Audio Stuff

I've listened to a few RBG related podcasts recently, the best of which has been Lauren Moxley Beatty's "The Ginsburg Tapes", which does an extremely close reading of the recordings of Ruth Bader Ginsburg's six Supreme Court oral arguments from before she was a Justice. The analysis is excellent, the tie to primary sources makes it even more compelling, and I learned a huge amount both about legal thought and also about political thought in general. The sense I developed as I listened was about the way in which Ginsburg's arguments might appear relatively conservative to an activist while having to make an absolutely revolutionary argument to the Justices on the court, and it was fascinating to think about the minutiae of that distinction.

A new podcast that I've listened to about half of is Maryanne Mohanraj and Benjamin Rosenbaum's chatty writing podcast Mohanraj and Rosenbaum are Humans. The podcasts are long and meaty- 1.5 to 2 hours each- and Mohanraj and Rosenbaum have long been favorite con speakers of mine and they are very entertaining and thought provoking to listen to in this format. I just listened to their over two hour interview/conversation with Cory Doctorow, which is so good, they talk for ages about how to balance thematic and philosophical development in a novel with actual character building, or maybe not even how to balance so much as how to let character and thematic development flow from each other.

This also reminded me that I participated in Doctorow's kickstarter for Attack Surface's audiobook, read by Amber Benson, but never listened to it. So I just started listening to it now, and so far it's really, really good. If you've read Little Brother or Homeland, this book is in the same series but instead of Marcus being the focus, Masha is the POV character, and it's such a fascinating new perspective.

Thirdly, I was podficced! One of my weirdest fics, of all things, my If on a winter's night a traveler fic "Only the Third Story in this Forsaken Fandom Whose Title Does Not Begin with If". I haven't listened to it fully yet but the opening section is so delightful to hear aloud.

[Podfic] Only the Third Story in this Forsaken Fandom Whose Title Does Not Begin with If (174 words) by CompassRose
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Se una notte d'inverno un viaggiatore | If on a Winter's Night a Traveller - Italo Calvino, 1/0, 2666 - Roberto Bolaño
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Manuel (1/0)/Original Female Character, Lotaria/Ermes Marana
Characters: Lotaria, Ermes Marana, Ludmilla (Se una notte d'inverno un viaggiatore), Tailsteak, Benno von Archimboldi, the Writer, Il Lettore | The Reader (Se una notte d'inverno un viaggiatore), Manuel (1/0)
Additional Tags: Metafiction, Meta, Mirrors, Simulacra, Very Dramatic Readings, Podfic & Podficced Works, Podfic, Podfic Length: 30-45 Minutes, Music, Sound Effects, Voiceteam 2021, Team Denim Gremlins

You've decided to write If on a winter's night a traveller fanfic. Oh, you poor, poor soul. This can only end in blood and tears. If it even ends at all. You can write an ending, can't you?
Recorded for a VoiceTeam 2021 Week 1 Challenge: Wavelength. Create an audio fanwork that feels very you: maybe it centers on a favorite trope, character, fandom, performance style, etc. (The Denim Gremlins).

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I watched the final episode of Falcon and the Winter Soldier Friday morning before work. I may watch it again to digest.

It was better on the politics than I'd feared, which is not to say it was good. What the whole episode was, was unsettlingly grim. There were not a lot of good endings for characters, but more than that, there were not a lot of characters, even the ones who survived to ostensibly satisfying endings, who were able to get through the last episode without compromising themselves. Which probably is the right outcome, given the shitty political situation, but I don't think it's what the writers of the show were trying to do. It's better than what I think the writers were trying to do, honestly... sometimes the corner you've written yourself into forces you to an unexpected honesty: there's nothing all that heroic about Sam and Bucky, but the times don't always call for heroes, even when your franchise overlords are demanding you sell them.

I feel like Zemo's little coda is a great case in point. Zemo remains in the Raft, which is a less than ideal outcome for him but he seems relatively comfortable: Zemo is not a man who lives very much outside of himself, which is what made the dance scene in Madripoor so memeably funny. He manages to have the Flag Smasher super soldier killed and thereby help to uphold his political ideal of no stateless supersoldiers... But he doesn't go after John Walker, who allies with the Contessa, and who will surely find in Zemo's extracurricular bombing another raison d'etre of uncontrolled violence. So the serum and its deadly geopolitical consequences remains out there, perhaps bolstered by Zemo's efforts. And Zemo has blown his shot at future alliance with Sam or Bucky, so he will need to seek new champions if he is to continue his work. If there was something sympathetic about Zemo at the end of Civil War (and to some degree I think there was), it has been burnt out by now. Zemo is all ideology and tactics and no humanity.

