Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Why you *are* in fact allowed to hold a baby during davening

R' Gil Student over at Hirhurim has an interesting post about how a gemara in Brachot 23b is taken to prohibit holding many things during Shemoneh Esrei, including a knife, a loaf of bread, a plate, and money. Various acharonim apparently extend this to holding children, sine the idea is that they are all things which will take your mind off of the prayer.

I am a Rif blogger, and so I feel compelled to point out that this is not necessarily the meaning of this gemara, as understood by the Rif.

The context of the gemara is what you can and cannot do in terms of a bathroom. I am going to cite the Rif's version, from my post (in the Rif it is daf 14b, so see the Rif in full there).

The Sages learnt {in a brayta}: one should not grab tefillin in his hand or {and?} a sefer Torah in his arm and pray, nor should he urinate with them, nor sleep with them, whether a permanent or a temporary sleep.

Shmuel said: a knife, a plate, a loaf {of bread}, and money are like them {as in the preceding brayta - our gemara has a different order for these items}.

Now, the brayta speaks of several cases - that you may not hold a sefer Torah or tefillin during:

  1. prayer

  2. urination

  3. different types of sleep

Shmuel says that the law is the same in terms of money, a knife, a plate, and a loaf of bread. In terms of which case? Prayer? Urination? Sleep?

Rashi explicitly links Shmuel's statement only to the first case - prayer. He does not link it to the other cases. Thus, we see that is is easy to hold that Shmuel's statement is only applicable to a single case in the brayta.

However, I would argue as follows. The context of the gemara is things related to the privy. It is in that context that the brayta was brought. Therefore, it is only logical that Shmuel's statement, which follows, also relates to the privy - that is, what one may urinate while holding.

Indeed, the Rif brings down Shmuel's statement. The context of the Rif, in his citations of the gemara, relate to the privy. It only makes sense that the Rif brings down Shmuel's statement in this context because he also holds it is halacha in terms of the privy. Otherwise, why bring it down lehalacha here. He should cite it in a different context, that of rules of prayer. From my limited experience with the Rif, it seems clear to me that he would have cited Shmuel in a different context if he agreed with Rashi that it only applied to prayer.

Let us dwell on why holding a sefer Torah or tefillin would be problematic.

Rashi says that his mind will not be on the prayer because he is afraid of dropping them. The same would then apply to Shmuel's statement - he would be afraid of dropping them.

What about urination? It is not kavod.

What about sleep? Rashi says - lest one pass gas.

I would agree more or less in all these cases. There is an halachic obligation to treat tefillin and a sefer Torah with a certain respect. I would say the presence of mind required while holding tefillin and a sefer Torah would preclude focusing on prayers. Urination is not kavod. And sleep, one is not having the appropriate presence of mind. (So I argue a bit, but not in terms of anything that would make a difference.)

Now let us turn to Shmuel. Do all three cases (prayer, urination, sleep) make sense?

In terms of prayer, Rashi says: since one worries about dripping them - the knife, lest it drop and injure him; the bread lest it get ruined; the money lest is become lost; and the plate, lest it spill its contents.

These are all plausible explanations, should one want to tie Shmuel's statement to the first case of the brayta. It is not necesssary though.

In terms of urination, I would say: the knife, lest he injure himself; the bread, for it is not respectful to bread, plus the bread may become soiled; the money, for it may become dirty, and he is going to purchase things with this money, such that others will handle it, and thus it is not appropriate; and the plate, since food goes on it, it is not appropriate.

In terms of sleep, it is hard to find justification. The knife is understandable as a precaution lest he injure himself in his sleep. The bread, he may soil, so perhaps you can argue Bal Taschis. The money and plate - if someone wants to risk it, what cause can you have to prohibit him halachically from doing so?

I think it is for this reason that Rashi saw fit to apply it only to the case of prayer, since the last case, of sleep, is hard to justify.

However, as pointed out, the simplest understanding of the gemara recognizes that the brayta was brought in in terms of urination, and so it makes sense that Shmuel's statement which follows is also specifically as regards urination, and not sleep, and not prayer.

