Friday, December 26, 2008

Selling Donkey Dung To Gullible Tourists

So goes the short article -- and video -- from the BBC:
The manager of a tourist centre in the Holy Land has come up with an unusual idea for a souvenir.

Visitors to Menachem Goldberg's tourist compound at Kedem village in Galilee can buy pieces of donkey dung presented in a plastic cube inscribed with religious text.

Mr Goldberg based the idea on a phrase in the Jewish Talmud which says, '"Let the messiah come... may I be worthy to sit in the shadow of his donkey's dung."
Uch and vey! This just goes to show that if you designate something a souvenir, a tourist will buy all sorts of cr*p. Frankly, I don't see this statement (from Rav Yosef in the gemara) is being desecrated in any sense by this, but still, it is crass, and cheapens Judaism, all in the name of making a shekel.

The context of the statement is as follows. In Sanhedrin 98b, we read:
'Ulla said; Let him [The Messiah] come, but let me not see him.
Rabbah said likewise: Let him come, but let me not see him.
R. Joseph said: Let him come, and may I be worthy of sitting in the shadow of his donkey's dung.
If this is indeed how we are to read the gemara, then the point of the someone extreme statement is that despite the awfulness of the situation in the time of mashiach, it would be worth it. Perhaps shades of denigrating oneself as well.

And if this is indeed how we are to read the gemara, then it is metaphorical, and refers specifically to the dung of a specific donkey, namely the donkey that the messiah comes riding in on. It is disgusting and pointless to take random donkey dung and frame it, elevating it into something "significant." And if the words of Rav Yosef are "holy," one should not be putting it on top of donkey dung.

All of this is if the gemara, and Rav Yosef, means that. Stop thinking for a moment about the ickiness of it. Let us assume it was meant literally. Donkey dung is typically not that large. Indeed, the video has several examples of it. How big a donkey is the donkey of mashiach, and how much fiber must it have consumed to create a pile capable of casting a shadow large enough for a human being to take shade in?! Perhaps the word is not dung? Indeed, there are alternate girsaot at play, and even keeping our girsa, I believe that there are alternate explanations of the word.

The gemara in question, on Sanhedrin 98b, reads:
אמר עולא ייתי ולא איחמיניה וכן אמר [רבה] ייתי ולא איחמיניה רב יוסף אמר ייתי ואזכי דאיתיב בטולא דכופיתא דחמריה

The Soncino translation is:
'Ulla said; Let him [The Messiah] come, but let me not see him.
Rabbah said likewise: Let him come, but let me not see him. R. Joseph said: Let him come, and may I be worthy of sitting in the shadow of his ass's saddle*.
Note that the translation is "saddle" rather than dung. In a footnote, the explanation:
[Following the reading in Yalkut (v. Levy,) [H]. Our texts read: [H], 'dung'.]
Unfortunately, I do not actually own a physical Soncino, so I had to rely on the online partial Soncino from a certain anti-Semitic website. And so I do not know what the Hebrew word designated by [H] is. (If anyone wants to tell me in a comment, though...) And the Yalkut standard text appears to be identical to our gemara. Yalkut Shimoni on Yirmeyahu:
ר' יוסף אמר ייתי ואחמינה ואזכה ואיתיב בטולא דכופיתא דחמריה
At JNUL, there is a Yalkut Shimoni, and on page 104, we have the text to the right. I underlined the relevant text in Yellow. "His donkey" becomes "his camel" and דכופיתא becomes דכפתא.

My guess is that the version of Yalkut which Soncino refers to is similar, stripping out the yud and vav. Or else duplicating the peh. The result would be not "dung," but rather "saddle," "collar-band," or "muzzle with fodder-basket." (The latter two from Jastrow.)

Looking up variants of the word in Jastrow, we have several words it could be. And in one instance he actually cites this gemara and translates it. The following represents my rewording of things pulled from Jastrow:
kufta - inverted seat. (Josh: and thus perhaps saddle?)
kefita - binding, collar-band for animals. see Kel XII, I.
Jastrow: page 636: keifta = stocks, muzzle with fodder-basket, compare with kefifa, kefeiftoi -- what happens is a dropping of the second peh. This is where he cites our gemara.
These things are higher up from the ground, and can thus cast a shadow. Therefore, given the choice between saddle/muzzle with fodder-basket on the one hand, and dung on the other, I would choose the former.

And again, even if the word were to mean dung, that does not justify this silly and disgusting souvenir.


Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

is "Kedem village in the Galilee" כפר קדם, the place where they do reenactments of בית שני and Talmudic era technology?

joshwaxman said...

yes, good catch. Menachem Goldberg is indeed the managing director of Kfar Kedem.

This particular bit, though, is quite silly.


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