Wednesday, September 12, 2007

In a Bind

“Here are the firestone and the wood; but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?” (Genesis 22: 7)

God will provide, God will provide, I keep telling myself, as I make my 24th phone call of the day in search of a shofar blower for our minyan. It is erev Rosh Hashanah, and I should be washing my floor (long overdue) or making one of the four fruit salads I pledged to bring to the various people who invited me for meals (initially it seemed like a good idea – but how to shop for four fruit salads? And what ma’achelet will be fit for all that chopping?) – but instead, I am sitting at my desk calling everyone I know. “Hi, I’m sorry to bother you just before Rosh Hashanah – but I was wondering – do you know anyone who blows shofar?” At this point I feel like a broken (shvarim) record, repeating myself again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again (t’rua) but what can I do except cry (or was it groan?) “Heeeeeeeeeelp!” (t’kia). We have the whole minyan organized – the chairs are set up, the kiddish is bought, the daveners are lined up – but where is the ba’al tokea? If you are out there, scratching your innocent behind against the brambles, please make yourself known!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Extempore Effusions on the Completion of Masechet Yevamot (Perek 1)

My husband died leaving no heir
I must marry his brother, and bear
Him a child. His name
Will live on; that's the aim
Of this mitzvah called Yibum. So there.

Fifteen women's co-wives need not wed
Brothers-in-law once husbands are dead:
Mother-in-law and daughter,
Wife's sister, granddaughter
And others you'd rather not bed.

A dame with no womb is excluded.
For yibum she won't be recruited;
She's not the right mate
For she can't procreate
As you might logically have concluded.

It's forbidden to sleep with the wife
Of one's brother. Though after his life
Yibum then overrides
This "do not" rule. Besides
With such cases the Talmud is rife.

If one's brother-in-law has bad boils
And the woman who sees him recoils
She need not bear his son
Which would be as not-fun
As a threshing ox barred from the spoils.

A leper must shave all his hair
Really? Do you think all must be bare?
Does the Torah not say
That the sidelocks must stay
The "do not" rule gets overrode there.

If a father says, "Son, break Shabbat!"
He may answer (respectfully) "Not!"
For both father and son
Must defer to the One
Who is holy. How holy? A lot.

One may not build the Temple each day
On Shabbat one must rest. As they say:
"Keep my Sabbath and fear
My great Temple" we hear
That to mean: No more building, go pray!

Treat the Temple with fear: That's a must!
This means do not go traipsing in dust
Or wear shoes while you're praying
It goes without saying
That spitting in God's home means bust!

A murderous priest may not serve
At God's altar (to murder takes nerve).
Since worship one may
On the great Sabbath day
We say murder trumps shabbos: Observe!

A leper must leave camp and wait
For a "week plus one," that is, for eight;
But if he emits
Semen ('twould be the pits)
May he dunk? Or must he return late?

Two brothers who marry two sis-
Ters, then one brother no longer is
Alive; If the remaining
Bro chooses abstaining
From yibum then is he remiss?

If a man may do yibum on two
Women he may choose which one to do;
If just one is permitted
Then both are not fitted
For yibum; the yavam is screwed.

Rabbi Chiya's rule may be applied
To all fifteen (just ask Rashi why)
Levi said: "Or sixteen!"
Making Rabi turn green
"It seems you have no brain!" Rabi cried.

If a man does chalitzah and then
Says, "Oops, wish I could do that again!"
So he marries shoe-lady
Then dies without baby
Have we our sixteenth case? No? When?

Choose the widow already unfit
Do chalitzah, and let that be it.
For a man should not spill
From his well; others will
Drink up freely what's left in the pit.

These are women allowed to prevent
Pregnancy: First is one who is meant
To be nursing; one still
Underage; and one filled
With a baby. For these we relent.

The megillah is read on which day?
It depends in which city you pray.
Does the Torah not chide,
"You should not subdivide!"
Lo titgod'du, that is to say.

Abahu would carry a torch
(Though unlit) on Shabbat from his porch
Out to most public grounds
Save in Yochanan's town
He knew factions, like fires, can scorch.

Gamliel's daughter hadn't a womb
Sigh! Back then they would call that a "moom"
Did she learn once she wed
Had she known and misled?
When her husband found out, did he fume?

"I don't eat olives; don't give me that!"
So said Yochanan, tipping his hat
To Beit Hillel. They get
Impure if they are wet.
Thus said Yochanan: "Take back your vat."

Said ben Hurcanus: "Akiva are you
THE Akiva? The rabbi and Jew?
For your fame does extend
'Cross the world, end to end –
But a shepherd knows more than you do."

The ten exiled tribes were so sad
That they suffered a fate that was bad:
After told "You must leave"
Women could not conceive
No new children were born – not one lad.

If no woman will marry you, go
To Harpanya – due south, as the crow
Flies. It's where you can find
Those for whom no one's signed
A ketubah. How low will you go?