Further, one should not say that Shmuel's examples are just that - examples - and one should include other things of the type, in terms of prayer. After all, we really do not understand the reasoning behind Shmuel's statement - if it even applies to prayer, and the reason it should - such that we should extend it to still other cases.

An additional interesting point is that if we apply this to all three instances in the brayta, including sleep, then we could extend it to babies as well, as the sources Gil cites extend it in terms of prayer. This would prohibit co-sleeping with your infant, which I do not think the gemara would do (see the gemaras about sleeping with your child {in the nude, as was the general sleeping practice back then} until a specific age, though see also the case Shlomo HaMelech needed to adjudicate, in which he pretended that he would split the babe in two, which started from a co-sleeping tragedy.)

In sum, there is an acharon (the Birkei Yosef that Gil cites) who says that you should not. However, I think there is a Rishon, the Rif, who reads Shmuel's statement as not talking about prayer at all, but about urination (and not as understood by Rebenu Yonah there - see inside). Therfore, I would say that one may even pray lechatchila while holding a baby. At the same time, one should focus on his prayers. We should not, however, create Rabbinic prohibitions where none exist.

Let me add that I am not (yet) a rabbi, and furthermore I am not saying this as psak halacha. I will echo what R Gil said at the end of his post: "Ask your rabbi before following any halakhic advice given here."

Update and Correction:
Over Rosh HaShana, I did a lot of reading - through the Rif on Rosh HaShana (12 blatt), Yoma (6 blatt), and Succah (27 blatt). Since I had neglected to do the whole learning 30 days before the Yom Tov thing, this seemed like a good way to catch up, and to take a break from Eruvin (plug for Rif blog - we just started Eruvin in daf Yomi). And I saw something (in Rif Succah 20a, excerpting Succah 41b) that I should have seen before, and which I should have considered when I made my original post: Why you *are* in fact allowed to hold a baby during davening. That was based on my analysis of a gemara in Berachot 23b (cited by the Rif on Berachot 14b), that a statement of Shmuel that the law is the same in terms of a knife, a loaf of bread, a plate, and money refers not to holding these items during davening Shemoneh Esrei but rather to holding them while urinating. Check out the aforementioned post for analysis and what I feel is a compelling argument that this is so.

However, I also claimed that, based on the way I understood them, the Rif and the Rosh read the gemara the same way. This is not the case. They would have read the relevant gemara as I did, because of this gemara in Succah. I missed this through a combination of ignorance, laziness, and pride - Rabbenu Yona on the Rif in Brachot referred to the gemara in Succah, but I did not realize that the gemara in Succah in fact explicitly cited the brayta and statement of Shmuel from Brachot, and did not look it up.

To recap, the gemara in Brachot 23b read:
The Sages learnt {in a brayta}: one should not grab tefillin in his hand or {and?} a sefer Torah in his arm and pray, nor should he urinate with them, nor sleep with them, whether a permanent or a temporary sleep.

Shmuel said: a knife, a plate, a loaf {of bread}, and money are like them {as in the preceding brayta - our gemara has a different order for these items}.
This was embedded in a discussion of the laws of the privy. Shmuel's additions to the law laid down in the brayta only applies to one of the three cases (for why should one not sleep while holding money?), and Rashi identifies this case as prayer. I did not realize this at the time, but he is essentially forced into adopting this position because of the gemara in Succah. The reason Shmuel gave these examples is somewhat arbitrary - one if afraid of dropping all of these, and thus there is tirda - but the examples are random, and he could have selected many other examples at random.

I argued that since the context of the gemara was the laws of the privy, it is clear that this is why the brayta was brought down. True, the brayta also gives the case of praying and sleeping temporary or more sustained sleep, but that was just how the brayta was formulated. It was brought down here in Brachot for the case of the privy. If so, it stands to reason that Shmuel's statement continues discussing the essential rule that was brought down in the brayta. And, once you realize that Shmuel's statement is about urinating while holding the items, his choice of items makes sense, such that it is deliberate and not random. That is, do not hold a knife while urinating lest you accidentally cut yourself. Do not hold a loaf of bread while urinating because it is disrespectful to the food, plus you might render it inedible. Do not hold a plate - if by praying, one might say that it is laden with food, which you are afraid will spill. Do not hold a plate while urinating, because it is disgusting - people will eat off that plate! Do not hold money while urinating - this is something that is given over from one person's hand to another.

