Friday, February 27, 2009

Early Proto-Proto-Hobbsianism

Now and again the Gemara wanders off from its mostly legal discussions into legends, myths and stories. Aggadeta is the word for these excursions. Many talmudists rather dislike these detours for not being legalistic or practical; me, since I'm more of a historical mindset than a legalistic one, I think these sections are great fun. They give all sorts of fascinating insights into how life was lived, how it's still lived, and how it out to be lived.

Everyone's heard the story of the man who had two wives, one young the other elderly, and how the young one weeded out his gray hairs while the elderly one weeded out the black hairs, until he was "bald from both sides" (keraiach mekan u-mikan). I don't know where the story originated, but you can find it in the Gemara, where it was recorded at least 1,600 years ago, at Bava Kamma 60b. But I mention that one for the anecdote.

More interesting, further down the same page, is the story told by Rav Huna about a case where King David, warring with the Philistines, could only get at them by burning the fields in which they were hiding. He sent a question to the Sanhedrin (the high court in Jerusalem) asking if it is permissible to destroy property of non-combatants to save oneself. The Sanhedrin responded that as a general rule, one may not do so, but for the king it is permissible, because the King must forge a path for his army so as to face his enemies.

More than a millennium before Hobbes.

This thread began, and is explained, here.

1 comment:

joem said...

Also interesting, was that - according to one of the interpretations at the conclusion of the Gemara (not the opinion that the question was to do with prosecuting the war) - King David was "machmir" on himself, and did not take advantage of the fact that he was king (see Rashi on the third line of 61a). According to one opinion, he felt we shouldn't rule like those who went to the Sanhedrin, since the messengers had put themselves in danger without good reason.

Our maggid shiur told an interesting story about the Chazon Ish: around the time of the War of Independence, there was a period when the bombardment of the Jewish areas made it a danger for anyone to go outside. The Chazon Ish's daughter heard him say something to the effect that he wanted milk, so she took it upon herself to go out despite the danger to get it. When she came back, he was very upset with her for putting herself in danger needlesly, and spilled out the milk (!), citing our sugya as the reason.

Our magid shiur pointed out that had he not taken so drastic a measure, and simply rebuked her and then drank the milk, she might have gone out the next day again.

Anyway, I thought that, as a historian, you would find that story interesting. ;-)