At levels that require greater or less amounts of analysis to draw out, this kind of sacrifice of self is true of all of the characters. Karli Morgenthau gets some of the political outcomes she sought, at the cost of her life, but she doesn't get all of the political outcomes she sought, and also all of the people she loved are dead. Walker gets a new job but he had to admit he failed at his old one in order to earn it. Sam doesn't entirely stop a terrorist attack, and when he sides with the terrorists to publicly humiliate the GRC on television he becomes a Captain America who cannot truly be a symbol for all of America. He is forced to accept that in order to be Captain America on his own terms, he cannot be everything that Steve Rogers was.

And Sharon Carter? Surely there's something misogynistic about doing her reveal without telling her story. As the post-credits scene reminds us, she comes from a family that has long been dedicated to trying to protect others through government service. As the post-credits scene does not remind us, she has been working for evil security agencies ranging from SHIELD to the CIA her whole adult life. Is her current position as Power Broker the result of her Hydra/Civil War/Snap disillusionment with America, or is it a consequence of a deeper moral corruption that the MCU has simply never revealed? I don't know. Sharon Carter has appeared in multiple Marvel movies and TV shows, she's played the phenomenal Emily VanCamp, and we have never gotten the tiniest snippet of life story from her.

And once more, New York pays the price. Marvel Comics has long fought against its New York centered identity, launching storytelling projects like the West Coast Avengers or the Fifty States Initiative that implicitly acknowledge that by and large, the Avengers are a New York institution. Falcon and the Winter Soldier bounces all around the world, fighting battles in fake Singapore and fake Serbia, and in Tunisia and Lithuania and Latvia. There is some unserious pretense of oversight and national sovereignty- for unexplained reasons, Sam Wilson can chase the terrorists in Tunisia but cannot cross the border into Libya; for unexplained reasons, John Walker can prance around Eastern Europe punching trucks on the government dime, but if he kills a rogue super soldier he violates diplomatic protocols? In reality, for all the talk of global councils, both Sam and John Walker are unrestrained agents of American hard power. It is deeply unserious as musing on political theory, and deeply serious as a reflection of the way America has acted and continues to act as lone superpower. And then they return in the finale to New York City, this locus of Marvel's political energy that it seems to imagine as the Capital of the World. ([personal profile] sanguinity, if she's reading this, is by now snickering; I too sometimes imagine New York City as the Capital of the World)

In this fairy tale comic book New York, largely American? political leaders are gathered to make decisions that will largely affect the Third World. It's actually the sort of vision of America that shows like this should be arguing against. The problem isn't whether they cave to the terrorists and find a generous resolution to help those displaced by the post Blip political realignment, or continue on their hard line, punitive path. The problem is who is making the decision at all. Which is a question FATWS doesn't reach, although it comes way closer than I expected.

It is the paradox of The Flag Smashers, though. They claim to be arguing for a world without borders, because a world without borders will look out for the borderless. But they live in a world that for those with enough strength is already a borderless world, and what they really need are localities with the strength to assert their own sovereignties, and fight for the safety of their own natives, rather than paternalistic protectors from far away.

I haven't written much about Bucky because I don't have much to say. He, of all the characters in the show, got the least compromised ending, but that's because he was already compromised. Sebastian Stan gave a terrific but understated performance as a Bucky who is desperate to put himself back together but doesn't know how. At the end, he still doesn't know how, but he somehow managed a little bit of self-repair anyway. He will never not be the Winter Soldier, he will never not carry his sins with him wherever he goes. He can never entirely be a good guy, but this is a show where no one is entirely a good guy. This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID. There are comment count unavailable comments.

Life Update

I got my first vaccine shot yesterday, of the Moderna vaccine! Everything went straightforwardly. My arm is a bit sore today but otherwise I'm fine. The one annoyance is that they were set up to automatically schedule you for an appointment exactly four weeks later, which happens to be second day Shavuos. They told me that they think if I call today they'll be able to juggle me over to four weeks from today, switching me with one of the people who gets the vaccine today or a second dose allocated to someone who no-shows today. If not, I'll have to separately look for a second dose appointment. But the good news is it seems to be fairly easy to get appointments right now. I became eligible on Monday and was able Sunday night to get an appointment for Tuesday, so there wasn't much leadtime at all.

Otherwise, life is puzzles! Last night I solved the NY Times cryptic crossword from the weekend with [personal profile] primeideal. It was a nice puzzle with a lot of clever clues, apparently created by a crowd on zoom.