However, now we have the gemara in Succah 41נ. It reads:

א"ל מר בר אמימר לרב אשי אבא צלויי קא מצלי ביה
מיתיבי לא יאחז אדם תפילין בידו וספר תורה בחיקו ויתפלל ולא ישתין בהן מים
ולא יישן בהן לא שינת קבע ולא שינת עראי
ואמר שמואל סכין וקערה ככר ומעות הרי אלו כיוצא בהן
התם לאו מצוה נינהו וטריד בהו הכא מצוה נינהו ולא טריד בהו
תניא רבי אלעזר בר צדוק אומר
כך היה מנהגן של אנשי ירושלים אדם יוצא מביתו ולולבו בידו הולך לבית הכנסת לולבו בידו קורא קריאת שמע ומתפלל ולולבו בידו קורא בתורה ונושא את כפיו מניחו על גבי קרקע הולך לבקר חולים ולנחם אבלים לולבו בידו נכנס לבית המדרש משגר לולבו ביד בנו וביד עבדו וביד שלוחו
מאי קמ"ל
להודיעך כמה היו זריזין במצות
Mar the son of Amemar said to Rav Ashi: Father used to pray with it {=the lulav}.
A contradiction!
{The brayta stated:} A man should not grab his tefillin in his hand and his Torah scroll in his embrace and pray, nor should he urinate with them, nor should he sleep with them, not a temporary nor a sustained sleep.
And Shmuel said: A knife, a plate, a loaf, and money are like them.
{The answer:} There, they are not a mitzvah and he is bothered with them. Here, it {=lulav} is a mitzvah and he is not bothered with them.

They learnt {in a brayta}: Rabbi Eleazar bar Tzadok says:
This was the custom of the men of Jerusalem: A man would leave his house with his lulav in hand. He went to the synagogue with his lulav in hand. He would read Shema and pray {Shemoneh Esrei} with his lulav in hand. He would read from the Torah and lift up his hands {to bless}, he would place it on the floor. He would go to visit the sick, to console mourners with his lulav in hand. He would enter the study hall and would give over his lulav to his son's hand, his servant's hand, or his agent's hand.
What is this {brayta} coming to tell us?
To inform us how zealous they were in performance of mitzvot.
In the context of this gemara, Shmuel's statement must perforce be about prayer and not about urination. Further, from the answer of this gemara, we see that the problem Shmuel had with these items is that a man would be tarud with them. This directly produces Rashi's explanation of the gemara in Brachot, and it would seem it could be no other way. Thus, I was mistaken in my attribution of my reading of the gemara in Brachot to Rif and Rosh.

Thus, any allowance for holding a baby during Shemoneh Esrei would have to come from a claim that a baby is not comparable to Shmuel's examples, and that he would not be tarud. Perhaps one could say chai nosei et atzmo, or else that because of chiba for the child, just like the chiba for the mitzvah of lulav, he would not be tarud. Or some such answer.

I am unrepentant in one regard, however. I still maintain that my analysis of the gemara in Brachot is correct, and superior to an analysis that makes Shmuel statement one about prayer. This, for all the reasons I outlined above.

What then of the gemara in Succah? Well, we are faced with two parallel gemaras, and when this happens, we should determine which was the original and which was the copy. In this instance, it seems fairly obvious that Berachot contains the original. The brayta and Shmuel's statement are brought in straightforwardly in series of statements about the privy. This is where we would expect the brayta to be brought. Shmuel's statement is said benichuta - calmly, on the brayta.

Meanwhile, the gemara in Succah is about the laws of lulav, and we have two statements about holding lulav all day. One is Mar bar Amemer relating his father's practice, and the other is the brayta relating the practice of the men of Jerusalem. This practice was troubling in light of another source, from a different field entirely, so the gemara says meitvei - I have an objection! Then, another sugya is copied in its entirety and brought for the contrast - here is a source stating one cannot hold things during prayer! They thus cite the sugya in its entirety - both brayta and Shmuel's statement, as part of the objection. This sub-sugya, of brayta grouped with Shmuel, in coming from somewhere. In truth it does - it comes from Berachot.

