As I kid, I did a few pages of Brachot, the current tractate, so I've seen (and remember) the arguments about the correct time to say Shma and the right order of blessings. (I also did the Daf last cycle, but Daf moves so quickly and it was so long ago, none of what I did 7 years ago has stayed with me. As a result...) The rest of the tractate is new to me, and I have to say it hasn't exactly done wonders for my emunat chachamim. Early on, we had a discussion of demons -- which, having been schooled to some degree in Maimonidian theology, I was able to address without damaging the dignity of the Sages. But what can I do with the description of two Sages gorging themselves on fruit until the juice exited their pores?
There's worse: We also see Sages insulting each other and deeply in the grips of mistaken ideas about the benefits of various foods. Eggs are celebrated. Vegetables are denounced.. Anything full-size is thought to have special health benefits, and meat taken from the area surrounding the heart in believed to be better than any other. And then we arrive at nearly half a page of praise for some kind of asparagus beer, which is claimed to be "good for the heart and eyes, and all the more so for the intestines" followed by this bizarre bit of information about how the world works: Anything done an even number of times summons (demonic) damage upon a person.
Over the last month of Daf study I've also encountered: "Tips for Avoiding Me" provided by the Angel of Death via a rabbinic emissary; a very expensive hissy fit thrown by Yalta, wife of R. Nachman; and the tale of the henpecked husband who overheard two ghosts discussing the future. Plus a seemingly endless back and forth about the properties of human feces. The discussion of doody had legitimate halachic ramifications, so I can agree it belongs in the Talmud, but what about the rest?
More importantly, how can you read this and continue to disagree with Samson Raphael Hirsch who wisely and correctly said:
The Sages were scholars of the divine religion and were the recipients, transmitters and teachers of God's guidance, ordinances, commandments, and statutes; they were not especially natural scientists, geometers, astronomers, or physicians... and we do not find that this knowledge was transmitted to them from SinaiI've always thought Hirsch was spot on in his description of the Sages and in his skepticism of their abilities. Ironically enough some of the biggest proponents of Daf Yomi study strongly disagree with Hirsch's assessment and claim instead that Sages were omniscient. Many who make all-encompassing claims of Dass Torah seem to also think that every Jew should do the daily Daf.
They should be careful what they wish for.
UPDATE: Words in parenthesis added for reasons discussed in the comments.
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