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July 9, 2011 / 7 Tammuz, 5771
Shabbat Chapter Two Mishnah Five
Selected Commentary
Rabbi Jay M. Stein

Shabbat 2, 5

  1. One who extinguishes the lamp because of fear of non-Jews, robbers, or an evil spirit, or so that a sick person may sleep, he is exempt.
  2. A person (or, one who) douses the light in order to spare 9save money on) the lamp, the oil, or the wick, he is liable.
    1. Rabbi Yose exempts in all cases, except for the wick, because he makes charcoal.

We tend to live in a world of absolutes. Polarization of politics, religion and society in general seems to be ubiquitous. Extreme perspectives rule the day and there is blurring of lines between news and entertainment, between evaluation and persuasion. Rarely do we consider context or circumstance and often we ascribe cynical intent, imagining the worst of others and suggesting misguided belief systems as their motivation.

This Mishna suggests that is not how the entire system of ritual works. If the Rabbis are truly representing what they believe to be the will of God, they also have faith in God's capacity for seeing the best in everyone. A legal system of absolutes rarely can withstand time and commitment. Our legal system weighs intent as a critical component to evaluating punishment. The only question that remains is what is considered a good reason.

Our Mishna says that it is prohibited to extinguish a lamp on Shabbat. Just as one is not permitted to light a fire on Shabbat, so too one cannot purposefully put one out. Yet there is a disagreement over the intent of the person extinguishing the light. Rabbi Meir/The Prince (the unamed voice in the Mishna and the editor of all the Mishna) suggests one is not held responsible for putting out a lamp for reasons of safety and health. Rabbi Yose is even a little more lenient teaching that one is not held responsible for when issue of preservation of resources is involved. One might even suggest that his approach is teaching us about the health and safety of individuals and of our environment as well.

Whether we ultimately would follow Rabbi Meir or Rabbi Yose, we can derive important principles about the Jewish judicial system and the discretionary responsibility of carrying out the law. Though the Rabbis cannot permit that which is forbidden, they find leniency in sentencing. Understanding that a strict and seemingly impossible standard may turn people off entirely, they Rabbis find some wiggle room within the system in order to be as inclusive as possible keeping the žcommunity of the committedÓ from rejecting the codes entirely. The Rabbis certainly find it within their prerogative to implement the law in ways that keep a spark of commitment alive.

This week's Mishnah lesson was written by
Rabbi Jay M. Stein

Rabbi Jay M. Stein became the Senior Rabbi of Har Zion Temple in Penn Valley, PA in January, 2004. He is a member of the Committee on Jewish Laws and Standards of the Conservative Movement. Currently, he is a Board Member of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia; an Executive Board Member of Vaad Board of Rabbis, Philadelphia; and a member of the Chancellor's Rabbinic Cabinet of The Jewish Theological Seminary of America. From 1990-1991, Rabbi Stein served as an Alef-Alef Fellow in Jewish Education at Tel Aviv University. In 1993, he was awarded the Lowenfeld Prize in Practical Theology from The Jewish Theological Seminary of America and, in 1995, he was named a Wexner Rabbinic Fellow. He founded a Regional Think Tank for Rabbis serving as Spiritual Leaders in the Solomon Schechter Day Schools. Rabbi Stein authored a chapter in The Resource Guide for Rabbis on Domestic Violence published by Jewish Women International, and co-published articles on domestic violence in the Rabbinical Assembly Newsletter, as well as Outlook Magazine. Presently, Rabbi Stein is a participant of the STAR Rabbis: Good to Great Program and a certified Counselor in Chemical Dependence. He has received his ordination, M.A.; Jewish Education, B.A.; Jewish Philosophy from The Jewish Theological Seminary of America; and B.A., Sociology from Columbia University.

The opinions expressed in this Unraveller are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the FJMC.


Convention 2011
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