Tosafot, too, seems to acknowledge Berachot as the original. On Succah 41b, d"h ve`amar Shemuel, he asks why Shmuel's statement was brought along for the ride. He answers that if they only brought the brayta, I would think this was the law by tefilla only in terms of the tefillin and sefer Torah, since if they fell, there would be bizayon and he would therefore be tarud with them. Therefore, Shmuel's statement is also brought, since he discusses secular items.

Now, if this were the original source in which the brayta was brought, Shmuel's statement would be necessary as commentary of the brayta, since otherwise we would not have his statement. (It would later be copied together with the brayta to Berachot.) Tosafot assumes that these statements are being brought from elsewhere to pose the contradiction. (Of course, this is not so, since Tosafot would not subscribe to the view that if two parallel sources exist, one is the original, and the other a copy. Rather, both were in the ether, and Ravina and Rav Ashi cited what they felt necessary in each instance, such that there is sometimes duplication.)

Digression: Here we see the first potential "out." Often, when the gemara cites a statement from elsewhere, they cite the entire sugya, even when the statement required is in the middle of the sugya. Not realizing this fact causes misunderstandings in later generations of what the question was and what the answer was, and such is reflected in the stama or in commentators. I could offer examples here from Horayot, Gittin, and elsewhere, but they are quite involved, and besides the point. One could then quite simply say that Tosafot was right and did not know it. The brayta was cited, and Shmuel's statement was cited agav the brayta, when they did the transfer from one sugya to the other. Indeed, only a sefer Torah and tefillin may not be held, because the possible bizayon to kitvei kodesh will cause him to be tarud. However, this does not mesh with the answer offered by the gemara. True, there is a mitzvah to hold a lulav, one which does not exist by tefillin and sefer Torah, but then, there is no issue of bizayon to kitvei kodesh if the lulav drops, so the question does not start. (Unless one speaks of bizayon to mitzvot, or else wants to argue against the gemara...) Besides, I don't believe this is the answer for a moment. End Digression.

However, once we assume the gemara in Berachot is the source sugya, then I would grant primacy to the best interpretation as found locally in that sugya, and that would be that Shmuel is speaking of urination. What then to make of the gemara in Succah, in which Shmuel must speak of prayer? I would say that Shmuel was taken out of context, and that this movement was a result of reinterpretation, and that the movement also causes Shmuel to be reinterpreted.

Who does this reinterpretation of Shmuel, and who does this movement of brayta and Shmuel from one sugya to another? It is the stama digemara, which speaks in Aramaic and typically tries to harmonize differing sugyot.

For this is introduced by מיתיבי, not by a statement by an Amora. And it does not seem to be Rav Ashi, the sof horaah and redactor of Bavli, for he was told this by Mar bar Amemar, and could have replied directly. The analysis in the gemara takes a sugya involving the Amora Rav Ashi, and a sugya involving the Amora Shmuel, which were already complete by themselves, and transfers the existing sugya of Shmuel to contrast and offer a harmonization. This seems stamaitic.

(Further, Amemer has a brayta to back him up, whereas Shmuel only has his own statement and interpretation of a brayta. Ask on Shmuel rather than Amemer, who is only equal the subsequent brayta! And look at the question, what the brayta is coming to teach us. It is coming to teach us their zealousness in mitzvot? It seems rather to teach us that one may hold the lulav during all of these activities, including Shema and Shemoneh Esrei, but not during duchening, an aliya, and learning. Or at least that one may hold the lulav during davening!)

I would posit that Shmuel's statement is not to be taken as the stama in Succah took it, as referring to prayer, but rather to urination. Therefore there is no problem with Amemar's actions, or with the actions of the men of Jerusalem. And thus it is not an issue of tirda by tefillin and sefer Torah, but rather the disrespect to these items by urinating with them, sleeping with them, or praying with them, which would entail not paying proper attention to them.


Anonymous said...

Good observation. However, we are bound by the shulchan aroch.

joshwaxman said...

i would not say this as an absolute, and in fact think it is possible in many situations to rule against the Shulchan Aruch.