The night before I wrapped up Spring Boswords with a poor showing on Kevin Der's lovely puzzle, which went well except for absolutely being flummoxed by some words in the Southwest corner. My best showing was last week, when the puzzle was completely in my wheelhouse starting with 2D being an SFF book clued by a chapter title that was an absolute gimme for me. I got 12:03 last week, this week I hit 27 minutes and gave up with a few wrong letters in that lower corner. Based on current scoring, I will likely finish in about 250th place in the top division, out of about 300. Frustrating.

My big logistical breakthrough that I am excited about is that I can now solve crosswords on Shabbat! I bought a set of 500 Scrabble tiles from Amazon for 10 bucks, and combined with my D&D map I can now solve gridded word puzzles on Shabbos. I am much slower at solving that way, but it's a really nice tactile feeling moving the tiles around, and I'm finding it really satisfying and a great way to spend Shabbos afternoons.

There is also much Mystery Hunt, about which I can't say much except I am having so much fun. This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID. There are comment count unavailable comments.

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[personal profile] sanguinity turned me onto the comic miniseries "Truth: Red, White, and Black", so it was [personal profile] sanguinity I turned to to rant after this most recent episode of Falcon and the Winter Soldier, also titled "Truth".

Truth retconned the history of the super soldier program that most famously produced Steve Rogers as Captain America, to reveal that among the prior super soldiers was a group of African Americans abusively treated as test subjects, given dangerously experimental doses, before Steve Rogers got the serum. For their trouble, many of them died either as a result of the drugs, or as a result of being sent unsupported on dangerous missions. The last and best of them, Isaiah Bradley, went against Army orders to do what he thought was right (the thing Steve Rogers is famous for) and as a result spent decades in Fort Leavenworth.

But that's only half the story of Truth. The other half is a story of those left behind, in an equally unfair America. Isaiah's wife Faith coping with believing her husband dead, then learning he was in military prison, then fighting to get him out, and finally getting that moment she never dared to dream would happen, a reunion with her husband. As much as Isaiah Bradley, the first Captain America, is the hero of Truth, Faith Bradley is equally the hero. She's my favorite part of that comic and though she's only been given a couple of additional cameos in the 616, in The Crew and in Young Avengers, I love her fiercely in those appearances as well.

In Falcon and the Winter Soldier, we meet Isaiah, who has gotten out of prison at last, and in his second appearance, he tells Sam Wilson in a throwaway line that his wife died while he was in prison. It's so typical of what the MCU does. Who do they write out of their stories in the name of simplifying the complexities of 616? The women. The people of color. (The Jews, too, but that's a different post). Especially the women of color. It's so infuriating to me that in the process of finally, fifteen years into the MCU and a decade after The First Avenger, acknowledging Isaiah Bradley (The comic came out and was widely acclaimed eight years before The First Avenger. It could have worked Truth into Steve's storyline from the start instead of treating it as a retcon!), they fridged his wife and left out the story of a black woman fighting for her own civil rights.

I think the conversation Sam and Isaiah have in the episode is interesting, well acted and politically relevant, but I can't forgive it for that throwaway line.

Fuck Marvel. Seriously fuck Marvel. I keep saying as I watch this show that Marvel really seems to want me to make more vids to protest songs.

Meanwhile, there's a bigger rant brewing about the post-Blip global politics we see in Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which are massively fucked up on so many levels. I'm trying to be a little careful about how much I wind up right now, because there's still another episode and clearly the show is aiming to put its main political thesis in that last episode, but also so much of this is garbage.

Says Karli Morgenthau, our sympathetic terrorist, during the Snap, nations banded together and forgot about national boundaries in the desperate need to help people. But after the Blip, capitalism resurged as governments tried to reorganize as they'd been before, restoring primacy to the returned. It might have been nice if any of this had shown up, even a taste, in Far From Home, previously our only glimpse of post-Blip life. People like Morgenthau and her associates have, for complicated geopolitical reasons, become essentially stateless permanent refugees living in underresourced displaced person camps. Morgenthau styles herself the Flag Smasher, fighting against nationalism, which she blames for this condition.

The oddness of this storytelling is that nobody in the story stands for nationalism, ideologically, in opposition to the Flag Smashers. Sam and his foil John Walker stand for, at best, the instrumentality of nationalism- there are threats to the security of noncombatants, so they must be neutralized. Who gets the right to be a noncombatant and who is oppressed by the state is of course a consequence of nationalism, so it's not like Morgenthau's position is uncontested, but it's not contested at an ideological level- Sam is in fact deeply reluctant to stand by an American flag. There's a straightforward analysis of the Flag Smashers where as soon as they start blowing up civilians, it doesn't matter what ideology she's fighting for. The same analysis applies to Sam, Bucky, John Walker, and the rest of the forces aligned with them.

