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August 27, 2005



does anyone suggest that perhaps Abaye was joking? it sure sounds like a joke.


Ah, but humor is so elusive, so personal. And it requires an interpretive community, a reader who knows what is expected and, hence, the unexpected. Only a few hours ago I was talking to a friend (YU s'micha) about the irony defect in the Orthodox world. Folks today tend to take everything in gemara at face value, quite earnest and straightfaced, and Artscroll is the humorless exemplar par excellence. If anyone knows of a Talmud commentary that points out and appreciates the humor, please let me know!

(Personally, I feel that Abaye is giving the punchline to an anecdote, but not exactly a joke. A gotcha, thanks to divine justice, without the laugh track.)

Am Haaretz

Personally, I have to go with the theory that the rabbis are having fun. The same section contains the odd story of Rav Shimi bar Ashi, who in fact is reported to have swallowed a snake. This is a literal enactment of what is referred to as "a snake of the Rabbis." The snake of the Rabbis is the Rabbi who can bite a snake. (Ha, ha.) And Rabbis can cure snake bite, but not snake-of-the-Rabbi bites.

For a good Talmud commentary that does appreciate the humor and the poetry, see A.J. Heschel's "Heavenly Torah."

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