1) not that it really matters, but in this case, i would claim that the Rif and the Rosh would agree with this explanation, and the Shulchan Aruch looks to the majority of them and the Rambam, so if he had the same understanding in the Rif and Rosh, the Shulchan Aruch would have agreed.

2) there are many times when we do not rule like the Shulchan Aruch, or that poskim do not rule like the Shulchan Aruch. As as example: Do you talk between aliyot in shul? Many do. This is against the Shulchan Aruch.
so we are not *absolutely* bound by the Shulchan Aruch.

3) It is hard to accept that one should pasken like the Shulchan Aruch even though you know it is wrong. See Horayot 2b,

where the One like Shimon ben Azzai errs by following the Sanhedrin even though he knows they are wrong because he errs in Mitzvah Lishmoah Divrei Chachamim. If it is an error as regards following Sanhedrin, it should be no less of an error as regards following Rav Yosef Karo.

Anonymous said...

for (1) does that really work if the SA understands it differently

Does #3 really apply to being machmir to be like Sanhedrin? Also, there are errors and errors...

joshwaxman said...

In terms of (1), it depends what you mean by "does it really work?" After all, we are now creating this idea that we are "bound" by the Shulchan Aruch, so what are the parameters? The rules laid down by him about how he was going to rule, or the helpful formulation of halacha as contructed by said rules? at the end of Eruvin, the Rif says how he relates to Yerushalmi, favoring Bavli over it (though actually in yesterday's Rif on the daf he seems to go against this); and in one occassion he simply cites the Yerushalmi and ignores the Bavli, and many find this problematic and say we should follow be following the Bavli.

But (1) was really pointing out that Rav Yosef Karo gave special force to Rif and Rosh, and that had he read them as I am reading them, he would have said halacha the same. In the absence of the idea that we are absolutely bound by the Shulchan Aruch, I can see room to base myself on what seems the correct pshat in the gemara, and was understood by these important Rishonim that Rav Yosef Karo assigned special force to. (Especially because the Shulchan Aruch did not rule *against* them, but just did not recognize what they were saying.)

In terms of (3), the context of the gemara are specifically issurei karet, and Rashi says that the point there is that Mitzvah Lishmoa Divrei Chachamim does not extend to violating issurim. I was discussing the general idea of being bound by the Shulchan Aruch, which seems to me to be saying that the *definition* of the halacha is absolutely as understood and formulated by the Shulchan Aruch.

In this case, this is a chumra which will lead to a kulla. May you hold a knife, a plate, money, a loaf of bread while urinating? If we understand it to only refer to praying, them urinating while holding them would be permitted!

You would probably say in this case that one one should hold by both sets of issurim.

Perhaps, but that also brings up the idea of why we are doing what we are doing. Rav Ashi was Sof Horaah (and it is *that* that we are bound by), and the rishonim and acharonim are interpreting the gemara to explain what the gemara was saying we should do in practice. Should we really give such force to these interpretations even when we beleive they are not understanding the gemara correctly? That seems to go against the spirit of what we are accomplishing with our conduct (fulfilling the dictates of the Torah and gemara).

Further, it seems to me that there is another issue with going (and ruling) lechumra even when we know it really is permitted:

אמר רבי לעזר כשם שאסור לטהר את הטמא כך אסור לטמא את הטהור.

(which admittedly is about taharot)

At any rate, I see no compelling proof that we are *bound* by the Shulchan Aruch in this way. As pointed out in (2), we do not always rule like him. And he is not the Sanhedrin.

joshwaxman said...

furthermore, this is definitely a chumra deAti liydei kulla.

Read again what R Gil wrote. The Bach would say (assuming you agree to extend this to a baby) that you would have to pray again. There are issues of bracha levatala which should not be overcome because one wants to be machmir for the Shulchan Aruch even though he thinks it is incorrect.

Even according to most poskim who disagree with the Bach, they would say that you should "forgo prayer at this time rather than pray while holding a baby."

That is, if you are being machmir like this, you are missing tefilla beTzibur, and you are missing tefilla beZemano.

If you are in shul and do not hold your child, there is a likelihood that the baby will cry, or if older, run about, thus distrubing other people, and the tzibur's prayers. Should one not hold his child in order to be machmir for a shitta you don't really think is correct and thus disrupt the prayers of the rabbim?


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