And that's the big problem that I doubt is going to get resolved in the finale. For all that Morgenthau talks about tearing down borders, borders seem utterly irrelevant to the story. Sam, Bucky, and Walker hop borders and launch police actions like the idea of national sovereignty and local jurisdiction has no meaning. Perhaps as signatories of the Sokovia Accords that is true? This has been the problem with the Sokovia Accords as we've seen them from the beginning, they are inherently anti-nationalist in a truly disturbing way. They apparently assert that the world's major powers can deploy military force anywhere for any reason, provided there's a figleaf of international oversight, because national security is a global problem.

Meanwhile, Sam is out there struggling with whether a black man can carry the Shield of Captain America, and certainly that's an important question, but it all seems besides the point, when what he's being asked to do, as Captain America or not, is to stomp into Eastern European countries and beat up local criminals. Until Sam objects to that assignment, what does it matter if he does it while draping himself in an American flag or not? This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID. There are comment count unavailable comments.

Hadran Alach Maseches Shekalim

Daf 22

Nowadays because the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed and the purpose of the Chatzi Shekel was the upkeep of the Beis Hamikdash, we are not obligated in the Chatzi Shekel. But a lot of the Masechet was about the fact that setting aside the Chatzi Shekel isn't the same thing as giving tzedakah to a Jewish institution. You're actually consecrating the money and the money thereafter has to be treated as kodshin. Misuse of the money is me'ilah, there's all sorts of rules about what it can spent on, and so on. So what, as a practical matter, happens if you were to say "I know the Beis Hamikdash has been destroyed, but nonetheless I am designating this shekel as my shekel." Maybe you're an optimistic Messianist and you think the Beis Hamikdash is going to be built this year and you want to show your emunah. Maybe you're just into the sensation of authenticity of doing a Jewish practice that hasn't been done in nearly two thousand years. Either way, what are the halachic implications?

The Tanna Kamma says that if you do that, congratulations, you are holding legitimate kodesh in your hands! Also, that would be a bad thing, because you can't actually put it in the bin in Jerusalem because there is no bin in Jerusalem, and you can't spend the money anymore, and you actually shouldn't have it at all, because what if you mix it up with some other money and mistakenly spend it? So the Talmud says you should throw it in the Dead Sea and get rid of it, because there's nothing else you're allowed to do with it, and Artscroll's footnote says that actually any sea will do (Sing "Any Sea Will Do" To the Tune Of "Any Dream Will Do"). But this actually seems like an even worse suggestion because the authenticity seeking Jew I mentioned might say "Wow, that seems like an even more exciting ritual, I designate a chatzi shekel and then I travel to the Dead Sea and throw it into it," and fine, I guess that's a legitimate thing to do, but there's so many ways it could go wrong on the way there, and I dunno, maybe you're a more ritually careful person than I am and you can do this ritual without making any mistakes, and find meaning in it, but it's not for me.

R' Shimon seems to say that he holds that the shekel is not consecrated, and they bring this whole story about R' Yochanan ben Zakkai, who of course was the leader of the Jews who was mostly instrumental in figuring out how the heck you do Judaism without a Beis Hamikdash. R' Yochanan ben Zakkai made a bunch of rules forbidding you to consecrate money even in cases where it otherwise was halachically okay, like a convert setting aside money for their chatas offering, which doesn't have the problem that the shekel does that the money expires after a year. I think the subtext here is the usual R' Yochanan ben Zakkai subtext that he's trying to create a Judaism without a Beis Hamikdash so he's trying to eradicate a lot of the practices that tie Judaism to a religion centered around offerings, while retaining the memory of the Beis Hamikdash divorced of all those practices. This leads to a contradiction with another statement of R' Shimon and the conclusion is that everyone seems to say that you can consecrate a shekel to this day. But you shouldn't!

And that's Shekalim. I said I thought I had a chance at sticking with it for three weeks, turns out I was right! Tomorrow we start Yoma, I think I'll try to keep going. This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID. There are comment count unavailable comments.

