Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Yonatan ben Uziel and the bird flambe

Yesterday's daf has this famous aggada

"It was said that whenever Rabbi Yonatan ben Uziel sat down to delve into the Torah, any bird straying over his head was burnt by his words" [Tractate Sukkah 28a].
I think this must mean that he was merciless toward anyone that tried to distract him when he was learning. In fact "bird flying over head" might have been an idiom for distraction or irritation. However, I can't ignore that both rashi and tosfot take this aggada literally.

Summary of my view:

(1) This power to burn birds doesn't exist
(2) No one ever saw YbU burn up a bird
(3) We humans use figurative language and always have
(4) With the passage of time we forget how previous generations understood the figurative language
(5) In other places we see men of the same place and time being said to "burn up" things they couldn't tolerate. Rashby being the famous example
(6) Supposition: "Bird over head" is an idiom for a distraction, or a nudnik who asks irritating questions
(7) Conclusion: Yonatan ben Uziel had zero tolerance for whatever "bird over head" means

Search for more information about the word flambe at4torah.com

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