Friday, May 25, 2007

Shavuos debrief

Some of the silly things I heard around the dinner table:

"The gematria of Ruth is 606. If we add that to the seven mitzvot she already kept as a Bnei Noach we get 613, the number of mitzvot she kept after conversion."

Ah. Ooh

Problem: If the gematria of Ruth was something else, don't you think the Rabbis would have found a way to make it work anyway? By adding the number of commandments, let's say, or the number of days it took the Jews to get to Sinai after the Exodus? Gematrias are notoriously slippery.

Problem: Ruth didn't keep 613 mitzvos after conversion. Many of them are only applicable to men, or to kohanim, or to land-owners. Ruth was none of those things.

Problem: The math is so exactly suited to the occasion it almost suggests that the author of the story chose the character's name for the purpose of the gematria. (I don't know if Jews played numerology games back when Ruth was written. If not, this problem is obviated)

"We eat dairy on Shavuot because Moshe was on the mountain for 40 days, and 40 is the gematria of milk."

Ooh. Ah.

Problem: So what? Why should the length of his sojourn on Sinai have any bearing on the contents of our holiday menu?

Problem: Does it follow from this that the Sages sat around the wisdom table, planning out new customs when someone said, "Ok, we need something spiffy for Shavuot. Who has ideas?"

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