Maseches Shekalim Dafs 17-21

Daf 17

There were thirteen tables in the Beis Hamikdash for various purposes. Some of them were used for preparing sacrifices to be offered on the altar, others were used for holding the tools used in offering sacrifices. Two of the tables were used for the shulchan for the lechem panim, the loaves of bread that always sat in the Beis Hamikdash. One of these two shulchanim was marble, the other was gold, and the Mishna says that they first put the bread on the marble shulchan and then transferred it to the gold one.

The loaves of bread were left out in the Temple for a week, and famously they never got stale because of a miracle. The Yerushalmi cites a baraisa claiming that the marble shulchan was actually silver, which seems to be because silver was a precious metal and the author of the baraisa believed that it was more appropriate to honor the lechem panim by putting it on silver rather than marble. But R' Yose teaches in the name of R' Shmuel ben Yitzchak that it was actually marble for practical reasons: Silver is a better conductor of heat than marble, in the hot sun the silver shulchan would heat the bread faster and make it go bad.

But wait a minute. Silver, gold, or marble, bread is going to go stale in a week of sitting out on a table in the open. It's not per se a 'bigger miracle' if God makes the lechem panim not go stale on a silver table. R' Yehoshua ben Levi answers Ein mazkirin ma'aseh nisim. We don't depend on a miracle. Which I love so much. They're in the Beis Hamikdash, where miraculous things happen on a daily basis, where you are closer to God than anywhere on the planet, but you don't go fishing for a miracle, you put the bread in the place where it has the best chance of not getting stale on its own and miraculously the bread doesn't go stale.

Daf 18

If you're a zavah, or if you've given birth, before you're able to become ritually pure and permitted to your husband again, you have to offer a pair of birds as a sacrifice. Apparently for the sake of efficiency, it wasn't like you just brought your birds and handed them to the Kohen and he offered them right then and there. You put money in a bin and got a token and you gave your token to a clerk, and the clerk gave all the tokens to the Kohen and the Kohen offered all the bird sacrifices for the day in one go. We're discussing this because we're discussing all the money collecting bins in the Beis Hamikdash that weren't for the Chatzi Shekel.

Rabbi Yehudah gets very concerned about the problem of intermixing the coins. As is discussed elsewhere, if you designate birds as a bird sacrifice and then before you can offer them, you die, the birds can't be offered as a sacrifice, and they need to be set aside to die. But what if we're in this efficient scenario where you collect all the money for the birds to be offered in one go, and in between the money collection and the sacrifice, one of the women who put money in dies?

You're not permitted to offer her sacrifice, but how do you know which coins were hers, which birds were hers, which sacrifice is forbidden among all the permitted sacrifices? So potentially you have to say that since one of the sacrifices is forbidden and you don't know which one, you can't offer any of the sacrifices involving money in the collecting bin. This is an especially big problem because apparently the Kohanim went around telling women don't worry, you can rely on the sacrifice being performed, so at nightfall you will be tahor. What if this scenario happens, a woman dies before her sacrifice can be offered, all of the sacrifices are therefore not offered, and numerous other women have relations with their husbands when they are not actually tahor? Serious problem.

The Rabbis have no problem by basically saying look, the money's fungible. All the money in the collecting bin is the same, pluck out four zuzim and declare "These were the ones that were going to buy the birds for the woman who died, we will destroy them and use the rest for sacrifices." Rabbi Yehudah has a big problem with this! He says you can't do that, each woman's money has individual sanctity toward their offering. His solution is to say don't have a collecting bin at all for these bird offerings, have everyone individually deal with their own bird. The Rabbis seem to have dealt with it by ignoring Rabbi Yehudah and just making a communal announcement that if this ever happens, this is what they'll do, so that everyone putting money in the bin has kavanah that their money sort of counts for everyone and if someone dies it's okay. Rabbi Yehudah seems unhappy.

Daf 19

What if you find a coin on the floor in the Beis Hamikdash, which is apparently full of different collecting bins full of money, each of which has a different dedicated purpose and many of which are considered meilah if used for some other purpose? You look for the nearest bin and say "Ah, it must have been intended for that bin!" If it's equidistant, you go for the bin that does the least halachic damage. The Mishna goes through a lot of scenarios in all cases trying to figure out what the least halachic damage means. So for example, if it's between the new Shekel bin and the bin for shirayim, the shekels left over from last year used for Temple repairs, you put it in the bin for shirayim because it was possibly going to end up there anyway if it was intended for the Shekel bin but didn't end up being used, whereas you're not allowed to take shirayim and put it in the Shekel bin.

I'm not really sure it's mathematically possible to be 'equidistant' in reality, so maybe it's a question of the lack of precision in their measurement instruments, or maybe the point isn't actually to resolve what to do in the equidistant case, the point is to establish these orders of priority to demonstrate how these bins of money interrelate in terms of accounting.

