Mishnah Yoma Chapter 1 Mishnah 1 Pt. 4

by Jhos Singer, SVARA Fellow, Rabbi Yehuda bar Ilai, Tannaitic Rabbi

רַבִּי יְהוּדָה אוֹמֵר אַף אִשָּׁה אַחֶרֶת מַתְקִינִין לוֹ שֶׁמָּא תָמוּת אִשְׁתּוֹ

Rabbi Yehuda says, “They even prepared another wife for [the High Priest], lest his wife die.”

Once upon a time, long long ago, before the days of pocket computers, when a person went to a health-related appointment, there were an assortment of paper magazines (paper!!) to help one bide the time. In those days I was a closet People magazine fan… Now-a-days that itch gets scratched by mishnayot that feature a Sagaeous Celeb, and Rabbi Yehuda fills the bill!! But here’s the problem: there are over 90 Rabbi Yehudas in the Talmud!! How do we figure out who’s who? For starters, if he’s in the Mishnah, he’s called a “Tanna”, so that eliminates a bunch. Then look for any other identifying information. Where was he located? Does he have a patronymic? Who else is mentioned? So who is our Rabbi Yehudah here? Well there’s no patronymic, which very often leads us to Rabbi Yehuda bar Ilai. A guy known for being humble, compassionate, and kind—as well as irascible, rigid, and ascetic to the point of self-abuse. He lived in perilous times and no doubt the pervasive trauma accounts for at least some of his paradoxical nature. Check him out, definitely more interesting than anyone at the Met Gala!!!

I’m zeroing in on two words-of-the-day. First, אַף / af, a complicated if bijou word, in this case meaning “also” or “too”, but in a different context could mean breath, nose, panting, or anger. Second, שֶׁמָּא / shehma, meaning lest, which itself means: just in case, in order to avoid, or for fear that. I’m wondering if there might be a rabbinic formula here: Also [we are gonna do abc], lest [xyz should happen]… I consulted The Practical Talmud Dictionary (AKA “The Frank”) and didn’t find anything, but this kinda feels like one of those moves. Anybody got some Talmud Terminology intel on this?

Right now we have a front-row seat at the theater where the rabbis transform the stones of the Mishkan into the fluid ideas of the Mishnah. AMAZING!! I might argue that here we are learning how the newly minted “rabbis” added their ramrods to the destruction of the second temple, albeit done with reverence and gratitude. It is a beautiful study in how to know and respect your enemy, and to honor what has come before—even if it is everything you reject and want to change. Maybe the Rabbis were more like martial artists whose ethos of honoring one’s opponent brings a level of sanctity to their sparring.

Check out the rest of the Yoma Learning Guide here!

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