Saturday, July 26, 2008

Echoes of distant horrors

The final Mishna of the 6th chapter of the Bava Batra tractate deals with the construction of burial graves in Judea and the Galilee, which is where the Mishna was created. The following Gemarah is somewhat unreal, since so far as I know there weren't any comparable burial graves where it was created, in Babylon, which is today's Iraq - a flat and muddy place, with no rocky hills into which to dig burial caves. Yet these pre-Iraqi rabbis deliberated the elaborate details of the caves as if they were a part of their everyday experience. In a way, they were: Erez Yisrael always appears in Jewish literature with an immediacy not accorded to the actual environment of the scholars.

The whole section is rather morbid, yet a page or so into it it take on some even darker hues, when the rabbis discuss what happens when an orderly burial cave is found to have a disorderly pile of hastily buried bodies in its anteroom. The rabbis deliberate this matter for a page or so, and then move on to other matters.... But wait, what is it they're talking about? Why would a society with a clear burial tradition suddenly deviate from it into chaotic behavior? Unless, perhaps, the chaos is far more extensive than mere burial customs? Perhaps these dry discussions are skirting around an historical period of widespread violence, mass death, and hurried burials of mounds of corpses in old cemeteries?

Such as the Judean wars against the Romans, at the time of the Great Revolt in the 1st Century, and even more so the Bar Kochva revolt of 135 when the Romans committed an effective genocide of the Jews in Judea, killing perhaps 900,000 of them. Events of that magnitude can't be swept out of the communal consciousness, and tend to pop up in all sorts of unexpected spots.

And there they remain for as long as the communal memory keeps going. In the case of the Jews, almost two millenia and going strong.

Bava Babtra tractate, pages 101-102.

As always, I note for the benefit of readers who don't understand what I'm talking about, that this thread began here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


And, it is exactly here that the Jesus story becomes, also, unbelievable. Because?

No record of "Jesus" writing anything down.

And, the myth then proceeds that he thought Jews should pay the Roman tax. Or, "What's due to caesar, caesar gits."

The history writing for those two hundred years falls short, indeed. But it was tulmultous times. And, it included a fear that the world would end.


Jews weren't the only ones who "limited their writings," either. The Eygptians never wanted to write about bad times. And, they also didn't want to credit the one woman Pharoah, either. So her name was excized from their monuments.

To figure out historical values, it is necessary to make "leaps of faith."

And, in today's world?

Gee, have we seen shifts in burial practices.

My dad, born in 1898, came to America, alone, in the summer of 1913. He remembers joining the Workman's Circle. Where there gathered enough new Jewish immigrants into this new world, where poor Jews were buried in Potter's Field. And, so they then banded together to form a burial society.

Now, in America, handling dead bodies by pickling them, became a custom among Christians. What was that like? Well, Abraham Lincoln's body wasn't only preserved. It went out on tour. For about a month. And, by then he had turned PURPLE.

You mean you can't mix history, and facts, into the Mishna? Why not? The times you live in are part of your life. And, you could learn something, even just by making comparisons.

For Jews, the simple funeral in a plain pine box, with the dead in linen shrouds, lasted longer than it did for others.

My mother used to get so upset, seeing people who struggled for a living, among her non-Jewish friends, being separated by thousands of dollars; to buy fancy boxes, that got to go in the ground.

When you look to see changes in customs; you have to wonder why the ancient rabbis were afraid to put into words what they saw with their eyeballs.

And, today, the world produces more propaganda than truth.

And, one of the biggest changes of all, with so much moving around ... people no longer live nearby the cemetaries that hold their ancestors bones.