Daf 20

Continuing on what to do with stuff found on the ground, the Gemara retreads some stuff from Maseches Chullin on what you do when you find unmarked meat on the ground. I think this discussion provides good clarity on the fact that there are actually two safeks here:

1. Is the meat owned by a particular person, or can you take it?
2. Is the meat kosher?

This can become confusing because both are questions of circumstance, and in some cases a particular circumstance can influence the answer to both questions. So some of the cases the Gemara discusses, it sort of answers both questions at once, making it harder to tease out the specific issues that it is weighing.

Daf 21

More on stuff found on the ground. Spit! Saliva is a liquid that transmits tumah. If someone spit in the street and you stepped in it, how do you know if you have become tamei? Says the Mishna, you do it based on a chazakah depending on where you are and when you are. If you're in Jerusalem, and it's a festival, you can assume pretty much everyone has purified themselves for the festival and so the spit if it's found in the middle of the street is tahor, because anyone with the misfortune to be in Jerusalem during a festival but who has become tamei will take to the sides of the street to avoid contaminating anyone else. But apparently during the rest of the year, people who were tahor would take to the sides of the street to avoid potentially running into someone who was tamei in the middle of the street, so if you step on spit in the middle of the street you presume you are now tamei.

Tomorrow I"YH we finish Shekalim. Virtual siyum y'all? This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID. There are comment count unavailable comments.

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Yesterday was my birthday. I'm not going to get anything but virtual celebration again, but that's okay. It was nice to hear from people throughout the day. I spent the evening co-solving Panda puzzles with a Hunt teammate, which was a good, quiet way to celebrate (though since I left my phone in another room to avoid distractions, I missed my sister calling with my nieces to sing happy birthday). We solved a variety cryptic, a gimmicked diagramless, an image ID puzzle, and we cracked a word puzzle we'd gotten stuck on the last time we worked on this set. It was a very satisfying night. I am not very experienced with diagramlesses, so it was fun to go through one with a partner and learn more about how you work through it. Next week I'll come as close as I'm getting to a party, with some friends joining me to virtually co-solve Puzzled Pint. I've been using Puzzled Pint as my birthday party for a few years now, it generally suits my inclination for a party that is a low key gathering of friends doing something we enjoy together.

The big news I got for my birthday is that Discon has announced the decision that it will run an in-person convention, with some virtual components, in December. I am excited! A large part of my motivation for volunteering was the hope of being able to attend a Worldcon so close to home, so the prospect of it being virtual was frustrating. There was a lot of legal mess, and a lot of tough choices, and there is a lot of hard work ahead of us to figure out what will surely be a strange and unique Worldcon, but I am excited. This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID. There are comment count unavailable comments.

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I realized I may owe Rabban Gamliel of Yavneh an apology. There's too many Gamliels. So Rabban Gamliel of the Sanhedrin story with R' Elazar Ben Azariah is the one who became Nasi shortly after the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash. It's theoretically possible he, as a younger man, was the one who tossed coins to the person doing Terumas Halishka, but it's much more likely it was his grandfather, also named Rabban Gamliel. In my defense, there's like six Rabban Gamliels. And I'm not exaggerating.

Daf 14

There's some interesting stuff about the special arts required to run the Temple Rite. There was one family that held the secret to how to compound the incense so it would not just smell right but also behave right. There was a another family that held the secret to baking the lechem panim so that it wouldn't fall apart. The Rabbis tried to get the secrets out of them, or find someone else who could reverse engineer it, but they failed, resulting in a)The Rabbis reluctantly paying those families twice as much as before and b)the Rabbis putting a curse on the families. Eventually after the Beis Hamikdash fell, someone gave the secret of the incense to R' Yochanan ben Nuri.

Lanna reads these passages as being implicitly about the political battle between the Kohanim and the Rabbis about who gets to set policy for the Temple rite, and I think that's a plausible reading. I also think there's a good reading where these stories are about the philosophical divide between those who saw the Temple Rite as monolithic and those who thought it could be broken down and studied and comprehended like any other piece of Torah.

Daf 15

Raiders of the Lost Ark!

The Aron Hakodesh was lost during the Babylonian exile. Some say it was taken to Bavel with all the treasures of the first Beis Hamikdash. Others say it was buried below the Kodesh to keep the Babylonians from stealing it. Others say it was buried beneath a woodshed on the Temple mount, as a theoretically better hiding place, and that every so often some random Temple craftsman or Kohen would come across it while working and a holy flame would pop up and swallow them. This seems possibly suboptimal.

