just read in the Haftarah.

We are told that Talmidei Chachamim were not shown respect by default by the people in exile, who were not Bnei Torah and lacked the respect for Torah that was shown in Eretz-Yisrael, and thus had to dress up extremely smart and fancily in order to attract people’s honor, something that was neither common nor necessary in Eretz Yisrael .

Another view is that they needed to dress up in exile because אינם בני מקומם- they are not at home, and thus need to prove themselves more- In Eretz Yisrael, Talmidei Chachamim are on their home ground and do not need to dress up in the same way,

How this distinction could be or is applied today is an interesting discussion itself but let us get on with the subject of our post.

The Rema (O.C 553/2) records that it is our custom to refrain from learning any Torah that is forbidden on 9 Av itself, from midday on the eve of 9 Av.

This is an example of certain Ashkenazi customs that at least seem to have no firm basis in the Gemara and Rishonim, and in this case, ,great authorities like the רש”ל and הגר”א took issue with it and actually held that it caused unnecessary בטול תורה (disruption to Torah learning,) a severe matter indeed- see the discussion in the Mishna Berura on the subject.

The reasoning given is that even though there is plenty to learn on 9 av itself, the Gemara )Avoda Zara 19a) has already noted that אין אדם לומד אלא ממקום שלבו חפץ- a person should only learn from subject matter that he desires to learn.

Although one is obligated to try learn the entire Torah, it is best for one’s learning to start with areas that one enjoys first, and that will hopefully motivate one to explore the rest of the Torah too and even come to enjoy doing so.

This idea has major ramifications for how we should design Torah curriculums for our students in general but is specifically relevant to our question.

As most people do not enjoy the sadder subject matter permitted on 9 Av ( which is the reason why it is permitted), it follows that in the absence of a specific Talmudic injunction against learning on the afternoon before 9 Av, refraining from learning subjects that one enjoys would actually be בטול תורה , at least qualitatively and probably quantitatively too.

This could apply even more to missing one’s regular daily daf- keeping up with the daf is a specific discipline as well as a major source of satisfaction and falling behind can have a major impact on one’s motivation.

Amazingly and rather chillingly, learning much of today’s daf does not present that problem, given that it focuses on the exile and could even be studied on 9 av itself!

These posts are intended to raise issues and stimulate further research and discussion on contemporary topics related to the daf. They are not intended as psak halacha.