Daf 16

The Gemara discusses the manufacture and use of the anointing oil that was used to anoint kings and Kohen Gadols. This leads to discussing other laws involving anointing kings, and the Gemara of course mentions again that Kohanim and Levi'im are not supposed to be kings, and they cite two different drashes proving it- one drash is based on a pasuk that promises the kingship to Shevet Yehudah, the other is based on a juxtaposition of a pasuk about kings with a pasuk about limiting the Levites' inheritance in the land.

A few thoughts:

The connection to the discussion of both Kings and the Kohen Gadol being anointed does not seem accidental to me. The Rabbis are trying to emphasize a principle of separation of powers, these two people are the highest authorities in Israel in their respective realms, and there is a danger in allowing the two power bases to mix.

But also as I know I've discussed in the past on Chanukah, the relatively recent past of Israel from the perspective of the Tannaim at least was of the Hasmonean kings who were of Kohanic descent, representing a dissolution of the separation of powers. And who were apparently fairly corrupt (how much is corruption and how much is anti-Hasmonean propaganda, who can say?), and clearly not always so devout. So when the Rabbis emphasize this rule and come up with multiple justifications for it, they're not just debating abstract political philosophy, they're also jabbing at their political enemies.

And I think the two verses cited are significant. On the one hand, there's the promise of Judah's kingship, which by Amoraic times is a promise of Messianic (anointed?!) redemption more than a political standpoint on its own. And on the other hand there's a reassertion that Levites and Kohanim hold a specific role within the communal and ritual life of Israel, and they are praiseworthy and essential to Jewish life when they stay within its confines and they are dangerously undermining when they try to seize power in other areas. That's a really complicated balance to reach. This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID. There are comment count unavailable comments.

Maseches Shekalim Daf 11-13

Daf 11

The Mishna continues discussing things you can buy with the half shekel funds, and also what you're allowed to do with the shirayim, the money left over at the end of the year when all the things that you needed to buy with the half shekel have been bought. In general it forms a fund used for certain Temple maintenance functions, but there's some other uses that are debated. Rabbi Yishmael says that some of the money was used to invest in goods to sell at a profit, for the benefit of the Temple, sort of like large institutions now have endowment funds. Rabbi Akiva says are you kidding me, of course the Temple didn't take holy money and gamble it on the ancient stock market. The Yerushalmi says maybe they actually agree that it's okay to invest the money provided it's properly hedged, so there's some counterparty assuming all the downside risk. In other words, Rabbi Akiva isn't concerned that the Temple is participating in base commerce, he's concerned that the Temple will lose consecrated money, and provided there's no risk of losing money he's fine. Artscroll confusingly suggests that the Bavli had a different take on this Rabbi Akiva, that he was concerned about the Temple participating in base commerce, but I thought the whole point was there was no Bavli on this masechta.

Also I am desperately resisting the urge to make a base commerce/beis commerce pun. And failing, clearly.

Daf 12

Lots of boring technical stuff about Temple offering logistics. But the gist of it that actually is kind of interesting is this: There are multiple pools of money and assets at the Temple dedicated for different functions and they're guarded not only by fiscal safeguards but also by ritual safeguards. Taking an asset dedicated to Temple maintenance and using it for a sacrifice is a violation not just of a general fiduciary duty but of the proper use of sanctified materials.

The problem with this is that sometimes assets end up in the wrong pool because of a mistake or an edge case, and then what do you do? You can't just shift something from one pool to the other, as you would a bookkeeping mistake, because the asset was sanctified for a specific purpose. You could just leave the asset to sit in a closet until it dies/rots away, but then you're wasting it.

So the Rabbis came up with workarounds that you can sometimes do. So let's say there's material in the general temple maintenance fund that you'd like to use for a purpose that must be paid for out of the Terumas Halishka, the withdrawal from the half shekel box. The general procedure is that you deconsecrate the consecrated goods by an exchange with a Temple worker who can accept Temple maintenance funds for their work and then you buy the goods back from them with the proper Terumas Halishka funds. It's procedurally more complicated than that (though at least one position in the Yerushalmi is that it isn't actually more complicated than that, halahically, but they made it more complicated in order that there would be a clear step by step procedure with less chance of error), and the discussion on this page of when you can and can't do it is clearly part of a larger topic in other masechtas (particularly Temurah, I think, the tractate on rectifying mistaken consecrations) because I barely followed a lot of it.

In some cases you can't do this deconsecration immediately, because it involves a perfect unblemished animal that if not for its misconsecration could be offered as a sacrifice. So you have to wait for it to get a blemish and then you can deconsecrate it.

Daf 13

This mishna, the last in Perek Dalet, has been alluded to earlier in the masechet, but it's laid out here in full and it is great. The Temple acts as a purchaser with the power of the state when it sends out RFQs, so the game is rigged. If the price of wheat went up after its RFQ was accepted by a seller, the seller must still sell at the cheaper price. But if the price of wheat went down, the seller must drop his price to match the new lower price. And if there's any damage to the wheat between contracting and delivery, the seller must make up for the loss. The Temple always gets the best rate no matter what.

Then the Yerushalmi cites a mitigating baraisa that says that yes, it's true that the Temple rigged the system, but the kohanim were honest and tried to pay immediately so the settlement period was as short as possible to minimize the chance of a seller getting screwed by this kind of thing. There weren't short sellers and derivatives brokers back then, you see, so the sellers weren't properly hedged.

The remainder of the daf is more historically interesting. The first Mishna of the new perek cites, for nonhalachic reasons, the 15 people who at some point held administrative roles in the Beis Hamikdash sphere of influence. There's an argument about whether it's the 15 best who ever held the job, at different points in history, or if it's the 15 who held it at the same time. One of the people is supposed Mordechai from the Megillat Esther story, so if that's the case, it would be listing the first 15 people to hold the titles in the second Beis Hamikdash, which has a certain sense to it.

And anyway this second theory leads to discussing some of the contributions of Ezra and Nehemiah to Torah scholarship and codification, which leads to asking, if Ezra and his circle were so influential in codification, what actually did Rabbi Akiva do that was so great? Klalot upratot, says the Gemara. Which I think means to say that according to this explanation, Ezra and his group did empirical codification... There are four rules that are actually eight for passing things from a private domain to a public domain, and the like. Whereas Rabbi Akiva did theoretical codification, these are the reason that these laws fall into this category, this is the overall system that explains halacha.

Then some Amoraim lament that whereas the Torah was so clear to these Gedolim, nowadays we know nothing. "If they were Angels, we are men. If they were men, we are donkeys."

I think this is really fascinating. There's a tendency in modern ultra-orthodox Talmudic scholarship to see everyone as sort of playing the same game, just teaching the laws of halacha down though the generations, but it seems clear to me here that the Amoraim here were aware of and struggling with their awareness of halachic study as an evolving art. This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID. There are comment count unavailable comments.

Maseches Shekalim 10

Daf 10

Discussion is of the things you can do with the money you withdraw from the bins of half-shekels. They're consecrated money dedicated to sanctified use for the Beis Hamikdash, so you can't just go out and buy hookers and blow with it, but also you can't just go out and buy, I don't know, office supplies for the Kohen Gadol. There are other pools of money available for things like that, for chullin things needed to keep the Beis Hamikdash Industrial Complex going, and you need to be careful not to let them get mixed.

But there are things that are on the blurry boundary. The Omer offering needs to be offered from new grain. In shemittah years, nobody is growing grain. The Rabbis hold that you can go buy grain from outside Israel and offer it, but Rabbi Yishmael holds that you must use grain from the land of Israel for the Omer, so the only thing that's available is wild grain, which anyone can take. This is the problem, how do you make sure an Omer's worth of grain is left untouched when anyone can take it? You set a watchman to watch it and ask people not to take that grain... But if the watchman is watching it for free, there becomes a problem of kavana. If he's just watching it as a volunteer, then technically what is happening is that he is taking possession of the grain for himself and then donating it to the Beis Hamikdash. Which is fine, totally authorized, but there is a concern that if he doesn't have proper kavana of donating it as opposed to sort of still thinking "I gave the omer offering for this year." then he might retain ownership and then the offering might be invalid. So you have to pay the watchman, so that he's just doing work for hire of watching the grain.

Great, time for a paragraph break. So the watchman is watching the grain that as soon as it's harvested the Beis Hamikdash will own, and there's no problem with using the money from the Half Shekel to pay for the grain, but until the grain is harvested you're paying for the chullin act of watching it, and that's not sufficiently sanctified. So the Kohanim borrow money from a moneylender to pay the watchman, then when the grain is harvested they exchange the half shekel money directly for the Omer grain and then use the redeemed money that is now desanctified to pay both the watchman the rest of his wages, and also pay the moneylender back.

I find this whole mechanism of consecration and deconsecration really fascinating. This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID. There are comment count unavailable comments.